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Roy Gets Even Moore Scary

My first blog post about Moore was obviously written before the pedophilia accusations were made public. So I figured I would do another blog post to address that, as well as another alarming statement that the former judge made.

I actually hesitated for awhile to publicly call Roy Moore a sexual predator because I consider him a crypto-racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic totalitarian theocrat even scarier than Trump, and I didn’t want to let my dislike of him cause me to prematurely assume he was guilty before I had adequate evidence.
We’re past that now, though. I have no problem honestly saying that I think Roy Moore is guilty of everything he’s been accused of. At this point, we have two women accusing him of sexual violence, one person accusing him of trying to date them when they were 14 and he was over 30, and a slew of other people corroborating the claim that he had a pattern of pursuing teenage girls. While dating sixteen to eighteen year olds would have legal, if bad on many levels, for Moore, it does lend more credibility to the accusations that he did engage in criminal behavior with other teenagers. None of these women have, to my knowledge, made any attempt to try to get money from him or pursue criminal charges. At least one is an avowed Trump supporter. So if you think Moore is innocent, you have to come up with an explanation for why eight women would falsely accuse him out of spite.
Now, I’ve heard the argument that the timing of these accusations so close to Election Day, is suspicious. Actually, I don’t believe it is. Unluckily for Moore and his supporters and luckily for the rest of us, Moore happens to be running at a point in time when very large numbers of sexual abuse victims have started coming forward. We’re in a political and cultural climate currently that is more conducive to victims telling their stories than probably ever in U.S. history.
And finally, we have to consider how Republican politicians are reacting here. They’re largely throwing Moore to the wolves, metaphorically speaking. Mitch McConnell, who wouldn’t rescind his endorsement of Trump after the “pussy grabbing” audio came out, is backing Moore’s accusers. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama conservative with friends on the Moore campaign, has said he believes the women also. So if you believe Moore to be innocent, another assumption you’d have to make is that a bunch of Republican politicians are willing to lose what would normally be a slam dunk election based on a false accusation.
There may not be enough evidence to convict Moore in a court of law–although before all is said and done, there very well might be. But we’re at a point now when we can reasonably conclude that he’s probably guilty. And the Senate doesn’t function like a regular job. With most jobs, you can wait until the investigation has concluded and then decide if you have enough evidence to fire the accused person. With the Senate, it’s very hard to remove somebody once they’re in office, so if Moore gets elected, he’ll likely serve at least six years.

But this isn’t all. Moore seems determined to prove my description of him as a “crypto-racist” correct. Last week, he said, “By 1962, the United States Supreme Court took prayer out of school,” Moore griped. “Then they started to create new rights in 1965, and now, today, we’ve got a problem.” When I read this, my historian’s brain went into hyperdrive. There are two possibilities as to what he could be referring to. The first is Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruling striking down state laws against birth control. The second is the Voting Rights Act. If the “they” in his statement is the Supreme Court, it probably refers to Griswold. If it means the federal government in general, it may be a reference to the Voting Rights Act. So there we have it. The Alabama GOP Senate nominee either thinks states have a right to ban birth control or have a right to prevent black people from voting. Oh, and by the way: the 1962 Supreme Court decision did not outlaw prayer in public schools. Instead, it outlawed official, school-sponsored prayers. It did nothing to forbid students from praying in school. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother [Alabama Governor] Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.”

 

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Alabama Politics Get Less Strange, Moore Totalitarian

If ever I am asked why I spend so little time criticizing Social Justice Warriors on the Left despite my disagreements with them and instead devote most of my time to attacking the bigoted Right, I will bring up a couple of points. Firstly, Social Justice Warriors, despite my disagreements with them, are reacting to the historical and ongoing marginalization of groups such as racial minorities, women, and LGBT people in this country, so I prefer to address the root of the problem. Secondly, Social Justice Warriors control some universities, bigoted right-wingers control the country. We are now reminded of this again as the state of Alabama looks poised to trade a run of the mill, authoritarian right-wing bigot, Luther Strange, for a straight-up theocratic totalitarian, Roy Moore. First becoming famous for his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from a courthouse in Alabama while serving as a judge, Moore has compiled a record of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and support for big government that make Donald Trump look like Russ Feingold. Let’s take a look!

Race

Roy Moore speaking next to a seven star version of the lesser-known original flag of the Confederacy, aka “The Stars and Bars.”

