In Plain Sight

  • More on Trump’s dictatorship plans– “only on day one” — and how his fascist plans are out there in plain sight;
  • How “pro-life” has different meanings to different people;
  • How Russia’s crack-down on gays as “extremists” echoes values of the MAGA folks;
  • Jerry Coyne on intercessionary prayer and the so-called “purity spiral”.

Oh, only for a day, then.

Salon, Igor Derysh, 6 Dec 2023: Trump tells Fox News he won’t be a “dictator” — “except on day one”, subtitled “Host Sean Hannity asked Trump to vow that he won’t ‘abuse power as retribution.’ It didn’t go well”

“Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” Hannity asked. “Except for day one,” Trump replied. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” he added.

Of course, he had four years to close the border, if that’s what building that wall was about; and as one commentator (Scott McGrew) said this morning, the US is already drilling more than it ever has. And does Trump care nothing about the climate change effects of burning fossil fuels? No, he does not. He is a short-term thinker.


Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 6 Dec 2023: Trump is hiding his fascist plans in plain sight, subtitled “Trump’s nightmarish scheme was leaked to the New York Times — and yes, it was on purpose”

Keying off Jeffrey Goldberg, whom I linked yesterday. And recalling similar recent reporting:

There’s been a surge of such reporting in recent weeks, from some of the most reputable publications in the country. On Monday, the New York Times published a lengthy exposé of Trump’s long history of admiring authoritarian dictators, even ones who use murder to silence opponents. This follows another investigation into the ominously named “Project 2025,” created by a team of very smart but evil people who want to dismantle democracy and are working through the details of how to pull it off. The Washington Post has even tried to draw attention to Trump’s plans through listicles that use bold fonts and short paragraphs, so even the drunkest uncle could probably read it — if he wanted to.

It’s all very much journalism of the kind called for by NYU professor Jay Rosen, who encourages reporting on “not the odds, but the stakes.”

Not the odds, but the stakes.

That’s my shortand for the organizing principle we most need from journalists covering the 2024 election. Not who has what chances of winning, but the consequences for our democracy. Not the odds, but the stakes.

I’ve noted this before: mainstream media, to avoid being accused of bias, tends not to discuss issues and their consequences, but simple factual matters, like who’s ahead in the polls.


Meanwhile, state elections have been challenging the assumption among Republicans than all conservatives are uniformly against abortion. But again: the world is not black v. white. As Republican policies tend to be.

NY Times, Opinion, Guest Essay by Liz Mair, 4 Dec 2023: Republicans Are Finding Out That ‘Pro-Life’ Means a Lot of Things to a Lot of People

Depending on which pro-lifer you talk to, “pro-life” could mean believing Roe was incorrectly decided and that under a correct interpretation of the Constitution, states were free to enact anti-abortion laws — though many states would not, and that was fine.

Or it could mean believing this but also being determined and committed to working to pass laws in every state banning abortion, possibly with multiple exceptions. Or it could mean believing Roe was wrongly decided and that federal law or the Constitution (or both) should ban abortions, perhaps with exceptions.

Or it could mean being pro-Roe but at the same time anti-abortion, or it could mean strictly opposing abortion in the second and third trimesters, with only cursory concern about Roe.

Understanding that “pro-life” can mean a variety of things should inform the way Republicans approach this issue. Right now, when many voters — again, even Republican voters — hear the term “pro-life,” their brains process it as denoting an extreme position. Maybe they think of states like Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma, which have imposed near-complete abortion bans.

This trend — in which “pro-life” equals “extreme” — is what Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio pointed to in explaining why voters in the state resoundingly approved a ballot measure enshrining a right to abortion in the state Constitution. As he put it, the pro-life side got clobbered because voters disliked both options, but they particularly disliked the state’s pro-life so-called heartbeat bill, which made abortion illegal beyond about six weeks of pregnancy, and voted to keep some forms of abortion legal.

Missing here is any biological consideration of the difference between a fetus and a baby. Again, it’s not black and white, the way conservatives think of it. That makes a difference. (I discussed this matter in detail here, in May 2022.)


In the outer world, here’s what’s going on in Russia under Putin, a leader Trump — and by extension, his followers — so much admires.

Vox, Ellen Ioanes, 5 Dec 2023: Russia’s absurd claim that the LGBTQ community is extremist, explained, subtitled “It’s part of Putin’s strategy to paint himself as Russia’s protector against Western immorality.”

Is there a core issue here? Maybe this — which, again, echoes the MAGAs.

On November 30, Russia’s Supreme Court labeled the international LGBTQ movement an “extremist organization,” claiming that it incites “social and religious hatred.”

The new ruling is alarming in its own right, in that it could subject LGBTQ people and activist groups in Russia to legal penalties for openly supporting queer and trans rights. But it is also connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greater ideological project. As part of that project, Putin has worked during his presidency, and over the last decade in particular, to create a narrative of “traditionalist” Russian history and culture that has led to the ongoing war in Ukraine and the exclusion of minorities like LGBTQ people, among other things.

“Traditional values,” both there and here, always seems to be a reversal of the expansion of human rights, and general respect for different kinds of people, that has happened in the Western world since the Enlightenment. Returning to Savannah morality, apparently.


Biologist Jerry Coyne has two interesting items today, on his blog that he doesn’t want called a blog.

Jerry Coyne, 5 Dec 2023: Intercessionary prayer fails again, this time with covid recovery

This is the third study I know of in which intercessory prayer (prayer by strangers for the afflicted) has failed to show results.  The first two papers, whose titles are below (click to read) showed that such prayer failed to help patients with heart disease.  I’ve discussed these before, and you can see for yourself that if God exists, listens to prayer, and sometimes responds, He clearly was not listening in these two experiments.

Coyne explores the technical details of the study, and explores five possible explanations. He concludes,

Naturally this study won’t make a dent in the belief of the godly, for they will simply discount it on one ground or another—probably #4 above [that God doesn’t want to be tested]. All we can say is that three sincere attempts to see if prayers work showed that they don’t.

And did I mention that although Lourdes is full of discarded crutches and wheelchairs, there are no false eyeballs or prosthetic limbs on display? Apparently God can cure lots of stuff, but is impotent before blindness and amputation.

Wikipedia has this article on the subject: Efficacy of prayer.

I realize it’s being a killjoy to point out that you have to do a lot rationalizing to explain why the evidence shows the prayer simply doesn’t work. Why would that be? Well, I would say because there is no god who answers prayers, or does anything else. Those who believe in God and prayer live in a kind of fantasy world, it seems to me, and they justify belief in prayer by noting the (coincidental) hits and ignoring the misses. Motivated reasoning. It’s what keeps humanity alive.


One more for today. Jerry Coyne usually re-posts the weekly cartoon “Jesus ‘n’ Mo”; today’s cartoon is here, and concerns the so-called “purity spiral”. I’ll quote the same Wikipedia article that he does:

. . . . a form of groupthink where it becomes more beneficial to hold certain views than to not hold them, and more extreme views are rewarded while expressing doubt, nuance, or moderation is punished (a process sometimes called “moral outbidding”). This feedback loop leads to members competing to demonstrate the zealotry or purity of their views.

This, of course, aligns with the observation that some religious claims are especially implausible precisely because adhering to them is evidence of one’s allegiance to the community, to the tribe. It’s all about psychology, tribalism, groupthink — with no concern about what’s true and real. Which is why, if you look closely, such claims are made only certain topics. And not others.

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