The Week Ahead
For the second time in as many weeks, I’m skipping over what I’d planned to write about today to take on something that feels too urgent and pressing to avoid. I’ll flag some developments I had earmarked for our usual week-ahead piece over the next couple of days. Tonight I want to talk about developments that, despite being deeply disturbing, are largely being ignored. They’re important individually, but they have even more significance collectively.
There is, to be fair, a lot going on. It can be hard to focus on just one thing or, frankly, to look at several different things and understand their connection in the moment when they’re happening. But that’s also how frogs get boiled, according to the old saw about frogs in a pot that is slowly approaching the boiling point. We’ve been in the water for so long and it’s been so warm that the gradual rise isn’t receiving the attention it should.
Here are three of the narrative lines that jump out at me, compelling me to think we need to pay attention and understand their combined significance.
The stories circulating about President Biden, portraying him as too old to be president again and losing his grip.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, because it’s been all over the media the past couple of weeks. At its most extreme expression, the story is that Biden is losing his mental faculties, but there are all sorts of variants designed to plant the suggestion that he isn’t quite up to the job (though he seems to be doing very nicely at the moment, despite Republicans’ best efforts). An ABC poll last week reflected the success of this barrage: “Nearly half of Democrats—48%—say Biden is too old for another term; about as many say the same about Trump. Many more independents—75%—say this about Biden, versus 51% for Trump. Among Republicans, 79% see Biden as too old; just 28% say this of Trump.”
Trump is four years younger than Biden, and, well, you can draw your own conclusions about their respective health and mental capacity.
Biden at 80 now would be our oldest president if he wins again in 2024. In normal times that might be enough for him step aside for a younger candidate. But these are not normal times. As Biden put it in a recent interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle when she asked him point-blank why the country should “hire” him again, when Fortune 500 companies aren’t exactly looking for 80-year-old CEOs, he had a quick response. “I have acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom,” Biden shot back. “I think I’ve proven myself to be honorable as well as also effective.”
We’re not talking about a choice between Joe Biden and some theoretical perfect leader here. Concerns about Biden are expressed as though he exists in a vacuum where Donald Trump, who presents an existential threat to the future of our democracy, doesn’t exist, even though he’s Biden’s likely opponent. And that race shouldn’t be a close call for anyone who values democracy. I’m a huge fan of young leadership, but I value Joe Biden’s steady, experienced hand and his proven ability to chart a course through troubled waters with Trump running in 2024. This is especially true because Biden has surrounded himself with smart young people who are being prepared to serve as the next generation of leaders our country needs. For instance, his Vice President, Kamala Harris, who continues to be alternately ignored and lambasted in the press despite the knockout of a job she’s been doing. Harris has championed abortion access, including to mifepristone, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, and has been quietly running the President’s labor task force that has made theirs, as they’ve said, “the most pro-union administration in history,” while cementing key international relationships. It’s almost as though there’s some sort of deliberate effort to ignore the facts and vilify these two leaders who’ve restored dignity to the White House. (I hope you’re reading that in my sarcasm font voice.)
The icing on the cake was getting an email from an old friend, a smart lawyer who asked if I’d heard about a group whose primary purpose is putting together a “unity ticket.” I hope that if you’ve heard about this or similar, you’re seeing it for what it is. Whether it’s a third-party vote or a sit-it-out because Biden doesn’t completely align with your values push, either of those is functionally a vote for Trump. Democrats are going to need every vote to win in 2024, between voter suppression and voter misdirection. There’s never been a better time to be skeptical of the motives of people who are Biden-bashing.
Anyone who remembers how foreign countries that didn’t exactly have America’s best interests at heart successfully damaged Hillary Clinton understands what’s at stake here. Does Biden speak more slowly sometimes? Sure. But do his ideas and his policies make sense? Absolutely. He’s getting the job done. The economy is far stronger than it has any right to be coming out of a pandemic. Biden passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will benefit Americans for decades to come instead of just announcing repeated “infrastructure weeks.” The rest of the world respects us again, albeit if only for now. So why is the dominant narrative about Biden negative? Ask yourself who benefits from that. It’s certainly not us.
Trump 2.0 should frighten us even more than the first go-round.
In just the first few weeks of the Trump administration, there was the (pre-Covid) Muslim ban on travel. Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, when she passed on serious concerns about Mike Flynn, the former general who lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians and would later, twice, plead guilty under oath in open court to doing so, until Trump pardoned him. Five Cabinet secretaries left the Trump administration under a cloud: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Labor’s Alex Acosta. Then there was the family separation policy, designed to be so horrible that migrants would stop coming to the border, including those seeking legal asylum in the United States. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you.
Trump 2.0 would be worse. There are plenty of examples. But I’m going to flag one for you tonight that has received very little attention. I’ve been keeping an eye on www.donaldjtrump.com so you don’t have to. Same old tired lies and grift.
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It’s that one, the unfinished-business slogan, that grabbed my attention. Trump’s grievance website is full of it. There’s a page called Agenda 47 where Trump lays out all of his campaign policies, each one more frightening than the next. He has a vision for “Ending the Nightmare of the Homeless, Drug Addicts, and Dangerously Deranged,” “Liberating America from Biden’s Regulatory Onslaught,” “President Trump Announces Plan to Stop the America Last Warmongers and Globalists,” and “Firing the Radical Marxist Prosecutors Destroying America.” It’s that bad. Those posts are indicative of his vision for a second term.
