“I know nothing.” That was the response members of the Order of the Star Spangled Banner were supposed to give when asked about their secret society, which was founded in 1849.
The fiercely anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic group evolved into the American Party, but it will be forever remembered by another name. The “Know Nothings” became a powerful political force, commanding the allegiance of more than 100 members of Congress in the 1850s, as Lorraine Boissoneault wrote in Smithsonian Magazine.
Last week, a Republican member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, lashed out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, falsely accusing her of having “gazpacho police spying on members of Congress,” apparently mistaking a cold vegetable soup from Spain for the Gestapo, the Nazi regime’s secret police. The botched reference was widely mocked on social media, and Greene later made fun of herself, tweeting: “No soup for those who illegally spy on Members of Congress, but they will be thrown in the goulash.”
It wasn’t the first time Greene had reached for wildly inappropriate Nazi comparisons. Even if she had gotten the term Gestapo right, there would have been no excuse for comparing the Capitol Police with the murderous agents of Hitler’s Germany.
Greene’s blunder came at a head-spinning moment, when hyperpartisan politics and the long-running pandemic have combined to produce a cavalcade of misinformation, disinformation, ignorance, conspiracy theories and self-defeating protests – as if knowing nothing has become a feature, not a bug of 2022.
“One aspect of the pandemic experience that can’t simply be explained by the existence of an exceedingly transmissible, deadly virus spreading between us is the sheer absurdity that it brought with it,” wrote Abdul El-Sayed. “Whether boarding an airplane with underwear on your face to protest mask requirements, injecting yourself with horse dewormer instead of a safe and effective vaccine or swallowing household disinfectants because the President of the United States unironically suggested that it might help, the pandemic has amplified the frequency and tenor of ridiculous and sometimes alarming behavior.”
Take the Canadian trucker protests. “Now, they’re impeding the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, one of the most active arteries for transnational commerce,” El-Sayed pointed out. “Here’s what’s so absurd about it: The protest over Covid restrictions is now disrupting peoples’ everyday lives – which is what the protest was supposedly aimed at stopping. They’ve lost the plot.”
Reality of Rogan
Misinformation has flourished on Joe Rogan’s controversial podcast, which has caused headaches for Spotify, the platform that reportedly invested more than $100 million in the show. “Rogan’s everyman persona is attractive to millions who view themselves as fed up with perceived liberal and conservative media biases,” Peniel E. Joseph noted.
“Yet Rogan, in many instances, amplifies partisan divides by offering an unvarnished platform for some of the worst impulses in American culture. From Proud Boys to anti-vaxxers, Rogan has helped spread misinformation, furthered the coarsening of popular culture and trafficked in a kind of racial bigotry soft-pedaled in some corners of social media as merely the byproduct of speaking one’s mind…
“Enter at your risk or pleasure (or both), but don’t pretend that you don’t know what you’re listening to.”
Trump mystery solved?
“An enduring mystery might finally have been solved,” Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post. “Remember when Donald Trump ranted about how ‘people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,’ and nobody knew what on earth he was talking about? Maybe he was referring to personal difficulties in trying to flush away official White House documents.”
Robinson was referring to a report from Maggie Haberman’s forthcoming book that White House staff ran across toilets that were clogged with “wads of clumped up wet printed paper.” Trump denied disposing of records that way and brushed off reports that his administration failed to safeguard legally protected documents.
“Most presidents have violated the Presidential Records Act,” wrote historian Julian Zelizer. “But former President Donald Trump’s actions go further than previous presidents, amounting to egregious violations of a law that came about in the aftermath of President Richard Nixon’s traumatic Watergate scandal… In recent days, the nation has learned that Trump made a habit of tearing up documents while he was in office. There have also been several news reports of Trump administration staffers putting documents in burn bags to be destroyed.”
‘Legitimate political discourse’
Richard N. Bond served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1992 to 1993. So he has an informed vantage point on the world of trouble the RNC brought upon itself with three little words. The committee passed a censure resolution against Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger earlier this month that described the House select committee on which they serve as a politically-motivated effort to target citizens who engaged in “legitimate political discourse” on January 6, 2021.
In an open letter to current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, Bond wrote, “At a time when our focus as a party should be on the Biden administration and Democrats at every level of power, you made former President Donald Trump’s unquenchable thirst for revenge against Republicans who disagree with him the political story of the week.”
