What Underlies the G.O.P. Commitment to Ignorance?

As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.”

Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”

The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.

The Milley hearing was part of the orchestrated furor over “critical race theory,” which has dominated right-wing media for the past few months, getting close to 2,000 mentions on Fox so far this year. One often sees assertions that those attacking critical race theory have no idea what it’s about, but I disagree; they understand that it has something to do with assertions that America has a history of racism and of policies that explicitly or implicitly widened racial disparities.

And such assertions are unmistakably true. The Tulsa race massacre really happened, and it was only one of many such incidents. The 1938 underwriting manual for the Federal Housing Administration really did declare that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

We can argue about the relevance of this history to current policy, but who would argue against acknowledging simple facts?

The modern right, that’s who. The current obsession with critical race theory is a cynical attempt to change the subject away from the Biden administration’s highly popular policy initiatives, while pandering to the white rage that Republicans deny exists. But it’s only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics.

Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.

What underlies this cross-disciplinary commitment to ignorance? On each subject, refusing to acknowledge reality serves special interests. Climate denial caters to the fossil fuel industry; evolution denial caters to religious fundamentalists; tax-cut mysticism caters to billionaire donors.

But there’s also, I’d argue, a spillover effect: Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board. That is, you can’t declare that honesty about America’s racial history is unacceptable and expect to maintain intellectual standards everywhere else. In the modern right-wing universe of ideas, everything is political; there are no safe subjects.

This politicization of everything inevitably creates huge tension between conservatives and institutions that try to respect reality.

There have been many studies documenting the strong Democratic lean of college professors, which is often treated as prima facie evidence of political bias in hiring. A new law in Florida requires that each state university conduct an annual survey “which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” which doesn’t specifically mandate the hiring of more Republicans but clearly gestures in that direction.

An obvious counterargument to claims of biased hiring is self-selection: How many conservatives choose to pursue careers in, say, sociology? Is hiring bias the reason police officers seem to have disproportionately supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, or is this simply a reflection of the kind of people who choose careers in law enforcement?

But beyond that, the modern G.O.P. is no home for people who believe in objectivity. One striking feature of surveys of academic partisanship is the overwhelming Democratic lean in hard sciences like biology and chemistry; but is that really hard to understand when Republicans reject science on so many fronts?

One recent study marvels that even finance departments are mainly Democratic. Indeed, you might expect finance professors, some of whom do lucrative consulting for Wall Street, to be pretty conservative. But even they are repelled by a party committed to zombie economics.

Which brings me back to General Milley. The U.S. military has traditionally leaned Republican, but the modern officer corps is highly educated, open-minded and, dare I say it, even a bit intellectual — because those are attributes that help win wars.

Unfortunately, they are also attributes the modern G.O.P. finds intolerable.

So something like the attack on Milley was inevitable. Right-wingers have gone all in on ignorance, so they were bound to come into conflict with every institution — including the U.S. military — that is trying to cultivate knowledge.

The Doctor Versus the Denier

Anthony Fauci’s at the pool, but Donald Trump’s in deep.

Never mind Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

You want to see a real can’t-look-away train wreck of a relationship? Look to the nation’s capital, where a messy falling out is chronicled everywhere from the tabloids to a glossy fashion magazine, replete with a photo shoot by a swimming pool.

The saga has enough betrayal, backstabbing, recrimination, indignation and ostracization to impress Edith Wharton.

The press breathlessly covers how much time has passed since the pair last spoke, whether they’re headed for splitsville, and if they can ever agree on what’s best for the children.

It was always bound to be tempestuous because they are the ultimate odd couple, the doctor and the president.

  • One is a champion of truth and facts. The other is a master of deceit and denial.
  • One is highly disciplined, working 18-hour days. The other can’t be bothered to do his homework and golfs instead.
  • One is driven by science and the public good. The other is a public menace, driven by greed and ego.
  • One is a Washington institution. The other was sent here to destroy Washington institutions.
  • One is incorruptible. The other corrupts.
  • One is apolitical. The other politicizes everything he touches — toilets, windows, beans and, most fatally, masks.