In 2004, Alabama had a ballot initiative to remove a number of racist portions of the state’s legal code pertaining to school segregation and poll taxes. The state had voted on a similar initiative dealing with interracial marriage in 2000. In both cases, the laws had been rendered invalid by federal edicts a few decades ago, but it was still insulting to black residents and embarrassing for the Heart of Dixie that such laws remained on the books. The initiative was voted down, partly due to fears over one of the provisions proposed for repeal, the provision that denied, “any right to education or training at public expense.” Some Alabamans expressed concern that removing this provision would open up a floodgate of new regulations forcing the state to increase public funding of education. Roy Moore was on record as staunchly opposing the ballot initiative. Clearly, opposing more funding for education does not make one a bigot. However, it begs the point: in 2004, Alabamans had had fifty years since Brown v. Board of Education and over forty years since poll taxes were outlawed to remove the unambiguously racist portions of their legal code without removing the clause about education not being a right. More to the point (or perhaps, in this case, Moore to the point?), Moore and others could have easily lobbied in 2004 to repeal the provisions on segregation and poll taxes without repealing the provision on education not being a right. They did not bother.

Moore began claiming that President Obama was not a natural-born citizen back in 2008. According to Andrew Kaczynski and Paul LeBlanc of CNN.com, Moore stated that he still did not believe Obama was a natural-born citizen in December of 2016. This was even after Trump himself backed off of these rumors.

On one of the rare occasions that Moore acknowledged that black people had suffered in American history, his goal was to claim that homophobic people suffered worse. After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, the Alabama judged fumed that, “In 1857 the United States Supreme Court did rule that black people were property. And of course that contradicted the Constitution and it took a civil war to overturn it. But this ruling in Obergefell is even worse, in a sense, because it forces not only people to recognize marriage [as] other than the institution ordained of God and recognized by nearly every state in the union, it says that you now must do away with the definition of marriage and make it between two persons of the same gender.”

LGBT Rights

If Moore dances on the edges of overt racism, there’s no ambiguity when it comes to his LGBT rights views. At CNN.com, Gregory Krieg states that, “he defied a federal court decision — this time striking down state laws banning same-sex marriage — and found himself facing off with the same ethics body that effectively ousted him nearly a decade earlier.” Krieg goes on to recount that, “A child custody case in 2002 was less of a national cause célèbre, but Moore used the outcome, and his concurrence, to author a vicious attack on same-sex parents.

‘I write specially to state that the homosexual conduct of a parent — conduct involving a sexual relationship between two persons of the same gender — creates a strong presumption of unfitness that alone is sufficient justification for denying that parent custody of his or her own children or prohibiting the adoption of the children of others,’ he said in one of the opinion’s more tame passages.

In others, Moore labeled ‘homosexual conduct’ by parents as being ‘detrimental to the children,’ writing that it ‘is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated.'” In 2005, he stated that, “homosexual conduct should be illegal.” When asked if it should be a capital crime, he answered, “I’m not here to outline punishments for sodomy.” In 2015, he reiterated his longstanding view that, “Homosexuality should be illegal.” During his current election campaign, Moore said, “We don’t need transgender bathrooms and we don’t need transgender military and we don’t need a weaker military.”

Islamophobia

In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress and declared that he would take the oath of office by placing his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible. Moore wrote a column insisting that, “In 1943, we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on ‘Mein Kampf,’ or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the ‘Communist Manifesto.’ Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today!” Now please understand that I agree with people who feel that the phrase “Islamophobia” often gets thrown around to squelch criticism of Islam. Obviously, making negative comments about Islam does not make someone an Islamophobe. But what we see here is Moore, a la Trump, explicitly declaring opposition to equal rights for Muslims. After all, whatever we think about the Koran, in a nation that does not privilege members of one faith above another, we cannot discriminate in terms of which “holy books” we allow people to use for their oath of office. Additionally, this statement is hilarious coming from the same person who insisted that his religious liberty was being violated if religious insignia was removed from public property

Freedom of Speech

When Donald Trump called for NFL players who did not stand for the National Anthem to be fired, his right-wing defenders argued that it was not a free speech violation because the NFL was a private company, and Trump was not forcing team owners to fire anyone or advocating that the State censor these players. Never mind the sheer inappropriateness of a president using his office to try and get workers fired from their jobs for protesting, the fact that he tried to intimidate the NFL on this issue by threatening to revoke their tax breaks, or his previous statements in support of flag burning bans. But it is as if Moore heard conservatives saying, “Nobody is advocating that the government punish people for kneeling,” and said, “Hey, hold my beer.” Moore recently claimed that, “It’s against the law, you know that?” He elaborated, “It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That’s the law.”

 

 

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Francis Scott Key Was a Slave Master And Other Hard Truths

I am going to do something somewhat unusual for my blog post today and cover several distinct topics in one article, based on several issues that I have covered on my Facebook page in the last few weeks. Readers may find themselves agreeing with some points I raise and disagreeing with others. That is fine. In fact, I have come to expect it.

