Article of the Day: 2/5/21 Is your brain rewired yet?

I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age

The internet rewired our brains. He predicted it would.

Feb. 4, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

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Alex Kiesling

Michael Goldhaber is the internet prophet you’ve never heard of. Here’s a short list of things he saw coming: the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus.

Most of this came to him in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Goldhaber, a former theoretical physicist, had a revelation. He was obsessed at the time with what he felt was an information glut — that there was simply more access to news, opinion and forms of entertainment than one could handle. His epiphany was this: One of the most finite resources in the world is human attention. To describe its scarcity, he latched onto what was then an obscure term, coined by a psychologist, Herbert A. Simon: “the attention economy.”

These days, the term is a catch-all for the internet and the broader landscape of information and entertainment. Advertising is part of the attention economy. So are journalism and politics and the streaming business and all the social media platforms. But for Mr. Goldhaber, the term was a bit less theoretical: Every single action we take — calling our grandparents, cleaning up the kitchen or, today, scrolling through our phones — is a transaction. We are taking what precious little attention we have and diverting it toward something. This is a zero-sum proposition, he realized. When you pay attention to one thing, you ignore something else.

The idea changed the way he saw the entire world, and it unsettled him deeply. “I kept thinking that attention is highly desirable and that those who want it tend to want as much as they can possibly get,” Mr. Goldhaber, 78, told me over a Zoom call last month after I tracked him down in Berkeley, Calif. He couldn’t shake the idea that this would cause a deepening inequality. “When you have attention, you have power, and some people will try and succeed in getting huge amounts of attention, and they would not use it in equal or positive ways.”

Michael Goldhaber

Michael GoldhaberCayce Clifford for The New York Times

In 1997, Mr. Goldhaber helped popularize the term “attention economy” with an essay in Wired magazine predicting that the internet would upend the advertising industry and create a “star system” in which “whoever you are, however you express yourself, you can now have a crack at the global audience.” He outlined the demands of living in an attention economy, describing an ennui that didn’t yet exist but now feels familiar to anyone who makes a living online. “The Net also ups the ante, increasing the relentless pressure to get some fraction of this limited resource,” he wrote. “At the same time, it generates ever greater demands on each of us to pay what scarce attention we can to others.”

In subsequent obscure journal articles, Mr. Goldhaber warned of the attention economy’s destabilizing effects, including how it has disproportionate benefits for the most shameless among us. “Our abilities to pay attention are limited. Not so our abilities to receive it,” he wrote in the journal First Monday. “The value of true modesty or humility is hard to sustain in an attention economy.”

In June 2006, when Facebook was still months from launching its News Feed, Mr. Goldhaber predicted the grueling personal effects of a life mediated by technologies that feed on our attention and reward those best able to command it. “In an attention economy, one is never not on, at least when one is awake, since one is nearly always paying, getting or seeking attention.”

More than a decade later, Mr. Goldhaber lives a quiet, mostly retired life. He has hardly any current online footprint, except for a Twitter account he mostly uses to occasionally share posts from politicians. I found him by calling his landline. But we are living in the world he sketched out long ago. Attention has always been currency, but as we’ve begun to live our lives increasingly online, it’s now the currency. Any discussion of power is now, ultimately, a conversation about attention and how we extract it, wield it, waste it, abuse it, sell it, lose it and profit from it.

The big tech platform debates about online censorship and content moderation? Those are ultimately debates about amplification and attention. Same with the crisis of disinformation. It’s impossible to understand the rise of Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the far right or, really, modern American politics without understanding attention hijacking and how it is used to wield power. Even the recent GameStop stock rally and the Reddit social media fallout share this theme, illustrating a universal truth about the attention economy: Those who can collectively commandeer enough attention can accumulate a staggering amount of power quickly. And it’s never been easier to do than it is right now.

Mr. Goldhaber was conflicted about all of this. “It’s amazing and disturbing to see this develop to the extent it has,” he said when I asked him if he felt like a Cassandra of the internet age. Most obviously, he saw Mr. Trump — and the tweets, rallies and cable news dominance that defined his presidency — as a near-perfect product of an attention economy, a truth that disturbed him greatly. Similarly, he said that the attempted Capitol insurrection in January was the result of thousands of influencers and news outlets that, in an attempt to gain fortune and fame and attention, trotted out increasingly dangerous conspiracy theories on platforms optimized to amplify outrage.

“You could just see how there were so many disparate factions of believers there,” he said, remarking on the glut of selfies and videos from QAnon supporters, militia members, Covid-19 deniers and others. “It felt like an expression of a world in which everyone is desperately seeking their own audience and fracturing reality in the process. I only see that accelerating.”

While Mr. Goldhaber said he wanted to remain hopeful, he was deeply concerned about whether the attention economy and a healthy democracy can coexist. Nuanced policy discussions, he said, will almost certainly get simplified into “meaningless slogans” in order to travel farther online, and politicians will continue to stake out more extreme positions and commandeer news cycles. He said he worried that, as with Brexit, “rational discussion of what people stand to gain or lose from policies will be drowned out by the loudest and most ridiculous.”

Mr. Goldhaber said that looking at Mr. Trump through the lens of attention gives a deeper understanding of his appeal to supporters and, potentially, how to combat his style of politics. He said that many of the polarizing factors in the country are, in essence, attentional. Not having a college degree, he argued, means less attention from corporations or the economy at large. Living in a rural area, he suggested, means being farther from cultural centers and may result in feeling alienated by the attention that cities generate in the news and in pop culture. He said that almost by accident, Mr. Trump tapped into this frustration by at least pretending to pay attention to them. “His blatant racism and misogyny was an acknowledgment to his supporters who feel they deserve the attention and aren’t getting it because it is going to others,” he said.

His biggest worry, though, is that we still mostly fail to acknowledge that we live in a roaring attention economy. In other words, we tend to ignore his favorite maxim, from the writer Howard Rheingold: “Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”

Where do we start? “It’s not a question of sitting by yourself and doing nothing,” Mr. Goldhaber told me. “But instead asking, ‘How do you allocate the attention you have in more focused, intentional ways?’” Some of that is personal — thinking critically about who we amplify and re-evaluating our habits and hobbies. Another part is to think about attention societally. He argued that pressing problems like income and racial inequality are, in some part, issues of where we direct our attention and resources and what we value.

As someone who writes about online extremism, I found one line of his eerily compelling. “We struggle to attune ourselves to groups of people who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, and we ought to get better at sensing that feeling earlier,” he said. “Because it’s a powerful, dangerous feeling.”

Attention is a bit like the air we breathe. It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce. If that’s the case — to extend a tortured metaphor — it feels as if our attention has become polluted. We subsist on it, but the quality has been diminished. This is certainly true in my life, where I’ve become so reliant on the constant stimuli of our connected world that I find myself frequently out of control of my attention. I give it to others too willingly — often to those who will abuse the privilege. I’ve also become dependent on the attention of others, even those who bestow it in bad faith. I’ve become a version of the very person Mr. Goldhaber described in 1997, for whom “not being able to share your encounters with anyone would soon become torture.”

Maybe you feel this way too.

“The fundamental thing is that you can’t escape the attention economy,” Mr. Goldhaber told me before we hung up. That much feels true.

But we can try to follow Mr. Rheingold’s advice. We can explore the ways in which our attention is generated, manipulated, valued and degraded. Sometimes attention might simply be a lens through which to read the events of the moment. But it can also force us toward a better understanding of how our minds work or how we value our time and the time of others. Perhaps, just by acknowledging its presence, we can begin to direct it toward people, ideas and causes that are worthy of our precious resource.

In other words, I’m finally going to pay attention to where we pay attention.

Article of the Day: 2/3/21–A guide to fascism

Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda

by Jason Stanley

February 4, 2021

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On January 6, Trump supporters gathered at a rally at Washington DC’s Ellipse Park, regaled by various figures from Trump world, including Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani. Directly following Giuliani’s speech, the organizers played a video. To a scholar of fascist propaganda, well-versed in the history of the National Socialist’s pioneering use of videos in political propaganda, it was clear, watching it, what dangers it portended. In it, we see themes and tactics that history warns pose a violent threat to liberal democracy. Given the aims of fascist propaganda – to incite and mobilize – the events that followed were predictable.

Before decoding what the video presents, it is important to take a step back and discuss the structure of fascist ideology and how it can mobilize its most strident supporters to take violent actions.

I. The Fascist Framework

Increasingly central to Trumpism is the QAnon conspiracy theory, which, as many commentators have now pointed out, closely resembles Nazi anti-Semitic myths. QAnon is just the most obvious manifestation of the increasing parallels between Trumpism and Hitler’s framework itself. Indeed, several contemporary fascist and white supremacist movements find similar roots in the framework Hitler developed, even if they did not culminate in such extreme actions as the Nazis.

Fascist thought

Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s first and most famous book, is entitled “Years of Study and Suffering in Vienna.” In it, he documents what he describes as his gradual realization that behind the various institutions of power were the Jews. His enlightenment supposedly begins with the entertainment industry, where he remarks that “[t]he fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the country’s inhabitants, could simply not be talked away; it was plain truth.” But it was, Hitler writes, when he “recognized the Jew as the leader of the Social Democracy” that “the scales fell from [his] eyes.” Hitler describes a growing sense, foundational to the ideology the book delineates, the ideology of Nazism, that Jews were controlling the apparatus of the state, both as important party politicians in the Social Democratic Party, and as operators behind the scenes of the press and other institutions.

