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Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of February 11, 2022, in 9 minutes.

THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:


① Free rein for the anti-vax trucker blockade in Canada is consistent with a general tendency among liberal leaders of mature democracies to recoil in fear of right-wing threats and menace

② In the U.S. this tendency allowed things to get way out of hand on January 6, and has since manifested as impunity for threatening elections officials, school-board members, and even prosecutors

③ Now the question is whether it'll bleed into ongoing Trump investigations and efforts to hold him accountable under the law; whether it's to uphold democratic values or advance their own partisan interests, Democrats have to get used to doing the right thing with conviction and fearlessly

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THE NORTHERN BLIGHTS

You’ve no doubt heard by now about the right-wing, anti-vaccine truckers who’ve caused quite a truckus made life hell in Canada, and even in parts of the U.S., by blockading cities and shutting down shipping arteries that cross the northern border. 

Their stridency and persistence, to say nothing of the media’s soft-touch fascination with them, might make it seem as though these men (mostly men, anyhow) and their lawless actions grew out of widespread Canadian opposition to the country’s vaccination requirements; that they express Canada’s true national character, even if most Canadians would never go to their lengths. To the contrary, though, Canadians are pissed as hell at these truckers; indeed most Canadian truckers seem to be pissed at these truckers. If they have any support base at all, it’s among U.S. Republicans, who have cheered them on from the nihilist cheap seats. They are happy enough to see a neighboring liberal democracy paralyzed by right-wing extremism, and downright giddy about the thought of replicating the chaos here, given who the president is right now. 

And if domestic security services here in the U.S. are to be believed, they might get their way. That’s disturbing if true, less because of any direct danger angry truckers pose to members of the public than because of the existing climate of right-wing impunity they will join. As unpopular as they are in Canada, they have persisted there, as of this writing, for over a week. And it’s unclear whether any liberal governments in America, let alone the federal government, have the mettle to stop them if they materialize here.

① RIGHT OF IN-THE-WAY

Obviously right-wing men in America can’t get away with literally everything. When they plot to kidnap a Democratic governor, they go to jail; when they film themselves, or get caught on someone else’s camera, laying siege to Congress and assaulting Capitol police, they generally go to jail. When they commit sex trafficking, they stay in Congress, but maybe eventually go to jail.

But if they create a general atmosphere of menace and threat, through illegal actions that don’t constitute direct harm to people or property—or through acts of violence that are arguably legal—they tend to get off scot free. They might even get invited to the State of the Union address by their Republican representatives, or offered contributor contracts with Fox News. 

Underlying all the brazen lawlessness and antisocial conduct on the political right is an implicit threat, especially unsubtle among far-right men, to make the country ungovernable if they don’t get their way, let alone if they face any kind of consequences for their actions.

They are aided further in this hostage-taking approach to civic life by non-trivial levels of support among law-enforcement officers, and a general passivity among liberal leaders, who often convince themselves that any exercise of liberal power will be met with a larger opposite backlash. That is: they're scared. The anti-democratic right thrived in this climate throughout the Trump years, and is testing the limits of impunity now that he’s out of office.

② PROTESTING THE LIMITS

With encouragement from prominent Trump allies, it’s easy to see why a small but feral group of organized truck drivers and affiliated neo-confederates and conspiracy theorists might try something like the "Freedom Convoy" here in the U.S. If we think of the January 6, 2021 insurrection as a test of the outer bounds of right-wing impunity, we learned that scores of people with thousands of followers could organize a mob attack on the Capitol very much out in the open, and that at go time there’d be zero federal officers reinforcing the Capitol police to stop them. Over the course of several hours they assaulted over 100 cops, did millions of dollars worth of damage, got several people killed, threatened the lives of senior government officials, interrupted the peaceful transfer of power, and were then allowed to walk home. 

Hundreds of them have since been arrested and charged with various crimes, of course, but this is just to say they’ve learned they can go very far before the state will deploy law-enforcement authorities against them. 

It’s no surprise then that they've spent the past year terrorizing elections officials simply for doing their jobs. It follows just as predictably that they've threatened and assaulted educators and school-board members en masse over mask mandates and black-history curricula, and that when law-enforcement officials have done the bare minimum in response—like convene a working group to think through how to protect educators from political violence—Republicans have been there to accuse the federal government of sicing jack-booted thugs on American parents exercising their First Amendment rights.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has closely monitored the manufactured panic over critical race theory and school masking rules—and the liberal response to both—and his conclusion is pretty depressing. “Much discussion among Democrats of how to approach those matters seems to envision mostly an array of defensive responses,” he wrote, “from avoiding talking about them at all to aggressively calling out the left with a Sister Souljah-type attack for foisting activist terminology on the party. There’s little discussion of how Democrats might hold Republicans politically accountable for the deeper national aims their tactics reflect, and the harms they’re inflicting on our national life.”

After a prologue like this, why wouldn’t right-wing antivaxers try to paralyze commerce within the U.S. At worst they’d accomplish nothing and get away with it; at best they’d erode our public-health defenses further still, using blackmail to prolong the pandemic, which is among their top political goals. 

③ CRIMES A WASTIN’

Hopefully the Canadian trucker nonsense won’t metastasize, but that would still leave us stuck with the general problem. Our overall COVID-19 response in the year since Joe Biden took office has been marked by a familiar tendency among both reporters and elected Democrats to view right-wing aggression as the surface manifestation of popular will, when in reality Republicans just act like raging assholes whenever they want to get their way, even if what they want is unpopular.