It May Be Biblical, But It Isn’t Christian

The recent Nashville Statement by over 150 conservative Christian leaders is a disgusting display of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some of the prominent signatories have also engaged in racist statements or behavior.) Those who hold bigoted attitudes have a right to express them in public. And I have the right to call those views out for exactly what they are. As a Christian Unitarian Universalist, I believe that while bigotry is consistent with some individual Bible passages, it goes against the overall spirit of Christianity. There is no possible way to treat people the way that you want to be treated while hurling bigoted statements at them and opposing their rights. It is a longstanding fact that, in the aggregate, Christians who treat the Bible as partly inspired by God but not infallible have generally been better at respecting people’s civil and human rights than Christians who believe every single part of the Bible is the pure word of God. This certainly does not apply to every individual, but it is true as a general rule. The abolitionist movement was a deeply religious one, but many of its adherents were theological liberals and, in some prominent cases, would not have even been considered “saved” from a fundamentalist standpoint. During the Civil Rights Movement, theologically liberal Protestants and Jews were far more likely than white fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants to march against segregation. Even MLK was a theological liberal. These days, it is the so called “cafeteria Christians” who are more likely to defend feminism and LGBT rights than Biblical inerrantists as a group. The great historian Eric Foner once said that in order to improve itself, America had to embrace the best parts of Abe Lincoln while rejecting the worst. The same is true of the Bible.

What Else Can We Unfairly Blame Bernie Sanders For? 

I want to propose a hypothetical and ask people to think about it. Let’s say that Bernie Sanders had managed to pull off a Hail Mary and win the Democratic Party nomination for president, then lost to Donald Trump. In this scenario, after the election, Sanders then wrote a book about why he lost in which he made some reasonable points but also claimed that Hillary Clinton was partly at fault for him losing because she accused him of sexism and not being liberal enough on gun control during the primary and tried to blame him for the actions of some of her supporters. Wouldn’t this have across as ridiculous? If you think so, then you can see how Clinton’s attempts to give Sanders partial blame for her loss looks to a lot of people, including me. Yes, Sanders made some attacks on Clinton during the primary. She made attacks on him also. That is how primaries work. You cannot win the nomination with the backing of the party establishment, partly by making the argument that your opponent is unelectable, lose in the general election, and then reasonably blame your loss partly on the candidate who DID NOT GET THE NOMINATION. Nor does the fact that Clinton was undeniably subject to a lot of sexism mean that all criticisms about her record are baseless. And trying to spread blame to Sanders for her loss is a pretty lousy thing to do after he swallowed his personal feelings and endorsed her for president. Perhaps some Clinton supporters feel that he should have campaigned harder for her, but he is currently serving as a U.S. Senator, which means he had other responsibilities besides being at Clinton’s beck and call 24/7. And finally, I do not know whether Sanders would have won. Maybe he would have, maybe he would not have, but the claim that Clinton had to be nominated over him because he was unelectable is looking very questionable since she herself lost. And I strongly disagree with the suggestion that somehow even suggesting that Bernie might have won makes me a bad feminist.

Land of the Free and the Slaves

As we observe the increasing number of people refusing to stand for the National Anthem, it might behoove us to take a look at Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote it. Key was a lifelong slaveholder. He called black people “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” As the District Attorney of Washington, D.C. during the 1830s, he prosecuted abolitionists for exercising their right to free speech. At one point, he brought a man named Reuben Crandall to court to be “charged with publishing seditious libels, by circulating the publications of the American Anti-Slavery Society.” Key felt that Crandall should be executed for his “crime.” In another case, he pursued the death penalty for a slave named Arthur Bowen who was accused of trying to kill his de facto owner. Abolitionists, in Key’s view, were dangerous not only because they might cause slave rebellions but also because they wanted to “associate and amalgamate with the negro.” In still another case, he prosecuted a writer named Benjamin Lundy for libel after Lundy declared that, “There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district of Columbia.” Indeed, the part of the “Star Spangled Banner” that we normally hear is only one part of a longer song. Another portion reads, “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Some scholars have argued that the “slaves” whom Key gloated about being killed were black people who fought for the British hoping to gain their freedom. It is worth noting that while most white Americans (though not most abolitionists) at the time shared Key’s basic racial views, his views on slavery were quite controversial even in the 1830s. John Quincy Adams, for instance, hardly a fringe radical, spent significant time during that decade defending the free speech rights of antislavery activists that Key was trampling on. Slavery had become quite controversial by this point as well. It is important to remember, as those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem are criticized, that the person who wrote the song itself believed in neither free speech nor equality under the law. A great summary of Key’s iniquity can be found at the link I am sharing here:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/wheres-debate-francis-scott-keys-slave-holding-legacy-180959550/

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Falling On General Lee’s Sword: Why Do So Many Conservatives Insist on Going to the Wall For the Worst Historical Actions of Democrats?