In Nazi ideology, Jews are represented by an unholy alliance between Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists. The goal of the Jewish plot is to destroy national states, replacing them by a world government run by Jews. This diabolical Jewish plot involves destroying the character of individual nations, by flooding them with immigrants, and empowering minority populations. Hitler describes the German loss in World War I as part of this plan, a “stab in the back” of the German people by Jewish traitors seeking the ruin of the nation. In Nazi ideology, liberal democracy is represented as a corruption, a mask for this takeover by a global elite. Hitler reveals his true attitude toward liberalism in Mein Kampf, when he writes (in the characteristically sexist terms of Nazi ideology):

Like the woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an identifiable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner…

Fascism is a patriarchal cult of the leader, who promises national restoration in the face of supposed humiliation by a treacherous and power-hungry global elite, who have encouraged minorities to destabilize the social order as part of their plan to dominate the “true nation,” and fold them into a global world government. The fascist leader is the father of his nation, in a very real sense like the father in a traditional patriarchal family. He mobilizes the masses by reminding them of what they supposedly have lost, and who it is that is responsible for that loss – the figures who control democracy itself, the elite; Nazi ideology is a species of fascism in which this global elite are Jews.

The future promised by the fascist leader is one in which there are plentiful blue collar jobs, reflecting the manly ideals of hard work and strength. In Nazi propaganda, many white collar jobs, the domain of Jews – running department stores, banking – were for the idle. And the fascist nation’s heart and soul is the military – as Hitler writes, “[w]hat the German people owes to the army can be briefly summed up in a single word, to wit: everything.” The fascist future is a kind of restoration of a glorious past, but a modern version – replete with awesome technology that glorifies the nation to the world. The German V-2 rocket was a characteristic representation of Nazi might. The fascist future is, in the famous description of Jeffrey Herf, a kind of reactionary modernism.

Fascist propaganda

Fascism uses propaganda as a way of mobilizing a population behind the leader. Fascist propaganda creates an awesome sense of loss, and a desire for revenge against those who are responsible. In the face of the supposed betrayal of the nation during World War I by Jewish “vipers,” Hitler describes the proper response to have been to place the “leaders of the whole movement…behind bars.” Hitler writes, “[a]ll the implements of military power should have been ruthlessly used for the extermination of this pestilence. The parties should have been dissolved, the Reichstag brought to its senses, with bayonets if necessary, but, best of all, dissolved at once.” The goal of fascist propaganda is to mobilize a population to violently overthrew multi-party democracy and replace it with the leader.

Fascism is not an ideology consigned to Europe. Black American intellectuals from W.E.B. Du Bois to Toni Morrison have spokenof American fascism. America has a long history of anti-Semitism similar to Nazi anti-Semitism, central to the ideology not just of the Ku Klux Klan, but to Henry Ford’s “The International Jew.” In its American version, communist Jews supposedly use Black liberation movements, control of Hollywood, and labor unions to destroy the nation in the service of a global elite. We should not be surprised at all by the rise of a fascist movement in the United States. And if it does arise, it would be no surprise if it did so in the party that keeps alive the “lost cause” myths of the American South.

II. The Movie Shown at the Ellipse

This history, both European and American, illuminates the dangers we face today, laid bare in the video. In it, Trump is repeatedly represented as the nation’s father figure. It is laced through with images of masculinity, and mournful loss at the hands of traitors, clearly justifying a violent restoration of recent glory.

The video begins with Trump’s eyes in the shadow, and its second frame focuses the audience on the Capitol building – America’s Reichstag, where the decisions being denounced by the rally’s organizers were being made that day. The third frame of the video is the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. This image immediately directs the attention of an audience attuned to an American fascist ideology to the supposedly elite class of Jews who, according to this ideology, control Hollywood. The appearance of the Hollywood sign makes no other sense in the context of a short video about an election. The next two images, of the UN General Assembly and the EU Parliament floor, connect supposed Jewish control of Hollywood to the goal of world government. As we have seen, according to Nazi ideology, Jews seek to use their control of the press and the entertainment industry to destroy individual nations. The beginning of the video focuses our attention on this supposedly “globalist,” but really Jewish, threat.

The next clip lingers on Joe Biden, with a vacant stare in his eyes and the video footage slowed, while Trump’s inauguration speech plays, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have born the cost.” It is clear from the image of Biden that he is not making the decisions. The video shifts to an image of Senator Charles Schumer, reminding the viewer of prominent Jewish leaders of the Democratic party. Schumer is wearing a Kente cloth, an image evocative of Ku Klux Klan ideology — that Jews support Black liberation movements as a way to undermine white rule and destroy the nation. The next frame shows the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, flanked by two Jewish Congressman, Representatives Nadler and Schiff. Pelosi, too, is controlled by Jews.

Who, then, are this “small group in our nation’s capital”? The video suggests it is a group that controls Hollywood and the Democratic Party, and seeks to use Black liberation movements to undermine the nation, and bring about world government. In Nazi ideology, as well as its US counterpart, this group is the Jews. And what are the costs? As the inauguration speech continues, “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of this our country;” gunshots are fired and we are shown images of these citizens betrayed by a duplicitous establishment – mournful pictures of coffins of veterans, homeless encampments, and a series of slides varying between nostalgic images of white American families over dinner with rural destitution – a worn down home flying a large American flag with an old pickup truck in front. At the end of these grim scenes of the results of elite betrayal, Trump declares, “This all ends right here, right now.”

As the music surges, what follows is a series of photos taken during Trump’s first term. This phase of the video begins with images of enormous naval ships on the ocean, and moves to images of Trump striding in front of a military guard at a football game, the iconic sport of American masculinity (hence the very particular danger of the Black quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s challenge to white supremacy). It is followed by rally after rally with adoring masses cheering Trump. The images of women overcome with emotion at the sight of the nation’s father figure, and violent anger at his political enemies, are interspersed with heavy machinery in factories, churning out huge new pick-up trucks, fighter jets streaking across the sky, and Trump striding across the screen framed by the powerful American imagery of the Lincoln Memorial. A Black man and a white man are shown in brotherhood at a Trump rally. Trump is shown observing powerful rockets launch, images evocative, for those schooled in history, of the Nazi’s own obsession with this particular technology.

After these scenes of Trump’s glorious leadership, the restoration of American rocket technology dominance, the mood shifts, as we are shown former Attorney General Bill Barr swearing in at what appears to be a deposition, followed by a smirking Joe Biden. Treachery has entered in, stage left.

What follows is scene after scene of immense loss. Empty streets of great American cities, a forlorn white woman peering out of a window, trapped at home. Scrabble pieces spelling “FEAR” appear and disappear within less than a second, empty chairs at a school, a sign reading “closed.” We see an image of the Supreme Court, followed by what appears to be a Black Lives Matter rally on a street emblazoned with “DEFUND THE POLICE.” Joe Biden appears in a forlorn photo in a gym, speaking to a lone man in a chair – Biden is here a petitioner, not a commander. The video switches back to a representation of glorious Trump years – a rising stock market, more fighter planes, a Black man and a white man with a “Jesus Saves” shirt embracing in brotherhood – a reference to the power of a shared Christian identity to bond Americans across racial lines. It ends with the screen filling with a powerful image of Trump’s face, showing steely resolve.

The message of the video is clear. America’s glory has been betrayed by treachery and division sown by politicians seeking to undermine and destroy the nation. To save the nation, one must restore Trump’s rule.

Each of us can decide what moral responsibility Trump personally has for a video to rouse his supporters at the rally. How much of a role the White House or Trump himself may have played in deciding to show the video and sequencing it immediately after Giuliani’s speech, we don’t know. But it is worth noting that the New York Times recently reported that by early January, “the rally would now effectively become a White House production” and, with his eye ever on media production, Trump micromanaged the details. “The president discussed the speaking lineup, as well as the music to be played, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations. For Mr. Trump, the rally was to be the percussion line in the symphony of subversion he was composing from the Oval Office,” the Times reported.

* * *

Worldwide, there have been many fascist movements. Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal. Early on, Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic in its core, though it later turned that way. British fascism was not genocidal (though it also was never given the opportunity to be). The most influential fascist movement that takes a shadowy Jewish conspiracy as its central target is German fascism, Nazism. Nazism did not start out in genocide. It began with militias and violent troops disrupting democracy. In its early years in power, in the 1930s, it was socialists and communists who were targeted for the Concentration Camps, torture, and murder. But it must never be forgotten where Nazism culminated.

Top image:  “Save America March,” rally at the Ellipse, Washington, DC, Jan. 6, 2021 (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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About the Author(s)

Jason Stanley

Jason Stanley (@jasonintrator) is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. His most recent books are How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them(Random House) and How Propaganda Works(Princeton University Press).

Article of the Day: 1/28/21

How about changing our economic model?

  • WORLD 
  • ECONOMY
  • AMSTERDAM IS EMBRACING A RADICAL NEW ECONOMIC THEORY TO HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. COULD IT ALSO REPLACE CAPITALISM?

Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism?

Illustration by Chris Dent for TIMEBY CIARA NUGENT JANUARY 22, 2021 3:11 PM EST

One evening in December, after a long day working from home, Jennifer Drouin, 30, headed out to buy groceries in central Amsterdam. Once inside, she noticed new price tags. The label by the zucchini said they cost a little more than normal: 6¢ extra per kilo for their carbon footprint, 5¢ for the toll the farming takes on the land, and 4¢ to fairly pay workers. “There are all these extra costs to our daily life that normally no one would pay for, or even be aware of,” she says.

