A New United Russia: The Navalny Chapter

Just five months after being poisoned with the lethal nerve agent Novichok and being treated in Berlin, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny made his return to Russia. Upon arriving at the airport in Moscow, Navalny was detained on sight and taken to a local police station where he was put on trial in a hastily assembled kangaroo court. The Federal Penitentiary System claimed that Navalny may face jail time for violating the terms of a suspended sentence in 2014 for embezzlement; Russian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest one week ago. Following the “trial” at the police station, Navalny was arrested for thirty days pending a larger scale trial. To quote Navalny, “The man in the bunker [Putin] is so scared that they literally threw the law in the trash. [...] This is lawlessness of the highest degree.” [English translation]To the Russian government, Navalny’s assassination attempt and arrest are just another number for their books. Reporters, journalists, and political figures who do so much as openly criticize Putin’s actions or the country disappear, get arrested, or die a violent death. In 2018, similar to Navalny, former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, along with his 33-year old daughter, were found slipping in and out of consciousness in Salisbury, England; it was later revealed that they were poisoned with Novichok. In 2015, former Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin and outspoken Putin critic Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back on a bridge outside the Kremlin. He condemned Putin’s government, calling it an “increasingly authoritarian, undemocratic regime” and published in-depth reports detailing Putin’s corruption. At the time he was assassinated, Nemtsov was helping to organize a rally against Russian military intervention in Ukraine. They’re not the first ones to be targeted, but they’re certainly not the last. They are among the many who risked their lives to expose the corrupt and heinous actions taken by Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, and the rest of the Russian government. They gave their all in hopes that a better Russia would soon come.As stated previously — these are just numbers to Putin. To the rest of the world, it is a clear and present danger that must be dealt with. These arrests and assassinations have occurred for too long, and will continue as long as Putin and his band of thugs remain in power.The Kremlin has denied — and will continue to deny — taking any part in the poisoning of Navalny, just like they have with the others. Prior to the January 24 protests, Russian authorities launched a wave of searches and arrests targeting pro-Navalny activists. Mass protests broke out across Russia (with some smaller protests in France and Belarus) in support of Alexei Navalny. Many of the protestors within Russia were met with brutal police force, and nearly 4,000 were detained. Members of Navalny’s team — and even his family — who had not previously been arrested in the first wave of protests were also detained. Accompanying the detentions were raids on homes and offices, including Navalny’s apartment. When asked about the searches and arrests, the Kremlin simply responded that “law enforcement agencies are doing their job.”Despite the massive crackdown on Navalny’s team and supporters, the people are determined to keep fighting. Protests continued the following weekend of January 31 with over 5,100 arrests. The next day, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison; no photos or video were allowed to be taken, but Navalny’s team ensured that their livestream of the absurdity would continue. More protests broke out following his sentencing. The people were met with a heavy presence of riot police, but did not let that stop them. By the end of the night, over 1,400 arrests were made.No matter how many suppression tactics the Kremlin attempts, they truly are no match for the opposition. They will not allow Putin to have control over them in the end. From prison, Navalny has encouraged his supporters to keep fighting, while also pushing back against the government. “A huge number of people, tens of millions of people, agree with me. Yes, right now the force is on your side,” he said. “But this won’t continue forever.”-------Within two hours of Navalny’s arrest on January 17, President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan quickly issued a statement via Twitter:“Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable. The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard.” [Tweet]During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Tony Blinken stated that handling Navalny’s case would be a priority, stating, “It is extraordinary how frightened Vladimir Putin seems to be of one man. I think that speaks volumes. And Mr. Navalny is a voice, I think, for millions and millions and millions of Russians, and their voice needs to be heard in Russia.”The harsh tone toward Putin is nothing new from President Biden. After German officials confirmed in September that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, Biden issued a scathing statement, directly placing the blame on Vladimir Putin:“Once again, the Kremlin has used a favorite weapon — an agent from the Novichok class of chemicals — in an effort to silence a political opponent. The mode of attack leaves no doubt as to where the responsibility lies — the Russian state.”  On January 26, President Biden had his first call with Vladimir Putin. Consistent with his previous tone on Russia, Biden pressed Putin on several issues relating to national security, as well as Navalny’s poisoning and arrest. While all options to address this attack, including diplomacy, are on the table, Biden has made it clear that he will not cave into Putin’s wants and instead plans to ensure that Putin is held accountable for his crimes. As stated in a White House briefing, “President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”That same day, the G7 Foreign Ministers issued a statement on Navalny’s arrest and detention. As it was in President Biden’s statement, the usage of Novichok was directly tied to Putin. The arrest of Alexei Navalny was deemed “politically motivated,” and they demanded that the Russian government release the thousands of protestors and journalists arrested. In addition, the G7 Foreign Ministers demanded Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release, stating that “Russia is bound by its national and international obligations to respect and ensure human rights.”President Biden has called on his Western European allies to join the United States in holding the Putin regime accountable. Based on the swift reaction from Biden’s team after the news of Navalny’s arrest, one thing is clear: the Biden administration will not hesitate to act. It is a necessity for the rest of Europe to work alongside the US in bringing an end to an authoritarian regime.We stand with Alexei Navalny, his team, and his supporters against these undemocratic, politically-motivated arrests. It has been known for decades that the Putin regime is an evil empire; it actively poses a threat to the liberty and freedom of people within Russia and across the globe. The world knows he is nothing more than a monster who poses as a strongman. Russia prides itself in being a “free and strong democracy” when in reality, it is far from that. A free and strong democracy does not detain its opposition leader and arrest protestors and journalists en masse. “Hundreds of thousands cannot be locked up,” says Navalny. “More and more people will recognize this. And the moment they recognize this — and that moment will come — all of this will fall apart, because you cannot lock up the whole country.”Alexei Navalny is a prisoner of conscience — he and his supporters must be freed unconditionally and immediately. The United States will not allow such blatant disregard for human rights, nor any leader to stand between the people and freedom, security, and safety.

Laying the Grass Roots

Folks, we did it.Just recently, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris became President and Vice President of the United States of America. Also recently, Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock were sworn in as Senators in the 117th Congress, giving the balance of power in the Senate to the Democratic Party.In the words of the legendary Nina Simone, “it's a new dawn, it's a new day... and I'm feeling good.”When we started this organization, we had no idea it would take off as much as it did, and we thank each and every one of you for helping us along the way. We are happy to say that the effort we put into our social media, articles, videos and everything we have done was worth it. We are proud to say that together, we helped to change the future of our country.One of our goals has always been to encapsulate the “big tent” mentality. After the primaries, we welcomed supporters of every candidate in the Democratic primary, across every part of the ideological spectrum; moderate Democrats, progressives, independents and even some Republicans. We came together to make sure everyone had a voice here so that we could better appeal to you. We also had the great benefit of diversity of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and more.We are truly a grassroots group, and if there is one thing we have learned this year, it's the importance of grassroots organizing. Joe Biden would not have been elected without the help of groups like Black Voters Matter, Moms Demand Action, Justice Democrats, Indivisible, the Human Rights Campaign and so many more. There is also no way we could have elected Ossoff and Warnock without Stacey Abrams and Fair Fight Action's work on the ground to raise awareness, register voters and turn them out in numbers.So now, with the culmination of our original goal of electing Joe Biden, we've decided to turn our focus to expanding and turning out the base and supporting Democratic candidates across the country and at every level. From state legislatures and mayoral races to gubernatorial races and special elections, we want to empower candidates that are fighting for the people, evidenced by our endorsement of Virginia delegate Danica Roem.With that new purpose, we will be rebranding with a new name and aesthetic to emphasize our mission. We are now Blue Grass Roots. You can still expect the same content you have come to expect from us, but with a more local twist. Make no mistake, however, we will continue to support Joe, Kamala and all of our other federal officials.Out of respect for our diverse ideologies and affiliations, we will generally not endorse candidates in primaries. We may make exceptions, but they will always be made with the full consideration of every viewpoint we have.Once again, we thank you all for the support you have given us and for all your efforts in the battle for the soul of the nation.


