Friday, January 14, 2022

Pieces of U.S. democracy that are still intact post-January 6, 2021

Lots in U.S. democracy is broken. Some things are still working. A couple passages from How Civil Wars Start by Barbara Walter.

A fist goes through a window.
Image from Pixabay
   "A few of the guardrails that protect democracy remained firm in the face of challenges. Though Trump and the Republic Party filed more than sixty lawsuits claiming election fraud in swing states, more than fifty of those were dismissed or denied (the handful that did make it through were overturned in higher courts). The Supreme Court, which has a majority of conservative judges, also rejected Trump's election challenge. Republican state officials on the receiving end of the president's bullying — Trump threatened to sideline Arizona's governor for certifying election results and pressured Georgia's secretary of state to 'find' the votes he'd need to win — held their ground.
    So, too, did the military. Trump catered to America's generals throughout his time in office, but rather than validate his bids for more power, they distanced themselves from his agenda at key moments."


"On January 6, after the Capitol was again secure, members of Congress immediately returned to work. They certified the results of the election, ensuring a peaceful transfer of power and safeguarding the rule of law. The FBI immediately launched investigations into the rioters, filing its first conspiracy charge against the leader of the Oath Keepers."

Barbara F. Walter. How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them. New York: Crown, 2022.

To read more — especially about what is not working in U.S. democracy — please see "The United States is an 'Anocracy'". It's a 4-minute read on Medium. Medium lets you read a certain number of stories for free every month. You may also consider a paid membership on the platform.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

U.S. "conservative media" has a long history

Conservative media history in the United States did not come from nowhere. It has a long history. It has been many things. I recently wrote a couple articles on the topic that I wanted to share here.

3 Important Figures in U.S. Conservative Media History: Nackey Scripps Loeb, Roger Ailes, and Newt GingrichIt's a 7-minute read on Medium.

"Where did 'conservative media' come from?" about Clarence Manion, Henry Regnery, and William Rusher. It's a 4-minute read on Medium.

Medium lets you read a certain number of stories for free every month. You may also consider a paid membership on the platform.

Illustration of a man watching TV news.
Image from mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

'This billionaire or that multimillionaire': Cataloged in 'Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse'

John Nichols's book Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse was an effort in the first year of the Trump administration to catalog the worst political actors.

Former White House counsel John Dean wrote on Trump’s Inauguration Day: “There is no evidence anywhere that Donald Trump has even a good newspaper or television news knowledge of the American presidency; nor is there any evidence he has ever read a single autobiography or biography of any of his forty-four predecessors in our highest elected office. To the contrary, the evidence suggests he does not have sufficient concentration power to read a book...”

Dean also said: “Not only does he not understand the job, he has been pushed to the hard right during the [2016–2017 presidential] transition because he is a man with no firm political beliefs of his own.” As a result, his inner circle recognized him as “an empty vessel into which they deposited ideas, which explains how some of his conflicting stances developed.”

Nichols wrote:

“Sinecure after sinecure, position after position, was handed to this billionaire or that multimillionaire,” Nichols writes. Never mind that Trump “had throughout his 2016 campaign dismissed recipients of big-money largesse as ‘puppets.’ In the first six weeks after his election, according to Politico, campaign donors accounted for ’39 percent of the 119 people Trump reportedly considered for high-level government posts, and 38 percent of those he eventually picked.’”

Example: Betsy DeVos was made Secretary of Education, with responsibility affecting 50 million students and 13 million post-secondary students. At her confirmation hearing, it became clear, as Nichols put it:

“No, she did not have an education degree. No, she had never taught in a public school and nor had she administered one. No, she had not served on an elected school board. No, she had not sent her children to public schools. No, she had never applied for a student loan and nor had her children. But, yes, she did think that guns might have a place in public schools as a defense against grizzly bears.”

She didn’t recognize a debate over “basic measures of educational attainment” nor that disability accommodations are mandated by federal law so states cannot opt out. And she basically admitted she’d bought her way into that confirmation hearing through about $200 million in family contributions to the Republican Party. Regardless, she was confirmed.