Recalling the events of January 6, Bond noted, “More than 725 rioters from nearly all 50 states have been arrested and charged with crimes related to the storming of the US Capitol. Five deaths are directly attributable to events of that day; approximately 140 law enforcement officers were treated for injuries. It could take millions of dollars to repair the damage caused by the rioters, according to congressional testimony by the architect of the US Capitol.”
As historian Nicole Hemmer wrote, “legitimate political discourse” is “an odd way to describe the actions of a mob that chanted ‘Hang Mike Pence’ as it clashed with police before breaking through the doors and windows of the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. And while, after widespread ridicule, the RNC insisted that it was referring only to the nonviolent protesters supporting Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him, its attempt to whitewash right-wing violence is part of an ongoing pattern on the right… The end result of these efforts to minimize, excuse, and erase right-wing violence is an environment that invites even more of it.”
Inflation is no fun
Inflation is not President Joe Biden’s favorite topic. That’s a fair conclusion from his encounters with the media on the topic.
Last month, he was caught on a hot mic calling a Fox News reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” after the President was asked about the potential impact of inflation on this year’s midterm elections. In an interview Thursday with NBC, Biden called Lester Holt a “wise guy” after the anchor pointed out that it had been more than six months since the President said the rise in prices was only temporary. Increasingly, Democrats fear that inflation is hurting Biden’s approval ratings and the party’s chances in the midterms.
The consumer price index jumped 7.5% in the 12 months ending in January, a 40-year high. Inflation is diluting the earnings of US consumers, and the Federal Reserve Bank has signaled that it will embark on a series of interest-rate increases which could slow the economy’s growth. “The public tends to think of inflation as an indicator of a cycle of greed and inhumanity, as a conspiracy to rob them of their buying power,” economist Robert J. Shiller wrote in the New York Times. “In reality, the cause is more technical, like an increase in the money supply or disruptions in the supply chain.”
But he added, “When people start to think that inflation is a measure of collateral damage in the battle between big business and aggressive labor – when they blame, in effect, the wage-price spiral – they feed into the rhetoric of both the extreme left and the extreme right. America doesn’t need another angry political narrative that may further erode our trust in one another, trust that we need for economic growth.”
Nathan Chen’s moment
In the 2018 Olympics, US figure skater Nathan Chen finished a disappointing fifth. In the run-up to 2022, he was favored to win the gold medal, having dominated a string of other major competitions. On Thursday, Chen finally fulfilled his dream – and the expectations of countless fans.
Part of the appeal of the Games is watching people redeem themselves and realize their full promise, wrote Amy Bass. “For most of us mere mortals who cannot, as Chen did Thursday, land five quadruple jumps (or any kind of jump, for that matter), sport feels easy because that’s how it looks – think how often we use words like ‘effortless’ to describe something as crazy as a triple axel – when the stars do what they are supposed to do.”
“But the stark contrast among the Team USA’s gold rush in the last few days – Chloe Kim’s confident yet emotional defense of her Olympic title on the halfpipe, (Lindsey) Jacobellis’ long-awaited reclamation of Olympic glory, and Chen finally making things right after they had gone so very wrong – show just how extraordinary a feat it is to win.”
The artificial sun
The world may have moved a step closer to an energy breakthrough that could one day end the reliance on fossil fuels. As physicist Don Lincoln wrote, “On December 21, 2021, an artificial sun briefly flickered into existence underneath the English countryside.” Scientists, working at a center south of Oxford, created a nuclear fusion reaction for about five seconds, generating nearly 12 megawatts of power.
It was likely a final moment of glory for the device that created it. “The extreme heat and pressure generated by the reaction means this is likely to be the JET’s last hurrah.” But another experimental facility is being built in southern France.
Using nuclear fusion as a safe and clean energy source has been a goal since the mid-twentieth century. Back then, Lincoln noted, “it was thought to be possible in about 20 to 30 years. But the estimate today is that it is still 20 to 30 years away. Given the reality of climate change and the fact that the energy needs of the future will certainly be greater than that of the present, this is a problem we have to solve. Additional investment in fusion technology research would certainly speed up the process.”