Building Back Better at Home and Abroad

Just recently, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made the rather embarrassing announcement that various European leaders had cancelled their meetings with him. In the wake of the January 6th insurrection, various politicians from across the world have commented on the status of America. Dictatorships have poked fun at the political crisis, touting their own authoritarian branding as a joke. Staunch allies have given cautious remarks, demonstrating a worried perspective on America’s future trajectory. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was “deeply disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy” he had witnessed. German Prime Minister Merkel noted that what she saw “made [her] angry and also sad,” explaining that all parties “have to play their role with decency and responsibility so that democracy itself remains the winner.” Turkish officials, on the other hand, made light of the situation, claiming that it “invites all parties in [the] US to use moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis.” As a whole, it’s become clear that our allies and our enemies have lost respect for our nation, and the events of January 6th herald a restructuring in America’s foreign relations.However, this was not the fault of a single event. The collapse in America’s international presence comes at the back end of over four years of isolationist and xenophobic rhetoric. The focus on “America First'' has left our allies with broken promises and caustic remarks. Obligations to NATO and the United Nations have faltered, while bilateral support to nations like France and South Korea has diminished. By focusing on ourselves, we have shunned the world, and only made things worse off. At the same time, the Trump Administration has pandered to brutal dictators and autocrats, giving tacit permission to Turkish president Erdogan and Philippine president Duterte to commit horrible acts of violence and repression. The international image of the United States, already strained in its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become marred by an inconsistent approach that seems to benefit ideologues while shunning allies. At the same time, the world has not stayed quiet. In the wake of America’s absence, international developments have marched at pace. President-elect Joe Biden will have a daunting and vastly important job. We’ve already seen countless articles describing Joe Biden’s challenges in restoring international confidence in America and in revitalizing our bonds with key allies. We’ve heard pundits and analysts urge Biden to toughen America’s position on dictators and tyrants. These are important goals, but there are individual facets worth examining. The Trump administration has radically altered the global landscape, and it’s worth assessing some of the specific issues that will challenge Joe Biden. Legacies and GhostsPresident-elect Joe Biden will be entering office with the legacy of former president Barack Obama. This pedigree is both a blessing and a curse. During Obama’s tenure, Biden was at the forefront of the administration’s foreign affairs. He met with many foreign leaders and advised Obama during a number of international crises. He demonstrated his years of experience in the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and as Vice President, he navigated the tough waters of the global economic crisis, the Arab Spring, and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, to name just a few. It is certain that our allies will be grateful for Biden’s leadership. Our enemies, meanwhile, will have to be cautious.However, his many years of experience give critics of Biden a wide selection  of attacks to choose from. Many have criticized Obama’s handling of Iraq and Afghanistan. Others have decried Obama’s drone policies in places like Yemen or his continued operations of Guantanamo Bay. These critiques are often applied onto Biden by virtue of association. This consideration is important. Joe Biden will enter the Presidency with a world order that is fractured and an international community vastly different than the one he engaged in during his time as Vice President. To face these challenges, Biden cannot act as a carbon copy of his tenure during the Obama years. We have seen key picks for his cabinet that highlight his readiness to face these challenges. He has picked individuals like Lloyd Austin and Anthony Blinken, individuals with a documented history of expertise and experience in the realm of international relations. Biden’s cabinet and his years of experience will be instrumental in facing the challenges to come in the international community. Peacekeeping in a Conflicted WorldThe world today is not the same as the world left behind by Barack Obama. The Trump Administration gave rhetorical and direct support to autocrats and dictators. Donald Trump attempted to broker deals with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un in 2018. Trump has called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man known for the jailing of activists and reporters, as his “dear friend.” From the Philippines to Egypt, the Trump Administration’s support for these autocratic leaders has hurt American legitimacy and devastated the international liberal order.At the same time, the Trump Administration’s focus on “America First” has resulted in a proliferation of protectionist and nativist policies. These included the “Muslim travel ban,” the still incomplete wall on the Mexican border, and the trade war with China. However, these particular events manifested in an international community that had radically changed. With America abandoning its post as the international peacekeeper and as the defender of the liberal order, conflict and chaos spread across the world. In 2020 alone, we saw the rise of ethnic strife in Ethiopia, acts of aggression in Western Sahara, and outright warfare between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Other powers have used this lapse to stake their own positions. Russia acted as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh War while also continuing to meddle in a variety of European elections. China, meanwhile, launched scathing rhetorical and cyber attacks on Australia, a key ally of ours, while threatening other allies like Taiwan. Human rights have been routinely abused, and worldwide, autocracies have only grown in strength.  Biden’s foreign policy platform seeks to redress the Trump Administration’s failures. Biden has committed to restoring American leadership and to adhering once more to the international liberal order. He has talked about supporting allies, reengaging in bilateral and multilateral agreements, and acting in good faith in institutions like the United Nations and NATO. At the same time, Biden understands that more must be done. The Trump Administration demonstrated to the world the shortsightedness of American foreign policy. Allies and enemies became aware of America’s propensity toward radical agenda shifts every four to eight years. To that end, Biden has focused his agenda on committing to long-lasting change. This means strengthening America’s own democracy and its focus on the rights of immigrants. This means strong economic policies that will restore domestic faith in the international community and free trade. This means working with domestic and international partners to address climate change and other global problems. Biden’s foreign policy is about renewing “American leadership to mobilize global action on global threats.” The road will be tough. The stain of the previous administration will be hard to wipe away, but Biden has the opportunity to carve a new path for the United States that fosters a more inclusive and peaceful international community. 

