Archive for October, 2022

Pauli Murray, America’s most pivotal unknown civil rights leader – posted 10/29/2022

October 29, 2022 5 comments

The conventional tale of American history leaves out so much. We learn about the Founding Fathers, presidents and generals. We are less likely to learn about civil rights leaders, no matter how outstanding. Pauli Murray falls into that category of unknowns. Born in 1910, she may be the hero who most has escaped attention, recognition and appreciation.

Murray was a leader in the struggle against race and sex discrimination, a lawyer, a poet, an author, and an Episcopal priest. She was a pathbreaker almost before there was a path. Even though she was a pivotal figure, she is barely known.

In her new book, Lady Justice, the legal writer, Dahlia Lithwick, gives Murray the prominence she deserves. There is also a very good documentary about her titled My Name is Pauli Murray that is available on Prime.

Her story is remarkable for the adversities she overcame. She was an orphan. Her mother died when she was 3 and her father was committed to a psychiatric institution where he died after being beaten by a racist guard. She went to live with her Aunt Pauline in Durham, North Carolina.

Murray, as a young African American girl, grew up in a world defined by racism. In that time, the Klan was powerful and 50-60 people were lynched yearly in the South. Danger was omnipresent. Murray went to segregated schools. Her aunt taught school and she accompanied her aunt to classes and learned to read at age 5, She remained a voracious reader and writer her whole life.

In 1938, she applied to the University of North Carolina and received a rejection letter which stated “members of your race are not admitted to UNC”. Later, after going to Hunter College and Howard University Law School, where she graduated first in her class, Harvard Law School would not accept her for graduate study even though accepting the number one graduate had been a Howard tradition. The reason for her rejection was being a woman.

When in Howard Law, she was the only woman in her class her first two years. One professor told her he didn’t know why women went to law school. Murray said she experienced Jane Crow – not just Jim Crow.

From an early age, she was gender non-conforming. She called herself Pauli rather than her birth name Anna Pauline. She believed she was a man trapped in a woman’s body. Her Aunt Pauline, who doted on her and gave her unconditional love, called Pauli my “boy/girl”. She tried unsuccessfully to get hormone treatment. It would appear she was transgender before that word existed. Her gender issues were a source of enormous distress and turmoil throughout her life.

Murray opposed segregation from an early age. She walked everywhere and refused to ride segregated streetcars. In 1940, 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, Murray and a friend, Adelene McBean, refused to move to the back of a bus when it crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. She and McBean were jailed in Virginia for this racial heresy.

Undaunted, Murray contacted the NAACP. She wanted to challenge segregation. In the process she met Thurgood Marshall who then worked for the NAACP. Although that case did not go forward because the judge reduced charges to disturbing the peace. Murray became enthralled by lawyering. She saw it as a way to fight back. She started being an adviser to the NAACP.

At the time Murray started practicing law in the mid-1940’s, there were only about 100 African American women lawyers in the United States. Legal jobs were hard to get, especially for minorities and women but the Methodist Church hired Murray to write an explanation of segregation laws in America as the church wanted to understand its legal obligations.

Murray produced a 746 page book, State Laws on Race and Color.. Marshall called it “the Bible” for civil rights litigation. A creative thinker, Murray pioneered new legal theories for fighting race and sex discrimination.

She argued the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment should be used to overturn Plessy v Ferguson, the Supreme Court case that had upheld “separate but equal”. She believed state segregation laws should be challenged as unconstitutional rather than trying to prove the inequalities of “separate but equal”. She foresaw the end of Plessy long before others in the legal world did. In 1944 she wrote her senior law school paper about it.

She also pioneered the use of the 14th Amendment to attack gender discrimination. Ruth Bader Ginsberg put Murray’s name on the Supreme Court brief she wrote in the landmark sex discrimination case, Reed v Reed, because of Murray’s theoretical contribution. Ginsberg relied on a law review article co-wriiten by Murray.

Behind the scenes, Murray was showing how equal protection applied to women. That was a novel position then. For both Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Murray was a powerful influence.

