It is important to look closely at the people who will not call evil by its name. There are no neutral parties in this moment. ~Steve Schmidt
“Our partner, Trump.” ~Russia
“I don’t think you want to be associated with those kids, Michele. Trust me on this one.” ~My mother, circa 1991
People judge you based on the company you keep.
The people you associate with – the people you admire, or emulate.
The people you praise.
The people who praise you.
None of this is new, of course. It’s the same advice your mom gave you when you were 15 years old and wanted to hang out with the kids who had few rules but plenty of “adventures.”
Applying that rule of association to the Republican Party … it’s clear we’ve got a problem.
The Republican party has been keeping some shady company. Wealthy thugs. Cheats. Autocrats.
Just this morning, as I was pondering the Republican Party’s various ties to Russia and other autocratic regimes, I saw Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweet congratulating Viktor Orban for his “election win” in Hungary:
That’s not a typo. “We need this in America.”
That’s a statement from a sitting US Congresswoman’s official Twitter account openly praising an autocratic regime’s “win” at the “polls.”
A bit of background – Hungary is what’s called a “competitive autocracy” – a term coined in 2002 to describe a sort of faux democracy. Hungary pretends to be a democracy, of course. There are elections. There are candidates.
But the conditions under which those elections are held are so unfair as to be pointless, and systematically favor one side. The opposition can win a tiny bit power – but only to the extent the system permits.
It’s all a bit of theater, if you will.
And yes, Republicans have embraced both Orban and the sort of thinking he represents – rigging the processes until you are guaranteed the result you want while retaining the trappings of democratic institutions. You see it reflected in the states, where extreme gerrymandering has all but eliminated competition in most Congressional districts, and Republicans secure supermajorities in state legislatures even though they’re far from earning a supermajority of the state’s total vote.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that Marge’s well-wishes were just more far-right, off-the-rails statements from a fringe member playing to a cult base. But you’d be wrong.
She’s very much in the mainstream here.
Viktor Orban is, after all the keynote speaker of the May meeting of CPAC – the well-known Conservative Political Action Conference. That meeting will be held in – you guessed it – Hungary.
They’re not hiding it anymore, folks. They’re praising it. They’re emulating it.
Of course, Orban isn’t the only autocrat that’s gotten their praise and adoration.
Just weeks ago, in an interview Trump referred to a trumped-up claim about Hunter Biden’s “business dealings” in Russia and pointedly said “I would think [Vladimir Putin] would know the answer to that. I think he should release it. I think we should know the answer.”
Of course, that’s rhymes with “Russia, if you’re listening,” which is what he said in July 2016, during a press conference encouraging Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. (We all know what happened next.) A few months later, when told that Russia was interfering in the election, Mitch McConnell and other senior Republicans refused to sign on to a bipartisan statement denouncing it.
Then there’s the fact that Trump’s first impeachment was due to his refusal to provide nearly $400 million in already-approved US military aid to Ukraine (which they needed to protect themselves from Putin) in a scheme to pressure them to launch an investigation against Joe Biden. (And you might remember that afterwards acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said: “Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy … elections have consequences.”)
Then in 2019, the White House was warned that Rudi Giuliani was being used to feed Russian misinformation to Trump. Of course his access to Trump didn’t change – and, in fact, he spearheaded the 2020/2021 “stop the steal” efforts – which were amplified by, you guessed it, Russia.
Last March, the intelligence community said that Russia again interfered in the 2020 election to support Trump, undermine confidence in elections and sow division. (See, e.g., Rudi Giuliani.)
There’s much, much more, of course, but this would get far too long if I went through it all, and you get the drift anyway. There’s not much daylight between Putin and some of these Republicans. (Do you remember when, in 2018, eight Republicans – seven Senators and one House member – spent THE FOURTH OF JULY in Moscow? You really can’t get more on the nose than that, can you?)
And now, Putin isn’t just a destroyer of democracies and a thug. He’s a war criminal.
And the Republicans still cannot uncouple from him.
Last week Senator Rand Paul (the same fellow who said he was “honored” to deliver a letter from Trump to Putin in 2018) slowed the process to end permanent normal trade relations, often known as PNTR, with Russia. The bill used language from Donald Trump’s executive orders (presumably to encourage Republican votes) and passed the House with a whopping 424 votes. It raises tariffs for goods coming from Russia and Belarus, “reauthorizes and expands the Global Magnitsky Sanctions and requires the Biden administration to push for Russia’s removal from the World Trade Organization.”
So the U.S. is poised to further sanction Russia – to turf it out of the World Trade Organization and stand with firm footing on the side of democracy.
Except … one Republican Senator is holding it up.
And because the Senate calendar is packed, and because whatever the Senate does will have to go back to the House to be passed again, and because at the end of this week Senators go for their two-week Easter holiday, that’s three more weeks before these sanctions will be passed.
God knows what will happen in Ukraine in three weeks. The war has only been going for 5 1/2.
Even so, Paul suggested in comments that the delay was his goal: “We’ll have a real debate, and probably I will lose at that point,” he added. “But I have leveraged a couple weeks.”
That’s a heckuva statement, isn’t it?
Even in this moment, with the balance of the world order literally teetering on the brink, with heart-breaking, gut-wrenching images flashing across our screens every few minutes, with civilians being brutalized by Russian soldiers and Russians being convinced by their state media that genocide is justified and righteous …
Republicans still cannot bring themselves to oppose Putin.
It’s … scary.
The scholar who coined the term “competitive autocracy” was interviewed after January 6th to ask his reaction: “I’m terrified,” he said.
