Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The threats to democracy

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Robin Givhan, also of The Washington Post  examines of the attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband,  Paul Pelosi, through the lens of elder abuse.

Of all the charges filed against the man who is accused of breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home and fracturing her husband Paul’s skull with a hammer, the one that is the most jarring is elder abuse. It isn’t the most serious of the charges, which also include attempted murder and several federal crimes. But it reflects the continued chipping away at the country’s moral center. It underscores the degree to which society has lost its way. Someone broke into the home of an 82-year-old grandfather and bashed him in the head with a hammer.

When you strip away the political bickering, the conspiracy theories and the disinformation campaigns, this is what the country is left with. One might be inclined to call what happened heartbreaking, but our hearts are already broken into a million tiny bits after the mass shootings, the antisemitism, the anti-Asian violence, the police malfeasance that sparked Black Lives Matter protests. Are there any pieces still big enough to crack?

The particular protections given the elderly under California law reflect the eventual human condition with which everyone must contend. We become increasingly fragile as we age. Older people often don’t keep up with changes in technology and so can be targeted for digitized financial crimes. They may be infirm and unable to fully care for themselves and so have to rely on someone else for their most basic needs. The lucky might just need a helping hand to help keep life going along smoothly. But fundamentally, the criminalization of the mistreatment of seniors is a plea to treat them with dignity and respect. Elders deserve both. A decent society owes them that.

The attack on Pelosi graphically highlights just how indecent this country has become.

I remember that when I heard Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick say that older people should be willing to possibly sacrifice their lives for the country’s economy, I thought that a line was crossed. 

Or the Buffalo police shoving 75 year old Martin Gugino to the ground and having the President of the United States call Mr. Gugino a “provocateur” while defending the actions of the police.

Once certain segments of society find these types of elder abuse as little more than “legitimate political discourse,” what’s off limits?

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer says that the mainstream media continues to shrug off and downplay the reasons for the rise in far-right political violence and the threat that it poses to American democracy.

The problems with shrugging off the political implications of growing, violent extremism are two-fold. A muddled voice from America’s leading newsrooms won’t help in quashing the inevitable right-wing conspiracy theories about what happened in San Francisco which — you will not be shocked to learn — spread within hours of the news. But the muted response also gave wide license for TV pundits to “both sides” this assassination attempt when almost all of the political violence in America, as well as the threats to our election, are coming from one side, which is the far-right movement driving the Republican Party. […]

The media’s general botching of the Pelosi story comes as arguably this fall’s most timely book — the veteran journalist Margaret Sullivan’s Newsroom Confidential, which is part memoir and part a message to mainstream media colleagues who respect and might actually listen to her — warns that reporters need to adopt a new and less passive tone in confronting today’s profound threats to democracy. Now that she’s out promoting her tome, Sullivan sees a media that this election season largely is not meeting the moment.

“The news media desperately wants to be seen as fair and unbiased and impartial, and, you know, those are good aims,” Sullivan told MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan last week. “But in order to get there, they are overly responsive to criticism from the right and they keep moving over to try to make it seem like they are, you know, are fair — and in fact they’re taking things down the middle that shouldn’t be taken down the middle. You know, democracy and antidemocracy are not equal things and they shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Charles Blow of The New York Times writes that the atmosphere surrounding the presidential election of 1912 has lessons for contemporary times.

After all this country has been through — from Donald Trump and his election denial, to the insurrection, to what prosecutors call the “politically motivated” attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband — it still appears poised to elect candidates next Tuesday who deny the results of the 2020 election. There are 291 election deniers on the ballot. And Trump — the greatest threat to democracy — may make a comeback in 2024.

It’s hard to believe even though it’s happening right in front of our eyes.

In a major speech Wednesday night, President Biden described election denial as “the path to chaos in America.” “It’s unprecedented,” he said. “It’s unlawful. And it’s un-American.” But in truth, the extremism, racism and white nationalism are neither un-American nor unfamiliar.

I am personally fascinated by precedents and historical corollaries, the ways that events find a way of repeating themselves, not because of some strange glitch in the cosmos but because human beings are fundamentally the same, unchanged, stuck in rotation of our failings and frailties.

The presidential election of 1912 offers a few lessons for our current political moment.

I’ve written about another aspect of that presidential election of 1912. I share Mr. Blow’s fascination with “precedents and historical corollaries” and for pretty much the same reasons.  

Michael Woo writes for The Los Angeles Times aout new “rules of engagement” that need to be in place for the varied ethnic groups of Los Angeles.

Today, the rules of engagement I learned over decades in politics are in a state of flux. New rules apply.

First, technologies like smartphones with voice recorders and social media mean the old boundaries between public and private no longer exist. A politician shouldn’t say or write anything, even in a private meeting or an email message to trusted associates, that they wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front page of a newspaper, creeping across the bottom of a television screen or retweeted.

The end of privacy comes at a cost. But it also may be the best guarantor of accountability, especially in an environment such as City Hall where insiders tend to cover for each other and maintain a code of silence.