Murray herself co-counselled a successful case in Alabama that held that women had an equal right to serve on juries.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor developed a close relationship with Murray. Mrs Roosevelt became almost a surrogate mother. Murray had written both Roosevelts complaining about the failure to enforce civil rights law. She and Mrs Roosevelt corresponded regularly and became confidantes.

Her legal career had many different incarnations. After a stint as a Deputy Attorney General in California and also as a corporate lawyer in New York City, she moved to Africa and taught law in Ghana, She later became a professor at Brandeis. Along the way, she, along with Betty Friedan, co-founded the National Organization of Women. She served on the national board of the ACLU from 1965-1974.

In the last phase of her life, Murray shocked many by resigning her tenured job at Brandeis to become an Episcopal priest. She was a deeply religious person and the first African American woman to be ordained in the Episcopal church. She said, “What I say very often is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found”. Murray died in 1985.

Her poem Dark Testament contains two lines which capture her:

“I speak for my race and my people
The human race and just people.”

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Anti-semitism has a home among MAGA Republicans – posted 10/22/2022h

October 22, 2022 4 comments

When I was growing up, my family belonged to Main Line Reform Temple, a reform Jewish congregation in the Philadelphia suburbs. I was bar mitzvahed and confirmed there. For about ten years, I regularly attended Hebrew School at the temple. During that time, I do not ever recall seeing a police guard or any kind of security at or around the temple.

My grandchild now goes to a daycare located in a Jewish school connected to a synagogue, also in the Philadelphia suburbs. When there recently, the first thing I noticed was the security guard at the only open door. Many temples and Jewish institutions have been forced to take security much more seriously.

Welcome to 2022! It is like Pandora’s box has opened and more virulent anti-semites have jumped out. Neo-nazis and white supremacists have long been an isolated fringe but they are no longer so fringe. Now they have a home in the Republican Party.

For a party that has talked about “draining the swamp”, the Republicans have let the swamp in. You hear no voices in the Republican Party saying they need to purge anti-semites or racists from the party. Winning is everything even if that means accepting those who promote anti-semitism and racism.

If anyone bothered to look at who participated in the January 6 insurrection, the MAGA movement included a hefty component of neo-nazis and white supremacists. The Camp Auschwitz tee-shirts grabbed me along with the Proud Boy 6MWE shirts which stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough”.

NPR reported on the case of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli of New Jersey who was just convicted of five criminal counts for his role on January 6. Hale-Cusanelli served in the U.S. Army Reserves and he also worked as a security guard at a naval base.

Naval investigators talked to 44 people at the Navy base where Hale-Cusanelli worked and 34 described Hale-Cusanelli “as having extremist or radical views pertaining to the Jewish people, minorities and women”. He asked new colleagues if they were Jewish. He told a Naval Petty Officer “Hitler should have finished the job”.

He avidly supported former President Trump and he texted a friend that Democrats might steal the 2020 election through “n*****rigging”. He told his roommate that “Jewish interests” controlled the Democrats.

A long time family friend, Cynthia Hughes, has been advocating for Hale-Cusanelli and other January 6 defendants as “political prisoners”. Hughes appeared at a Trump rally on September 3 in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania complaining about Hale-Cusanelli’s treatment.

Hughes created a non-profit called Patriot Freedom Project which has raised more than a million dollars. It has been supported by Steve Bannon and Dinesh D’Souza. No Republicans have expressed any concerns about support for a Nazi sympathizer. The Republican Big Tent includes neo-nazis.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic, a prominent paper in the state, has run seven op-eds since August on the issue of anti-semitism and Republican candidates.

Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar and State Rep. Mark Finchem, Republican candidate for Arizona Secretary of State, have touted their endorsement from the social media site, Gab, run by Andrew Torba, a self-identified Christian nationalist. Torba has said Jews are not welcome on his site. Gab was the site utilized by the shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

On September 14, Finchem, who is an Oath Keeper, tweeted that Arizona Democratic politicians are “liars and deceivers” whose “loyalty is to George Soros and Mike Bloomberg”. This is straight-up anti-semitism linking Democrats to Jewish billionaires. It is no different than earlier generations tying Rothschild bankers to nefarious deeds. A loose association makes the anti-semitic connection. George Soros is the current Jewish go-to guy for anti-semites.