After a fractious week, when the former reality-show star in the White House retweeted a former game-show host saying that we shouldn’t trust doctors about Covid-19, Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci are gritting their teeth.

What’s so scary is that the bumpy course of their relationship has life-or-death consequences for Americans.

Who could even dream up a scenario where a president and a White House drop oppo research on the esteemed scientist charged with keeping us safe in a worsening pandemic?

The administration acted like Peter Navarro, Trump’s wacko-bird trade adviser, had gone rogue when he assailed Dr. Fauci for being Dr. Wrong, in a USA Today op-ed. But does anyone believe that? And if he did, would he still have his job?

No doubt it was a case of Trump murmuring: Will no one rid me of this meddlesome infectious disease specialist?

Republicans on Capitol Hill privately confessed they were baffled by the whole thing, saying they couldn’t understand why Trump would undermine Fauci, especially now with the virus resurgent. They think it’s not only hurting Trump’s re-election chances, but theirs, too.

As though it couldn’t get more absurd, Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Friday that she thinks it would help Trump’s poll numbers for him to start giving public briefings on the virus again — even though that exercise went off the rails when the president began suggesting people inject themselves with bleach.

How did we get to a situation in our country where the public health official most known for honesty and hard work is most vilified for it?” marvels Michael Specter, a science writer for The New Yorker who began covering Fauci during the AIDs crisis. “And as Team Trump trashes him, the numbers keep horrifyingly proving him right.”

When Dr. Fauci began treating AIDs patients, nearly every one of them died. “It was the darkest time of my life,” he told Specter. In an open letter, Larry Kramer called Fauci a “murderer.”

Then, as Specter writes, he started listening to activists and made a rare admission: His approach wasn’t working. He threw his caution to the winds and became a public-health activist. Through rigorous research and commitment to clinical studies, the death rate from AIDs has plummeted over the years.

Now Fauci struggles to drive the data bus as the White House throws nails under his tires. It seems emblematic of a deeper, existential problem: America has lost its can-do spirit. We were always Bugs Bunny, faster, smarter, more wily than everybody else. Now we’re Slugs Bunny.

Can our country be any more pathetic than this: The Georgia governor suing the Atlanta mayor and City Council to block their mandate for city residents to wear masks?

Trump promised the A team, but he has surrounded himself with losers and kiss-ups and second-raters. Just your basic Ayn Rand nightmare.

Certainly, Dr. Fauci has had to adjust some of his early positions as he learned about this confounding virus. (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” John Maynard Keynes wisely observed.)

Medicine is not an exact art,” Jerome Groopman, the best-selling author and professor at Harvard Medical School, put it. “There’s lots of uncertainty, always evolving information, much room for doubt. The most dangerous people are the ones who speak with total authority and no room for error.”

Sound like someone you know?

Medical schools,” Dr. Groopman continued, “have curricula now to teach students the imperative of admitting when something went wrong, taking responsibility, and committing to righting it.”

Some are saying the 79-year-old Dr. Fauci should say to hell with it and quit. But we need his voice of reason in this nuthouse of a White House.

Despite Dr. Fauci’s best efforts to stay apolitical, he has been sucked into the demented political kaleidoscope through which we view everything now. Consider the shoot by his pool, photographed by Frankie Alduino, for a digital cover story by Norah O’Donnell for InStyle magazine.

From the left, the picture represented an unflappable hero, exhausted and desperately in need of some R & R, chilling poolside, not letting the White House’s slime campaign get him down or silence him. And on the right, some saw a liberal media darling, high on his own supply in the midst of a deadly pandemic. “While America burns, Fauci does fashion mag photo shoots,” tweeted Sean Davis, co-founder of the right-wing website The Federalist.

It’s no coincidence that the QAnon-adjacent cultists on the right began circulating a new conspiracy theory in the fever swamps of Facebook that Dr. Fauci’s wife of three and a half decades, a bioethicist, is Ghislane Maxwell’s sister. (Do I need to tell you she isn’t?)

