A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
An Idiotic Proposal From Nikki Haley
By David Corn November 28, 2023
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during the Family Leader's Thanksgiving Family Forum on November 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP
Nikki Haley served six years as governor of South Carolina. Imagine if during her tenure, all the people running the state’s agricultural department were forced to leave their jobs. And the state’s banking commission. And its department of commerce. And the corrections department. And its emergency management agency. And its fiscal accountability office. And its department of health and environmental control. And the highway patrol. And its judicial department. And its national guard. And its port authority. And its public service commission. And its department of revenue. And the state’s law enforcement agency. And the DMV.
Haley would have been slammed by a tsunami of chaos. Her government would have come to a standstill. Replacing all these state officials and workers would have subsumed her administration. And all the agencies would be in turmoil. Even if vacancies were filled, these departments would be at a loss for institutional memory and expertise. The turnover would diminish services for the good citizens of the Palmetto State and perhaps even endanger them. It’s a no-brainer: Government works best when it’s run by dedicated civil servants with experience.
Yet Haley, trying desperately to gain ground on Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential sweepstakes, has decided to match his know-nothing populism by urging a five-year term limit on government “bureaucrats.” Haley recently tweeted that under her proposed “Freedom Plan, we won’t just have term limits for politicians—we will limit bureaucrats too. No bureaucrat should hold the same position for more than five years.”
Trump has blathered about blasting apart the Deep State, and his allies have cooked up a scheme under which Trump, if he regains the White House, would be able to pink-slip tens of thousands of federal workers not deemed loyal to him or sufficiently enthusiastic about his policies. (Federal workers now can only be fired for cause and must be afforded due process.) The goal is to destroy what Trump compatriots like Steve Bannon call the “administrative state.” This is but one element of the authoritarian blueprint being drafted for Trump 2.0 by a group of right-wing organizations that have formed Project 2025.
Once touted as a reasonable Republican, Haley has decided to compete with Trump on the anti-government front. There are (of course) no firm details to her proposal to toss out “bureaucrats” (a derisive term for often hard-working federal employees), but this would seem to cover TSA officials, federal law enforcement officials, intelligence analysts, food and drug safety officials, National Institues of Health research supervisors, counterterrorism experts, counterintelligence officers, workplace safety regulators, financial regulators, public health officials, border security officials, IRS tax collectors, trade officials, climate change negotiators, and you can fill in the rest.
With this stunt, Haley is exploiting the right-wing war on expertise. (See Tom Nichols’ 2017 book, The Death of Expertise.) She wants to kick all that expertise to the curb. But her proposal is fully in sync with Trump’s narrative that demonizes elites and government.
Her plan would be a boon to the country’s enemies and to corporate interests that often attempt to outfox or outmaneuver government regulations. Such a move would emasculate federal agencies. It would also make it more difficult for the federal government to recruit the best candidates. If the reward for doing a good job at the Federal Trade Commission breaking up monopolies is mandatory dismissal or reassignment after five years of service, the most qualified people—who can earn more in the private sector—will probably take a pass.
Haley herself served longer than five years as governor and as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Was each of those stints too long?
With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis struggling in polls and his campaign in upheaval, Haley has emerged as perhaps the better bet for non-Trump Republicans. In the past week, there has been a rash of stories in the political press about top GOP donors swinging—or considering swinging—behind Haley. The big bucks and the momentum are prompting her to make a concerted effort to pick off Trump voters. How does a Republican candidate do that? Certainly not by being reasonable. As her thirst increases—and her advisers whisper in her ear that she’s the one—it’s no surprise to see her pandering to the worst impulses of the Trump mob. We can wonder what other nonsense will emerge from Haley as the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary approach.
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Mike Johnson’s Spiritual Warfare
Last week, HuffPost published a story about Mike Johnson’s days as a lawyer for the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom, an evangelical legal group that fought against gay rights and abortion rights. The article focused on a 2004 case in which Johnson defended a public elementary school that was accused by Jewish parents of pushing Christianity on its students. The school was conducting prayer sessions, teaching Christian songs in class, and promoting Christian events. It put up a Nativity scene in the school library, and its graduation program featured Christian songs and religious speeches. The Jewish parents claimed their kids were harassed for not participating in these religious activities.
Speaking at a church about this case, Johnson remarked, “The ultimate goal of the enemy is silencing the gospel. This is spiritual warfare.”
Johnson’s use of the phrase “spiritual warfare” drew my notice. Non-evangelicals may not be familiar with this term or consider it the usual extreme rhetoric of fundamentalists. But it has a specific meaning. The phrase refers to the ongoing battle between God and Satan and the manifestation of this titanic conflict on Earth. It is shorthand for the belief that all events that happen in our world are part of this never-ending clash between the holy and the hellish. Thus, the effort of those Jewish parents to curb the promotion of Christianity at that school was literally the work of the devil. They were the enemy of God and seeking to undermine Christianity as part of Lucifer’s crusade against the one truth.