In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano participated in the January 6 insurrection. He has attacked his Jewish opponent, Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, for sending his children to a Jewish day school. Mastriano is also a Christian nationalist who has posted that abortion is “so much” worse than the Holocaust. He has paid Gab thousands of dollars to recruit campaign supporters.

Former President Trump also got into the anti-semitic act again tweeting on his platform Truth Social that “U.S. Jews have to get their act together” and show him some gratitude “before it is too late”. Trump contrasted U.S. Jews negatively to evangelicals who love him more. He didn’t explain what he meant by “before it is too late”.

Then, of course, there was Trump ally and influencer, Kanye West, saying he was “going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” who he said try to “black ball anyone who opposes your agenda”.

There are many other examples. I would suggest that Trump has licensed his followers that it is okay to express bigotry. In the Republican Party, there is no consequence for expressing antisemitic or racist views.

This is how hate gets normalized and accepted. Repetition of anti-semitic tropes and memes lead to people becoming anesthetized to the hate. The anti-semitism is often coded or couched as humor on far right sites. Inevitably, hate crimes follow.

Instead of having a political platform, the Republicans now run against “the other”, like immigrants, minorities, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people and women.

In the Jewish world, we have seen the movie “Blame the Jews for Everything” replay for 2,000 years. Admittedly, it is not there yet in the U.S. but it is not reassuring when neo-nazis and white supremacists are not only tolerated, they are recruited. The fascist movie always features anti-semitism. If there are any Republicans of conscience left in that party, they need to speak up. A fascist foothold in a major political party can only lead to worse.

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Calling out the racism – posted 10/16/2022

October 16, 2022 2 comments

Over the last year or two, I admit I have been puzzled by the Republican attacks on critical race theory or, as it is called, CRT. Why the focus on such an obscure academic theory? The opponents of CRT have made a big deal about ideas barely discussed or known about by the American public.

My thinking is that the anti-CRT effort is not what it appears.The opponents say they are against CRT but it is clear what they really oppose is an honest discussion of America’s history of slavery and racial oppression. CRT is a misleading front for what is really opposed.

Those who think otherwise might take a look at Pew Research Center’s 2021 report about Americans’ views of our nation’s racial history. It shows wide disparities in American opinions about how we have addressed racial inequality as well as how much farther we need to go. Among white adults, fewer than half, 46%, say greater attention to the history of slavery and racism in the U.S. is good for society, One-third say it is bad.

According to Pew Research, among Republicans, 47% think only a little needs to be done to ensure equal rights for all Americans while 30% think nothing more needs to be done. That is a profound state of denial about American history and the harm done by racism. The truth is supposed to set us free but it seems like many millions of us prefer a false narrative.

Naming CRT as the target is suspect because the vast majority do not know what that even is. Why would anyone care about a sidelined theory from the academy?

In his book, America Made Me a Black Man, the Somali-American writer, Boyah J. Farah, gets closer to capturing truer feelings about racial realities. He writes:

“American color prejudice, unseen and unexamined, I find much more painful. Intangible and disembodied, it begins as if it were a nothing, a silent killer, but slowly it seeps into my bloodstream, breathes into my lungs, stabs at my heart and morphs into this endless nightmare.”

In his book, Farah provides the most terrifying description of what it is like for a black man to experience a vehicle stop by a racist cop.

During this campaign season, racism has been on full display. You don’t have to look too hard to find it. I would cite Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s comments at former President Trump’s recent rally in Minden, Nevada. Tuberville argued Democrats were soft on crime, saying:

“They want crime. They want crime, because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit! They are not owed that.”

Clearly, Tuberville suggests that the descendants of Black slaves are criminals. He takes a serious subject, reparations, and smears it with a crime association. He is making a direct racist connection between crime and Black people. No Republicans denounced Tuberville’s comment.

