There are—roughly speaking—three major stories happening right now in United States politics, and they don’t make a lot of sense when considered in combination.
The first is the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. There has been a great deal of incisive coverage of this event on Slate.com, regarding the consequences it might have as a matter of law, public health, and politics. But suffice it to say for the purposes of this article that the decision was made possible by Donald Trump’s appointment of three “pro-life” conservative judges (Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh) and that it is unpopular—the two major polls conducted since it was released have found that about 60 percent of Americans say they disapprove of it, and about the same number would like abortion to be legal in “most” or all cases.
The second is the work of the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 committee, whose public hearings resume Tuesday with a last-minute surprise guest. (Richard Nixon???) (Update: No. Dang!) The committee’s findings have also been covered extensively on this website, but their spirit can perhaps be best captured with brief descriptions of two theories about 2020 election fraud, which, the record shows, were pursued by Donald Trump and the people working on his behalf:
• An allegation, in the Associated Press’ description, ”that the Chinese were controlling U.S.-based voting machines via internet-connected smart thermostats.” This theory either originated with or was popularized by a man named Jovan Pulitzer, a serial entrepreneur who self-publishes books about finding lost treasure under the name “Commander Pulitzer.” (As his Wikipedia entry puts it, “Pulitzer has no military record.”) CNN has reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows asked the FBI, Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to look into the matter. It was also raised by Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer with no background in election law, during his attempt to have himself named attorney general so that the DOJ could announce that Joe Biden’s win was not legitimate.
• An allegation, in Axios’ words, that “an Italian defense contractor uploaded software to a satellite to switch votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.” According to Reuters, this theory originated with a Sarasota, Florida–based group called “Nations in Action,” which describes its own goal as the exposure of the “shadow government” that controls the world. Meadows asked the acting attorney general to investigate this one. Then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller also told the select committee that he was compelled by the White House to call a defense official stationed in Rome about it.
Ultimately, the FBI, Department of Defense, National Security Council, directorate of national intelligence, and Department of Justice failed to find legally compelling evidence that China or Italy—or both; obviously we all fear a potential Sino-Italian alliance—used satellites or internet-connected thermostats to change 2020 presidential vote tallies. The combined law enforcement and national security apparatus of the country—which was under Trump’s control!—likewise struck out in its pursuit of evidence for every other allegation made by the president and his legal team.
It nonetheless remains the position of almost every Republican Party candidate for office in 2022—here is a recent example from New York state, but there are dozens—that, at best, it is unclear if Joe Biden really should have been inaugurated as president. They are not sure about it, they say, because people have “questions.” What they communicate—implicitly but unmistakably—with this kind of vaguely “moderate” euphemistic rhetoric is that they still believe it’s possible that Italy and China used space beams and thermostat-related smartphone applications to control U.S. voting machines. At the very least, they aren’t ruling that possibility out.
Many candidates, moreover, just say the election was stolen. In fact, it’s the official platform position of the Republican Party that the rioters who attacked police officers and bashed in the doors and windows of the Capitol in an attempt to prevent certification of Biden’s win (and maybe kill the Republican vice president) on the basis of these theories were engaged in “legitimate political discourse.” The leading 2024 Republican candidate for president is Donald “Thermostat” Trump.
The real funny thing is that, according to generic ballot polling and race-by-race projections, these are the people who are going to win most of the elections in November. That is the third big ongoing story in politics: the impending Republican takeover of Congress. Apparently, inflation and particularly gas prices are of such importance to the average voter as to outweigh the combined work of the Supreme Court and the Jan. 6 select committee. Three post-Roe polls do suggest the ground may be shifting somewhat in response to the ruling, but there are several months remaining for the shock to wear off, and even the new numbers wouldn’t indicate a safe Democratic victory.
This writer, at least, hopes that the United States really sits down and does some thinking about all of this at some point in the next four months.