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Bad hygiene is bad faith
Arizona Democrats voted to censure Sinema because she refused to overthrow the filibuster. In Georgia, David Shafer signed a fake elector certificate, a criminal act; he's still Chairman of the GAGOP.
All the years I’ve followed politics, I’ve never been so concerned about the state of both parties, and how the entrenched political base of each party detests the other.
I’ve heard too much talk of actual civil war, but instead of entire states—senators and representatives resigning their seats while state legislatures pass articles of secession—we would have neighbor against neighbor, over issues that, if aliens from another planet observed, would be akin to us watching ants of the same colony destroy each other over which gets to eat the ant poison first. What I believe we have arrived at is a complete failure of hygiene, and simultaneously, the blooming of bad faith as the norm.
Don’t pretend it’s not a real thing, or that it’s only the “other” side that’s acting in bad faith. For decades, the main centers of American media and journalism have been defenders of liberal policies. Their practitioners have intermarried, interacted, engaged in groupthink with, educated, and participated in revolving door employment between liberal think-tanks, Democratic Party campaigns, and also administrations. It’s so ingrained at this point that there’s a cottage industry of right-wing media to keep track of such things.
To those in the media who spent man-years creating a giant database of Trump’s lies, there’s no hypocrisy in shutting that down when Biden assumed office. There’s simply no audience or reason to pay for maintaining a presidential fact-check database when the person being checked isn’t going to draw eyeballs. And over the years, Joe Biden has told the same made up stories so many times, it’s not worth reporting the latest time.
I can even be gentle with the media, because in the U.S., there’s no law requiring them to be unbiased; the media has always, since the days of the founding, acted first in its own pecuniary and capitalist interest. Throwing raw meat to its paying audience is no crime, even when that means not covering stories that are in the general public’s interest to know. This is why healthy competition in media is essential to our Republic, and why we need to be extra-vigilant at the role of social media, Internet, and news-entertainment conglomerates that own, produce, advertise, and promote their own content. We need to look especially hard when those conglomerates act with global interests, in countries where the First Amendment not only doesn’t exist, but also runs contrary to that nation’s governing principles (I’m taking about China, of course).
Media hygiene is almost automatic. Even figures like Rush Limbaugh are ultimately mortal, and post-Rush, the fever to duplicate his reach will result in a different market. Capitalism is it own force of nature, and advertisers are both sensitive and fickle, as are audiences. As awful as the media can be (and it can be pretty awful, just ask Steve Krakauer), their bad hygiene is really part of what makes America awesome, compared to, say, the Pravda days in the Soviet Union, or today in Hong Kong, where hygiene is both immaculate and government-enforced.
Bad faith, however, is unacceptable when it occurs within the highest levels of our political parties, and left uncorrected by good hygiene. For historical perspective, it’s never in anyone’s lifetime been as bad as it is now. For instance, Sen. Joe McCarthy was censured by the senate in a vote of 67-22, three years before his own death took him off the national stage. Richard Nixon was about to be impeached and convicted, with enough Republican senators willing to vote him out of office to convince him to resign.
Between 1997, the start of Bill Clinton’s second term, marked by the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment, and 2016, something changed in our government. There was a wave-by-wave sea change in both parties’ willingness to—even joy at—resorting to bad faith, and an equal unwillingness to committing to hygiene to correct their mistakes. I could never really understand Clinton’s impeachment—it seemed a matter less than the dignity of the office demanded as a cure to a president with a licentiousness and truth-avoidance problem. Clinton was not the first with this problem (FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, all of them suffered from it), but his scandal was ushered in by the relatively new twin influences of the Internet age and conservative talk radio.
I wouldn’t say that impeaching Clinton was done in bad faith; Bill Clinton was an inveterate liar and torturer of the English language to fit his lies like square pegs in round holes (forgive the really terrible pun). After that impeachment, Democrats conducted an all-out air war against one of the personally nicest men to occupy the White House, George W. Bush (whose niceness, nice as it was, never surpassed his father George H.W. Bush). Bush and Bill Clinton went on after their presidencies to become friends in the world’s smallest and most powerful club, despite the Democratic Party and its fellow travelers in the media’s rolling war against Bush for eight years.
(Don’t hate mail me about George W. Bush and Iraq, or 9/11 conspiracies. The former was a matter of military intelligence, groupthink, and bets that turned out wrong; and on the latter, I will dismiss you out of hand.)
One thing Bill Clinton (not Hillary) and George W. Bush shared was that they are personally nice guys who really care about the intricacies of government and policy. They care enough about statecraft, governing, principle, and practice to read everything presented to them, learn about the topics they speak on, and do their best to sell their solutions, whether those are right or wrong in the minds of the audience. There’s no way everyone is going to agree on the solutions to complex problems; but Bush and (Bill) Clinton tried to play largely within the rules of good faith in working with the other party.
Barack Obama was a different animal. He was in a hurry to “transform America,” and had the backing, demagoguery, and marketing smarts to sell hope and change as a goal, regardless of massively overselling the hope, and leaving the direction of change unspoken in bad faith. Moreover, the end of the GOP nice guys winning, with Bush’s departure, aroused the scent of “weakness” in Donald Trump—who had for years fantasized about being president—like Big Dan Teague at the sound of snapping money in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” The day after Mitt Romney lost in 2012, Trump registered “Make America Great Again,” beginning his run on bad faith in politics, the same way he had used it in business.
By 2020, we learned, like Big Dan Teague taught with a tree limb, “here endeth the lesson.” The sweeping, pervasive bad faith of the last days of the Trump White House is only now beginning to come into focus. For months, the drip-drip of memos, Powerpoint presentations, and unconstitutional Hail Mary plans to throw the election to a complicit House of Representatives seemed like only a political ploy, like petty actions of departing Clinton staffers who removed all the “W”s from computer keyboards in the West Wing. (By comparison, Bush absolutely forbade any such shenanigans when Obama took office.