Taken Too Soon: Memorializing the Nurses Lost to Covid-19

What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic? For many, it’s meant a loss of a routine, the loss of a livelihood, the loss of a world where we could gather in community without fear of hurting the ones we love. But for far too many of us, it’s meant the loss of the most important people in our lives. People have many reasons for choosing to become a nurse. It’s a stable job, your work has significant meaning, and the accompanying salary will almost always earn you a place in the middle class. But to the vast majority of us who become nurses, what supersedes all is the desire to heal injury and ease suffering. The challenges our profession has faced in the wake of the pandemic have been staggering, and will leave a lasting and negative impact in terms of staff burnout, vaccine skepticism and the anticipated drop in nursing school enrollment that will disproportionately affect nurse educators. But most significant are the nurses who gave their lives in the fight against this deadly disease. In the wake of these deaths there were many who insisted that we “knew what we signed up for” or that death by a deadly pandemic was “part of our job.” We must not ignore this callous disregard for human wellbeing — nurses stepped up to a fight we were not prepared for, one we were not protected from. Our hospitals have been overrun because people failed to heed social distancing and masking requirements, ICUs like the one I work in are reaching or have reached capacity. The resulting overtime for nurses, volunteered or in some cases mandated, lead to even greater exposure to the virus. Additionally, we did not have the PPE we needed to stay safe, to the point where nurses in New York were wearing trash bags. At any point the President of the United States could have invoked the Defense Production Act to secure the PPE that was necessary to protect nurses, but he never did. I did not become a nurse so that I could die in an unexpected pandemic, made worse by the outgoing administration’s incompetence and public disregard for the wellbeing of others. It is important that we acknowledge nurses have given their lives, but that each was given unwillingly and unexpectedly.  Today at 5:30p ET, we will join together in remembering the many who’ve died on the frontlines of fighting the pandemic. By lighting a candle, ringing a bell, or turning on your lights, we give a physical reminder of all we’ve lost. From nurses to housekeepers, physicians to food service workers, all have been and still are essential to getting us to the end of this dark and unfortunate chapter in world history.  Below are the names of the many nurses lost to the pandemic. This list is not exhaustive, and tragically it will only expand as more die. But in this great suffering, may we join together in solidarity: to stay home, to wear a mask, to get the vaccine when it becomes available. It’s healthcare workers who are on the front lines, but this is everyone’s fight. Together, we will end the pandemic.Marybeth Papetti, NJKious Kelly, NJTheresa Lococo, NYAraceli Buendia Ilagan, FLNoel Sinkiat, DCMark Bryson DeLong, GABarbara Finch, VARosary Celaya Castro, CAHazel Mijares, NYDebbie Accard, MIJames House, MIJeff Baumbach, CANicanor Baltazar, NYLisa Ewald, MIJohn Abruzzo, NYDorothy Boles, MSPatrick Cain, MIElizabeth Bartolome Del Mundo, NJMarilyn Howard, NYAngeline Bernadel, CTSusan Cicala, NJDaisy Doronila, NJEdwin Montanano, NJAleyamma John, NYRose Harrison, ALDolores Woodford, MAAli Dennis Guillermo, NYVianna Thompson, NVSusan Sisgundo, NYFrancisca Amponsah, NJFelicisimo Luna, NJQuen Agbor Ako, MDRose Taldon, MAPaul Moise, NJLinda Bonaventura, INAnjanette Miller, ILJennifer Anderson-Davis, MOChristopher Dean, NYBarbara Birchenough, NJMichael Marceaux, LAKaren Carmello, NYPamela Orlando, NJJoshua Bush, SCCelia Lardizabal Marcos, CAJenni Claire Bartolome, NJDavid Joel Perea, NVHelen Gbodi, DCSheila Faye Christian, PACharles Arrington, NJKarla Dominguez, TXFelicia Ailende, ILBrittany Bruner Ringo, CACristino Evangelista Fabro, NYEmmanuel J. Carrillo, NJLydia Corazon Tandoc Macuja, MICelia Yap Banago, MOJerry Alford, ALPaulette Thomas Mickle, ILRomeo Agtarap, NYGabriel Chinwendu, DCNina Forbes, VAKiara Anderson McDade, ILTina Reeves, OHSheena Miles, MSShenetta White Ballard, LAMarsha Bantle, INKrist Angielen Castro Guzman, ILMaria E. Lopez, ILAnn Hinkhouse, IARose Liberto, NCRobert V. Piemonte, NYBarbara Stewart, NCDenny Gilliam, NYKelly Mazzarella, NYIrene Burgonio, NYDeborah Eubanks Stevers, GAMilagros Abellera, TXJudy Heimann, ILBernard Atta, OHKaron Hoffman, ILCandace Allen, ALMarie Armitstead, MAJ. Aleksandr Vollmann, WASandra Oldfield, CAKurt Julian, WAValerina Singer, AZMarcia Barga, OHVictoria Greco, GA Kathy Sims, SCDeborah Sheridan, MAJoshua Obra, CAJessica Cavazos, TXMelinda Spears, MSDonna DeHart, SCSonia Brown, FLCristina Baldado, CAPenny Scarangella Smith, FLYolanda Coar, GAVincent DeJesus, NVJames White, FLRodolfo Solano, TXJason Garcia, TXOliver Isleta, CACheryl Morrow, ARFrancisco de Leon Dadis, CAJack Brewer, ALSaludacion Fontanilla, CADonna Holloway, TXVenezia Monroe, FLJohn Vereb, KYElaine McRae, MSWilliam Ricketts, MSKevin Graiani, NYIrena Hartell, NYRosemary Sell, NYSamantha Hickey, IDNueva Parazo Singian, CAPammela Baker, NCShelley Smith, MSKindra Irons, INJoan Neudecker, NYSpecial thanks to Dr. Claire Rezba, @CTZebra for her extensive efforts to memorialize HCWs lost to the pandemic.

Some Hopeful News: Miguel Cardona’s Nomination and Vision

It has been a challenging year for education in the United States. There has been much debate about how to balance the needs of students, teachers, and families during the pandemic. Federal mismanagement of  the health crisis has amplified health risks and inequities in educational outcomes for all Americans. It certainly was not reassuring when Betsy DeVos, the former Education Secretary who resigned amidst the aftermath of the Capitol riots, ignored both of these concerns in her response to the pandemic. However, even after experiencing what has to be the most unusual moment in time to enter this career, I still remain hopeful about what can be possible in this field. I am an educator, currently teaching while I am in graduate school, and I could not be prouder of the time I dedicated to help volunteer to elect Joe Biden as President.As a graduate student training for a career in education, I am more than happy with the choice that President-elect Biden has made by nominating Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary for both professional and personal reasons. Not only is he a public school graduate with teaching experience, he also provides representation for the Latino community. This is the community I call my own and also the fastest growing population in our public schools. Cardona was much like the students I work with as a graduate student in English as a Second Language education. He entered the public school system speaking only Spanish and used that experience to inform his work as a fourth grade teacher and a principal. He completed a master’s in bilingual and bicultural education and earned a doctorate in education at the University of Connecticut, dedicating his training to serving our community. President-elect Biden kept his promise to have a more representative cabinet and nominate an Education Secretary with tangible experience to call upon as he administers our public schools.The National Association of Educators has welcomed Cardona’s nomination because people in education know he respects the institution of public education. He will serve to further its mission, from helping make free community college a possibility to helping students in and out of the classroom by working to address food and housing insecurity. Conditions outside of the classroom are a major determinant of academic success, so working to improve students’ environments ultimately further the mission of public education. He will help oversee a well overdue expansion and simplification of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs, which will be crucial to the financial stability of teachers like me. President-elect Biden has also proposed a tripling of Title I spending, which would require leadership from someone with significant experience in education like Cardona. He would ensure that our most underserved students and the teachers that work with them will receive these expanded benefits. These measures would help reduce the gaps in spending created by our system of education funding fueled by state tax revenue and local property taxes.Miguel Cardona not only has the knowledge set crucial to running the Department of Education, he also has the passion formed from his own experiences to be an effective and compassionate Secretary of Education. My whole life, I have understood that my academic success was seen as unusual by others because of my background, even though I was not an ESL student myself. I’ve been the target of backhanded compliments about my own achievements that only serve to put down others that look like me, but did not have the same opportunities as me. I do not want my own students to experience that. I want them to feel secure that they will have the same opportunities as others. Cardona understands the need to reduce the achievement gaps that create stereotypes of what certain students are capable of doing and works passionately to do so. Stories like his give me hope on what I can do to serve my own community through my career and where my students can go after they move on from K-12 education.