Governors in a number of liberal states are dropping Covid mask mandates, getting ahead of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House, which have taken a more cautious approach.
It’s worth rethinking the mandates, argued Jill Filipovic. “Yes, if case rates are low, the vaccinated should have more opportunities to live mask-free. Because let’s be honest: Masks do come with costs. They can be uncomfortable, especially when worn for long periods at a time. They interrupt basic human communication – so much of how we understand each other and send subtle cues is through our facial expressions, which masks conceal. When we can’t see each others’ faces, we lose a primary means via which human animals connect, and, at least anecdotally, we can become even more atomized and less empathetic to each other. And while the impact of masking on children is still being studied and experts largely say that kids are flexible and can adapt or catch up, many parents and some experts worry that prolonged masking could impair children’s language skills and their social and emotional development…”
Filipovic pointed out that a constant part of life is balancing “competing interests and potential harms. We do this all the time; we set speed limits and mandate seatbelts in cars, but we don’t expect to have zero traffic fatalities – and we don’t even set highway speed limits low enough to radically reduce traffic deaths because we’ve essentially decided that we need people to be able to get where they’re going, and that is worth the tradeoff.”
“What we need is not just clear guidance for the here and now, but a clear formula for when mask mandates should lift, where they should lift, and when they may need to be reinstated. Covid-19 is not a static disease, and public health guidance should evolve as the disease does.”
The longest table
It was another week of foreboding about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, punctuated by the spectacle of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron seated at opposite ends of a table that seemed many times longer than the one that separated newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane and his wife Emily as their marriage was disintegrating in “Citizen Kane.”
“Macron’s Moscow visit this week produced humiliation – at least so far,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “After the talks, France announced that Putin had agreed to refrain from new military maneuvers near Ukraine, for the moment. The Kremlin’s (Dmitry) Peskov later said he had no idea what the French were talking about; a slap in Macron’s face.” The Kremlin later explained that the long table was used because Macron had declined to take a Covid-19 test.
“This moment demands understanding that the world is facing an authoritarian leader accustomed to bullying and intimidating,” added Ghitis. “In the end, it’s not so much Russia facing off against Ukraine or against the West, as it is its authoritarian President. The West is scrambling for the right language because this, as Russia’s neighbors and the rest of the world know, is Putin’s show.”
They’re deciding the election for you
Election Day is more than 260 days away, but many of the important decisions have already been made – not by voters, but by Republicans and Democrats drawing congressional district lines to make it almost impossible for the other party to win seats.
This year’s gerrymanders are a “partisan bloodbath,” wrote David Daley. “Both parties have wiped competitive seats off the board. While Republicans overwhelmingly gerrymandered more Congressional districts and state legislatures 10 years ago, Democrats have been just as aggressive this cycle in states where they have complete control. The brazen gerrymander passed by New York Democrats last week not only locked in 22 blue seats in a 26-member delegation, but eliminated all four of the competitive districts where President Biden and Donald Trump finished within five points of each other in 2020… The People’s House belongs to the mapmakers.”
Dean Obeidallah: If a passenger misbehaves, put them on a no-fly list
William J. Barber and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: Teaching Black history is not an attack on White Americans
Super Bowl party time
When Jeff Pearlman wrote a scorched-earth column for CNN Opinion in 2013 blasting the people he encountered at Super Bowl parties – including “The Knows-Everything-That’s-About-to-Happen Dolt” – his wife Catherine predicted they would never again be invited to one.
“For a long time, my long national Super Bowl party nightmare was over,” Pearlman wrote last week. “I was free to watch the game in blissful solitude, remote in one hand, pizza slice in the other.”
Of course, 2013 was a long time ago. “When my manifesto against Super Bowl parties ran, we lived in a sane, reasonably predictable, pre-Covid world where hands shook hands and arms were used for hugging and masks were reserved for muggers, medics and superhero flicks,” Pearlman wrote. “I was chilling with neighbors, regularly working out at the gym, never thinking twice that the guy coughing two tables over at my local café may well be infecting us with a deadly virus.”
And now, after two years of pandemic distancing?
“I will gladly trade yet another lonely day in omicron America for a bunch of happy folks united over a game between two teams 98.7% of us care very little about.
“Now I’d like to come to your Super Bowl party. Please. Pretty please.”