Worryingly, new polls show that the smear from Trumpworld may be starting to stick; fewer Republicans trust the doctor now than in the spring.

Forget Mueller, Sessions, Comey, Canada, his niece, Mika Brzezinski. Of the many quarrels, scrapes and scraps Trump has instigated in his time in office, surely this will be remembered not only as the most needless and perverse, but as the most dangerous.

As Dr. Fauci told The Atlantic, it’s “a bit bizarre.”

More than a bit, actually.

Who were those guys on Elizabethtown roofs?

If armed militia groups are going to give themselves permission to “police” local Black Lives Matter demonstrations, as they did in downtown Elizabethtown on June 6, I think it’s important to know a little more about them.

One of the groups in Elizabethtown — the Carlisle Light Infantry — claims to be the direct descendant of the Carlisle Light Infantry that marched with George Washington against the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania and fought for the Union in the Civil War.

The other, now calling itself the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization, identified itself as “Anti ANTIFA” on a newly created Facebook page June 1, but changed to Domestic Terrorism Response Organization shortly after President Donald Trump declared the loosely organized American anti-fascist movement to be a domestic terror group.

The president’s attempt to avoid addressing concerns about police brutality expressed across the country failed miserably. Under U.S. law, the federal government can only “deem entities terrorists and impose sanctions on them” if they’re from another country, according to The New York Times on June 10.

Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham told LNP | LancasterOnline that he “became aware” on the night of June 5 that some shop owners had arranged their own security, but said he didn’t invite the militia groups or approve their plans. Apparently, borough Councilman Bill Troutman didn’t either. Nearly a week later, he was still demanding to know “who put those people on the roof,” according to LNP | LancasterOnline.

One gunman told LNP | LancasterOnline his name is Niels Norby Jr. and stated “I was there to protect everybody” — store owners, police and protesters.

The Domestic Terrorism Response Organization members present in Elizabethtown apparently offered no explanation for their presence there. “Anti-antifa” — a name it previously used on Facebook — is a term that has been coined by and linked to some white supremacist groups, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Carlisle Light Infantry, in its modern incarnation, describes itself on its website (carlislelightinfantry.com) as “the living, breathing, operational element of the 2nd Amendment as defined by the signers of the constitution of the United States as ‘a well regulated militia.’ ”

Asserting to be the revitalized progeny of the Colonial-era Carlisle militia, the current leaders explain on their website why they had to get the unit back up and running. Following are direct and unedited quotes: “We live in a time where we as citizens are apprehensive, even afraid of our uniformed officers. We’re doubtful and suspicious of our local elected officials. We’re convinced that our leaders do not have our best interests, our families and livelihoods, in mind as they make decisions that effect every aspect of our daily lives. We live in a time when our open arms to the world and it’s many peoples and cultures invites risk and harm to our own. We therefore live in a time where it’s our personal and civic duty to stand up for what’s right, and protect what matters most.”

Despite its assertion that “we do not, and will not, discriminate against anyone,” there is not one black or brown face in the several group photos posted its website. Put all of that together and you come up with what sounds to me like another white nationalist group intent on imposing its jaundiced view of 21st-century American society on communities (as it did in Elizabethtown on June 6), whether we ask for it or not.

Shocking as it is to view photos of these people brandishing their weapons on the rooftops of downtown Elizabethtown, it really is nothing new. Militia members essentially threatened to lynch Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month to express their displeasure with restrictions imposed to protect them from the deadly coronavirus.

But they go much further back than that. I met these disaffected Americans years ago when I was reporting in Michigan, Indiana and upstate New York. Like the Carlisle group, they called themselves “real” patriots. Those I met had lost faith in this country and its institutions, including the political system, the police and the military. Like the Carlisle Light Infantry, those militia members lived in fear; for them it was fear of a one-world government, secret messages on the back of road signs and black helicopters on the horizon.

For the Carlisle Light Infantry, it’s — in my view — fear of people of color, immigrants, diversity and a world not dominated by white people.