After the horrific violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists two weeks ago, right-wing Republican Dinesh D’Souza decided to take to Twitter to complain that leftists were attacking the memory of Robert E. Lee, “who opposed both slavery and secession.” A couple of years ago, I explained that Lee did, in fact, support slavery. Plenty of other historians have pointed this out, and even the right-wing Daily Caller rated D’Souza’s claim false.  In addition to being false, it might seem an odd choice by D’Souza. Just last year, he released a film and a book that correctly excoriated the Democratic Party’s past support for slavery, the Trail of Tears, and Jim Crow, though he rather implausibly tried to draw a line from Andrew Jackson, Preston Brooks, Stephen Douglas, and Ben Tillman to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. And odd as it may be to imagine now, Lee almost certainly never voted for a Republican in his life. While biographers have stated that he probably supported the Whigs prior to the party’s demise in 1854, primary source evidence makes it rather apparent that Lee began backing Democrats when the GOP was founded. In the 1856 letter to his wife where he defended slavery, Lee praised Democratic president Franklin Pierce for a speech that criticized not only abolitionists but also the more moderate Republicans. That same year, he expressed his satisfaction that proslavery Democrat James Buchanan had beaten antislavery Republican John C. Fremont. In 1860, he called on Democratic Party nominee, Stephen Douglas, to withdraw from the election and unite the party behind John Breckinridge, the nominee of the “Southern Democratic Party” in order to ensure that “Lincoln be defeated.” In 1866, he blamed the Republican Party for the war. He was ineligible to vote in the 1868 Election due to, in a delicious irony, having his citizenship revoked just before former slaves were granted citizenship. Nonetheless, he cosigned a letter denouncing Republican Reconstruction policies, including black suffrage, which was then circulated by Democrats to drum up support for their presidential candidate, Horatio Seymour. 1868 would not be Lee’s year, as he suffered yet enough defeat to Ulysses S. Grant, this time by proxy, when the former Union general crushed Seymour in a landslide. So in sum, Hillary Clinton has supported more Republican candidates for president than Lee did.

D’Souza’s Twitter faux paus is far from isolated. Time and time again, we have seen modern Republicans fall on their sword by supporting or refusing to oppose tributes to the Confederacy. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and D’Souza have tried to have it both ways by supporting the Confederate Flag while claiming that the GOP is still the Party of Lincoln. In recent years, Republican governors such as Bob McDonnell, Nathan Deal and Phil Bryant have declared April “Confederate Heritage Month” or “Confederate History Month.” McDonnell came down with a bad case of corruption charges, and Deal scrubbed the holiday in Georgia after the horrific Charleston Church Shooting. But Bryant was not deterred. Nikki Haley and Lindsey Graham supported displaying the flag on Capitol grounds until after the shooting. Jeb Bush claimed that, “The problem with the Confederate flag isn’t the Confederacy,” but rather, “what it began to represent later,” a very odd way of letting the proslavery Democrats who founded the Confederacy off the hook. It is now primarily Republicans who oppose moving Confederate statues and other monuments to museums. Two years ago, liberal columnist, Jonathan Chait, quipped, “Given their investment in this argument [that Democrats are the party of racism], you would think Republicans would be eager to divest themselves from the symbols of slavery and segregation. But far from it.” That same day, Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter and advisor for George W. Bush, remarked, “So the Confederate flag was never a symbol associated with the Republican Party – including in South Carolina, where the flag was first flown over the statehouse in 1962, at the request of Democrats in the state like Governor Fritz Hollings and Representative John A. May. Yet the Republican Party has somehow found a way to get itself attached to this toxic symbol of division and repression.” Wehner is right in one sense. For a Republican to support the Confederate Flag or, especially, retrospectively side with the Confederacy itself is antithetical to the roots of their party. Republicans should be happy to distance themselves as far as possible from the country and political movement that their first president, Abraham Lincoln, defeated. But it did not happen by accident. It happened because many Republicans chose to make it happen, including Wehner’s former boss. While Republican humorist, P.J. O’Rourke, opined that, “my Republican friends would rather hoist the Jolly Roger than fly the rebel flag like a bunch of cement-head biker trash with Nazi face tattoos,” many Republicans have consciously attached themselves to perhaps the ultimate symbol of the Democratic Party’s historic support for slavery. And other conservatives, such as former Arkansas state legislator Jon Hubbard, Michael Medved, Walter Williams, and–wouldn’t you know it?–D’Souza, have gone so far as to claim that black people today are better off due to slavery.