The so-called true-price initiative, operating in the store since late 2020, is one of dozens of schemes that Amsterdammers have introduced in recent months as they reassess the impact of the existing economic system. By some accounts, that system, capitalism, has its origins just a mile from the grocery store. In 1602, in a house on a narrow alley, a merchant began selling shares in the nascent Dutch East India Company. In doing so, he paved the way for the creation of the first stock exchange—and the capitalist global economy that has transformed life on earth. “Now I think we’re one of the first cities in a while to start questioning this system,” Drouin says. “Is it actually making us healthy and happy? What do we want? Is it really just economic growth?”https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

In April 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, Amsterdam’s city government announced it would recover from the crisis, and avoid future ones, by embracing the theory of “doughnut economics.” Laid out by British economist Kate Raworth in a 2017 book, the theory argues that 20th century economic thinking is not equipped to deal with the 21st century reality of a planet teetering on the edge of climate breakdown. Instead of equating a growing GDP with a successful society, our goal should be to fit all of human life into what Raworth calls the “sweet spot” between the “social foundation,” where everyone has what they need to live a good life, and the “environmental ceiling.” By and large, people in rich countries are living above the environmental ceiling. Those in poorer countries often fall below the social foundation. The space in between: that’s the doughnut.Marieke van Doorninck, deputy mayor for sustainability, is trying to make Amsterdam a “doughnut city”Marieke van Doorninck, deputy mayor for sustainability, is trying to make Amsterdam a “doughnut city” Judith Jockel—Guardian/eyevine/Redux

Amsterdam’s ambition is to bring all 872,000 residents inside the doughnut, ensuring everyone has access to a good quality of life, but without putting more pressure on the planet than is sustainable. Guided by Raworth’s organization, the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), the city is introducing massive infrastructure projects, employment schemes and new policies for government contracts to that end. Meanwhile, some 400 local people and organizations have set up a network called the Amsterdam Doughnut Coalition—managed by Drouin— to run their own programs at a grassroots level.

It’s the first time a major city has attempted to put doughnut theory into action on a local level, but Amsterdam is not alone. Raworth says DEAL has received an avalanche of requests from municipal leaders and others seeking to build more resilient societies in the aftermath of COVID-19. Copenhagen’s city council majority decided to follow Amsterdam’s example in June, as did the Brussels region and the small city of Dunedin, New Zealand, in September, and Nanaimo, British Columbia, in December. In the U.S., Portland, Ore., is preparing to roll out its own version of the doughnut, and Austin may be close behind. The theory has won Raworth some high-profile fans; in November, Pope Francis endorsed her “fresh thinking,” while celebrated British naturalist Sir David Attenborough dedicated a chapter to the doughnut in his latest book, A Life on Our Planet, calling it “our species’ compass for the journey” to a sustainable future.https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Now, Amsterdam is grappling with what the doughnut would look like on the ground. Marieke van Doorninck, the deputy mayor for sustainability and urban planning, says the pandemic added urgency that helped the city get behind a bold new strategy. “Kate had already told us what to do. COVID showed us the way to do it,” she says. “I think in the darkest times, it’s easiest to imagine another world.”

In 1990, Raworth, now 50, arrived at Oxford University to study economics. She quickly became frustrated by the content of the lectures, she recalls over Zoom from her home office in Oxford, where she now teaches. She was learning about ideas from decades and sometimes centuries ago: supply and demand, efficiency, rationality and economic growth as the ultimate goal. “The concepts of the 20th century emerged from an era in which humanity saw itself as separated from the web of life,” Raworth says. In this worldview, she adds, environmental issues are relegated to what economists call “externalities.” “It’s just an ultimate absurdity that in the 21st century, when we know we are witnessing the death of the living world unless we utterly transform the way we live, that death of the living world is called ‘an environmental externality.’”

Almost two decades after she left university, as the world was reeling from the 2008 financial crash, Raworth struck upon an alternative to the economics she had been taught. She had gone to work in the charity sector and in 2010, sitting in the open-plan office of the antipoverty nonprofit Oxfam in Oxford, she came across a diagram. A group of scientists studying the conditions that make life on earth possible had identified nine “planetary boundaries” that would threaten humans’ ability to survive if crossed, like the acidification of the oceans. Inside these boundaries, a circle colored in green showed the safe place for humans.

But if there’s an ecological overshoot for the planet, she thought, there’s also the opposite: shortfalls creating deprivation for humanity. “Kids not in school, not getting decent health care, people facing famine in the Sahel,” she says. “And so I drew a circle within their circle, and it looked like a doughnut.”https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlInner Ring: Twelve essentials of life that no one in society should be deprived of; Outer Ring: Nine ecological limits of earth’s life-­supporting systems that humanity must not collectively overshoot; Sweet Spot: The space both environmentally safe and socially just where humanity can thriveInner Ring: Twelve essentials of life that no one in society should be deprived of; Outer Ring: Nine ecological limits of earth’s life-­supporting systems that humanity must not collectively overshoot; Sweet Spot: The space both environmentally safe and socially just where humanity can thrive Lon Tweeten for TIME

Raworth published her theory of the doughnut as a paper in 2012 and later as a 2017 book, which has since been translated into 20 languages. The theory doesn’t lay out specific policies or goals for countries. It requires stakeholdersto decide what benchmarks would bring them inside the doughnut—emission limits, for example, or an end to homelessness. The process of setting those benchmarks is the first step to becoming a doughnut economy, she says.

Raworth argues that the goal of getting “into the doughnut” should replace governments’ and economists’ pursuit of never-ending GDP growth. Not only is the primacy of GDP overinflated when we now have many other data sets to measure economic and social well-being, she says, but also, endless growth powered by natural resources and fossil fuels will inevitably push the earth beyond its limits. “When we think in terms of health, and we think of something that tries to grow endlessly within our bodies, we recognize that immediately: that would be a cancer.”

The doughnut can seem abstract, and it has attracted criticism. Some conservatives say the doughnut model can’t compete with capitalism’s proven ability to lift millions out of poverty. Some critics on the left say the doughnut’s apolitical nature means it will fail to tackle ideology and political structures that prevent climate action.

Cities offer a good opportunity to prove that the doughnut can actually work in practice. In 2019, C40, a network of 97 cities focused on climate action, asked Raworth to create reports on three of its members—Amsterdam, Philadelphia and Portland—showing how far they were from living inside the doughnut. Inspired by the process, Amsterdam decided to run with it. The city drew up a “circular strategy” combining the doughnut’s goals with the principles of a “circular economy,” which reduces, reuses and recycles materials across consumer goods, building materials and food. Policies aim to protect the environment and natural resources, reduce social exclusion and guarantee good living standards for all. Van Doorninck, the deputy mayor, says the doughnut was a revelation. “I was brought up in Thatcher times, in Reagan times, with the idea that there’s no alternative to our economic model,” she says. “Reading the doughnut was like, Eureka! There is an alternative! Economics is a social science, not a natural one. It’s invented by people, and it can be changed by people.”https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The new, doughnut-shaped world Amsterdam wants to build is coming into view on the southeastern side of the city. Rising almost 15 ft. out of placid waters of Lake IJssel lies the city’s latest flagship construction project, Strandeiland (Beach Island). Part of IJburg, an archipelago of six new islands built by city contractors, Beach Island was reclaimed from the waters with sand carried by boats run on low-emission fuel. The foundations were laid using processes that don’t hurt local wildlife or expose future residents to sea-level rise. Its future neighborhood is designed to produce zero emissions and to prioritize social housing and access to nature. Beach Island embodies Amsterdam’s new priority: balance, says project manager Alfons Oude Ophuis. “Twenty years ago, everything in the city was focused on production of houses as quickly as possible. It’s still important, but now we take more time to do the right thing.”

Lianne Hulsebosch, IJburg’s sustainability adviser, says the doughnut has shaped the mindset of the team, meaning Beach Island and its future neighbor Buiteneiland are more focused on sustainability than the first stage of IJburg, completed around 2012. “It’s not that every day-to-day city project has to start with the doughnut, but the model is really part of our DNA now,” she says. “You notice in the conversations that we have with colleagues. We’re doing things that 10 years ago we wouldn’t have done because we are valuing things differently.”

The city has introduced standards for sustainability and circular use of materials for contractors in all city-owned buildings. Anyone wanting to build on Beach Island, for example, will need to provide a “materials passport” for their buildings, so whenever they are taken down, the city can reuse the parts.

On the mainland, the pandemic has inspired projects guided by the doughnut’s ethos. When the Netherlands went into lockdown in March, the city realized that thousands of residents didn’t have access to computers that would become increasingly necessary to socialize and take part in society. Rather than buy new devices—which would have been expensive and eventually contribute to the rising problem of e-waste—the city arranged collections of old and broken laptops from residents who could spare them, hired a firm to refurbish them and distributed 3,500 of them to those in need. “It’s a small thing, but to me it’s pure doughnut,” says van Doorninck.https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlThe city says the Beach Island development will prioritize balancing the needs of humans and natureThe city says the Beach Island development will prioritize balancing the needs of humans and nature Gemeente Amsterdam

The local government is also pushing the private sector to do its part, starting with the thriving but ecologically harmful fashion industry. Amsterdam claims to have the highest concentration of denim brands in the world, and that the average resident owns five pairs of jeans. But denim is one of the most resource-intensive fabrics in the world, with each pair of jeans requiring thousands of gallons of water and the use of polluting chemicals.

