Republicans: freedom isn’t what you think it is

Dr. Anthony Fauci is a model civil servant, simply telling the truth about infectious diseases as best he can, most recently of course about our covid-19 pandemic. Yet he is constantly being sniped at by Republicans, today by Rep. Jim (“Gym”) Jordan (R-Ohio). Rep. Jordon grilled Dr. Fauci, asking him when Americans will get their freedom back. He wants to take his mask off! If he can’t, his freedom is being violated!

Freedom. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Jordan seems to think that freedom means doing anything you want whenever you want, damn the consequences. Of course most of us spend much of our day abiding by various rules that limit his definition of “freedom.”

For example, you put on your seat belt before driving your car. You avoid driving through red lights and stop signs. Most likely you buy an auto insurance policy before driving your car so if you are at fault in an accident, the victim can at least be compensated. Laws are constraints on unrestrained freedom that we agree are reasonable and must be obeyed. Of course, you are free to violate the law, but you face the likelihood of paying a penalty if you do. We have the freedom to do things that aren’t against the law whenever we want without worry that we’ll be arrested for it. Well, unless you are a black driver and a cop pulls you over for having an air freshener blocking your rearview mirror, and you end up dead when he freaks out and supposedly mistakes his pistol for a taser.

Most likely Jordan is free to walk outside of the Capitol and if he is not within six feet of another human doff his mask. He is also free to resign from Congress. Staying home all the time, he’s free to live mask free inside of his house.

But Congress, like state and local governments, have its laws and rules too, rules you agree to as a condition of winning office. In most communities, public health officials, mayors or governors are allowed to make people wear masks as public safety measures. Obviously, some of them like Governor Ron DeSantis agree with Jordan’s idea of freedom. In many cases, this freedom to walk around maskless allows someone to pass on covid-19. This inconveniently takes away their freedom to be free of covid-19. It’s for this reason that I generally wear a mask outdoors, but certainly anytime I’m around people other than my wife.

Freedom of course is not free. It’s not free for the person who inadvertently acquired covid-19, and someone exercising their idea of freedom might cost someone their life. Are you free if dead? Well, you are free of the disease, but true freedom requires being alive as a precondition. If you are dead, you aren’t controlling anything, except perhaps how well the grass grows above your plot.

During the smoking wars, we nonsmokers thought it was perfectly reasonable that we should not have to breathe in toxins of nearby smokers. It took decades to change the law and smokers grudgingly gave up their freedom. I remember a time about forty years ago when I didn’t have this freedom. In the office nearby workers smoked openly even though I asked them not to. I came home reeking of tobacco.

So far I haven’t gotten lung cancer, so I am probably safe. But if I had spent all forty years of my career forced to breathe in secondhand smoke, I might very well have lung cancer. The law eventually came to my rescue.

For the most part, masking requirements are settled law too. The right officials can require you to wear masks in many situations, but only for the duration of the pandemic. When the public health emergency goes away, or dies to the point where it is a very minor risk, that’s when you get your freedom to go unmasked back again. So the best thing Jordan can do to get his freedom back as quickly as possible is to wear his damned mask!

You would think you wouldn’t have to tell this to a lawmaker. By definition, a lawmaker should at least understand what laws are and why they are necessary. Rep. Jordan though is hardly alone, or hardly the only one. Republicans you see claim the right to define freedom selectively: they’re free to do something when they decide they want to.

The law doesn’t work that way. That’s the very definition of the law. Any law is a real or potential restraint on someone’s freedom. Otherwise there would be no reason for having laws in the first place. Rather than have a government, we’d just have anarchy.

The correct response to Rep. Jordan was exactly what Rep. Maxine Waters told Jordan at the end of his tirade: ”Your time expired, sir. You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth.”

Autocracy and why Trump’s firing of his Secret Service director is extremely alarming

I’m getting the sick feeling that we are this close to an autocracy. Things seem to be going rapidly from bad to worse to ohmigod this is incredibly dangerous!

The feelings got real when I learned what Attorney General William Barr was planning to do with the Mueller report: redact as much of it as possible and work as hard as possible to keep the full report from ever getting to Congress. It got worse when I watched our petulant Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brush off Congresswoman Maxine Waters: the idea of wasting his time talking to Congress when he had important things to do! Also, he seems to be aiding and abetting keeping Congress from getting Trump’s tax returns, even though the law requires it.