This bizarreness is not limited to the Confederacy either. Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic Party president and, not coincidentally, favored slavery and the Trail of Tears. Again, one would think that every Republican would be clamoring to take Jackson off of the $20 bill and scrub every tribute to him, but one would be wrong. Trump not only dismissed such proposals as political correctness gone mad but has also praised Jackson since then. Ben Carson made similar complaints about even the idea of putting Harriet Tubman’s face alongside Jackson’s. Right-wing talk radio host Michael Savage fumed that dislike of Jackson was proof that “perverted left-wing deviants who have stolen our children from us put hate in their minds about anything white, Christian and male.”

While slavery and Jim Crow laws were both established in America in the 1600s, long predating either the Democratic or the Republican Party, postbellum segregationists were mostly Democrats. If a Republican candidate ran in a statewide Southern election between the end of Reconstruction and the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it was usually as a sacrificial lamb. In fact, this allowed Southern Democratic Parties to define themselves as private clubs and circumvent the 15th Amendment to ban black people from voting in their primaries. And, of course, given the Democrats’ strength in the Jim Crow South, whoever won the primary was all but guaranteed to win the general election. As conservatives like D’Souza love to point out, Republicans voted for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, as well as other Reconstruction Era civil rights legislation, at a much higher rate than Democrats. And they usually voted in significantly higher numbers for other civil rights bills compared with Democrats through the 1960s. But D’Souza has called for repealing the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prevent private businesses from discriminating based on race. Ben Shapiro and Jeff Jacoby, two other conservative commentators, have expressed similar views. Senator Rand Paul is on record in the past as having opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. Some conservatives have gone even further. In 2014, the Texas Republican Party called for an outright repeal of the “Voter Rights Act,” which was passed in 1965 with support from 80% of Republican Representatives and over 93% of Republican Senators. In Brown v. Board of Education, former Democratic Party presidential nominee, John W. Davis, defended school segregation, while Republican Attorney General Herbert Brownell argued that it was unconstitutional. When the Supreme Court first began deliberating, its lone Republican Judge Harold Burton was one of the strongest supporters of striking down de jure segregation in public schools. And when another Republican named Earl Warren became the new Chief Justice in the middle of deliberations, he helped bring about a unanimous ruling in favor of desegregation. While conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater opposed the decision, the fiercest resistance came primarily from Southern Democrats. Yet Pat Buchanan, a right-wing Republican who pursued the party’s presidential nomination twice, has retrospectively denounced the decision multiple times. Pat Robertson, another ultraconservative and former GOP presidential contender, hinted at opposition to the decision in one of his books, Courting Disaster. Humorously, depressingly, or both, he was flirting with the more explicit opposition of his Democratic Senator father to the ruling. From the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Republican politicians were conflicted on interracial marriage bans, with many opposing them on libertarian grounds, while Democratic politicians, overwhelmingly wanted interracial marriage illegal. States such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, and New Hampshire never had interracial marriage bans and remained Republican strongholds well into the twentieth century. Massachusetts, the site of abolitionists’ successful campaign to legalize interracial marriage in 1843, voted for Republican presidential candidates in fourteen straight elections and remained mostly Republican until the late 1920s. In both of his presidential runs, Dwight Eisenhower managed a clean sweep of every state where interracial marriage was legal at the time. Yet according to a 2011 Gallup poll, Democrats were eleven percentage points more likely than Republicans to support interracial marriage. A 2017 Pew Research Center study showed Democrats as being twenty-one percentage points more likely than Republicans to see increased interracial marriage as positive for society and half as likely to see it as bad for society.

And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not bring up Japanese American internment. Internment was supported and implemented by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, a bête noire of free market conservatives. Dixiecrats such as John Rankin, Tom Stewart, and Martin Dies backed calls from West Coast racists to permanently remove/quarantine Japanese Americans. On the West Coast, Washington State Democrats Henry Jackson and Warren Magnuson generally voted for black civil rights. But they also supported Japanese American internment and other similar anti-Japanese discrimination with great relish. To be sure, the Republican Party was not a bastion of opposition to internment; Earl Warren’s support for the policy as governor would to haunt him in later years. But the few politicians that joined forces with a hodgepodge of liberals and far leftists to oppose internment were primarily Republicans, including Senator Robert Taft and Mayors Harry Cain and Ralph Carr. When the Supreme Court upheld internment, Democratic Justices Frank Murphy and Robert Jackson dissented, but they were joined by Republican Justice Owen Roberts and opposed by other Democratic judges. Yet during his run for president, Trump stated that internment might have been a good policy. Michelle Malkin, still a prominent conservative pundit, wrote a book in 2004 largely dedicated to the argument that internment had been fair and reasonable.