Cartoon villain.

John Nichols. Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America. New York: Bold Type Books, 2017.

I Wrote More About This Book

To read more, please see "Retrospective on Trump's former counterterrorism adviser". It's a 5-minute read on Medium. Medium lets you read a certain number of stories for free every month. You may also consider a paid membership on the platform.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

If You Believe in Democracy, Be a Pollworker

illustration of a ballot placed in a box
Image by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Based on an NYT article by Ezra Klein:

Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, "spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots." Important, right?

What does he do about it? "Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers...Bannon calls this 'the precinct strategy,' and it’s working."

Wikler recommends: Talk less, fight more. In his words:

“These local races that determine the mechanics of American democracy are the ventilation shaft in the Republican death star. These races get zero national attention. They hardly get local attention. Turnout is often lower than 20 percent. That means people who actually engage have a superpower. You, as a single dedicated volunteer, might be able to call and knock on the doors of enough voters to win a local election.”

The article: "Steve Bannon Is Onto Something." Ezra Klein. New York Times. January 9, 2022.

Bonus article: We assume that gerrymandered districts will look squiggly on the map. But new computer programs that engineer for fairness also draw squiggly districts. Will any district drawn with special attention to fairness/unfairness have odd-looking borders? Take a look at the images on the Washington Post (January 11, 2022).

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Twitter users: Celebrate Jan. 8, the 1-year anniversary of no-Trump

On January 8, 2021, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump's account for violating its guidelines against the Glorification of Violence.

As a result of that decision, one year later, Twitter is a better platform.

Of course, many Trumpists are still active on the platform.

Good news: If you use Twitter, you can at least personally block them.

A stone wall covered with ivy.
Image by jeonsango on Pixabay

Blocking them means you won't see their tweets accidentally, which prevents them from ruining your morning, and it also removes the temptation for you to interact with them. (Interacting with them would benefit them by amplifying their message in the algorithm, and it would only encourage them to tweet more.) Blocking them also means they won't see your tweets accidentally, which gives you a little more privacy and safety from the GOP. You'll never know all the crap you're missing.

Go ahead. If you didn't already do so a year ago, take five minutes and Twitter-block the 43 Republican senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump of incitement to insurrection. You have permission. It will help you focus on building better relationships on Twitter.

Lindsey Graham
John Barrasso
Marsha Blackburn
Roy Blunt
John Boozman
Mike Braun
John Cornyn
Tom Cotton
Kevin Cramer
Michael D. Crapo
Ted Cruz
Steve Daines
Joni Ernst
Deb Fischer
Charles E. Grassley
Bill Hagerty
Josh Hawley
John Hoeven
Cindy Hyde-Smith
James M. Inhofe
Ron Johnson
John Kennedy
James Lankford
Mike Lee
Cynthia Lummis
Roger Marshall
Mitch McConnell
Shelley Moore Capito
Jerry Moran
Rand Paul
Rob Portman
Jim Risch
Mike Rounds
Marco Rubio
Rick Scott
Tim Scott
Richard C. Shelby
Dan Sullivan
John Thune
Thom Tillis
Tommy Tuberville
Roger Wicker
Todd Young

If you just blocked these people, say hi to me on Twitter!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

U.S. Rep. Raskin's book 'Unthinkable' on the January 6 attack

U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin released his memoir Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy on January 4, 2022, two days before the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Capitol. Public domain image, digitally modified with night stars.

Two takeaways from the book:

Simple, Effective Messaging to Counter Republican Lies

Republican leaders tried to present Trump as having acted in good faith. Trump, they said, sincerely believed that he had lost the election due to fraud. They said he had little or nothing to do with the rebellion on January 6.

They themselves probably did not believe this.

Many people saw, as Rep. Raskin also saw, that Trump "was not an innocent, or even a malicious, bystander who falsely reported a fire to cause a mass exodus; he deliberately created the crisis himself and then did nothing at all to address it but keep other people from intervening effectively to end it."