And then there was former President Trump’s remarks about his former transportation secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After McConnell voted with the Democrats on a stop-gap funding bill, Trump posted a derogatory comment on his platform Truth Social calling Chao “his China-loving wife, Coco Chao”. This was not only a cheap shot it was a racist slur. Not surprising from someone who talked about the Kung Fu Flu.

At least four Republican Senate candidates have promoted the white supremacist Great Replacement Theory that argues Democrats are trying to flood the nation with millions of illegal immigrants to change the demographics of our country to marginalize white people. Arizona’s Blake Masters, Missouri’s Eric Schmitt, Ohio’s J.D. Vance and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson have all been campaigning on it. Up until a short time ago, Great Replacement Theory was only pushed by neo-nazis.

Racism is not just stupid, prejudiced words. It is institutionalized. In Florida, the state’s Republican legislature had drawn congressional maps that kept districts intact, leaving the GOP with only a modest electoral advantage. Gov. Ron DeSantis blew that up. Throwing out the legislature’s redistricting, he devised a very aggressive gerrymander to minimize Black-dominated congressional districts.

This was done even though Florida’s constitution was amended in 2010 to prohibit partisan-driven redistricting. Such gerrymandering to curtail Black voting power is going on in many states. Diluting Black voting power and voter suppression is a critical aspect of the face of racism in 2022. It is reminiscent of what happened in the South in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Racism remains slippery. Invariably it is denied. In the legal world, the idea that we need to be colorblind is a clever evasion. There is a real aversion to facing our racial history. To quote Stanley Cavell :”History will not go away except through our perfect acknowledgement of it.”

While there has been some progress around race, no way should that be overstated. The racial wealth gap, residential segregation, maternal health for black women, greater food insecurity and erosion of voting rights are all part of the American picture. So that we do not end up in another backward period like happened after Reconstruction, racism must always be called out and opposed.

It is only when the races come together that they both gain. This is true whether in a union drive or whether in fighting for political objectives. Too many white people are buying into the idea that there is a limited pie and any gain by minorities is at their expense. We need a rediscovery of the common good.

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Republicans are not a law and order party – posted 10/9/2022

October 9, 2022 3 comments

Going as far back as the Richard Nixon presidency, the Republican Party has played the law and order card, arguing they are the party that will keep Americans safe from crime and disorder. Of course, Nixon was ultimately driven out of the White House because of his reckless pattern of committing crimes.

The classic example is probably the 1988 Willie Horton ad when Republicans tied presidential candidate Mike Dukakis to a black man who committed a rape on a weekend furlough in a prison release program. The ad linked together Dukakis, blackness, and criminal depravity. The Republicans did not disclose the fact that in the mid to late 1980’s all 50 states and the federal government had such furlough programs.

The Horton ad proved effective and a winning message for George Bush Sr. The strategy was to paint Democrats as soft on crime.

Donald Trump has tried to carry that same tradition forward with his American carnage shtick. Using homicide rates in large cities and assorted misinformation, Trump has tarred Democrats and has tried to present Republicans as the law and order saviors. But facts do not support Trump. The six states with the highest per capita murder rates all voted for the former President, as did 8 of the top 10 states. Murder is not a blue state phenomenon. It is a national problem.

It is impossible to take the Republican law and order proclamations seriously because the hypocrisy runs too deep. The behavior of Republican leaders is in sharp conflict with any law and order message. Their lawlessness and nihilism shock the conscience.

We must begin with that most prominent Republican, former President Trump, still the GOP leader. In his four years in the White House, Trump took corruption to a new level. He used the presidency to enrich Trump organization businesses. He constantly patronized his own golf courses and used his properties for fundraising events and meetings with foreign groups and heads of state.

This grift, which certainly raised emolument clause questions, made a fortune. Open Secrets, an organization that tracks money in American politics, has tracked payments to Trump properties from Trump-related entities and from special interests. Tens of millions were raised. Holding a Trump fundraiser at a Trump property was a golden way to curry favor.

This was a departure from previous presidents who had severed ties to companies that posed or presented the appearance of a conflict of interest. Trump turned the Republican Party into a business opportunity so that he could personally profit from public service. Whether this violated any laws like the emoluments clause, Trump’s actions demonstrated a disinterest in any ethical standards of behavior.