The behavior of many modern conservatives when it comes to historical policies of bigoted Democrats may seem strange. But as a historian, it makes my job of arguing that the parties switched much easier.

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The Trump Presidency and LGBT Rights: A Study in Managing Expectations

On April 22, 2016, an article in The New York Times–not exactly a pro-Trump paper– carried the headline, “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on LGBT Rights Set Him Apart in GOP.” The article went on to describe what it saw as the soon-to-be presidential nominee’s moderately liberal positions on LGBT rights in contrast to other leading Republicans. The article did acknowledge that, “Of course, Mr. Trump is not as embracing of gay rights as the Democratic candidates are; he said during this campaign that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, a position he has held since at least 2000, when he briefly flirted with a bid for the presidency.” Nonetheless, the thrust of the article was to portray Trump as a new kind of Republican on LGBT rights. In fairness, Trump did sound a more moderate note on LGBT rights than past Republican nominees and many prominent Republicans. But that is not saying a whole lot. LGBT rights began being discussed by presidential candidates in the 1970s. By that point, the GOP had shifted to being the more conservative party on civil rights. Had they been operating in today’s political climate, many past Republican nominees, presidents, and other politicians would likely have held liberal positions on gay rights given their stances on other civil rights issues. It is difficult to say this for sure, but we saw glimpses of this possibility with Republican politicians who defended gay rights in the 1970s, such as Charles Goodell and Edward Brooke, as well as elderly, retired GOPers who spoke up for same-sex marriage more recently, such as Daniel J. Evans, William G. Milliken, Lowell Weicker, Alan Simpson, Thomas Kean, and Jim Thompson. And as I pointed out here, saying that Trump is less anti-LGBT than people such as Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney is akin to saying that a colonoscopy is better than a fecal transplant. Additionally, by the time that the aforementioned article was written, Trump had already stated that he would consider appointing Supreme Court judges to reverse marriage equality. And just as the article was published, he declared support for a “states’ rights” position on transgender bathroom use.

Most LGBT voters apparently agreed with my assessment of Trump; he won only 14% of LGBT voters, almost twice as few as John McCain, nine percentage points less than Bush, Jr., and eight less than Romney. Trump did worse with LGBT voters than he did with women voters, Hispanic voters, or Jewish voters. Despite this, however, Trump’s anti-LGBT views have gone largely unmentioned by the media. Many gay Republicans have touted Trump as an ally. And last month, even Washington Post columnist, Jennifer Rubin, one of the president’s most strident critics on the Right, incorrectly wrote, “Ironically, Trump has been supportive of gay marriage in the past and never made it an issue in the campaign. So the Trump base doesn’t even have Trump on its side on this one.” But as his recent tweet on transgender soldiers shows, he has been quite bad on LGBT rights thus far. So, six months into his presidency, let’s recap some of the lowlights of his record on LGBT rights:

  1. In addition to having Mike Pence as his vice president, he has hired a slew of people with anti-LGBT records as Cabinet secretaries and Cabinet-level officials, including but not limited to Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Nikki Haley.
  2. Rescinded President Obama’s executive order allowing transgender public school students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity
  3. Praised, kissed up to, and pursued alliances with Russia, where being openly gay is effectively illegal, and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a capital crime.
  4. Turned a blind eye to the ongoing anti-gay genocide in Chechnya and refused to offer asylum to gay Chechen refugees
  5. Appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, where he promptly dissented to support anti-gay discrimination in Arkansas’s marriage law.
  6. Nominated other anti-gay individuals as judges for lower courts.
  7. Shown little-to-no interest in passing anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT Americans.
  8. Rescinded key enforcement provisions of Obama’s executive order that banned discrimination by federal contractors based on gender and sexual orientation.
  9. Announced, on the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the armed forces, that transgender individuals are banned from serving in the military.
  10. Literally during the time between me writing a draft of this blog and posting it, Trump has allowed the Department of Justice to file an amicus brief stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is in direct opposition to the stance of the EEOC, as well as a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, and represents a departure from the Obama Administration’s position of neutrality on the meaning of Title VII.

It ought to be clear by now that the narrative of Trump the LGBT Rights Supporter is just as imaginary as Trump the Populist or Trump the Tough Guy. Yes, he is less anti-LGBT than George W. Bush was. It would be impossible for any president in 2017 not to be. Hell, you could have made Ted Cruz president, and he wouldn’t have been as anti-LGBT in 2017 as Bush was. But Trump’s LGBT rights record cannot be judged on him being less homophobic than a right-wing former Texas governor was ten years ago. Rather, we must ask, is he at least as supportive as our previous president? Are his positions on LGBT rights liberal for a politician now? Clearly, he fails to pass muster when judged by these criteria. If there was ever a time when he deserved the benefit of the doubt from LGBT rights activists, that time is gone. Trump is no more a friend to LGBT people than he is to women, racial minorities, immigrants, disabled people, or Muslims.

