Black Shapes Gather in the Distance

Items from the fringe, many related to my comments at the end of yesterday’s post.

  • How Christian nationalists plan to use a second Trump administration to infuse their policies into all aspects of government;
  • How conservatives claim to “disagree” with things that are actually real;
  • What Bigfoot believers have in common with Trump supporters;
  • How Christian nationalists believe in demons, revealing their loose grip on reality;
  • West Virginia Republicans would like to be able to put librarians into jail;
  • And how that recent poll about the best presidents puts Trump last, and how the conservatives have reacted;
  • A substantial piece by Jeffrey Rosen about how the Founders worried about “a populist demagogue [who] would flatter the mob”;
  • Music this week: revisiting Crowded House, with “Into the Lowlands.”


As I was saying yesterday.

Politico, 20 Feb 2024: Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration, subtitled “Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, president of The Center for Renewing America, part of a conservative consortium preparing for Trump’s return to power.”


I’ve always found it peculiar when people (typically conservatives) say they “disagree” with their children knowing this or that. These things are *real*. How can you disagree with reality? (But again, see comments at end of yesterday’s post.)

Daily Kos, 18 Feb 2024: A ‘Christian’ family moved to Russia to escape ‘LGBTQ, trans,’ but now they’re ‘ready’ to ‘get out’

The patriarch of a right-wing Canadian family of 11 had had just about enough of gay people in his country. “We didn’t feel safe for our children there in the future anymore,” father Arend Feenstra told Russian media. “There’s a lot of left-wing ideology, LGBTQ, trans, just a lot of things that we don’t agree with that they teach there now, and we wanted to get away from that for our children.”


What caught my eye was the headline on the homepage: “What Bigfoot Believers and Trump Supporters Have in Common”.

Slate, Laura Miller, 18 Feb 2024: The Allure of Bigfoot, subtitled “Why so many Americans still believe he lurks in our forests.”

This is a review of a book about Bigfoot, which I have no interest in, but what’s interesting is this passage:

He [the book’s author] finds an unsettling convergence between Bigfooters and Trumpers, an overlap including “extreme reactionary views, a tendency toward the sensationalistic, a fetishization of traditional masculinity, a hard-bitten mistrust of urban elites generally and the federal government and its scientific minions specifically, coupled with an inverse, reflexive flag waving and suspicion of ‘protestors’ and ‘kneelers.’ ” For someone who by all accounts hates nature, animals, and roughing it, Trump crops up in The Secret History of Bigfoot with a surprising frequency.


How to say you lack a firm grip on reality without saying you lack a firm grip on reality.

AlterNet, Alex Henderson, 19 Feb 2023: ‘Mystical racism’: Christian nationalists believe they’re ‘under attack by demonic forces’

Look people: there are no such things as demons. People who think there are, are living in a fantasy world. I could expand on this, but for now I won’t.


West Virginia Republicans would like to be able to jail librarians. It’s happening, folks.

The New Republic, 19 Feb 2024: West Virginia GOP Passes Deranged Bill That Could Put Librarians in Jail, subtitled “State Republicans are taking the war on books to the next level.”


Then there are several items about the latest (annual) poll among historians and academics to rank the American presidents in order from best to last.

NY Times, Peter Baker, 18 Feb 2024: Poll Ranks Biden as 14th-Best President, With Trump Last, subtitled “President Biden may owe his place in the top third to his predecessor: Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Donald J. Trump from the Oval Office.”

This is the report (PDF)

Ironically, as the subtitle says:

Indeed, Mr. Biden may owe his place in the top third in part to Mr. Trump. Although he has claims to a historical legacy by managing the end of the Covid pandemic; rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and leading an international coalition against Russian aggression, Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment, according to the historians, was evicting Mr. Trump from the Oval Office.


Now imagine the tizzy among Trump supporters/cultists.

Joe.My.God, 19 Feb 2024: McEnany Melts Down After Her Glorious Leader Ranks Dead Last Among Presidents: “This Is So Infuriating!”

Maybe because the experts have criteria for their rankings beyond being leaders of a cult, who tried to overthrow an election in which he lost?


HuffPost, 19 Feb 2024: Fox News Report On Trump’s Dismal Ranking Gets The Treatment From Critics

Fox News didn’t report Trump’s rank, only that it was below Biden’s.

HuffPost, 20 Feb 2024: Kayleigh McEnany Gets Blunt History Lesson After Her Meltdown Over Trump Ranking

To which Joe Walsh responded:

He’s the ONLY President in American history who lost an election, refused to concede, refused to participate in the peaceful transfer of power, and then he committed crimes trying to overthrow that election. That alone makes him our country’s worst president.


Let’s end with a more substantial piece about how the Founders anticipated this.

Washington Post, Jeffrey Rosen, 20 Feb 2024: Opinion | The Founders’ antidote to demagoguery is a lesson for today

The writer is author of The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America.

If the Founding Fathers were alive today, they would tremble for the future of our republic.

Watching the rise of hyperpartisanship and populist demagogues in the United States and around the world would be their worst nightmare. And they would wonder: Can the citizens of today muster the personal and political virtue necessary to save our nation?

When they drafted the Constitution, the Founders’ greatest fear was that a populist demagogue would flatter the mob, subvert American democracy and establish authoritarian rule. “The only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion,” Alexander Hamilton wrote to George Washington in 1792. “When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity … It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”

The key, they thought, was “the virtuous self-control of citizens.” They were naively optimistic; look where we are today.

When the Founders talked about the need for virtuous citizens and leaders, they were referring to the four classical virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. (By contrast, the three theological virtues are faith, hope and charity.) Following the classical and Enlightenment moral philosophers, the Founders believed that personal self-government was necessary for political self-government. In their view, the key to a healthy republic begins with how we address our own flaws and commit to becoming better citizens over time.

Many more interesting details; the Founders were deep thinkers, unlike most of the population. The piece ends:

It remains to be seen whether Americans today can find the virtuous self-restraint to put the public interest before the angry partisanship the Founders most feared. What’s clear, however, is that nothing less than the future of the Republic is at stake. As Madison wrote in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust.”

I am not one, of course, to venerate the Founders’ wisdom above all others. They were among the smartest thinkers of their time. Ironically today’s hoi polloi claim to venerate the Constitution they wrote, while defying it, over and over. There are plenty of smart thinkers today, but in a much larger world, they’re more difficult to find, and they have proportionally less influence. I could suggest some names, but they would be the people I link and quote here, again and again.


Music. And now I’m working my way through the albums by Crowded House, and Neil Finn. This song is from CH’s second album, and it’s always struck me as rather science-fictionally apocalyptic.

Black shapes gather in the distance
Looks like it won’t take long
The first drops land on the window
The first sign that there’s something wrong

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