But really it was the end of Trump’s administration that showed the almost schizophrenic take on law and order. Posturing fidelity to law and order co-existed with brazen lawlessness.

How many criminal investigations are ongoing? There is January 6, the Georgia voting investigation, the New York real estate and tax fraud investigations, E. Jean Carroll’s sexual assault/defamation case, and the stolen documents taken to Mar-a Lago. Trump needs his scam fundraising slush fund millions just to pay endless attorney fees. The slush fund itself was a fraud where he raised millions based on the lie of a stolen election.

Where white collar crime is concerned, Republicans have a soft spot. Wealthy and powerful white defendants do not fit their model of what a criminal is. They may well belong to the same social clubs or golf courses as the lawyers and judges handling their cases. Misstating the value of properties for tax advantage is a staggering fraud but MAGA Republicans prefer to associate crime with poor Black men – not white executives.

Probably no recent experience brought out Republican hypocrisy more than January 6. When police officers were attacked by the mob, where were the cries for law and order? Interestingly, 21 House Republicans voted against bestowing Congressional Gold Medals on the police officers who confronted the insurrectionists. And then there were the many House and Senate Republicans who refused to accept the election even after federal courts repeatedly found no election fraud.

Law and order includes following election law, not violating it when your candidate loses. Since the Mar-a-Lago search, Trump branded the FBI and the Department of Justice “political monsters”. In Florida, Federal Judge Bruce Reinhart who had approved the FBI search warrant received death threats after his name was publicized. One Trump supporter, Ricky Shiffer, attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati and was later killed by the police after he fled.

Republicans attack Democrats for wanting to defund the police but it is Republicans who are loudly calling for the FBI and the DOJ to be defunded.

Michael Bromwich, former Justice Department inspector general commented :
“I have been dealing with law enforcement and the criminal justice system for close to 40 years. I have never seen the type of virulence of attacks being made everyday against the FBI, DOJ lawyers and judges.”

When your party is running senate candidates like Herschel Walker in Georgia, you might think it is a stretch to go after Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman as “dangerously liberal on crime”. Walker has previously held a gun to his ex-wife’s head several times, a knife to her throat and he tried to choke her. It should not have to be said but such domestic violence should be disqualifying for any candidate.

Whether the Republicans can still successfully use law and order as they have in the past remains to be seen. Contradictions abound and voters would have to overlook so much to buy into the Republican law and order mantra now.

Still, it is curious how white collar crime committed by rich people is not recognized and prosecuted in a way commensurate with the gravity of the actual offenses committed. The Republican success in using law and order as an issue is directly tied to our national inability to see and take seriously white collar crime. If Americans did that, Republicans would not make it to first base in using crime to swing elections.

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Minimizing and missing the fascist threat – posted 10/2/2022

October 2, 2022 1 comment

Around seven years ago, I started raising the question of whether Donald Trump and the MAGA movement he led were fascist. Numerous academics and mainstream journalists pooh-poohed that characterization as imprecise and unfounded. Trump, they argued, was a buffoon, an authoritarian, a xenophobe, a kleptocrat or a con man, but not a threat to democracy.

It seems they operated off of some kind of checklist of fascist characteristics. Trump did not manifest the qualities on their lists. It should be clear by now how wrong they have been.

Not just in America but in numerous countries around the world, democracy is facing a fascist threat. This goes way beyond Donald Trump.

The world is facing a veritable Fascist International where extreme right parties have either come to power or they have contended seriously for power. I would cite Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and now Italy as countries where the extreme right has gained considerable state power. In other countries like Brazil, Sweden, and France, the extreme right is contending aggressively for power.

When a neo-fascist, Glorgia Meloni, recently won the Italian election to become prime minister, the positive reaction on the American Right was extremely revealing. They widely cheered the election of someone on record as praising Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator and Hitler’s collaborator. I have to say as a Jewish person I find that response to fascism sickening.