(Side bar: I honestly wish Democrats would 'roid out now and again when they want to make progress on some important, partisan issue. It’s reasonable for people to suspect that if politicians are acting worked up, they must be furious about something bad and unpopular. It’s an effective way of framing issues preemptively: seize a position of strength, and leave the opposition to choose between escalating and conciliating.)

Usually this takes the form of breathless hyperbole rather than direct incitement—health-care reform is socialism, vaccine mandates are tyranny, etc etc. When Trump does it, he turns subtext into text, in service of both political goals (remember “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” ) and his personal interests (remember when he directed his mobs to target prosecutors and their cities if they move to prosecute him? Because that was like two weeks ago.) And the fear is that at one level or another, these increasingly explicit threats of violence and disruption are already working. 

We learned this week that in addition to habitually destroying presidential records, Trump also stole troves of them when he left the White House for Mar-a-Lago, including some unknown number of classified documents. We also learned that it’s “not yet clear” whether Merrick Garland’s Justice Department will investigate what by every appearance is blatant criminal activity. Lump it together with the warmed over Mark Meadows contempt citation, Trump’s attempt to shake Brad Raffensperger down for fake votes, the absence of any Trump accountability for obstructing justice, and we’d be naive not to wonder how much of his reluctance to enforce the law against prominent right-wing criminals is driven by fear. And if crooks can opt out of the criminal law through public intimidation, we should wonder how much they’ll ultimately get away with simply by threatening to whip up a public shitstorm if they meet any resistance. 

Congressional Democrats aren’t completely cowed by the conservative shitstorm problem. The January 6 committee has been pretty aggressive for the most part, and it looks like we’ll get some kind of investigation of Trump’s document theft and destruction. But I don’t think they’re inured to it either. Held up against their willingness to subpoena the most senior of White House officials, the January 6 committee members' reluctance to subpoena Ivanka Trump seems to stem entirely from fear of backlash. And, let’s never forget that, under the influence of Chris Coons, Democrats withdrew from their pursuit of further evidence in Trump’s second impeachment trial after Republicans threatened to go apeshit in retaliation.

If the system we have is ever to work, though—if we’re ever going to have a passable democracy—liberals are going to have to press ahead doing the right thing with as much conviction and fearlessness as these bad actors bring to their bad deeds. It simply can’t function if one side gets a hostage-taker’s veto over the rules of fair play. And if that’s not enough to persuade Democrats to stiffen their spines, they should game this all out in purely partisan terms as well. It’s soothing to imagine that the public will reward Democrats simply for behaving reasonably by comparison to their screeching opponents, but so much recent history suggests that absent pushback, the public will just grow desensitized to right-wing tactics or, worse, come to suspect that the people with all the passionate intensity must be worked up over something valid. 

At bottom, that means Dems can respond to all of it—the vandalous truckers, the frothing school board astroturfers, the Trump mobs—in one of two ways: wait for them to set the terms of the fight before it begins, or choose new ones proactively, and fight them on those.

Here’s the Republican shitstorm method in microcosm: Capitol police officer notices a seemingly empty member’s office with the door propped open, goes to close it, notices “a White Board with suspicious writings mentioning body armor with an outline of the Rayburn Building next to the Longworth building with an ‘x’ marked at the C Street entrance of the Rayburn,” and makes a note of it. Instead of doing anything that might’ve resolved the issue, the member, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX), did the MAGA thing: Leave me above the law or I’ll wreck everything. 

HEADLINE: “Investigators Find Gaps in White House Logs of Trump’s Jan. 6 Calls.” Apropos nothing, a reminder that Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the Chris Coons Valentine’s Day Massacre, when he brought Trump’s second impeachment trial to an end without further fact finding.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. 

Hard to know where to start with this one, but Republicans recently began fanning lies about the Biden administration giving away free pipes to black crack addicts, and it all seemingly stems from a “scoop” in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon that the reporter apparently invented for clicks-and-racism purposes?

Joe Biden is bleeding support among former recipients of his now-expired child tax credit, which cuts hard against the predictions of Democratic strategists who argued that cutting the credit way down would be good politics on net, because it would win over childless people who thought the expanded tax credit was too generous. Naturally, the people who experienced a tax increase because of a cut to the CTC (in this case, to $0) felt it very acutely, while the people who may have been mad in theory about the old benefit being too generous haven’t rewarded Dems for its elimination at all.

Looks like Congress might actually ban member stock trading; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reluctantly threw her support to the plan, provided it also apply to members of the federal judiciary, which sounds great so long as it isn’t a poison pill that prevents the overall bill from passing. 

A bunch of liberals showered Mitch McConnell with way too much praise, simply for repeating that he (correctly) views what happened on January 6, 2021 as a violent insurrection. It’s good (in clearing the lowest possible bar) that he hasn’t tried to revise that assessment, since the question of whether January 6 was an insurrection is a matter of real legal significance. Still, what he really did was scold the RNC for having the temerity to censure fellow Republicans about anything. 

Here’s Kevin McCarthy literally running away from the same question.

New rogue Supreme Court action just dropped.

At last a Trump scandal (sub-scandal?) with a catchy shorthand: The Toilet Papers.

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