In October, textile suppliers, jeans brands and other links in the denim supply chain signed the “Denim Deal,” agreeing to work together to produce 3 billion garments that include 20% recycled materials by 2023—no small feat given the treatments the fabric undergoes and the mix of materials incorporated into a pair of jeans. The city will organize collections of old denim from Amsterdam residents and eventually create a shared repair shop for the brands, where people can get their jeans fixed rather than throwing them away. “Without that government support and the pressure on the industry, it will not change. Most companies need a push,” says Hans Bon of denim supplier Wieland Textiles.

Of course, many in the city were working on sustainability, social issues or ways to make life better in developing countries before the city embraced the doughnut. But Drouin, manager of Amsterdam’s volunteer coalition, says the concept has forced a more fundamental reckoning with the city’s way of life. “It has really changed people’s mindset, because you can see all the problems in one picture. It’s like a harsh mirror on the world that you face.”

Doughnut economIcs may be on the rise in Amsterdam, a relatively wealthy city with a famously liberal outlook, in a democratic country with a robust state. But advocates of the theory face a tough road to effectively replace capitalism. In Nanaimo, Canada, a city councillor who opposed the adoption of the model in December called it “a very left-wing philosophy which basically says that business is bad, growth is bad, development’s bad.”

In fact, the doughnut model doesn’t proscribe all economic growth or development. In her book, Raworth acknowledges that for low- and middle-income countries to climb above the doughnut’s social foundation, “significant GDP growth is very much needed.” But that economic growth needs to be viewed as a means to reach social goals within ecological limits, she says, and not as an indicator of success in itself, or a goal for rich countries. In a doughnut world, the economy would sometimes be growing and sometimes shrinking.https://2b19906329dde744abe99d82ff83fe55.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Still, some economists are skeptical of the idealism. In his 2018 review of Raworth’s book, Branko Milanovic, a scholar at CUNY’s Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, says for the doughnut to take off, humans would need to “magically” become “indifferent to how well we do compared to others, and not really care about wealth and income.”

In cities that are grappling with the immediate social and economic effects of COVID-19, though, the doughnut framework is proving appealing, says Joshua Alpert, the Portland-based director of special projects at C40. “All of our mayors are working on this question: How do we rebuild our cities post-COVID? Well, the first place to start is with the doughnut.” Alpert says they have had “a lot of buy-in” from city leaders. “Because it’s framed as a first step, I think it’s been easier for mayors to say this is a natural progression that is going to help us actually move out of COVID in a much better way.”

Drouin says communities in Amsterdam also have helped drive the change. “If you start something and you can make it visible, and prove that you or your neighborhood is benefiting, then your city will wake up and say we need to support them.” In her own neighborhood, she says, residents began using parking spaces to hold dinners with their neighbors during summer, and eventually persuaded the municipality to convert many into community gardens.

Citizen-led groups focused on the doughnut that are forming in places including São Paulo, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur and California bring the potential to transform their own areas from the bottom up. “It’s powerful when you have peers inspiring peers to act: a teacher inspires another teacher, or a schoolchild inspires their class, a mayor inspires another mayor,” Raworth says. “I’m really convinced that’s the way things are going to happen if we’re going to get the transformation that we need this decade.”

COVID-19 has the potential to massively accelerate that transformation, if governments use economic-stimulus packages to favor industries that lead us toward a more sustainable economy, and phase out those that don’t. Raworth cites Milton Friedman—the diehard free-market 20th century economist—who famously said that “when [a] crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” In July, Raworth’s DEAL group published the methodology it used to produce the “city portrait” that is guiding Amsterdam’s embrace of the doughnut, making it available for any local government to use. “This is the crisis,” she says. “We’ve made sure our ideas are lying around.”

This appears in the February 1, 2021 issue of TIME.

Article of the Day: 1/26/21

We are surrounded by people with an alternate view of reality. Many veterans are suffering from what I believe may be a form of PTSD, which can affect any person in a stressful job (police, fire department, military) who is often faced with violent or traumatic situations. At the end of the article is an excellent comment.

From Navy SEAL to Part of the Angry Mob Outside the Capitol

The presence in Washington of a longtime member of the Navy SEALs who was trained to identify misinformation reflects the partisan politics that helped lead to the assault.

Jan. 26, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Adam Newbold, a former member of the Navy SEALs, sat on a police motorcycle near the steps of the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6. Mr. Newbold says he didn’t enter the building.
Adam Newbold, a former member of the Navy SEALs, sat on a police motorcycle near the steps of the Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6. Mr. Newbold says he didn’t enter the building.William Turton

In the weeks since Adam Newbold, a former member of the Navy SEALs, was identified as part of the enraged crowd that descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6, he has been interviewed by the F.B.I. and has resigned under pressure from jobs as a mentor and as a volunteer wrestling coach. He expects his business to lose major customers over his actions.

But none of it has shaken his belief, against all evidence, that the presidential election was stolen and that people like him were right to rise up.

It is surprising because Mr. Newbold’s background would seem to armor him better than most against the lure of baseless conspiracy theories. In the Navy, he was trained as an expert in sorting information from disinformation, a clandestine commando who spent years working in intelligence paired with the C.I.A., and he once mocked the idea of shadowy antidemocratic plots as “tinfoil hat” thinking.

Even so, like thousands of others who surged to Washington this month to support President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Newbold bought into the fabricated theory that the election was rigged by a shadowy cabal of liberal power brokers who had pushed the nation to the precipice of civil war. No one could persuade him otherwise.

Photos from the Capitol show Mr. Newbold wearing a black “We the People” T-shirt and straddling a Capitol Police motorcycle, just a few steps from where officers were battling with rioters.

Mr. Newbold says he did not enter the Capitol, and he has not been charged with any crimes. But his presence there reflects the volatile brew of partisan politics and viral misinformation that helped lead to the assault.

Mr. Newbold’s worldview is plain from his Facebook account. In a combative video laden with expletives that he posted a week before the riot, he repeated debunked but widely circulated claims about the election, saying that “it is absolutely unbelievable, the mountains of evidence of election fraud and voter fraud and machines and people who voted, dead people who voted.” When commenters challenged him, he responded with expletives and rejoinders like “Yeah keep laughing, you’re going to be laughing when you’re stomped down.”

One striking aspect of the angry crowd at the Capitol was how many of its members seemed to come not from the fringes of American society but from white picket-fence Main Street backgrounds — firefighters and real estate agents, a marketing executive and a Town Council member, all captivated by flimsy conspiracy theories. Mr. Newbold’s presence showed just how persuasive the rigged-election story had grown.

His experience ought to have made him hard to fool. A few years earlier, he had been on the receiving end of the same kind of baseless and potentially dangerous fervor about a supposed sinister government plot that became known as Jade Helm.

Even after the Capitol riot, though, he expressed certainty that he had not been fooled.

“I’ve been to countries all over the world that are indoctrinated by propaganda,” Mr. Newbold said in a long telephone interview last week, adding that he knew how misinformation could be used to manipulate the masses. “I have no doubts; I’m convinced that the election was not free and fair.”

He said he believed that unnamed elites had quietly pulled off a coup by manipulating election software, and warned that the country was still on the precipice of war.

In a Facebook video posted on Jan. 5, Adam Newbold said pro-Trump demonstrators like himself should respect the police and National Guard troops. But he added, “We are just very prepared, very capable, and very skilled patriots ready for a fight.
In a Facebook video posted on Jan. 5, Adam Newbold said pro-Trump demonstrators like himself should respect the police and National Guard troops. But he added, “We are just very prepared, very capable, and very skilled patriots ready for a fight.Facebook, via Associated Press

Mr. Newbold, 45, lives in the rural hills of eastern Ohio, and is one of three brothers who all became Navy SEAL commandos. He spent 23 years in the elite force, Navy records show, including seven in the Naval Reserves, before retiring as a senior chief petty officer in 2017. He was given two Navy Commendation medals for valor in combat deployments, and several others for good conduct.

A former SEAL who served with him at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginiasaid Mr. Newbold was smart and had a good reputation in the SEAL teams, and had worked with the C.I.A. on intelligence gathering.

On Politics with Lisa Lerer: A guiding hand through the political news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.

After the Navy, Mr. Newbold moved to the small town of Lisbon, Ohio, opened a coffee shop and started a company called Advanced Training Group that taught SEAL-style tactics to members of the military and the police, and maintained a gym and shooting club for locals.

Through his company, he got involved in helping to design and conduct an eight-week military exercise in Texas and other border states in the summer of 2015 that was called Jade Helm 15.

When a PowerPoint slide summarizing the exercise was leaked, it was seized upon by fringe Facebook groups and professional conspiracy-theory promoters like Alex Jones, who began claiming that Jade Helm was a covert plot to have federal troops invade Texas, seize citizens’ guns and impose martial law. Baseless rumors circulated about “black helicopters” and Walmart stores that had supposedly been turned into detention camps.

The storm of political paranoia whipped up over a straightforward military exercise became so fierce that some members of Congress, who later questioned the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr., began demanding answers, and Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas National Guard to keep watch.