A second new rule applies to self-described “bystanders” such as Cedillo and De León, who listened to their colleague’s racist remarks. For those in the political arena, silence in the face of crude, demeaning, racist words is equivalent to concurrence. If someone says something deeply objectionable in your presence, even in a private meeting, you must express your disapproval, or end the discussion immediately, even if it means confronting an ally. The current uproar shows that failure to object will be condemned later.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker describes how Republicans made COVID-19 a winning campaign issue.

Nearly two years later, pollsters rarely ask voters about covid policy; it is no longer front of mind. But the coronavirus, and the methods and emotions of its management, has supplied the fuel for just about every turn in politics since Biden’s Inauguration. This is the pandemic-backlash election. Follow the biographies of the most surprising political figures to emerge this year and there is often a pandemic-induced point of departure. Doug Mastriano, an extreme Christian conservative who is now the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, built a political base by staging nightly pandemic messianic fireside chats over Facebook Live, which he followed with an anti-vaccine-mandate rally at the state capitol. Kari Lake, who started the pandemic-backlash period as a local news anchor in Phoenix and is ending it as the slight favorite to be the next governor of Arizona, told Time’s Eric Cortellessa, “You couldn’t question anything about Covid. That’s where I had a problem. I just felt like, wow, this has ceased being journalism. It is pure propaganda.”

But, more than the characters, the pandemic backlash has supplied campaigns—and, in particular, conservative candidates—with issues. The education fights that galvanized social conservatives and dominated Fox News through 2021 started with frustration at school closings and intensified when parents began to scrutinize their children’s curricula during the Zoom-classroom phase. The Republican emphasis on crime and urban chaos took root when workers stayed home and left city streets mostly free of daily traffic, making the homeless population, which grew during the pandemic, more visible, and when public-health imperatives accelerated the political push to shrink jail and prison populations. Most of all, the inflationary pressures that have defined the midterm elections initially took shape when consumers were staying home and spending more on goods than services. These issues have had a partisan significance, in that the Democratic story about the pandemic has given way to a Republican one. But there is another way to put it. The politics of covid are no longer about death and disease, but about public-health restrictions.

I’ve said before that I believe that the pandemic was very much an underlying factor behind the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

After all, the “trial run” for the Jan. 6 insurrection was the attack on the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan and the reason for that attack was the COVID lockdown ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Andrew Roth of the Guardian says that the big winner in the Russian “U-turn” in allowing Ukrainian exports is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ukrainian officials said the Kremlin’s U-turn was an important lesson to the west about defying the Russian leader.

A Russian blackmailer “is inferior to those who are stronger and know how to clearly state their position,” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser. “The way to pacify the aggressor lies through a reasonable demonstration of force.”

In this case, Russia’s actions also threatened to anger leaders in Africa and the Middle East with whom Putin has sought to curry diplomatic favour. In an announcement of the deal renewing on Wednesday, Erdoğan said the next shipments of Ukrainian agricultural goods were destined for Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan.

And then there is Erdoğan, a regional rival of Putin’s who has emerged as a major power player in negotiations over the war. Erdoğan also played a leading role in the prisoner exchange in which Russia released key Ukrainian commanders from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. Moscow had previously said it was planning to try to possibly execute them at a military tribunal.

Tom Phillips, also of the Guardian, reports that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appears to have conceded defeat in Brazil’s presidential election.

“The president used the verb ‘to end’ in the past tense,” Fachin said. “He said: ‘It’s over.’ Therefore, [one must] look ahead.”

In an interview with the newspaper O Globo, Bolsonaro’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, made it clear he accepted the defeat. “There’s no point in crying any more, we lost the game,” he said.

Mourão also signalled that he opposed the pro-Bolsonaro protests that have involved hardcore supporters blockading roads to demand a military uprising, bringing traffic chaos to cities including Rio and São Paulo. “There are 58 million people who are unhappy,” Mourão said of Bolsonaro’s voters. “But they agreed to take part in the game. So they now need to calm down.”

Bolsonaro appeared to send a different message with his deliberately ambiguous two-minute address on Tuesday. In it, the rightwing populist called the demonstrations “the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice about how the electoral process played out”. “Peaceful protests will always be welcome,” Bolsonaro said, although he said destruction was not welcome.

Finally today, Neri Zilber writes for Foreign Policy about the possible ramifications of the win of far-right parties in the Israeli elections and a new very far-right government headed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s clearest and possibly sole path to forming a government will be with what he has termed his “natural partners,” including the extremist Religious Zionism bloc, which surged to become the third-largest party in parliament.

Religious Zionism is an alliance of three far-right factions, representing hard-line settlers, ultranationalists, and anti-LGBTQ religious activists. Its most prominent leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is a disciple of the anti-Arab ideologue Meir Kahane. In the past, Ben-Gvir has been convicted of incitement to racism. For years, he proudly displayed a photo on his living room wall of a notorious Jewish terrorist responsible for the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s coalition, which would also include two ultra-Orthodox parties, is likely to have just 10 women parliamentarians (compared to 30 in the last coalition) and possibly only one woman cabinet minister after near parity between the genders in the outgoing government.

Have a good day, everyone!



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