Words Matter: The Dangers of Extremism

I want to start by briefly describing my background. For much of my professional career, I have worked as a political researcher, conducting analysis on concepts like political legitimacy and institutions. My work has mostly revolved around foreign affairs, and one of my most important experiences was a stint as a research intern for the organization Hedayah, a group that specializes in countering violent extremism (CVE). There, I conducted work on CVE deradicalization programs, with particular focus on understanding why individuals became radicalized in the first place. This experience was vitally important for me and it helped me understand just a bit about what transpired on January 6, 2021, and I’d like to share these considerations with you.Within the realm of international relations, there is a concept known as constructivism. When broken down and given a basic definition, it essentially means that ideas are socially constructed and that these ideas matter. Different concepts and things we hear get weaved together and we individually form our own narratives and their meanings. On January 6, we witnessed a group of individuals inflamed by years of blatant lies and weeks of conspiracy spurred to consequential action. We saw the weaponization of caustic rhetoric and acidic optics. As violent individuals stormed the nation’s capital, one fact became clear: this was radicalism and extremism in action. That, however, is not the end of the story. In fact, these recent events are simply a facet of a larger problem within America writ large. A poll conducted by YouGov noted that over 45% of polled Republicans supported these acts, while a vast majority didn’t believe these actions to constitute a threat to our democracy. These statistics should be alarming. Many of those that marched and vandalized Washington D.C. did so for a multitude of factors, but one unifying element was a distrust in our institutions. This physical act was a metaphoric gesture signifying the distrust some Republicans had in democracy and the will of the people. This sentiment played out in the House and Senate chambers just mere hours after the insurrection had been quelled. 147 Republicans, 8 in the Senate and 139 in the House of Representatives, continued to contest the November 2020 election. Many in the House spewed conspiracy theories and blatant lies while claiming to defend the values set forth in the Constitution. A few others claimed that Antifa had instigated the attempted coup, deflecting falsely, probably because they understood that their actions were anti-democratic and possibly criminal.What these “leaders” have done is obfuscated truth and undermined the political institutions that have been foundational to America’s history. They have broken trust in the voting system, in electoralism, and in democracy at large. When Donald Trump told these individuals that Democrats had “rigged [the election] like they’ve never rigged an election before” or that “Democrats have gotten away with election fraud,” there really was going to be only one outcome. They would destroy these systems with their hands if they could.In the realm of CVE, it is clear that many extremists emerge out of an existential fear, that the world systems around them are collapsing and action must be taken. When individuals believe themselves to have limited options in instigating political change, some may resort to radical action. When political institutions and long-upheld systems are tarnished and dismantled, then it was only a matter of time before radicals emerged. And, instead of doing anything to prevent this backslide, to halt the spread of dangerous ideas, many Republican leaders chose to embrace and accelerate them. Worst of all, these actions have occurred openly and in plain view. Senator Schumer’s words given on January 6 around 8 PM ET ring clear. Ideas matter. Ideas are powerful. Ideas built on lies and with the purpose of undermining legitimate systems will only result in severe consequences. Even as we move forward to a new presidency, with Democratic control in both the House and Senate, it is important to keep this in mind. Thousands of individuals will continue to be influenced by the blatant falsehoods of the Trump era. Conspiracies and accelerationist prophecies will continue to flow. This means that the horrors we recently witnessed will not go away so easily. No, the lies brought forth by Republican leadership cannot be forgiven or forgotten. Radicalism and extremism are problems we must contend with. We must understand the power of ideas and how they influence individual actors. Instead of promoting alarmist fallacies, the next administration must focus on restoring public faith in each branch of government. To avoid the tragedy of January 6 and to move onward as a nation, we must consciously strive for a future where truth prevails and where trust in public institutions is restored. 

I’m A Republican, But I’m Not a Fool

I am a registered Republican. I consider myself a moderate Republican, though I guess many would rather use the pejorative “RINO” acronym. My political views can best be described as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” I disagree with many Republicans that the government is inherently bad; to be frank, I believe that the government is actually a great tool for good.Naturally, I was less than optimistic when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and the general election in 2016. Like many though, I had hoped that maybe the Presidency would change Trump, or “mature” him in some way. It’s safe to say that isn’t what happened - not even close. The President managed to get himself impeached not only for abuse of power after trying to solicit dirt on Joe Biden in exchange for military aid, but also for obstructing the investigations into his abuse of power. After all that it becomes simple arithmetic. Abuse of power + the ballooning of our deficit + the destruction of free trade agreements + the antagonization of our allies = a Republican member of the Biden War Room.  This isn’t to say that the Trump administration was an absolute failure by every possible measure. I believe that the government needs to do everything in its power to help businesses and the middle class. In many cases this translates to being in favor of tax cuts. While I didn’t agree with everything in the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, I did agree with lowering the corporate tax rate and the (albeit small) tax cut for the middle class. But that isn’t really the point, it fails to even partially make up for all of the bad.Being a leader is about much more than steering economic policy for moderates like me or appointing judges for conservatives. America is more divided now than at any point since the Civil War. A complete lack of integrity and empathy has left our country weak. Rather than be a graceful loser, President Trump has (rather predictably) decided he would rather try and crush faith in the institutions he has sworn an oath to protect. This involves promoting insane conspiracy theories about election fraud that have been disproved by his own Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General, as well as election officials around the country. Most recently, he was caught on tape asking the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes needed to let him win the state of Georgia. Much like the Ukraine call that got him impeached, Donald Trump was once again trying to intimidate an elected official into helping him cheat. We have to remember two things though, one good and one bad. The good thing is Donald Trump did lose. He lost the popular vote by over 7 million votes and the electoral college 306-232. There are multiple reasons to be happy about this. Joe Biden will be a competent administrator who will help lead this country not only out of the COVID-19 pandemic but also help us “build back better.” The bad thing is that a lot of his enablers will remain in office. That brings us to Georgia. After rejecting Donald Trump and bringing the two Senate races to a runoff, Georgia has a chance to help put a nail in the coffin of Trumpism. Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, despite their ads, are not some sort of moderate, compromise candidates. Before the general election, they themselves worshiped President Trump. Kelly Loeffler went as far as bragging that she backed everything Trump wanted, saying she was with him “100% of the time.” And David Perdue, who sends non-stop ads about his fears of a Congress with “no compromise” did the same. That’s not even mentioning the corruption. It takes little more than a Google search to find dozens of stories that show how corrupt Perdue and Loeffler really are. For a good summary I recommend this article from The Week, which I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with. It should come at no surprise then that I hope Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win on January 5th. I have two (admittedly very selfish) reasons for hoping they succeed.The 1st reason is out of concern for the future of the Republican Party. As I’ve already mentioned, Loeffler and Perdue are not moderates. For the Republican Party to move forward, or to cleanse itself of Donald Trump, we need to move past him and his enablers. More extreme politicians like Loeffler and Perdue keep moderate, sensible choices from taking the stage. To me it is quite obvious that the Republican Party needs a shakeup. According to a poll published the other day just 1 in 10 African American voters and 3 in 10 Hispanic voters will be voting for Loeffler and Perdue. These numbers aren’t unique to them though, these numbers are right around where the Republican Party performs nationally. That’s just plain embarrassing, and as Republicans we ought to be ashamed that minority voters can’t find a home in our party. It’s hard to see how that is going to change though when we have candidates like Loeffler and Perdue. A rejection of them will be a good step in the right direction towards creating an inclusive, truly diverse moderate Republican Party. The 2nd reason is, oddly enough, out of concern for the future of the Democratic Party. I, like many others, am concerned about the rise of more extreme candidates on the Democratic Party’s left. This fear is something that is being used heavily against Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The channeling of this fear results in things like Kelly Loeffler repeating the phrase “My opponent Radical Liberal Raphael Warnock,” and Perdue’s shallow accusations that Jon Ossoff is somehow a Chinese Communist or a socialist or whatever other buzzword manages to grab headlines at Fox News. Debunking these myths isn’t hard, but the easiest way to do so is to actually read their websites. The site for Jon Ossoff and the site for Reverend Warnock both have big, easy to understand rundowns of basically any political issue you could think of. They aren’t radicals, and I encourage you to see that for yourself. They are, in my view, actually incredibly moderate centrists, the perfect type of candidates needed to act as a check on the Democratic parties left wing. The Georgia Senate runoffs present an amazing opportunity for moderate Republicans. It gives us a chance to reject the fringes on both the left and the right, and in doing so gives us a path towards less extreme politics and a more inclusive Republican Party. But the reality is that it won’t happen without the election of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The reelection of Perdue and Loeffler would be a rubber stamp on the worst aspects of American politics. It would be signaling support for the divisiveness, the gridlock, the hatred. I support Ossoff and Warnock. I may be a Republican, but I’m not a fool.