In the end, the exercise went off without a hitch. Mr. Newbold said in the interview that he and the other former special operators who planned the training exercise laughed at the paranoia, and even made T-shirts saying “I went to Jade Helm and all I got was this tinfoil hat.”

Last week, he acknowledged that the frenzy of misinformation surrounding Jade Helm could have been lethal. Local residents in Texas had been scared to the edge of violence. Three men were arrested after planning to attack the exercise with pipe bombs.

“There were actually some farmers and landowners who were making threats that if anyone was on their land, they would shoot them, so there were real concerns,” Mr. Newbold said. “It’s funny, but it’s stuff we have to take seriously.”

At the time, Mr. Newbold dismissed what he had witnessed as fringe ravings, not knowing it was a forerunner of the fantasies that came to suck in many more Americans, including military troops, police officers, members of Congress and a sitting president — not to mention Mr. Newbold.

Mr. Newbold is a longtime registered Republican who said he voted for Mr. Trump. In the past four years, as mainstream media coverage of the president grew harsher, and Mr. Newbold’s sometimes strident support on Facebook drew more rebukes, he migrated to news sources and chat rooms that shared his views.

By the late fall of 2020, he was spending time on private Facebook pages where far-right chatter proliferated. He posted long, often angry video soliloquies about how the country was being stolen. He seemed to become increasingly convinced that people were plotting not just against Mr. Trump but against the Constitution, and as a veteran it was his duty to defend it.

Mr. Newbold began holding private meetings at his shooting club with other like-minded members, according to a former member who said he quit because he was alarmed at the growing extremism.

“It became super cultlike,” said the former member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was afraid of retaliation. “I tried to reason with him, show him facts, and he just went nuclear.”

After the November election, Mr. Newbold’s Facebook posts predicting a coming war worried some people in Lisbon to the point that at least one said she alerted the F.B.I.

Last week when discussing his beliefs, Mr. Newbold dismissed the dozens of court decisions rejecting challenges to the election results, and shrugged off the logistical obstacles to rigging an election conducted by independent officials in more than 3,000 counties. Without citing evidence, he suggested it was naïve to assume the results had not been rigged.

In a long video posted late in December, the former member of the SEALs predicted a communist takeover if people did not rise up to stop it. “Once things start going violent, then I’m in my element,” he said in the video. “And I will defend this country. And there’s a lot of other people that will too.”

A week later, Mr. Newbold organized a group of his company’s employees, club members and supporters to travel in a caravan to Washington, and joined the flag-waving crowd that surged toward the Capitol on Jan. 6.

In a video posted that evening, he is seen saying that members of his group had been on the “very front lines” of the unrest. “Guys, you would be proud,” Mr. Newbold tells his viewers. “I don’t know when the last time you stormed the Capitol was. But that’s what happened. It was historic, it was necessary.” He adds that members of Congress were “shaking in their shoes.”

In the interview last week, Mr. Newbold sought to downplay his involvement in the events at the Capitol. He said that he sat on the police motorcycle only to keep vandals away from it, and that he had traveled to Washington not to incite violence but to protect the Capitol from angry liberals in the event that the Senate agreed to stop the certification of the election. 

After the attack on the Capitol, he deleted some of his more incendiary online posts. But what happened in Washington has apparently not prompted him to question his beliefs. He said that he was still sure the election had been stolen and that the country was on a path toward global autocracy.

And in a video posted six days after the riot, when it was known that people had died, Mr. Newbold said that at the Capitol he had felt “a sense of pride that Americans were finally standing up.” He did not rule out turning to violence himself.

“I make no apologies for being a rough man ready to do rough things in rough situations,” he said. “It is absolutely necessary at times, and has been throughout our history.”

Dave Philipps covers veterans and the military, and is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. Since joining the Times in 2014, he has covered the military community from the ground up. @David_Philipps • FacebookBelow is the best COMMENT on this article:
2 Replies482 RecommendShareFlagRickNYC commented 2 hours agoRRickNYCBrooklyn2h agoTimes Pick

There is a real tendency in this country to automatically apply hero status to anyone in uniform. Here in New York, post 9/11 cops were afforded hugely outsized reverence, regardless of who the individual was behind the badge. This aura only grows when describing somebody as well trained and disciplined as a Navy Seal. That rare position has mythical status, automatically exalting the person. It is dangerous to forget that, regardless of rank or title, these are just people. People can be susceptible. People can be prone to fantasy, or delusions. I secretly reject the automatic hero status & credibility these titles impart, because it lets bad apples off the hook. Maybe this guy is a Seal, but to me he’s a dangerously well trained conspiracy theorist who should be regarded as such, full stop.

Article of the Day: 1/25/21

How you define the issues matters!

Democrats Have a Values Problem. But Here’s How They Can Fix It.

Americans say they prize freedom more that equality, which means Democrats need to find the right words to convince people to support their equality-boosting agenda.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Feb.11, 2020. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

By JAMES PILTCH

01/24/2021 06:48 AM EST

James Piltch is a writer focused on civic life. He worked as a speechwriter on a Democratic Senate campaign in 2020.

As Democrats begin their unified control of Washington with the slimmest possible majority in the Senate and barely a majority in the House, they must accept and address a difficult truth: Republicans have won the fight to define American ideals. 

In the fall of 2017, I set out on a 9,000-mile road-trip to talk to people about what it means to be an American and a good citizen. Stopping in churches and on college campuses, in rural towns and large cities, I spoke with over 200 Americans, liberal and conservative and in between. I talked to 60 Clinton voters, 55 Trump voters, and a significant number of people who could not vote because of immigration status, voter disenfranchisement or age. My goal was to figure out what values, if any, unite Americans.https://31b5c8a4cab866562aa4f9c87bc25269.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

My conversations contained bad news for Democrats. When I asked the people I spoke with about a value that matters to their identity as a citizen or the country’s culture, more than 60 percent of them discussed the importance of “freedom,” the ideal Republicans push relentlessly. But less than 5 percent talked about “equality,” the ideal at the core of Democrats’ priorities and policies. 

To be clear, the challenge for Democrats is not their policies, which are far more popular than the GOP’s free-market ideology. People much prefer the Affordable Care Act and Medicare-for-All to Republicans’ efforts to stop government from helping people get health care, for example. President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan has more than 60 percent support as he takes office. And although increasing corporate tax rates is slightly under water in terms of its popularity, it has more support than the Republicans’ 2017 tax bill did

The challenge for Democrats, rather, is rhetorical. If Americans prize “freedom” more than “equality,” Democrats need to find the right words to convince people to support equality-furthering policies. With such a tenuous grip on both parts of Congress and without Trump as an easy foil to turn out Democrats’ base and turn independent voters away from the GOP, the success of the party’s long-term agenda and their hold on power will depend on their doing so. It also might just help unify the party in the process. 

***

The parties’ respective relationships to the values of “freedom” and “equality” take on different forms. Republicans have made freedom front-and-center to most every political conversation, from saying any limitation of gun rights is a disregard for freedom to framing critiques of government-run health care around the danger these program would pose to Americans’ freedom. In the GOP’s telling, it is the defender of Americans’ freedom from Democratic attacks.

The Democrats’ relationship to equality is more complex. During the Civil Rights Era, Democrats became the party of rights and equality as activists marched through the streets demanding justice for Black Americans. The party passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act while Republicans rallied around the anti-rights, anti-equality messaging of Barry Goldwater. Democrats also launched the Great Society, an effort to alleviate the suffering and economic inequity that affected millions of Americans. 

In the decades that followed, the party largely abandoned the language of and commitment to equality. Calls for equal rights and a fairer economy were replaced with Bill Clinton’s freedom-driven Third Way and an insistence on the power of markets and opportunity. In choosing freedom rather than equality as the party’s defining value for a time, the Democrats helped Republicans define the political conversation for decades.

Even today, the party avoids explicitly owning equality as their defining value. The party’s leadership and voters rejected Bernie Sanders, the most explicitly pro-equality candidate in decades, in the primary despite the popularity of much of his agenda, while many of Democrats in purple states, like Mark Kelly, ran on pro-tax cut agendas. Biden, in his inaugural speech, did not mention equality as a defining value for his agenda or for the country. 

But essentially all of the party’s current goals—health care for all, workers’ rights, voting rights, equal rights for women and members of the LGBTQ community, lowering student debt and college tuition, an economy and justice system free of systemic racism—would further equality. And achieving these goals without significant political backlash depends upon people believing in equality as a core American value. 

Of course, the choice between equality and freedom is on some level a false one. For freedom to exist there must be a baseline of equality. But these values are often treated as in competition in American political discourse—in the debates about taxation to address income inequality, and religious freedom versus the obligation to serve LGBTQ individuals equally, for example. And most Americans I met, both Republicans and Democrats alike, reserved their most aspirational words and beliefs for just one of them: freedom. 

Terri, the owner of a Christian candle shop in Waukesha, Wisc., exemplified the celebration of freedom that was common in my interviews. “I feel very blessed to be an American,” she said. “It means freedom—freedom of religion, freedom of choice, freedom of speech.” Dolly, a self-described “Trump-lover” in Pittsburgh told me, “This, to me, is the greatest country on Earth. … This is the country of freedom.”

That Republicans would use this language was not surprising. But this rhetoric appeared in conversations with Democrats, too. Take Taj, a Sudanese refugee from Dubuque, Iowa. Though Taj declined to share whom he voted for in 2016, our conversation suggested that his politics lean left. When I asked what he sees as America’s core values, he told me, “This country works well for me because of the liberty.” He also discussed how the founders “created a world that didn’t exist yet—in terms of freedom of speech.” In fact, most anyone who mentioned the Founding mentioned only freedom as a founding ideal. 