I felt sad talking to those militia groups back then, and the same sadness washes over me as I listen to these militia groups today. Their members seem so desperate that they’re willing to take up arms against their fellow citizens.

Back then, I tended to write these folks off as an insignificant splinter of the American body politic. But I don’t think we can ignore them anymore. They have a president who seemingly encourages them to take the law into their own hands and who shows no signs of understanding the traumatic experiences of any Americans, black or white.

Notice that today’s militia members seemingly express no sense of identifying with the struggle for racial equality and justice now sweeping across our country. It was a peaceful desire to support Black Lives Matter that triggered the protest in Elizabethtown on June 6. But the Domestic Terrorism Response Organization and the Carlisle Light Infantry didn’t come for that. They stood with trigger fingers at the ready — an intimidating, self-appointed presence — apparently prepared to take out anyone who crossed whatever lines they drew for acceptable behavior during a demonstration against police brutality.

Although the Carlisle Light Infantry puts in a lot of time drilling, these members are not trained police officers. Thank God the day did not end in tragedy. But the challenge posed by these groups did not end at sundown in Elizabethtown. A civil society cannot allow violence or the threat of violence to usurp the rule of law.

These are tragically disappointed people, gripped by fear and a mindset that will lead to nothing good. We must invite them back into the community dialogue now — for their sake and ours. There’s no better time than the present.

 

 

Cutting through the Green Tape: Who called the militia to ‘protect’ during Elizabethtown Protest

 

Trump Attorneys Assert Immunity From Broad Sweep of Law

Over his nearly three years in office, lawyers representing President Trump have made numerous legal arguments that, taken as a whole, would give the president sweeping immunity—even if he were to commit murder.

An extensive review of correspondence, court documents, legal opinions and public statements from lawyers representing Mr. Trump shows the president’s attorneys have consistently pushed to put him beyond the reach of any other institution in federal, state or local government—immune to civil lawsuits, judicial orders, criminal investigations or congressional probes.

Those arguments have become even more aggressive as Mr. Trump faces numerous legal threats, including a possible impeachment in Congress, a New York state prosecutor who has subpoenaed his tax records as part of a criminal probe and a welter of civil lawsuits.

One lawyer for the president recently went so far as to suggest that Mr. Trump could shoot someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and not be investigated by local authorities, echoing a statement the president made during his 2016 campaign in which he said he wouldn’t lose any voters over such an action.

“This administration has articulated a view of presidential power in which the president is above the law,” said Erica Newland, who served in the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER

Some positions that lawyers representing Mr. Trump, the White House or the Department of Justice have argued since January 2017 in court or in other legal documents:

“If he can’t be held accountable via executive-branch law enforcement and he can’t be held accountable via congressional impeachment, then we really do have a king,” said Ms. Newland, now counsel at the bipartisan legal advocacy group Protect Democracy.

Lawyers representing the president either in his personal or institutional capacity have argued that

  • law enforcement can’t investigate the president at all; that
  • he can shut down investigations into himself or his associates; and that
  • obstruction-of-justice laws don’t apply to the president.

At the same time, since Democrats took over Congress in January, Mr. Trump’s government and personal lawyers have fought numerous legal battles over congressional oversight—arguing that close aides don’t have to testify even if subpoenaed, that all congressional investigations must serve a “legislative purpose,” that cabinet secretaries can disobey subpoenas and that a congressional impeachment inquiry is invalid.

Further, they have argued that federal courts don’t have the authority to transmit any evidence of presidential wrongdoing obtained by a grand jury to Congress for possible consideration of impeachment. In some instances, Trump administration attorneys have contended that some executive decisions are unreviewable by the courts, or that courts have no right to issue orders stopping the president from taking official actions.

Some of the claims contradict each other: Mr. Trump’s personal attorneys have argued he can be held accountable only by Congress, while his White House lawyers fought efforts to hold him accountable in Congress.