Why Leaders Must Watch Their Words

The other day, the outgoing administration made a most unusual statement. It  was titled, “Proclamation on 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket.” Becket, for the uninitiated, was a Catholic saint who was murdered by followers of King Henry II in the year 1170. The statement heralded Becket as a “martyr” who died making a “courageous stand for religious liberty” before veering off into tangents that railed against “global bureaucrats” and abortion rights. Were that all that there were to the story, we might dismiss it as simply another odd occurrence of the Trump White House. But there is more. There is a moral to the tale of St. Becket that the President, and his GOP underlings, would do well to heed.  Becket and King Henry, the man ultimately responsible for his death, did not start out as enemies. In fact, they were close companions. The archbishop tutored the younger ruler, giving Henry valuable tutelage in the affairs of statecraft. But relations between the two soured when Henry attempted to bend the English church to his will. Becket, a devout Catholic, pushed back against Henry’s predations, and a power struggle ensued between the men. Henry, in a moment of blind rage, shouted “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” forgetting, for a moment, that as the head of state, he had the power to order death with a simple word. Several of Henry’s knights, however, did not forget this. They took his words as a command, rode for Becket’s church, and slew him in the abbey. The news of the archbishop’s murder spread throughout England, and soon reached the ears of King Henry himself. The monarch, upon hearing of the death of his beloved mentor, locked himself in his room and mourned, realizing, too late, the awesome and terrible power he commanded. Trump has certainly never heeded the lesson of this story. He lies with reckless abandon, uses vulgar insults for anyone he deems his enemy, and calls for the prosecution of his political opponents. At times, his relentless raging has nearly reaped disastrous consequences. Many of us can probably recall, for example, how his insults of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un brought us perilously close to war. And during the Black Lives Matter protests, Trump, unable and unwilling to console or heal a broken nation, instead openly fantasized about unleashing “vicious dogs” on peaceful protesters. During the Presidential debates, he told the white supremacist Proud Boys organization to “stand by” - which they took as an instruction to wait to unleash their violence on behalf of the President after the election. Sometimes the President’s words have nearly had tragic consequences. After repeatedly hearing Trump refer to reporters as “the enemy of the people,” a supporter named Cesar Sayoc took it upon himself to mail pipe bombs to prominent journalists and Democrats. After hearing Trump’s racist fearmongering about looters and rioters, a young supporter went to Kenosha, Michigan, and murdered two people. And there is no reason to think that the violence spurred by Trump’s words will abate. Over the past two months, the President has repeatedly insisted (without evidence) that the election was stolen from him due to nonexistent mass voter fraud. Because the President promulgated these lies, some of his supporters have decided to act on them. In Philadelphia, two Trump supporters, at least one of whom was a supporter of the right-wing QAnon conspiracy, drove to a vote-counting center armed with two handguns, an AR-15, and 160 rounds of ammunition, where they were immediately arrested by police. In Texas, a former Dallas police captain decided to conduct an “investigation” with several of his friends. Soon, they identified a man they believed to be involved in voter fraud, who was, in reality, an innocent air-conditioning repairman. The Captain tracked him down, ran him off the road, pulled him from his vehicle, and pointed a gun at his head. When the actual police arrived some time later, he demanded that they arrest the repairman and search his truck for fraudulent ballots.When the police searched the truck, all they found were assorted parts for air conditioners.Trump’s election conspiracies haven’t resulted in serious injuries - yet. But given enough time, they will. Yet the President is not solely responsible for spreading these lies; also responsible are the feckless GOP officials who have stood by him and repeated his nonsense. And perhaps none have embraced his insane theories more than the GOP Senators from Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Perdue and Loeffler have gone out of their way to demonstrate their unflinching loyalty to the President. They have howled that the elections in Georgia were rigged, that the President actually won the state, and disparaged any Georgia politician (like Brad Raffensberger) who dares acknowledge reality. They have backed his conspiracies, not because they believe any of what he says, but because they think it will help them win reelection on January 5th. They have applied this logic to every single stance that they take. Perdue, for example, was against giving any stimulus checks to everyday Americans. But when Trump came out in favor of those checks, he had a sudden change of heart (his opponent, Jon Ossoff, has supported $2000 checks all along). Loeffler, who initially called herself a moderate, has linked arms with the radical  right, and become the one of the most pro-Trump senators in Congress. She even went as far to deploy baseless allegations of child abuse against her oppoent, Revernd Raphael Warnock. They do this because they do not believe that what they say matters. They do not think that what they say has any power.So this January, remind them. Remind them that the truth still matters. Remind them that their words still matter. Remind them that leaders must always watch what they say. Make sure that, after January 5th, Loeffler and Perdue begin collecting those unemployment benefits that they fought so hard against. Henry only learned that words have consequences after it was already too late.So make sure that the GOP learns it right now.