Melvin, then and still a city council member in Jackson, Miss., is the type of person Democrats might expect to prize equality as much as freedom. Melvin, who is Black, is a staunch Democrat who spoke at length about the need for change in America. He grew up in Jackson, attended Harvard, and returned to serve his community in a deep red state. 

When I asked Melvin what it means to be an American, he told me a sense of optimism, a belief in rights—a potential nod to equality, though revealing that he didn’t use the word itself—and the law, and a certain pride. Core to all of those and to American life? Freedom. He said: “I believe that being an American means you believe in freedom or liberty, even if you disagree with other people’s use of them.” 

National polling suggests my anecdotal observations were not a coincidence. The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute undertook an American values survey in 2012 in which they asked people, among other questions, “Which, if any of these factors, do you think contributes to America having stronger values than other places in the world?” Participants were asked to select all the ideas listed that applied. Fifty percent of over 2,000 respondents cited “Principles of equality,” tied with free enterprise and the system laid out in our Constitution for third. Ranking ahead of it? “Freedom of speech” with 67 percent and “freedom of religion” with 61 percent.

***

But my interviews—and policy shifts over the past several years—indicate that there might be a way for the Democrats to rebuild the party’s and build the country’s rhetorical and philosophical commitment to equality while also helping their policies’ popularity and candidates’ electoral chances in 2022. That path requires Democrats to focus on two values that my conversations suggest are still widely embraced and also are essential parts of an enduring national commitment to equality: fairness and community.

Fairness is an ideal central to the American Dream. The notion that every American deserves “a fair shot at a better life” was frequently seen as a foundational part of American society in my conversations, even among conservatives I met. By focusing on fairness, Democrats can move an equality-driven agenda forward while simultaneously providing a popular competing ideal to Republicans’ arguments about economic and legal freedom. 

When it comes to civil rights, the sense that our justice system has not been working fairly led majorities in both parties to say in 2018 that they supported prison and sentencing reforms. Voters act on this belief, too: In Florida in 2018, more than 60 percent of people voted to restore former felons’ voting rights. In a country whose criminal justice system is still in many ways defined by systemic racism, emphasizing legal fairness may well be a pathway to broader discussions of societal equality. 

The idea that there should be a degree of economic fairness has broad support, too. Even as Florida voted for Trump this cycle, its voters also supported a ballot measure for a $15 minimum wage, while a wealth tax—a way to ensure the wealthiest Americans pay their share—has support from even a near majority of Republicans. And when it comes to health care, Americans believe that every American should have a baseline of care: At least 70 percent of Americans approve of a Medicare for All who want it-type plan. An appeal to the idea that every American needs certain things to build a better life can move the needle for Democrats against Republican policies and rhetoric. 

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Democrats need to affirm the importance of community. More Americans will believe everyone deserves political and economic security and equality when they see one another as members of the same political community. 

Community was the only ideal that came up in more of my interviews than freedom. Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs talked about how good citizenship means serving one’s community and about how their communities are struggling and need help. Polling suggests this trend is consistent nationwide: More than 60 percent of Americans say community involvement is very important to them. And policies that strengthen community foundations like public internet and infrastructure investment hold broad appeal, too.

The challenge to using the idea of community to build political coalitions is that many people see their community as those who are only like them. On my travels, many white Americans implied immigrants and Black Americans need to “assimilate” for communities and the country to thrive. This isn’t surprising given America’s history of racism and anti-immigrant sentiments. Nor is it surprising that many people I met believed members of the other party would not see them as good Americans given increased inter-party animosity

The Democrats’ task then, if they want to build a deep and broad support for equality, is to expand more voters’ notion of the American community. In his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama declared, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America.” Democrats need to revive this sort of rhetoric, not to win empty points for bipartisanship from pundits, but because appealing to a shared sense of community will help them connect with Americans now and increase support for equality-based messages and policies later.

For Democrats, there would likely be short-term benefits to these new rhetorical and policy focuses given the work both wings of the party need to do. Moderate Democrats need to rebuild the credibility they lost in failing to fight for equality and need to find a defining message. The left wing of the party needs to develop a strategy to build long-term, wider-spread support for their ideas. Fairness and community may well be the ideals that unite the party’s two wings rhetorically, give the party a clear identity and sustain popularity for their policies. If Biden wants to heal the soul of the nation and build back better, he has a place to start.

Article of Yesterday: MLK’S BIRTHDAY from Prof. Heather Cox Richardson

PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE FOURTH PARAGRAPH

January 18, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonJan 19

The Trump administration is winding down as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to take office on Wednesday.

Trump will leave office with an approval rating of 34%, dismal by any measure. He is the first president since Gallup began polling never to break 50% approval. After the attack on the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached him for a second time, and a majority of Americans think he should have been removed from office. 

In the last days of his term, the area of Washington, D.C., around our government buildings has been locked down to guard against further terrorism. Our tradition of a peaceful transition of power, established in 1800, has been broken. There is a 7-foot black fence around the Capitol and 15,000 National Guard soldiers on duty in a bitterly cold Washington January. There are checkpoints and road closures near the center of the city, and 10,000 more troops are authorized if necessary. Another 4,000 are on duty in their states, protecting key buildings and infrastructure sites. 

In the past two days, there have been more indications that members of the Trump administration were behind the January 6 coup attempt. Yesterday, Richard Lardner and Michelle R. Smith of the Associated Press broke the story that, far from being a grassroots rally, the event of January 6 that led to the storming of the Capitol was organized and staffed by members of Trump’s presidential campaign team. These staffers have since tried to distance themselves from it, deleting their social media accounts and refusing to answer questions from reporters. 

A number of the arrested insurrectionists have claimed that they were storming the Capitol because the president told them to. According to lawyers Teri Kanefield and Mark Reichel, writing in the Washington Post, this is known as the “public authority” defense, meaning that if someone in authority tells you it’s okay to break a law, that advice is a defense when you are arrested. It doesn’t mean you won’t be punished, but it is a defense. It also means that the person offering you that instruction is more likely to be prosecuted. 

The second impeachment, popular outcry, and continuing stories about the likely involvement of administration figures in the coup attempt seem to have trimmed Trump’s wings in his last days in office. He is issuing orders that Biden vows to overturn, and contemplating pardons (stories say those around him are selling access to him to advocate for those pardons), but otherwise today was quiet. 

He has tried to install a loyalist as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, either to burrow him in or to get the green light for dumping NSA documents before he leaves office; Biden’s team will fight what is clearly an attempt to politicize the position. Tonight, Census Director Steven Dillingham resigned after whistleblowers alleged that he and other political appointees were putting pressure on department staffers to issue a hasty and unresearched report on undocumented immigrants.

According to news reports, Trump is planning to leave Washington on the morning of January 20 and should be at his Florida club Mar-a-Lago by the time Biden and Harris are sworn in. The last president to miss a successor’s inauguration was Andrew Johnson, who in 1869 refused to attend Ulysses S. Grant’s swearing-in, and instead spent the morning signing last-minute bills to put in place before Grant took office. 

There is a lot of chatter tonight about the release today of the 1776 Report guidelines on American history. This is the administration’s reply to the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which focused on America’s history of racism. As historian Torsten Kathke noted on Twitter, none of the people involved in compiling today’s 41-page document are actually historians. They are political scientists and Republican operatives who have produced a full-throated attack on progressives in American history as well as a whitewashed celebration of the U.S.A. Made up of astonishingly bad history, this document will not stand as anything other than an artifact of Trump’s hatred of today’s progressives and his desperate attempt to wrench American history into the mythology he and his supporters promote so fervently. 

But aside from the bad history, the report is a fascinating window into the mindset of this administration and its supporters. In it, the United States of America has been pretty gosh darned wonderful since the beginning, and has remained curiously static. “[T]he American people have ever pursued freedom and justice,” it reads, and while “neither America nor any other nation has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice, and government by consent,” “no nation… has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.” 

America seems to have sprung up in 1776 in a form that was fine and finished. But, according to the document’s authors, trouble began in the 1890s, when “progressives” demanded that the Constitution “should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights.” It was at that moment the teaching of history took a dark turn. 

The view that America was born whole, has stayed the same, and is simply a prize worth possessing reminds me of so much of the world of Trump and the people around him, characterized by acquisition: buildings, planes, yachts, clothing, bank accounts. Trump and his people seem to see the world as a zero-sum game in which the winners have the most stuff, and America is just one more thing to possess.

But there is a big difference in this world between having and doing. 

America has never fully embodied equality, liberty, and justice. What it has always had was a dream of justice and equality before the law. The 1776 Report authors are right to note that was an astonishing dream in 1776, and it made this country a beacon of radical hope. It was enough to inspire people from all walks of life to try to make that dream a reality. They didn’t have an ideal America; they worked to make one. 

The hard work of doing is rarely the stuff of heroic biographies of leading men. It is the story of ordinary Americans who were finally pushed far enough that they put themselves on the line for this nation’s principles. 