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Gun Control, Murder Rates, and Correlation vs Causality

The National Rifle Association is an impossible group to defend. Their CEO and executive vice president thinks the wrong side won the Civil War. They fall silent when an innocent black man with a legally obtained weapon gets shot by a cop. They are shameless flunkies for the Right who lump supporting gun rights in with being anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, and pro-Trump. And instead of letting anti-gun control arguments stand on their own, considerable merits, they try to shift blame for mass shootings onto the video game industry  and mentally ill people. I bring all of this up, because a recent anti-NRA protest by organizers of the Women’s March also ended up being a protest for gun control. I am proud that I participated in a Women’s March in my hometown of Atlanta and would gladly do so again. However, the Left has been making what I believe to be a mistake by championing expansive gun control and making this a major issue. One of the most popular arguments for this is that countries with stricter gun laws have lower homicides rates than the U.S. It is certainly true that the U.S. has an unusually high murder rate for an industrialized, Western nation and that many Western nations with lower murder rates have stricter gun laws. But is this cause and effect or merely correlation? To clarify, correlation is when two trends are observed to go together, but they may or not be caused by each other. For example, in pre-1960s America, states where more people drank Coca Cola tended to have more racist laws, while states where more people drank Pepsi tended to have less racist laws. But nobody would argue that Coca Cola consumption caused Mississippi to have government-mandated segregation for longer than Massachusetts. Similarly, ice cream sales, drowning deaths, and riots are all probably more likely to happen in the Summer than in other parts of the year, but nobody thinks that ice cream helps cause drowning or rioting.

This blog post will focus on three countries and consider a piece of gun control legislation in each: the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. All have significantly stricter gun laws and significantly lower murder rates than the United States. Many people argue that this is proof or at least strong evidence that gun control reduces murder. If this is true, then one might expect that the murder rates in these three countries consistently decreased when gun control legislation was enacted. The first country that will be considered is the U.K. In 1997, the U.K. effectively banned ownership of most types of handguns. The following year, the murder rate saw a small decrease from 1.18 per 100,000 to 1.14. But from 1999 to 2003, the murder rate consistently increased, peaking at  1.79. After 2003, the murder rate began declining. But it was not until 2009 that the murder rate reached a level lower than what it had been before the handgun ban. Thus, it is difficult to conclude from statistics that Britain’s homicide rate was lowered by dictating what types of guns people can buy, and a strong case can be made that the data suggests the opposite result.

In 1969, Canada introduced “non-restricted,” “restricted,” and “prohibited” categories of firearms. That year, a total of 391 people were murdered in Canada. In 1970, the number jumped to 467. It continued to increase to 473 in 1971, 521 in 1972, 546 in 1973, 600 in 1974, and 701 in 1975. While it is impossible to prove that gun control caused this sharp increase, these statistics demonstrate that it certainly did not reduce the murder rate in Canada.

In 1996, a gunman at Port Arthur, Australia engaged in a mass shooting, killing 35 people and wounding 23 others. The Australian government quickly responded to this horrific event with stringent new gun laws. According to The New York Times, “Pushed through by John Howard, the conservative prime minister at the time, the National Firearms Agreement prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns in all but unusual cases. It tightened licensing rules, established a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, created a national gun registry and instituted a temporary buyback program that removed more than 20 percent of firearms from public circulation.” Going by figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology, the homicide rate remained stable between 1996 and 1997. It dipped somewhat in 1998 and increased somewhat in 1999. The significant drop in homicides often brought up by gun control advocates did not take place until at least the mid 2000s. A case could be made that this means that the National Firearms Agreement took awhile to make a serious impact. But it also makes any causal link far more difficult to trace.

None of the evidence that I have offered here proves that gun control is ineffective at reducing murder. As I myself stated, correlation does not equal causality. It can certainly still be argued that, all other things being equal, gun control makes people safer. Longtime readers know my view on the matter: I support requiring criminal background checks and passage of a safety test (similar to a driver’s test) before buying guns but oppose most other gun control measures for a variety of reasons. That said, one cannot insist that the lower homicide rates of the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia prove that gun control works yet at the same time dismiss the statistics laid out in this post as irrelevant.