Republicans, Making Hypocrisy Grate Again

During the past four years, perhaps the one slogan Republicans have embraced more than “Make America Great Again”, “America First”, “Build that wall”, “Drain the swamp”, or other Trump rally background noise, is “Do as I say, not as I do.” This mantra came to define them time and time again throughout Trump’s presidency. But this was not something that Trump started, nor is it something that will end on January 20th. After Biden takes office, Republicans will conveniently change their position and rhetoric on key issues and forget the logical twists and turns they took to cheerlead for his predecessor. This is already happening with COVID relief negotiations and the Georgia runoffs that will determine control of the Senate tomorrow, two important events that will shape the new year for the better or worse.During Obama’s presidency, Republicans frequently brought up the deficit and debt to explain their opposition to his policies, but after Trump’s election, like a miracle, their concerns disappeared. They certainly did not mind passing a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations that the Congressional Budget Office projected would add $2.3 trillion in debt over the next decade. But when COVID-19 hit and Americans needed economic relief, the deficit and debt magically became talking points again. As several programs in the CARES Act expired over the summer, the House passed the HEROES Act to continue them as cases began to rise again. But in the Senate, self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell refused to even hold a vote on it, instead offering a much smaller bill that drastically reduced unemployment insurance while protecting corporations from liability for putting employees at risk. Then in October, as Trump himself was hospitalized with COVID-19, he announced via Twitter that he would abruptly end all negotiations until after the election. Apparently 38 days is enough time to confirm a Supreme Court justice, but not to help parents feed their families. Fast forward to December, when the country was now experiencing the worst wave yet. On December 18, Senator Ron Johnson, who is up for re-election in 2022 in Wisconsin, a state Biden won, objected to giving Americans another round of $1200 checks, using the debt as an excuse, despite voting for the 2017 tax cuts projected to add trillions to it. The deal that was eventually reached was far from enough, as it was much smaller than the original HEROES Act or even what Democrats wanted when negotiations started. It still reduced unemployment insurance, gave Americans only $600 rather than $1200, far from what was needed, and left out immigrants, college students, and adult dependents. However, with Republicans refusing to do even the bare minimum, it was a stopgap until President Biden might be able to pass a better deal for the American people. Then suddenly, Trump announced that he would not sign the bill unless the checks were raised to $2000, finally coming around to what Democrats said all along: $600 simply was not enough. But his change of heart came far too late. He had multiple chances during the past nine months to support $2000 checks, but made his announcement after a deal was already made, and congressional Republicans still opposed the checks. On Christmas Eve, they objected to including them in the bill. When a full vote was held, only a quarter voted for them. As the week ended, unemployment insurance for millions expired, and a government shutdown nearly happened. Trump finally signed the bill, but without the $2000 checks, once again breaking a promise he made to the American people. The ultimately pointless delay cost millions of Americans a week of unemployment insurance. Why did Republicans suddenly become so desperate to pass anything before the year ended? Because with the Georgia runoffs quickly approaching, they had to show that they were doing something, anything, to help anyone besides their wealthy donors during this pandemic. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler tried endlessly to take credit for the CARES Act while their party delayed and diluted additional relief, but did not endorse continuing the $600 weekly unemployment insurance, which Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock support, and only changed their mind on stimulus checks when Trump did. Since they know McConnell would refuse to hold a vote anyways, they could safely pretend to support them until January 5th, after which they could turn around and squeeze the middle class again to pay back their rich friends.Indeed, “do as I say, not as I do” seems to be the slogan of their campaigns as well. One of their arguments for a Republican Senate is that with a divided government, the two parties will have to compromise. But the last time the country had a divided government with a Democratic president, Republicans refused to compromise on anything. McConnell said that, rather than work with him for the good of the country, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” and during the past two years, he refused to even hold a vote on many of the bills that the House passed. It would be great if both sides actually could negotiate in good faith for the entire country’s benefit, but it is difficult when one refuses. Even if Ossoff and Warnock both won, the Senate would be split 50-50 with Harris breaking ties, meaning that a bill would need the support of every Democratic senator or a few Republicans in order to pass. Furthermore, the Democratic caucus is very diverse. It is home to members from 27 states (28 if Ossoff and/or Warnock win), progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, moderates such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and everyone in between. Getting them all to support a bill will already require significant compromise, even if Democrats have control.In their ads, Perdue and Loeffler cast Ossoff and Warnock as “radicals”, which is ironic coming from someone who brags about being “more conservative than Attila the Hun”. In truth, Ossoff and Warnock’s policies are popular among Georgians. Giving Americans COVID relief, expanding access to healthcare, reforming our criminal justice system, and responding to the threat of climate change are hardly radical. Biden won Georgia in November campaigning on these very policies, yet Perdue and Loeffler continue to oppose them. Instead of giving Americans COVID relief, they traded stock after learning about the severity of the virus in a closed hearing, profiting while over 330,000 Americans died. Instead of expanding access to healthcare, they supported plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Instead of proposing their own climate plan, their websites do not mention it at all, even as Georgia experiences worse extreme weather every year and rising sea levels threaten its coast. In fact, Perdue called for the EPA’s elimination and urged Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017, while his exclusive beachfront community builds walls to keep out rising sea levels. It is clear from all of this that they are trying to distract voters from the fact that their platform is the one that is really “radical” and unpopular.During Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, Republicans accused Democrats of attacking her Catholic faith, despite the fact that the Democratic president-elect, who Republicans claimed wanted to “hurt God”, and Speaker of the House are both Catholic. But now Loeffler’s campaign is doing exactly that with Warnock’s faith, taking clips of his sermons, often wildly out of context, and using them in attack ads, even though she did not mind attending his church herself for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Her ads use clips of him criticizing the Israeli government’s policies to portray him as anti-Semitic, but she remained silent when Perdue’s campaign digitally enlarged Ossoff’s nose in an ad, a common anti-Semitic trope (Ossoff himself erseis Jewish). She also proudly touts her endorsements from supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which itself has anti-Semitic roots and is classified as a domestic terror threat by the FBI, and took a picture with a KKK member convicted of assaulting a black man in 1993, later claiming she “had no idea” who she was taking a picture with. Her ads also play a clip of Warnock quoting a Bible passage saying that a person cannot serve two masters, which they twist to portray him as anti-military. In reality, Warnock’s father was a veteran, and he talks extensively on the campaign trail about his plans to help veterans and those currently serving, while the Republican president vetoed the annual defense appropriations bill that, among other things, raises troop salaries and provides suicide prevention programs for veterans. It is clear that when Republicans talk about freedom of religion, what they really mean is freedom to use religion to advance their agenda. They view Muslims as a threat who should be kept out of the country and Jews who do not vote for them as “disloyal”. Even Christian leaders like Warnock find their faith questioned. To Republicans, religion is great when they can use it to justify their beliefs, such as anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, but not when their opponent can.One word that Republicans will be saying often during the next four years is “civility.” After four years of showing deference to a President who constantly attacked and belittled his opponents, they were outraged when incoming Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon dropped an expletive in an offhand remark during an interview. The party of Trump thinks that tweeting too much disqualifies Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget. This might lead one to ask what their idea of civility is. It would be too easy to use Trump as an example for this exercise, so let us look instead at the man they support in the Georgia runoffs, Senator Perdue. Is it praying for Obama’s death? Is it grabbing a student’s phone after being asked a question? Is it blocking a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide at the President’s request? Is it, as mentioned earlier, enlarging his Jewish opponent’s nose in a campaign ad? Is it mocking his colleague and the first female vice president-elect’s name at a rally? “Physician, heal thyself” seems appropriate here, but if this year is any indication, they do not listen to physicians either.Ossoff and Warnock winning tomorrow would be a victory for Americans and a defeat for Republican hypocrisy. If he remains Senate Majority Leader, McConnell will continue to be the “Grim Reaper”, blocking Biden’s entire agenda to try and sabotage his presidency, but with a Senate majority, Biden and congressional Democrats can pass real economic relief for the American people, or as the President-elect puts it, “build our country back better than it was before”. They can build on the Affordable Care Act to make sure more Americans have access to healthcare. They can make our criminal justice system fairer for all Americans regardless of race. They can create a climate plan investing in clean energy and creating millions of good-paying jobs. They can make sure that Biden’s cabinet, a diverse group of qualified individuals committed to serving the American people, will be confirmed. All of this and much more is possible if Ossoff and Warnock win. Tomorrow, Georgia has a chance to lead the country out of the past four years, ushering in a bright future for America out of this year's shadow. They can shock the world once again, voting not just for Biden, but for two Democratic senators. The race is close, and every single vote could be the difference between victory and defeat. After all, Biden won Georgia by just 11,779 votes in November. If you or someone you know can vote in the runoffs, make sure to vote or tell them to vote tomorrow. Even if you cannot vote, you can still donate or volunteer for the two campaigns. Together, Georgia can send a message to the “do as I say, not as I do” Republicans and start Biden’s presidency off on a high note. The whole country is watching.