It is the story, for example, of abolitionist newspaperman Elijah P. Lovejoy, murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, and the U.S. soldiers who twenty-four years later fought to protect the government against a pro-slavery insurrection designed to destroy it. It is the story of Lakota leader Red Cloud, who negotiated with hostile government leaders on behalf of his people, and of his contemporary Booker T. Washington, who tried to find a way for Black people to rise in the heart of the South in a time of widespread lynching. It is the story of Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryan, who gave voice to suffering farmers and workers in the 1890s, and of Frances Perkins, who carried his ideas forward as FDR’s Secretary of Labor and brought us Social Security. It is the story of the American G.I.s, from all races, ethnicities, genders, and walks of life who fought in WWII. It is the story of labor organizer Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who faced down men bent on murdering her and became an advocate for Black voting. It is the story of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who 60 years ago this week warned us against the “military-industrial complex.”

And it is, of course, the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we celebrate today. King challenged white politicians to take on poverty as well as racism to make the promise of America come true for all of us. “Some forty million of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life,” he reminded white leaders in May 1967. “And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The vast majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population…. Now there is nothing new about poverty. It’s been with us for years and centuries. What is new at this point though, is that we now have the resources, we now have the skills, we now have the techniques to get rid of poverty. And the question is whether our nation has the will….” Just eleven months later, a white supremacist murdered Dr. King. 

These people did not have a perfect nation, they worked to build one. They embraced America so fully they tried to bring its principles to life, sometimes at the cost of their own. Rather than simply trying to own America, the doers put skin in the game.

Today, the Trump administration issued the 1776 Report that presented the United States of America as a prize to be possessed. And yet, the country is demonstrably still in the process of being created: tonight, there are 15,000 soldiers in the cold in Washington, D.C., defending the seat of our government against insurgents.

theology of the day: 1/13/21 Deuteronomy 30:15

What does it mean to choose life in a world that often chooses death?

Below you will find the final address of Moses to the people of God. These words are worth considering again today in the midst of this country in which so many people are choosing to follow the way of death.  Some things to be aware of as we read:

  • This is not an address to people in general. It is an address first to the chosen people of God, the people who followed Abraham and became known as the Israelites and are now known as Jews.
  • As such, it is also addressed to followers of Jesus, who we believe is the Christ, the anointed One spoken of in the Hebrew Testament who overcame death and the grave and who summarized all of the Biblical law in the command to love the Lord and love our neighbor.
  • This is not an address to a particular nation. Not the nation of Israel nor the nation of the United States nor any other nation state, which are all governmental entities where the people of God may live but which do not declare the kingship authority of God nor do they speak for God at any time or in any place.
  • It is wrong to equate any human rule with the Lord God Almighty or with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Christians who follow Biblical teachings, the instrument that God has chosen to spread the good news of the gospel is the Church, in itself a fallible and broken witness.
  • Our hope does not reside in any human power. Our only hope is in the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. For we who are Christians, Jesus Christ is this Lord.

Deuteronomy 30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

What does it mean for us to choose life? To live as a follower of Jesus Christ is to live as people who are IN the world but also to live as people who do not BELONG TO the world. We proclaim that Jesus Christ is King, but we acknowledge that the broader world does not recognize Jesus as King. As followers of Jesus our task is follow the WAY of JESUS while living among a people who are following a different way. 

What is the Way of Jesus? As I wrote above, the briefest description of the Way is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) The immediate question becomes Who is my neighbor? The answer to this question is immediately given by Jesus in the passage from Luke.

Let me emphasize again that this commandment of Jesus is directed only to the people of God. It is a commandment that makes no sense to the broader world. While there are many wonderful people in the broader world, the inclination of the broader world’s systems is to divide the world into friends and enemies. However, the people of God, when we are in our right mind, remember that we all used to be enemies of God and that God loved us, and God came looking for us, and God brought us into his family any way. While we deserved death, we were given life. 

God saved us. God saves us. God gives us LIFE to the full. This is our great joy. We are rooted in God. It is this awareness that enables us to answer the call of Moses. It is this awareness that enables us to answer the call of Jesus. It is this awareness that enables us to choose life. 

A Personal Reflection: 1/11/21

A Reflection on I Samuel, Chapter 8

In the early days of the people of God we find our forebearers wanting a king. Rather than being content to be led by God, they desired to be led by a human ruler. The prophet Samuel warned them about the ways of a king (this is simplified, look at it for yourself), “he will take your children and make them his servants, he will organize armies and raise money for implements of war, he will apportion to himself a part of all you create, and when that happens you will cry out to the Lord for help.”

We, the people who look to the Lord for help, are much like Samuel’s flock. We are often not content to be led by God. We want a human leader whom we can follow. Sometimes the leader is a religious person. Sometimes the leader is a political person. A current trend is the leader who clothes their political worldview with religious garments. The results we see are the same as those predicted by Samuel. People are diminished so that the leader may be powerful. The only leader who desires us to be free human beings is Jesus, the Christ. 

How can we know that we are following Jesus in the way that He intended? Jesus said that we are to love the Lord and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). He said that if we do this we will live in His peace. We can test our discipleship by asking, Is what I say reflecting love for the Lord and love for my neighbor? Am I living in the peace of Jesus? The great thing about living in these troublesome times is that they provide us the opportunity for such self-reflection.

I’ve been doing much of that in the past few days, and I have found myself lacking in many areas. I’m recommitting myself to Jesus. It is not wrong to be troubled by what we see around us. Throughout the Bible we find a desire for justice, freedom from oppression, and a concern for the poor and downtrodden. We are called to live into these virtues. However, we can only do this insofar as we live in relationship to our sovereign Lord, Jeus Christ. Jesus is the solid rock, all other ground is sinking sand.

Article of the Day: 1/8/2020

This is an opinion piece appearing in Christanity Today.

We Worship with the Magi, Not MAGA

Epiphany reminds us that faith is not a prop for political power.

Tish Harrison WarrenJanuary 7, 2021

Yesterday, January 6, was the Feast of Epiphany, when Christians celebrate how the light of Christ spreads to all nations. The season of Epiphany—also called Theophany in the East—focuses on Jesus’ revelation of his true identity to all the world. In the West, it centers on the stories of the Magi (who represent the nations or the Gentiles) finding Jesus through their mysterious stargazing. In the weeks ahead, the Epiphany season recalls the baptism of Christ and the wedding at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle.

But what a strange Epiphany we had in the United States. Instead of Magi worshiping a newborn king, MAGA hats descended on our nation’s capital. Instead of the baptism of Christ announcing his true identity, men and women held signs proclaiming “JESUS SAVES” as they demanded to overturn an election. Instead of a miraculous display of love at a wedding feast, we saw a display of political violence.

Epiphany calls us to light and truth. It reminds us that the promise of Isaiah is fulfilled in Christ: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60:3). Light is beautiful, and it is also revelatory. The word epiphanycomes from the word reveal and gestures toward a realization of the truth. To have an epiphany is to grasp reality, to receive insight. In these gospel stories, followers of Jesus begin to slowly understand who he is. They glimpse the truth: The light of the world has come to all people and all ethnic groups.

The season of Epiphany reminds us that we do not just receive the light of Christ. We are charged with sharing it with all the world. But if the nations were watching yesterday—as people destabilized democracy while carrying flags that read “Make America Godly Again”—would any onlooker want anything to do with this Christ?

The violence wrought by Trump supporters storming the Capitol yesterday is anti-epiphany. It is dark and based in untruth. The symbols of faith—Jesus’ name, cross, and message—have been co-opted to serve the cultish end of Trumpism.

In the story of the Magi, King Herod tries to use the wise men as pawns in his own quest to protect his power. He promises that he too is devout, that they can trust him, and then he asks his astronomer visitors where to find Jesus, so that he also “could worship him” (Matt. 2:8). Epiphany therefore reminds us that the very language of worship can be wielded as a weapon of earthly political power.

While what happened at the Capitol yesterday is tragic, it is not surprising. For more than four years, Trump has shown that he is more than willing to say any lie, ignore any standard of decency, and bring any amount of violence and division to shore up his own power. Through manipulative disinformation, he incited an insurrection and has yet to condemn it unequivocally. Like Herod, he is happy to use religious leaders as pawns.

But sadly, in this anti-epiphany, the wise men are not so wise. They willingly comply. So for me, the worst part of yesterday’s insurrection is how it represents an utter failure in the American church. This anti-epiphany reveals the horrid outgrowths of Christian nationalism, faulty spiritual formation, false teaching, political idolatry, and overriding ignorance.

Though it saddens me deeply, it must be clearly admitted: Yesterday’s atrocity was in large part brought to us by the white, evangelical church in America.

An emaciated and malformed evangelical political theology got us where we are now. Jeffrey Goldberg describes the insurrection at the capitol as “chaos … rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety.” He tells how one protestor told him, “It’s all in the Bible … Everything is predicted. Donald Trump is in the Bible.” Goldberg continues, “The conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally. ‘Give it up if you believe in Jesus!’ a man yelled near me. People cheered. ‘Give it up if you believe in Donald Trump!’”

The light of Christ coming to the nations is good news, but it isn’t always comforting. Light reveals what is hidden. It exposes darkness. And the church must reckon with the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11, ESV) that this anti-epiphany—and all that has led to it—makes visible. The storming of the Capitol cannot be understood outside the heresy of Christian nationalism peddled by the likes of Josh Hawley, Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress; the unhinged apocalyptic Trump-worship of Eric Metaxas; the blasphemies of the Jericho March; and the millions of evangelicals who see Jesus as a means to ill-conceived ideas of American greatness.