It is extremely dangerous not to see the fascist threat. It is reminiscent of the 1930’s when many in the West failed to recognize the danger represented by the German and Italian fascists. Fascism does not remain static. It evolves depending on local conditions and has some national flavors.

In America, the MAGA Republican movement has evolved in some unexpected directions. Always open to conspiracy theories, their cult leader, Donald Trump, has more openly identified with QAnon.

On his social media site, Truth Social, Trump has been more openly than ever identifying with QAnon, posting images of himself holding a Q playing card along with other Q images. At his rally on September 17 in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump played a song identified with QAnon. He said MAGA is “standing up against sick, sinister and evil people from within our own country”.

Here I think we get close to the demagoguery and grievance-mongering which is central to MAGA. The MAGA movement is fueled by a powerful need to point the finger of blame at others. Opponents are seen as blood-drinking pedophiles, not just another political party on the opposite side of a disagreement.

The need to demonize Democrats is part of the MAGA world view. It is not enough to politically defeat the Democrats. Being so allegedly evil, they must be punished. So Hillary Clinton must be jailed. Or as Ginni Tomas texted Mark Meadows in whack-a-doodle fashion, “the Biden crime family” needed to be put on barges off GITMO to face military tribunals.

To insure victory in what is seen as a war, MAGA Republicans put people in positions to certify elections so they cannot lose. If elections are not in their favor as they still believe about the 2020 presidential race, then their mission is about insuring victory by any means necessary.

Those who insist the MAGA Republican movement is not fascist are not paying close attention. Their playbook is no secret and internationally all the extreme right parties are following a similar script. There is a reason Victor Orban’s regime is held up because it’s the best example of the new model of “illiberal democracy”. It is worth delineating the features.

The extreme right everywhere runs against immigrants who they denigrate as in conflict with their goal of racial purity. They hate black people, brown people and Muslims. As happened when Jews were denied entry into the U.S. and other countries in the 1930’s many countries have made immigration rules much stricter. Asylum seekers and refugees face a wall of opposition. The great replacement theory promoted by Tucker Carlson is invoked as is the spectre of George Soros.

Contrary to mythology, it must be acknowledged that there is much capacity for the United States to accept many more asylum seekers but the political will to allow it is not present in either political party. Our ruling class finds it convenient to scapegoat immigrants. Almost nothing has been learned from the experience when Jews were denied entry to the U.S..

This is history repeating itself. The repression is not on the level of the Nazis but the harm to the immigrants is real. Many die in the desert or drown trying to cross rivers in an effort to get to the U.S. Employers complain they cannot find workers but immigrant workers of color we don’t want and we do not allow them in, at a cost to the economy.

Of course, immigrants are not the only scapegoats of the extreme right. LGBTQ people, particularly trans people, are also in the crosshairs. We see this in Hungary, Italy, and Brazil as well as the other countries where the extreme right is making a push for power. They want to ban abortion, gay marriage, and gay adoption. A little understood minority, trans people, is seen as some kind of menace. The absurd language about groomers and pedophiles is part of their blame game.

In the aftermath of Giorgia Meloni’s victory in Italy, the historian Jason Stanley summarized:

“Fascism is a harshly anti-feminist ideology demanding a world in which women’s choices about their bodies are restricted and patriarchy determines their primary roles – rearing racially pure children and home-making. What better way to sanitize the ideology, to mask its threat to women and its use of violence , then presenting it via a female leader.”

Since January 6, 2021, the embrace of violence by the extreme right has been more clearly demonstrated. To quote Roger Stone two days before the 2020 election “Fuck the voting, let’s get right to the violence”. When you are unhappy with the results, hand it over to the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. History shows that once fascist movements gain power, they often quickly resort to the use of violence against all perceived enemies.

The earlier fascist incarnation in Germany took the violence to another level both internally and in trying to achieve world domination. One major difference now is that modern-day fascists have not yet showed this mad aspiration.

Most mainstream journalism remains wedded to the both sides perspective that has been the norm in the past. In their view, political parties may differ in their views but they are essentially the same. I would suggest that time is now past. Today’s fascists are an existential threat to democracy everywhere.

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