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The Discourse Report: December 22, 2020

Madison Cawthorn (Getty)

Welcome to DiscRep, your guide to the public discourse. I’m Berny Belvedere, editor in chief of Arc Digital.


A brief comment on a notable idea, issue, or policy

North Carolina U.S. Representative-elect Madison Cawthorn just announced he will seek to contest the results of the 2020 presidential election when Congress assembles in early January to count the votes.

Here is a mashup of two Cawthorn tweets, from yesterday and today, on this matter:

The right to vote in a free and fair election is the cornerstone of our Republic. Attempts to subvert the Constitutional authority of state legislatures to conduct elections strikes at the very heart of representative government. I choose to stand in the breach, to fight for us. …

No U.S. Representative, who believes in the inviolability of the right to vote and the sacredness of every citizen’s right to equal protection under the law, can stand by and ignore substantial allegations of voter fraud.

I for one, will not be silent. I will fight. Will you?

But Cawthorn, who is 25, didn’t stop there.

He also vowed to help primary any Republican who fails to go “on the record” and call for “fair, free, and just elections now and in the future” — which is code for baselessly allege electoral fraud.

What I find most fascinating about this is what it reveals about the state of the Republican Party.

Cawthorn gives us a window into what signals are now necessary to send in order to make a name for yourself as an upstart elected official in Republican politics.

How so?

You can typically gauge what values are ascendant — or even already entrenched — within a movement by discerning the initiatives that its most notable newcomers spend their efforts on.

Sometimes the context is policy, or committee service, or some other arena of governing that a rising star will use to chart out their path. Other times, as in this case, the idea instead is to make a play for the base. The motivation is to shore up support among the voters left most frustrated by the recent election.

The latter kind of signaling is the least substantive, necessarily requiring a demagogic quality that reflects the frustrations of the most passionate supporters back onto them. Cawthorn can harness their anger to build out his brand, to amass his partisan capital.

With this clownish ploy, Cawthorn is conveying the supreme importance, from here on, of construing a Democratic presidential victory as inherently illegitimate. He’s not putting it that way himself, but that’s the takeaway we should be drawing. He’s unwittingly revealing what matters to these voters, what it takes to earn their trust and admiration.

And what it tells us is that standard democratic norms — like conceding defeat, facilitating a presidential transition, having even a passing interest in truth-telling, valuing the importance of democratic accountability — are now seen by the GOP as hopelessly outdated. Indeed, you get ahead in this party by repudiating them.


My roundup of interesting recent tweet threads

Chad Pergram

Kyle Baxter

Eric Feigl-Ding

Ankith Harathi


My roundup of interesting recent reads

Thousands of Americans would have died in this pandemic even under ideal government. But the Trump administration’s incompetence and malfeasance made the carnage many times worse. The U.S. death toll is well above 300,000, far worse than any other country, and growing by thousands every day. In proportional terms, we have one of the worst fatality rates in the world. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is, because people in our government suppressed information, downplayed the threat, and discouraged or obstructed public health measures.

What were the worst things to lie about in 2020, and who among those who told those lies had the most responsibility to do better?

If I were teaching the election of 1860 and the secession crisis again, right now, here’s what I would emphasize more pointedly: we traditionally date the beginning of the U.S. Civil War with the shelling of Fort Sumter by South Carolina state troops, but that’s not really how it started, and that’s not really when it started. … The U.S. Civil War — or, as the United States government officially referred to the conflict in military and legal documents from the time, the “War of the Rebellion” — began the day after the presidential election of 1860.

At a moment when 27.4 million U.S. adults — nearly 13 percent — report that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the previous week, Republicans are literally subsidizing executives’ steak dinners. These meals are already subsidized — and have been since the 1980s — to the tune of 50 percent; Donald Trump, who has always seen his presidency as a for-profit venture, demanded that the entirety of these meals be made deductible.

Thanks for reading,

Berny Belvedere

Editor in Chief, Arc Digital




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Berny Belvedere

Berny Belvedere

Editor in Chief of Arc Digital

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