You don’t have to look far to find plenty of other signs. For example, Donald Trump is thinking of dumping migrants in sanctuary cities. Why? Because he thinks he can and he wants these cities to pay for having the audacity to oppose him. Then there’s his de-facto concentration camps that separate immigrant families and new reports that suggests he wants the U.S. military to build a whole lot more of them and run them, much like the German military ran its concentration camps. And if that weren’t enough, Trump was recently on the border urging CBP employees to break the law by not letting these asylum seekers in. Trump is implicitly saying: I can get away with anything, because Congress won’t hold me accountable in the end. And if you do break the law, I’ll pardon you!

All this is sickening enough, but then there’s the imperial way his administration seems to be blowing off the courts. He’s been under a court order for about a year to resettle these unaccompanied minors with their parents, or at least place them with relatives in the United States. Instead, most of them linger inside former Walmart stores under lock and key and out of sight. Recently, three congresswomen weren’t allowed in to inspect a detention facility for minors in Homestead, Florida. Trump doesn’t care that Congress has the responsibility for executive oversight.

More and more the Trump administration seems to be simply ignoring the courts. Until now, we’ve sort of assumed that if the courts tell you to do something, you must. More and more the Trump administration seems to be just ignoring the courts. After all, what can the courts do but issue more rulings? I guess there is the U.S. Marshal Service, which is supposed to enforce court orders if necessary. But the courts do not control it; it’s controlled by the Justice Department. And our new attorney general Bill Barr seems quite happy to take orders from Trump, even though he is supposed to uphold the law.

Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? The constitutional remedy for executive overreach is congressional oversight, subpoenas and when all else fails impeachment. Trump’s lackeys are ignoring most congressional subpoenas. Nancy Pelosi has ruled out impeachment, mostly because she knows Trump has no possibility of being convicted in the Senate. And that’s not just because Republicans control it narrowly, it’s because Republicans are very clear that they don’t care about the rule of law. All they care about is expanding their power or, failing that, holding on to their power.

And it’s not like they feel the least bit compelled to follow the rules or precedent anymore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an erstwhile conservative, broke with more than 230 years of precedence to speed up the debate on the nomination of federal judges and no longer allows home state senators to block these nominations either.

Meanwhile, deeply red states like Alabama and Texas are going out of their way to turn their states more authoritarian. In Texas, they are debating a law that could potentially give the death penalty to women who get abortions. Wow! The breadth of this should be astounding, but it’s par for the course these days. Ohio’s governor just yesterday signed a law that outlaws abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. These states are simply trying new tactics to see what might overturn Roe v. Wade now that Brett Kavanaugh is a justice. It’s all supposedly about being pro-life, but at least in Texas they are willing to kill people to do it. It’s all absolutely insane, particularly when you consider that not one of these states wants to give women contraceptives to not get pregnant in the first place, won’t subsidize their pregnancies and do their best to keep these kids off food stamps once they are born. Since so many are nonwhite, they’ll be happy to disenfranchise them when they reach voting age too.

Of course, these red states continue to do their best to gerrymander districts and suppress people of color from voting. Florida wants ex-felons to pay all judgments before being allowed to vote, essentially a poll tax, which is unconstitutional. Its state legislature is also working to overturn the referendum, which allows ex-felons to vote in the first place.

So it is crystal clear to me that Republicans will let nothing stop them from achieving their aims. Increasingly they are simply ignoring courts and Democrats in Congress. In essence, they are wholly abandoning democracy in favor of autocracy, and using inertia built into our system of checks and balances and Republicans open willingness to allow Trump to get away with stuff to bring it about.

Frankly, to me the most alarming sign of all was not Trump’s firing of his Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, but his firing of Secret Service Director Randall “Tex” Alles. Think about it. Let’s assume that Democrats do win the presidency in the 2020 election. And it is ultimately up to the Secret Service to evict Trump from the White House. Will his hand-picked lackey evict him? When push comes to shove, who decides to hand over the nuclear codes to the next president? And if you have a Republican senate that won’t fight back on Trump against anything, if he refuses to leave, how do you get rid of him?

It all makes for a constitutional crisis already well underway that looks like it will come to a crescendo on January 20, 2021, but which is likely to all come to a head much earlier than this.

These are crazy, deeply dangerous and incredibly scary times. We are facing what looks like the probable end of a 230 year old democracy.