I have at times tried to dismiss these leaders and events as fringe, as the crazy cranks and bizarre displays we ought to ignore. I have instead focused on how, day in and day out, pastors and Christian laypeople are seeking to faithfully follow Jesus, to love their neighbor, and to serve the poor, to embody the truth we proclaim this season. But I cannot overlook the reality that millions of evangelicals are swayed by those who proclaim untruth and ugliness in the name of Jesus.

The responsibility of yesterday’s violence must be in part laid at the feet of those evangelical leaders who ushered in and applauded Trump’s presidency. It can also sadly be laid at the feet of the white American church more broadly.

The conflation of the Christian faith and Trumpism did not suddenly spring up in a vacuum four years ago. It arose through decades of poor catechesis and spiritual formation. Through false teaching that the American flag and the cross of Christ do not conflict. Through evangelical leaders who counted losing their souls a small price to pay for grasping political power. Through white supremacist assumptions that snaked their way into church pulpits and pews. And through the belief that the church exists not to show forth the light of Christ to all people but to Make America Great Again.

By contrast, Epiphany tells us of Jesus’ kingship over all the nations, and yesterday’s events show us what happens when we invert that message: Christian faith is used as a tool to prop up political power.

So what are we to do? How can we move forward as Christians when it seems our very churches have become the epicenters of post-truth? How can we walk in the way of Jesus when his illumination has been traded for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic scare tactics? How do we embody beautiful orthodoxy—truth and light—under the long shadow cast by a cross draped in a MAGA flag on the Capitol lawn?

We have to take up the slow work of repair, of re-forming our churches around the deep, unchanging truths of the light of Christ. We must reconstruct communities where we can know and speak truth, serve the needy and the poor, love our neighbors, learn to be poor in spirit, rejoice in suffering, and witness to the light of Christ amid darkness.

This work will be frustratingly small and local, under the radar, and away from the headlines. It will feel paltry and unimportant in the face of the raging nations and widespread ecclesial and national decay. It will be long, risky, and uncertain. But in that meek and humble place, perhaps, with the Magi, we can again find the small star that leads us to the true Light of the World.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night (IVP, 2021).

Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.

Article of the Day: Do you want to live under an authoritarian regime?

An Insurgency From Inside the Oval Office

President Trump’s effort to overturn the election he lost has gone beyond mere venting of grievances at the risk of damaging the very American democracy he is charged with defending.

Published Jan. 4, 2021Updated Jan. 5, 2021, 6:48 a.m. ET

“So what are we going to do here, folks?” President Trump said on a call with Georgia’s secretary of state. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”
“So what are we going to do here, folks?” President Trump said on a call with Georgia’s secretary of state. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”Pete Marovich for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s relentless effort to overturn the result of the election that he lost has become the most serious stress test of American democracy in generations, one led not by outside revolutionaries intent on bringing down the system but by the very leader charged with defending it.

In the 220 years since a defeated John Adams turned over the White House to his rival, firmly establishing the peaceful transfer of authority as a bedrock principle, no sitting president who lost an election has tried to hang onto power by rejecting the Electoral College and subverting the will of the voters — until now. It is a scenario at once utterly unthinkable and yet feared since the beginning of Mr. Trump’s tenure.

The president has gone well beyond simply venting his grievances or creating a face-saving narrative to explain away a loss, as advisers privately suggested he was doing in the days after the Nov. 3 vote. Instead, he has stretched or crossed the boundaries of tradition, propriety and perhaps the law to find any way he can to cling to office beyond his term that expires in two weeks. That he is almost certain to fail and that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be inaugurated on Jan. 20 does not mitigate the damage he is doing to democracy by undermining public faith in the electoral system.

Mr. Trump’s hourlong telephone call over the weekend with Georgia’s chief election official, Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” enough votes to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in that state only brought into stark relief what the president has been doing for weeks. He has called the Republican governors of Georgia and Arizona to get them to intervene. He has summoned Michigan’s Republican Legislature leaders to the White House to pressure them to change their state’s results. He called the Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania Housemultiple times seeking help to reverse the outcome there.

Mr. Trump and his staff have floated the idea of delaying Mr. Biden’s inauguration, even though it is set in stone by the Constitution, and the president met with a former adviser who has publicly urged him to declare martial law to “rerun” the election in states he lost. Mr. Trump’s erratic behavior has so alarmed military commanders who fear he might try to use troops to stay in the White House that every living former defense secretary — including two he appointed himself — issued a warning against the armed forces becoming involved.

Undaunted, the president has encouraged Vice President Mike Pence and congressional allies to do anything they can to block the final formal declaration of Mr. Biden’s victory when Congress meets on Wednesday, seeking to turn what has historically been a ceremonial moment into a last-ditch showdown over the election. The idea has disturbed even many senior Republicans and it is guaranteed to fall short, much to the president’s frustration.

“The ‘Surrender Caucus’ within the Republican Party will go down in infamy as weak and ineffective ‘guardians’ of our Nation, who were willing to accept the certification of fraudulent presidential numbers!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday, quickly drawing a fact-checking warning label from the social media firm.

He denied subverting democracy, posting a quote he attributed to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of his Republican allies: “We are not acting to thwart the Democratic process, we are acting to protect it.”

But Mr. Trump’s efforts ring familiar to many who have studied authoritarian regimes in countries around the world, like those run by President Vladimir V. Putin in Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary.

“Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, and his pressure tactics to that end with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, are an example of how authoritarianism works in the 21st century,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.” “Today’s leaders come in through elections and then manipulate elections to stay in office — until they get enough power to force the hand of legislative bodies to keep them there indefinitely, as Putin and Orban have done.”

Supporters of Mr. Trump line the streets as his presidential motorcade passed by last week in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Supporters of Mr. Trump line the streets as his presidential motorcade passed by last week in West Palm Beach, Fla.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The call with Mr. Raffensperger, which was recorded and released to the news media after Mr. Trump tweeted a false version of the conversation, provided a breathtaking case study of how far the president is willing to go to preserve power. He ran through one unfounded conspiracy theory after another and pushed Mr. Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to flip the election outcome, appealing to him as a Republican to show loyalty and implicitly threatening criminal charges if he refused.

The Interpreter: Original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week.

“So what are we going to do here, folks?” Mr. Trump said at one point. “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”

The call was unseemly enough that even some of the president’s allies distanced themselves. “One of the things, I think, that everyone has said is that this call was not a helpful call,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of the Republicans pushing to reject Biden electors from swing states, conceded on Fox News.

Mr. Trump’s claim that the election was somehow stolen from him has gained no traction in any of the dozens of courts that he and his allies have petitioned, including the Supreme Court, with three justices he appointed. Republican election officials in swing states like Mr. Raffensperger have rejected his assertions as false. Even Mr. Trump’s own attorney general, William P. Barr, said he saw no widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.

A group of 22 historians released a statement on Monday pointing out that the 2020 election was not even particularly close in historical terms. Mr. Biden won as many or more Electoral College votes as the winning candidates in five elections since 1960 and larger popular vote majorities than in more than half of the presidential elections held in the past six decades.

“Yet in none of these elections did any losing candidate attempt to claim victory by brazenly sabotaging the electoral process as Donald Trump has done and continues to do,” said the letter, organized by Douglas Brinkley of Rice University and Sean Wilentz of Princeton University. Among the signatories was Michael W. McConnell of Stanford University, a former appeals court judge who was effectively repudiating the effort led by one of his former clerks, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri.

Mr. Trump’s fidelity to the concept of American democracy has long been debated. From the earliest days of his campaign for the White House, critics suggested that he harbored autocratic tendencies that raised questions about whether he would eventually subvert democracy or seek to stay in power even if he lost, questions that grew loud enough that he felt compelled to respond. “There is nobody less of a fascist than Donald Trump,” he insisted in 2016.

But Mr. Trump did little to disabuse those fears in subsequent years. He expressed admiration for strongmen like Mr. Putin, Mr. Orban, President Xi Jinping of China and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, evincing envy of their ability to act decisively without the checks of a democratic government. He asserted at various points that the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want” with the special counsel investigating him and that his “authority is total”to order states to follow his wishes.

He sought to turn government agencies into instruments of political power, pressuring the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and go easy on his friends. He made expansive use of executive orders that courts at times ruled went too far. He was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House in 2019 for abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to help him sully Mr. Biden’s reputation although he was later acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.

When Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt published their best-selling book, “How Democracies Die,” in 2018, warning that even the United States could slide into autocracy, they faced blowback from some who thought they were overstating the case. “We were criticized by some as alarmist,” Mr. Ziblatt, a government professor at Harvard University, said on Monday. “It turns out we weren’t alarmist enough.”

Mr. Ziblatt said a healthy democracy requires at least two political parties that know how to compete and lose. “I hope and think we will get through the next few weeks,” he said, “but our democracy can’t survive in any recognizable way for long if we don’t have two parties committed to the rules and norms of democracy.”

In the end, this period of conflict and confrontation should not have come as a surprise to anyone who watched Mr. Trump over the past four years. He foreshadowed his plans to challenge the election as invalid unless he won, suggesting as far back as summer that the November vote be postponed and refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Even now, just two weeks before the end of his term, Mr. Trump has left doubt about how he will leave the White House when Mr. Biden is inaugurated.

What else Mr. Trump could try to do to stop it remains unclear because he seems out of options. But he is not yet willing to acknowledge the reality of his situation, much less follow John Adams’s example.