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The White House, the Justice Department and an attorney representing Mr. Trump personally didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

To some extent, these positions reflect what all lawyers do: take aggressive, maximalist legal positions in the best interests of the client, and see if a court agrees. Lawyers for previous presidents—Democrats and Republicans—are no strangers to making similarly aggressive claims about powers, authority and immunities to defend the president personally or the long-term power and authority of the office.

But scholars who study the history of presidential power say what is different about the Trump administration is its unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy and interests of other institutions.

“Mr. Trump has taken the position that the [Constitution’s] Article II powers of the president give him absolute authority. What makes his case different is that he is not even recognizing the legitimacy of countervailing powers” such as Congress, said Mark Rozell, a dean at George Mason University who has studied presidential authority. “He is deeming them as politically motivated and not legitimate in their inquiries and therefore to be obstructed at every turn.”

Executive Privilege: What Are the Limits?
Executive Privilege: What Are the Limits?
Executive privilege refers to the president’s right to keep certain things confidential. But how far can it be stretched? WSJ’s Shelby Holliday looks at past uses of executive privilege and explains how it could factor into the impeachment inquiry. Photo: Getty

The issue gets even more complicated in investigations like impeachment because overlapping legal teams are defending the president in both his capacity as an individual and his capacity as the president.

Government lawyers represent the presidency as an institution and are supposed to advance arguments to preserve the institutional powers of the president—but aren’t supposed to defend the president’s personal interests.

The Justice Department, the White House counsel and his personal legal team are all defending the president on a cornucopia of different lawsuits around the country.

John Yoo, a former Bush administration official known for his advocacy of expansive presidential power, said many of the most extreme legal positions taken by the Trump lawyers have come from his personal attorneys trying to defend him by invoking the powers of the presidency. He said that most of the positions the Justice Department, White House counsel and other government lawyers have taken are in line with previous practices.

“When it comes to where he’s making the arguments on behalf of the office of the presidency, in his official capacity, I think he’s gone just as far as other presidents have,” Mr. Yoo said. “In the areas where the president has been defending himself as an individual rather than the office, he has made arguments that have gone beyond what past presidents have set out.”

Mr. Yoo added: “I think that Trump has been under unprecedented assault—constitutionally, legally—from his critics too. I can see why his lawyers are bringing out these arguments which are usually reserved for times of real crisis.”

Mr. Trump isn’t the first to provoke a legal showdown over his powers and immunities. But rarely did the attorneys representing other presidents deny that other institutions also had legitimate interests.

Richard Nixon sparked a major legal battle over his refusal to turn over tapes of Oval Office conversations to prosecutors and Congress. But he also offered numerous compromises, such as turning over transcripts, because he and his attorneys recognized that Congress and prosecutors had legitimate interests in access to the materials as part of their inquiries.

During a yearslong independent counsel investigation and later impeachment, President Bill Clinton also fought numerous legal battles over his privileges and immunities, but frequently argued before courts that they needed to balance the interests of the presidency against the needs of Congress or law enforcement. Mr. Clinton, for instance, agreed to testify before a grand jury in exchange for independent prosecutor Ken Starr dropping a subpoena.

President George W. Bush fought back against a Democratic-led congressional investigation to keep his top aides from testifying about the firing of federal prosecutors for what critics said were political reasons, but offered a compromise by allowing voluntary interviews and turning over documents to Congress.

Few of those legal positions have ever been blessed by courts.

Last week, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney William Consovoy argued before a New York federal appeals court in the tax case that Mr. Trump couldn’t be investigated for any crime while in office. The judge asked if that included shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. “Nothing could be done?” he asked.

“That’s correct,” Mr. Consovoy said. That case is pending.

In another instance earlier this month, Justice Department lawyers argued that a court couldn’t give Congress evidence that was gathered by special counsel Robert Mueller if it was obtained using a grand jury—going so far as to say that a federal judge was wrong in 1974 to give Congress materials from the grand jury investigating the Watergate break-in.

Wow, OK,” U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell said in response to that argument. “The department is taking extraordinary positions in this case.”

She ruled against the Justice Department last week, writing that her decision was motivated in part by the White House’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigators.

The White House announced Monday it would appeal.