Grand Obstructionist Party

On November 24th, exactly three weeks after election day, President Trump was still holed up in the White House, refusing to accept that he had lost and launching conspiracy-laden tirades on Twitter. President-elect Biden, meanwhile, was forging ahead, preparing for the long and difficult task of healing a divided nation. Instead of tweeting lies or launching frivolous lawsuits, he was beginning the long process of building his cabinet — selecting the men and women who would help him build the country back better. Just the other day, he had announced that Antony Blinken, a State Department veteran, would serve as his Secretary of State. However, not everyone reacted to this announcement well. One man in particular — Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — took to Twitter to vent his disdain. “Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” he wrote. Rubio, who never once had a problem with Donald Trump’s Ivy League studded cabinet, followed this up with a threat: “I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China.” It was a shocking moment; before Biden had even set foot in the Oval Office, a Republican senator was already saying that he would refuse to confirm his nominees. If it were only Rubio, this threat could be safely ignored. But the Republican Senator was far from alone in his endeavour to sabotage the Biden Presidency. Scarcely minutes later, Senator Josh Hawley sent out a tweet branding Biden’s team of professional diplomats as “corporatists and war enthusiasts — and #BigTech sellouts.” Soon after, Senator Tom Cotton, best known for calling on the US military to violently crush the Black Lives Matter movement, also took issue with Biden’s picks. Ted Cruz, one of the more powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill, took it a step further. “As long as . . . the election result is disputed, I do not think you will see the Senate act to confirm any nominee,” he told Axios. These are not the isolated grumblings of a few disgruntled Republicans, but the GOP as a whole announcing that they will refuse to let the duly-elected President of the United States govern.This is, of course, far from the first time that Republicans have trafficked in obstructionism. It was the modus operandi of the party throughout the Obama Administration — sabotage the President’s agenda at any cost. Mitch McConnell, for example, famously refused to even hold a confirmation hearing for Obama’s SCOTUS pick Merrick Garland. The GOP became so attached to obstructionism that it became the party’s sole reason for existence. In August of 2020, the Republican party failed to agree on a new platform and simply reused their platform from 2016 — which was to oppose the policies of the “current president,” Barack Obama. Someone had apparently forgotten to tell the GOP leadership that POTUS 44 had already left office.Most of Biden’s first year in office will be spent mopping up the many messes that Trump made while in office — including the pandemic that has claimed well over three hundred thousand American lives. But Biden’s goal is not to return us to the status quo — it’s, in his own words, to Build Back Better, and make sure that this country emerges from this epidemic stronger than when it began. One of the bigger problems facing this country today is climate change. But Biden won’t be tackling it alone. To help carry out his agenda, he’s selected Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to run the Department of Interior, and Michael Regan of South Carolina to run the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Regan, if confirmed, would be the first black man to run the EPA, and Haaland would be the first Native American to run the Interior — an agency that also exercises vast sway over life on reservations throughout the country. “If confirmed,” however, is an important caveat.Both Haaland and Regan have earned the ire of numerous GOP Senators, and their confirmations are far from certain. This is to say nothing of Biden’s ambitious legislative plans, which a GOP Senate will certainly refuse to pass. And those plans aren’t limited to climate change. Biden’s bold proposals will include expanding health care, fixing our education system, criminal justice reform, and repealing the disastrous GOP tax cuts. Lindsey Graham, a former friend of Joe Biden, called those plans “dead on arrival.” Fortunately, we have an opportunity to flip the Senate this January.Right now, the Senate is split 52-48. But during the 2020 election, neither of the Republican candidates running for the two open Senate seats in Georgia were able to get more than the required 50% of the vote. As such, the elections are currently proceeding to a runoff, with Democrat Jon Ossoff facing Republican David Perdue, and Reverend Raphael Warnock facing Republican billionaire Kelly Loeffler. Perdue, who has been embroiled by repeated insider trading scandals, was against giving any stimulus payment to working and unemployed Americans. Loeffler, who has faced insider trading allegations of her own, bills herself as “more conservative than Attila the Hun.” Both have pledged to oppose Biden with all their hearts if reelected this January. So we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.If you can spare a minute to phonebank, do it. If you can spare a dollar to donate, give it. And, most importantly, if you live in Georgia, find a few minutes to vote. Because who knows? Maybe Perdue and Loeffler will finally see the need for enhanced unemployment benefits if they wind up having to use them this winter. 