But how to counter the Republican claims? Laurence Tribe, in private conversation with Raskin, called Trump "a fire chief who sends the mob to burn the theater down." And from Timothy Snyder, they got the image of a "January exception" to characterize what the Republicans were asking for: presidential immunity from being impeached for any crimes between a lost election and a successor's inauguration.

Raskin helped coordinate the production of a video presentation showing the level of violence. He showed the 13-minute video to the Senate on February 9. For many, it was revelatory: "it was quickly dawning on them that we had all narrowly missed being killed." But others like Cruz, Lankford, and Rubio were "alternately whispering to their neighbors like naughty fifth-graders and squinting hard at the screen as if they might detect some big liberal conspiracy of Antifa spies hiding in the bushes in the background."

Demogoguery Leads to Tyranny

Trump didn't need an organized, trained army on January 6, 2021. Some rioters belonged to paramilitary groups and had their own ideologies. Thus the violence included "the extremists marching in formation, their arrival with dangerous chemicals, the coordinated poundings and beatings of officers, the use of walkie-talkies to plan ambushes of our officers." Those groups strengthened their numbers by uniting around Trump; the size of the mob on January 6 was a hundred times larger than the white supremacist side of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville four years earlier. Many others, though, just showed up to hold signs in vague support of Trump and other rioters. Considering these varied motivations, Trump knew how to energize a mob and how to benefit from their actions. He knew "he could deploy the violence instrumentally for his own political purposes, while his followers enjoyed it intrinsically for its own sadistic delights."

Alexander Hamilton had laid out the threat in his first Federalist Paper. As Raskin paraphrases Hamilton's warning: "The demagogue panders to the negative emotions of the crowd, pretending to be the champion of the people, only to wage war against the Constitution, the legal order, and the democratic political process," and thus becomes a tyrant. If the violence on January 6 were allowed to continue, Raskin worried, would Trump then declare martial law?

I Wrote More About This Book

To read more, please see "A Year Later, the Reckoning with Jan. 6 Continues". It's a 6-minute read on Medium. Medium lets you read a certain number of stories for free every month. You may also consider a paid membership on the platform.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

What is 'hyperstition'?

"A hyperstition," Dave Szulborski wrote in This is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming (New-Fiction, 2005), "can be loosely defined as a fictional work or belief system that somehow gradually takes on the appearance of reality. Obviously based on the concept of superstition, hyperstition is distinguished by being predominantly digitally spawned and proliferated."

He quotes someone else who said "the practice of hyperstition necessarily involves three irreducible ingredients, interlocked in a productive circuit of simultaneous, mutually stimulating tasks": numogram, mythos, unbelief. (Szulborski attributes this to This website no longer exists in 2022.) He defines these three ingredients:

  • numogram: "the gradual revelation of a belief system or secret knowledge through a numerical and/or symbolic system"
  • mythos: "the cumulative knowledge or narrative that is gathered from multiple sources," serving to question authority, though its own counternarrative may have flaws
  • unbelief: deliberate skepticism; as Coleridge referred to the audience's "suspension of disbelief" when enjoying fiction or drama, this "unbelief" is a "philosophical" application of the general behavior

Dave Szulborski. This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. New-Fiction, 2005. was "a forerunner in online hyperstitional enquiry," according to this essay by Caoimhe Doyle and Katherine Foyle, which also pointed me to Szulborski's book.

"Hyperstition is a term that emerged in 2004 around the work of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru). A derivative of 'superstition,' the neologism 'hyperstition' refers to the process of fictions making themselves real."

Caoimhe Doyle and Katherine Foyle. "Murder By Telephone Numbers: Unreason and Serial Killing Through the Work of Douglas Adams." In Serial Killing: A Philosophical Anthology. Edia Connole and Gary J. Shipley, eds. Schism, 2015. p. 409.

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