Let’s focus on his most recent post, from last week. It’s titled “Protecting Students from the Radical Left and Marxist Maniacs Infecting Educational Institutions.” You’re going to want to pay extra attention here if you’re an academic or care about someone who is, or about the ability of the next generation to get an education that’s not a political indoctrination. This is Ron DeSantis passing “Don’t Say Gay” and prohibiting teaching critical race theory on steroids.
Here are some of the most outrageous bits:
“President Donald J. Trump announced his plan to reclaim our once great educational institutions from the radical Left and Marxist maniacs. President Trump will protect American students, impose real standards on higher education, and hold colleges and universities accountable.”
This is terrifying. Alarm bells should be going off everywhere, but they aren’t. I haven’t seen any coverage of this, although Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that she’s on board, a rousing endorsement for any policy endeavor.
The website continues to explain, “The time has come to reclaim our once great educational institutions from the radical Left, and we will do that.”
“President Trump has pledged to fire the radical Left accreditors that have allowed our colleges to become dominated by Marxist Maniacs and lunatics.”
Here’s the core statement: “He will impose real standards on American colleges and universities, to include defending the American tradition and Western civilization.” That language is a proxy for Christian nationalism, which has little to do with Christianity but promotes racist, anti-immigrant, and antisemitic views.
As crazy as this would have seemed 10 years ago, the idea of Trump replacing education with indoctrination is precisely the type of thing we could expect from a second Trump administration. While one might expect our laws and norms would prevent that, many people in Trump’s base would go willingly, and we have seen the fallacy of relying overmuch on protections we believe exist for fundamental rights we take for granted as immutable. If people protest or insist on teaching, Trump has a plan for that too. It apparently involves the complete politicization of DOJ, which he unsuccessfully attempted last go-round, so that they can be his enforcers:
“Once back in the White House, President Trump will direct the Department of Justice to pursue federal civil rights cases against schools that continue to engage in racial discrimination and will advance a measure to have schools that continue these illegal and unjust policies fined up to the entire amount of their endowment.”
“Our secret weapon will be the college accreditation system . . . When I return to the White House, I will fire the radical Left accreditors that have allowed our colleges to become dominated by Marxist Maniacs and lunatics. We will then accept applications for new accreditors who will impose real standards on colleges once again and once and for all.”
Trump always says the quiet part out loud, and he’s saying it here for anyone who will listen.
“We are going to have real education in America.”
Or, in other words, the end of democracy.
So that’s what’s at stake in Biden versus Trump. But, some people will insist, there are still enough good people in America who will get it; independents who will see the truth before the next election, even some Republicans who, without Tucker Carlson on Fox every night, may actually let a little bit of the truth seep in, right? Oh, wait. . .
Tucker Carlson is dropping hints he’s not done.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Carlson, whose nightly shows during years as Fox’s favorite host confirm his racist, anti-immigrant, sexist, etc. beliefs, to say nothing of his private communications that surfaced during the Dominion Voting Systems litigation and led Fox to fire him, has never apologized for any of it. Not the “how white men fight” comment or any of the derogatory, offensive, diminishing comments he’s made over the years. Apparently he’s proud of them. He’s never disavowed them (except for that refreshing moment when The Daily Show did it for him).
There’s been no apology or explanation for the text Carlson sent to a producer after watching a video of a group of “Trump guys” attacking what he characterized as “an Antifa kid.” Carlson texted, “Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it.” Hit the “kid” harder and kill him.
Pick any number of his distasteful statements over the years—they should have been career-enders. Pushing the Big Lie on his viewers when he knew Trump lost the election should have been game over. But this? It’s horrid.
However, being fired from Fox won’t end Carlson’s career. Predictably, Axios is reporting, Carlson has hired a lawyer to get him out of his contract with Fox, which they say would keep him sidelined until the January following the 2024 election. They report he’s already had offers from Newsmax and Rumble. Newsmax and Russian state TV both tried to woo Carlson with offers made on social media. There have been hints of conversations with others. Axios says Carlson has had a conversation with Elon Musk about “working together” but didn’t offer any specifics. They reported Carlson is considering following in Bill O’Reilly’s footsteps and growing “a direct-to-consumer media outlet where his millions of fans could pay to watch him.” The venerable Hollywood Reporter says, “Fox may need to contend with Carlson competing with the channel elsewhere, though there are no indications such a move is imminent, despite interest from multiple parties, per two sources familiar with the outreach.”
It’s not just Carlson, of course, although he’s the poster child for fringe right-wing propaganda served up in the guise of news. While the Dominion case surfaced some of the lies Fox fed their viewers, many of their viewers are still in the dark because Fox wasn’t required to retract the lies. As long as this sort of “journalism” is tolerated and financially rewarded, we remain in a dark and dangerous place. A place where, heading into 2024, false stories can be spun about a supposedly infirm incumbent president facing a muscular, vital Trump who will save America from the threats it faces because of Democrats, and Black people, Jews, gays, immigrants, so-called Marxists, Muslims and women. It’s not true, but neither was the Big Lie. Think carefully. It’s not only possible, it’s consistent with the way Trump operates. We should all be concerned.
Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime . . . that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” And that’s what this is about.
Expressing concerns about fascism is a surefire way to be accused of being a drama queen, an unhinged woman. I don’t think I am. As someone who studies and teaches about democratic institutions, I’m acutely aware of the temperature of the water the frogs are in, and I’m worried. Trump and his cronies are serious. They’ve come for women’s autonomy and they’ve been busy marginalizing Black people, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and anyone else they think won’t line up and do as they’re told. Trump has said he intends to end modern education and virtually no one has noticed. It’s easy to brush it off and say he can’t do it; easy to sit on the sidelines and watch and shake your head. Like frogs, being boiled.
Don’t just watch it happen and do nothing.
We’re in this together,