Let's Get This Party Started

Historically, pollsters could ask voters about their views about issues and predict with some success how they would vote. Now, voters right, left, and center have somehow found their way into a centrifuge. It’s easy to pinpoint the cause, because like everything else in this era, the reason for the chaos is … Donald Trump.The votersOut from one side of the centrifuge pours a mixture of conservatives and progressives, moderates and many who don’t pay much attention to politics at all.This mix of the informed and the clueless (on both left and right) is the familiar American electorate. Many voted for President-elect Biden because of his policies or personal qualities. This mix contains some who decided against Trump because he is vile. There are some informed voters who chose Trump because they overlook his loathsomeness but like his policies.Members of Biden’s blended family of progressives and conservatives have been in awe of where they’ve landed. It’s as if they’ve suddenly found themselves vacationing on Sesame Street happily cavorting with colorful new monsters. Political Twitter is filled with, “I can’t believe I agree with…” naming someone from the far opposite end of the political spectrum. The President-elect has promised that he’ll be a President for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not.The sticky matter that remains inside the sealed centrifuge compartment encompasses a subset of Trump acolytes of all types: cult worshipers, crooks, racists, bigots, misogynists. And some, we assume, “are good people.” That voter group will henceforth be described as “residue” and ignored. This is the GOP’s base.GOP, acquiredBy 2020, Trump and the GOP had fused, and ownership of the party of Lincoln was officially transferred to Trump at the Republican National Convention. The Republican platform committee meeting was abandoned (likely the only GOP gathering all year that was actually canceled, under the pretext of safety). The actual adopted platform was that the committee “would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration.” Translated: “Our platform is anything Trump wants.” The rest of the platform yelled at Democrats and the press.During the rest of Trump’s term, with the virus raging, the GOP kept firmly to its plans of supporting Donald Trump against all reason, and working hard at its other action items, trashing Democrats and the press, and accomplishing almost nothing else.Lindsey Graham famously suggested that Trump’s 2016 nomination would end the GOP. As we approach 2021, this prediction hasn’t materialized. There have been several high-profile defections from Trump in the form of the never-Trump movement, which began as soon as Trump rode that escalator in 2015.Later defections have come from former politicians (who spoke up after their careers ended, or whose careers ended because Trump ended them with a well-aimed tweet). Others came from party insiders and some mid-career GOP strategists. Whether these departures are simply a referendum on one man or on the entire party won’t be clear for a while.This does raise the question:What is a political party for?Political parties are valuable in our democracy, for organizing, and for putting out a worldview for debate. Those disagreements used to focus primarily on scale: how much to spend to address the climate crisis, the appropriate level for a minimum wage, how stringent the gun laws should be, the extent of needed subsidies for health care, farmers, or entrepreneurs.Until the Trump era, all parties agreed that our voting mechanisms are delegated to the states and that elections are sacrosanct. Those earning fewer votes accept their defeats, concede, and rebuild.That’s true now only among those of us who departed the centrifuge, including rational Trump voters. The sticky residue demurs.These differences loom larger than the ordinary disagreements about scale. We knew this was coming from Trump. Then the GOP dove into the pool.For the rest of us, many deep in both the left and right had already joined forces at the Lincoln Project, the Bulwark, and many grassroots organizations in the runup to the election. Those who joined hands (virtually, of course, in the age of COVID) affiliated based on existential issues, and were not a bit concerned about party identity. We can continue to work with all those who looked at the 2020 election and knew right away that it was fair and definitive. It’s easy to decide who is on which team. Some of them even have hats.The never-Trump movement was generally relieved to see Joe Biden nominated. Emotional reactions to Biden’s victory speech and his subsequent press conferences have emanated from both sides of the left-right continuum.What does it mean to be affiliated with a political party, or to leave it? Tim Miller, once in communications roles in the Jeb Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee, came very close to suggesting that a significant chunk of those who left the GOP should unite behind Joe Biden’s center-left agenda. Miller points out that most of Biden’s wish list is already embraced by conservatives looking for “unyielding commitment to the equality and liberty of all, and then to facts, reason and knowledge” and “recognize immigration as a vital national asset and universal access to quality health care, public and private, a national obligation”.Disaffected Republican voters swung densely-populated suburbs to Biden. That landslide of popular votes? Wins in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania? Without those commanding swings in formerly-reliable red districts, frivolous lawsuits might have oozed Trump into a second term. In the end, there were just too many states to overturn. Governing happens in the center. So does winning.Parties aren’t teams. They aren’t gangs. They don’t deserve loyalty or reverence against our consciences or our democracies. They’re a vessel for achieving goals that can’t be achieved by individuals. Parties should work for democracy, not for candidates. While we’re at it, candidates and political figures aren’t deities or rock stars, and we should stop dressing up dolls to look like them. Our political representatives are our employees. When they fail, it’s because we’ve been remiss at hiring or supervising them.What people can doWe can begin where we agree on goals. Then we can discuss means. To prepare for that, some New Year’s resolutions might help.Let’s discern the difference between news and political talk. News describes events that happen, without editing to create a narrative. Political talk comprises valuable analysis, unfounded predictions, gossip, and snark. Most of the content on all-news channels is not actual news. Healthy adults know how to allocate nutrition versus dessert. Figure it out.Let’s stop assuming we know the motivations of good-faith political opponents. That crosses the line between news and snark. When we agree about America, the rest is negotiation.We can work together with people with whom we disagree and make progress on some cooler policies before we delve into the hot wedge issues. Let’s support that and focus less on whatever we’re not getting.Let’s try to move the center a few degrees leftward of where it is now.Good-faith left and right voters are not as far apart as news-channel provocateurs contend. They are also not identical, as fringe voters contend. Left and right elected a center-left President. This means that we can find common ground.What parties can doIn a better political environment, the party should act as a sponsor, not a servant. Parties shouldn’t decide among nominees, but they could create some rules before candidates are printed on their primary ballots. Like home buyers who can walk away from their offers after inspections, political parties should not be forced to accept all candidates. Time will tell if the GOP wonders whether it should have created a rule or two in 2015.An obvious potential rule: require personal tax returns for release to primary voters and the press. Virtually all candidates do this voluntarily now. It’s not an undue burden to prove that your priority will be the people you represent. If parties won’t do this, states could take up the slack within legal bounds.Another possibility: limit the number of candidates on the party primary ballot. Parties already limit the candidates who qualify for debates. It’s possible that the large number of conventional Republican primary candidates in 2016 — senators and governors — split the mainstream vote, leaving only a few fringe candidates to consolidate the rest.What voters can doBlue advocates should be happy to offer our hospitality to principled conservatives until a constructive opposition party is built or repaired. Democrats and Republicans can be grateful that the guardrails of our democracy withstood the tsunami this time, because we were lucky. It couldn’t be clearer that we need better guardrails.In the long term, mandating transparency in election funding would be a good place to start. The former head of the Republican Party has endorsed many of the structural reforms initiated by Democrats and non-partisan groups.Democrats have allies among the never-Trump voters, a group that still wants to help Democrats remove all of Trumpism and Trump enablers currently in office. These are temporary workers in the Democratic camp, and progressives would be wise to embrace their support. It will be too soon that they use their well-honed campaigning tactics against Democrats when the odor of the Trump era dissipates.The most important action is for voters to become knowledgeable enough to vote in every single race. This might mean an occasional vote for the opposition party’s candidate. It will almost never mean a vote for a third-party nominee.What to do right awaySo, Georgia, it’s time for you to speak up. The legendary Georgia bark is healing. We need your bark and your bite. Vote by January 5 for Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock. If you’re not a Georgia voter, you can donate or help the two campaigns in other ways. Permanent change comes from down the ballotPresidential elections get a lot of deserved attention, but other contests create fundamental, long-lasting changes. The House of Representatives and Senate write the laws, and they don’t even need a president to sign a good one. The Senate confirms federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. These judges decide whether the congressional laws are constitutional, so their appointments matter nearly as much as the legislators who write the bills.A president without a Senate majority needs to select more moderate court nominees to get a confirmation, but a one-term president with an obliging Senate can remake the entire federal judiciary lasting a long time.In the 2020 election, local lawmakers limited voting as far as their local courts would allow. They intentionally created delays in vote counting, knowing that this would simmer on right-wing media to build a false fraud narrative. They nearly succeeded in getting their legislatures to override valid election results. The culprits were always Republicans in 2020, but the pendulum could swing back and put dangerous Democrats in office.We voters delegate our democracy to others that we hire through elections. Our future depends on the choices we make today. Get informed. Get out and vote. We can make a government that makes us all proud. Let’s get this party started.