Objections of Representatives to the elector slates seemed only another effort to play to the voter base like Democrats did in 2016, with celebrity videos aiming to sway electors, and their own objections to the Electoral College results. But in prior elections, there wasn’t an effort to have the Vice President participate in a conspiracy to actually overthrow the election results. The White House memos and Powerpoints were offered as serious points to Mike Pence, who gave them the serious consideration they deserved: he rejected them out of hand.
However, that wasn’t all: in seven states, Trump campaign officials coordinated a conspiracy to submit fake slates of electors, that had not been certified by state officials in the manner prescribed by law, to the Archivist of the United States, which were for Pence to use as a pretext for rejecting the valid, certified elector votes. These electors signed documents that violated federal law, though in some states, language was included to try to skirt the criminal aspect. Regardless, the criminal intent was obvious. As David Thornton proposed, these fake electors should be prosecuted.
It’s a larger problem than mere prosecution for criminal acts. In Georgia, the ring leader of the group signing off on the phony certificate was none other than the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, David Shafer. Shafer was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia in 2018, but was out-campaigned by Geoff Duncan, who holds that office today. Can you imagine if the sitting Lieutenant Governor of the state, who serves as president of the senate, signed off on an illegal certificate for a slate of electors to sway the federal election for POTUS? It’s a good thing Lt. Gov. Duncan is firmly in the same camp as Mike Pence.
What has happened to David Shafer? Nothing. He’s still running the Georgia GOP. No attempt at hygiene has been made. In fact, there’s been plenty of blame and boos at Duncan, who is horrified at Trump’s bad faith (he is not running for re-election); at Gov. Brian Kemp, who followed state law and certified the results, that Georgia’s electoral votes went to Joe Biden; and at Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who could not get a second to be a delegate at his own party’s state convention.
In fact, over the past year, state Republican parties have censured U.S. Representatives and Senators who voted to impeach and convict President Trump for his role in the January 6th riot at the Capitol.
Whether Trump was actually guilty of inciting the crowd is going to end up a matter for historians—we are far too divided and close to the event to make a useful judgment. For instance, many of the worst groups that went into the Capitol came prepared for violence well before Trump’s speech. Many of the over 750 who have been criminally charged had no idea the march to the Capitol would turn violent, but willingly participated once it did. Whether it was the groups, or Trump, who are to blame, is irrelevant here. Trump sat in the White House and did nothing for hours, and Trump certainly knew about the plan to use fake electors, and Pence’s part in the scripted conspiracy to overthrow the election. He should have been convicted for that.
Trump is now free to run again in 2024, while those in his own party who voted to bar him from ever running again are pariahs. This is a massive failure of hygiene, and a guarantee that the GOP is incapable of operating in good faith, even as some individuals in the party themselves operate in good faith. The party is committed to bad faith because leaders believe that’s what voters want.
It’s not just the Republicans. The Democrats have been consumed with bad faith for years. Their shameful and libelous attempts to take down Justice Brett Kavanaugh went unpunished, and not one Democrat in leadership has repented.
Now, with President Biden’s approval rating under water for his mishandling of practically every major event in his presidency, from COVID-19 to the Afghanistan withdrawal, to the economy, to his sweeping proposals that never had a chance, who does the Democratic Party punish? Sen. Krysten Sinema, for acting in good faith.
That’s right. The Arizona Democratic Party’s Executive Board voted to censure Sinema because she refused to overthrow the filibuster to allow Biden’s voting rights legislation to pass. National Review reported:
“While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,” ADP chair Raquel Terán said in a statement.
Further, now Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin are being called “white nationalists.”
The vote in favor of censuring Sinema was unanimous, according to AZCentral. While a censure is purely symbolic, the move is the latest in a series of rebukes from Democratic officials and donors. Representative Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) referred to Sinema last week as a “traitor,” while Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.) deemed Sinema, Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), and Republican senators “white nationalists.”
As much I’d like to laugh at this, because it’s clearly political insanity by the party I would rather see out of power, it’s not a laughing matter. The worst bad faith Democrats thrive, despite sumptuous displays of personal hypocrisy and arrogance. Democrats who value the guardrails of government, and not destroying them for short-term political advantage—in other words, those who play in good faith—get censured and condemned.
What do we hear from Barack Obama, the supposedly reasonable one who came before Trump, on this? Obama went for killing the filibuster; in 2005 then-Senator Obama defended it. George W. Bush didn’t hold back on the events of January 6th, and many Republicans have spoken on the danger it represented, even as they note how Democrats played it for maximum politics, instead of putting the nation first. I’m no fan of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a political two-faced worm if there ever was one, but he’s right about Democrats.
In order for our politics to function, there has to be room for nice guys. (Not just when they die.) There has to be room for good faith. There has to be tolerance for hygiene. Right now, there is none, and no room for anything but bad faith. It’s no wonder that every election becomes a cash extravaganza. The parties are left with no way to move ballots other than bad faith arguments and coordinated campaigns targeted at bubble-wrapped voters on both the left and the right.
As David French wrote, the tendency of people who are cosseted among like-thinkers on any given issue is to move them to more extreme positions. The right is beholden to a culture of winning at all costs—even the cost of the rule of law and good faith. The left is beholden to a culture of ideological lockstep, at pain of punishment and cancellation, which requires fealty to a narrative steeped in bad faith and use of political violence.
Unless and until voters demand better hygiene from our political parties, and stop tolerating the growing bad faith in messaging, governing, and use of the power of the state, America is headed into a very dark time.
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