“I think Republicans are going to steal the next election.”
That scholar is convinced that whether our democracy survives or falls further into the realm of “competitive autocracy” will be decided in the next few years. Not decades. Years.
So I’ll go back to some words that were written in 2017 by none other than Joe Biden in a piece for Foreign Affairs titled How to Stand Up to the Kremlin: Defending Democracy Against Its Enemies:
“[T]he responsibility for protecting Western democracy will rest more than ever on Congress, the private sector, civil society, and ordinary Americans.”
That’s right. Protecting Western democracy will rest on … us.
You, and me, and the folks we surround ourselves with. The dedicated people who are willing to sacrifice their time, their expertise, sometimes their money and often their sanity.
We’re the ones who can stop Russia’s advance here at home. We can stop the wanna-be autocrats in the state legislature from running roughshod over people’s rights without so much as a fight. We can cast a spotlight on their anti-democratic actions. We can support the people who run against them. And we can run against them.
We can push back at their attacks on the judiciary, on the free press, on voting and free speech. In a thousand big and small ways we can stand, defiant and sure-footed, knowing that this is a fight worth having.
We can do that. We are doing that. And we have to keep on doing that.
For fairness. For freedom from oppression and control.
We’re judged based on the company we keep. I’m so proud to be in yours.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of April 5, 2022
Join Vote Save America and VoteRiders for a Regional Challenge
A few weeks ago I signed up with Vote Save America’s Midterm Madness regional program. (You can see that here: https://votesaveamerica.com/midterm-madness/)
This week, for the first “assignment,” they’ve joined up with VoteRiders to write letters that will provide key info and assistance to the voters most likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws.
On Wednesday, you can join Vote Riders and Crooked Media’s own Shaniqua McClendon on at 7:00pm EDT to kick off this month of action.
*Note that if you can’t join on Wednesday, you can set your calendar for:
But there’s more: they’ve made it a bit of a regional contest: In order to hit their goals, VoteRiders will be keeping track of which state gets the most letters. For the purposes of this month-long extravaganza, each region will be assigned to a state. Team Midwest will write to Wisconsin, Team West will write to Arizona, Team South will write to Florida and Texas, and Team East will be borrowing Georgia, because apparently the South needs help. There will be Crooked Media swag involved. 🙂
From VoteRiders’ description: Delivering voter ID information and assistance directly to voters has never been more urgent. Primary elections are underway, midterms are fast approaching, and states are passing new and stricter voter ID laws at a historic pace.
We need your help to ensure that every voter has the ID they need to cast a ballot that counts in 2022. VoteRiders is turning 10 in April and we’re organizing a Voter ID Month of Action to celebrate. Our goal is to write 10,000 letters to voters in five states. Every letter we send delivers essential information and assistance to the voters most likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws. At each event, we will be joined by special guests to keep us all motivated and inspired. Plus: You can win some cool swag donated by our partners at Crooked Media!
RSVP now to take action and make a direct impact!
Wednesday’s Hearing: COUNTERING OLIGARCHS, ENABLERS, AND LAWFARE
Wondering what is being done (or what should be done) to hold Oligarchs accountable? On Wednesday at 2:30pm eastern, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a hearing on that exact topic (which will be at the Dirksen in room 562 if you happen to be in D.C.).
For those of us who are not in D.C., here’s the link to watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission
As influential proxies of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs work to weaken Western democracies from within. They pay Western enablers—especially lawyers and lobbyists—millions to use their standing in democratic societies to generate policies favorable to the authoritarian regime in Russia and to silence its critics.
This hearing will examine ways to counter tactics oligarchs use to launder their money and reputations and stifle dissent. Witnesses will discuss their experiences investigating oligarchs and enablers, as well as the risks of doing so, which include abusive lawsuits filed by Western lawyers on behalf of Putin’s proxies.
The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:
Shannon Green, Executive Director, USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force; Senior Advisor to the Administrator
Bill Browder, Head, Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign
Daria Kaleniuk, Executive Director, Anti-Corruption Action Centre
Scott Stedman, Founder, Forensic News
Anna Veduta, Vice President, Anti-Corruption Foundation International
Join Book Ban Busters National Read-In:
On Thursday, the excellent group Red, Wine & Blue will be hosting a “National Read-In” featuring authors of some of the most banned books in the country and families fighting for the freedom to learn. It’s at 8-9pm eastern, and as a virtual event you can join from anywhere. Hosted by Stella Parton (sister of famous literacy activist Dolly), you’ll come away with inspiration and ways to take action and get involved. Event partners include Women’s March, PEN America, We Need Diverse Books, and dozens of parent groups fighting book bans in their local communities.
Deets: Thursday, April 7, 8 – 9pm EDT
Link to register: https://www.mobilize.us/redwineblueusa/event/450009/
Download the Climate Action Now app
Hat tip to Jessica Craven again for this one – what an amazing resource. (P.S. Sign up for Jessica’s daily action + inspiration email here: https://chopwoodcarrywaterdailyactions.substack.com/) The Climate Action Now app provides simple actions you can take to support environmental issues, and they’ve taken all the guesswork out. You get the issue, sources, a script, and the ability to schedule things to your calendar. Sweet!
Plus, they’ve gamified the experience by planting a tree for every 3,000 points you earn. You can also have friendly contests with other activists (which I think they call “rivalries”). It’s just a great design and I think you’ll love it. Check it out here: https://climateactionnow.com/
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.