 

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Buy This Product Or Else: Why The Individual Mandate for Health Insurance Must End

America has a tendency to go through one bad health care policy after another. The broken pre-Obama system of out-of-control insurance costs and unfunded mandates begat the ill-advised Affordable Care Act, which begat the ever elusive American Health Care Act and all of its associated defects that have the magical ability to unite Tea Partiers, moderate Republicans, Trump supporters, and liberals in disgust. I wrote on this site years ago about why I dislike the Affordable Care Act, but to recap and expand: it involves too much government control of the health care system, soaks the middle class, risks being a backdoor to nanny state policies such as New York City’s short-lived, infamous “big gulp ban,” and may well have led to more unemployment by requiring businesses to provide insurance for their workers. The act certainly did some good things, such as providing necessary medical care to low income Americans and preventing insurers from charging extra for preexisting conditions. But changes like these could have been accomplished without most of the bad aspects of the ACA. For someone who opposes national health insurance, this is a very much a “pick your poison” thought experiment, but a system of single payer health insurance would actually be preferable to this system of mandatory employer-provided health insurance. Under a single payer system, the government would provide insurance directly instead of forcing employers to do so, preventing layoffs or reduced hiring. Unemployed people would have easier access to insurance than they do now, and the costs of the program would not be hidden by passing them onto corporations. To be clear, I do not support national health insurance, but if the United States is determined to have it, the best system is probably single payer. But there is another key problem with the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican bill at least attempts to remedy in spite of its myriad of serious flaws: the individual mandate, which requires everyone to buy health insurance whether they want it or not.

Before getting into detail about why I agree with conservatives who oppose the individual mandate, I should point out that a significant amount of the right-wing opposition to individual mandates seems to be motivated by a desire to disagree with Obama on everything. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich favored an individual mandate as part of a right-wing alternative to the Clinton’s proposed health care bill. In 2006, Mitt Romney signed a bill requiring Massachusetts residents to buy health insurance. Robert Moffit, a health care analyst for the right-wing Heritage Foundation, attended the signing and praised the bill. In a 2012 piece attempting to argue that “Romneycare” and “Obamacare” were radically different, Ann Coulter revealingly admitted, “Until ObamaCare, mandatory private health insurance — as Romney pushed — was considered the free market alternative to the Democrats’ piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry.” Nonetheless, even if many conservatives supported individual mandates in the past and oppose it now because Obama supported it, that does not mean that individual mandates are a good policy.

The basic problem with the ACA’s individual mandate is that it is inconsistent with individual freedom. In a free society, consumers ought to have the right to choose whether or not to purchase goods and services without the State making the choice for them. And part of living in a free society is that sometimes, consumers will have the knowledge and financial means to make the right choice and still make the wrong one. Sometimes, adults buy houses on a fault line. Sometimes, adults smoke cigarettes. And they should be allowed to do so, provided that they are made aware of potential consequences. The same principle applies to buying insurance. Should people who otherwise cannot afford to buy insurance be provided with tax credits and vouchers to be able to buy it? Absolutely. Should parents be required to buy insurance for their children? Again, absolutely. But adults also should have the right to choose not to buy insurance if they think that they are wealthy or healthy enough not to need it. It is certainly foolish for someone who can afford insurance not to purchase it, but as stated above, people a right to make foolish decisions as long as they are not directly hurting anyone else. To reiterate, there are many , many, many problems with the American Health Care Act. But the proposed legislation actually does make good attempts to incentivize people to voluntarily buy insurance while removing the individual mandate and avoiding the problem of some people driving up costs by waiting to buy insurance until after getting sick. The AHCA would allow insurers to charge people extra if they go more than 63 days without having insurance, then attempt to buy it. This provision is problematic given that the AHCA will make it more difficult for some people to buy insurance, especially if they are between jobs. In fact, I would be unwilling to vote for the AHCA as currently written. But allowing people to chose not to buy insurance while charging them extra if they try to buy it at a later time is, in and of itself, a good policy.

There is a common argument in favor of individual insurance mandates that must be addressed. Some people, including Newt Gingrich, have likened it to mandatory car insurance. This comparison, however, fails to hold water, because car accidents are very likely to seriously impact other drivers. And there is no way to prevent this from happening short of entirely eliminating car accidents. Thus, car insurance is required, not for the welfare of the person who crashes their car, but for the welfare of other innocent drivers who may be impacted by said crash. On the other hand, if someone suffers a heart attack, it is unlikely to directly impact anyone else in the same way that a car accident is. An uninsured person seeking medical care may drive up costs for everyone else, but as mentioned earlier, there are ways of addressing that cost without mandatory insurance. Freedom from nonessential government coercion and access to affordable, quality health care should never be treated as mutually exclusive or pitted against each other in a zero sum game.

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