I first became familiar with the concept of “spiritual warfare” over three decades ago, when Clarence Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be a Supreme Court justice. It was reported that he and his wife, Ginni, were regular attendees at a fundamentalist church in suburban Virginia. I paid a visit to the church, picked up copies of sermons delivered there, and bought a bunch of cassette tapes of talks given by its pastors and visiting speakers. I noticed that much of this material focused on “spiritual warfare.” That made me wonder: Could a person who holds this view of the world be a fair and impartial judge?
Say a group supportive of abortion rights appears in court to argue a case before a judge who accepts this notion of “spiritual warfare.” Would this judge see this organization as a front for Satan? If so, could this judge treat this party fairly? I didn’t know what Thomas believed, but I wrote a piece along these lines and asked whether it would be a legitimate line of questioning to present to Thomas or any other nominee to a lifetime position on the federal bench.
I didn’t expect this to become a major issue in Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings. (This was even before Anita Hill came forward with her accusations against Thomas.) But I heard from a senior aide to a Democratic senator who served on the Judiciary Committee. He told me his boss was intrigued by this matter and asked how to find more material regarding Thomas’ church. I shared with him public information, and he said his senator intended to ask Thomas a question or two about this.
I doubted that would happen. Inquiring about a potential justice’s religious views was—and remains—a dicey matter. Even if those beliefs could undermine a jurist’s objectivity. When this senator got his turn to hurl queries at Thomas—I was in the committee room—“spiritual warfare” and the like went unmentioned. No surprise. Afterward, the aide said to me, “It’s tough.”
Indeed. As I recently noted here, after reporting on Johnson’s fundamentalist religious beliefs—and how he has applied them to politics and policies—I was accused of being a Christianity hater.
There have been many articles drawing a connection between Johnson’s adherence to biblical Christianity and his various policy stances, such as his extreme opposition to gay rights, abortion rights, and contraception. He has also declared, as I reported, that only political candidates that share his narrow worldview of Christian fundamentalism and who believe the United States is a “Christian nation” are worthy of support.
Johnson’s use of “spiritual warfare” to describe that lawsuit expands the picture we have of him. (Ultimately, the case was settled with a consent order detailing the types of religious expression allowed in public schools, though much of the case was dismissed because the Jewish family moved out of state.) We knew he was a true believer. We knew that he holds that there is only one “legitimate” worldview—a Christian theology that says the Bible is literally true—and that all other perspectives are complete bunk and highways to hell. Now we know that Johnson sees those who do not share his faith as witting or unwitting comrades of Beelzebub.
Johnson comes across as a mild-mannered and friendly fellow. One House Democrat told me that recently Johnson crossed the aisle on the House floor and sat down next to him just to have a how’re-you-doing chat—an unheard-of act for a House speaker. But it was not out of character for Johnson. He has repeatedly said that one must encounter enemies with love and kindness (as you-know-who would do).
Yet if Johnson does view political or policy foes as legionnaires from the kingdom of Satan, might that influence how he hears and considers their arguments? Spiritual warfare is a rather black-and-white affair. There’s good; there’s evil. Folks are on one side or the other. Politics, when successful, is often a bit more nuanced. How might it affect Johnson’s decisions if he believes the devil is in the details and the opposition?
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
Dumb Money. The stock market, in theory, exists so companies can raise capital from large and small investors. But exchanges have evolved far beyond a tool used to assist firms that produce goods or provide services; they have become entities of their own, the foundations of a speculative economy based on what Karl Marx once derided as “fictitious capital”—centers of trading driven by...trading. These days, much of that trading is propelled by algorithms, the decisions of major institutional investors, and computer-generated automatic transactions. People who try to conquer the market on their own with apps and day-trading—retail investors—are, in the lingo of Wall Street, “dumb money.” A.k.a. suckers who can be taken for a ride.
Dumb Money, the new movie from director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), flips the script. It’s a delightful romp through the real-life tale of how retail investors in 2020 went to war with the big guys—the “smart money”—over one stock: GameStop, a retail outlet peddling video games and consumer electronics. Keith Gill, a low-level financial analyst from a working-class Massachusetts family who in his spare time posts his personal stock picks on YouTube and within a Reddit community under the handle Roaring Kitty, concludes that shares of GameStop are highly undervalued. He invests his life savings in the stock. Small-traders who follow him—students in Texas, a nurse in Pittsburgh, and others—do the same. The problem: “Smart money” investors—notably, Melvin Capital’s Gabe Plotkin and hedge fund titan Steve Cohen—have been short-selling GameStop, betting the unimpressive chain with stores often found in not-so-classy strip malls and shopping centers will go belly-up.
Gill and his army of small-timers could ruin their vulturous plan. If they keep buying GameStop, the stock will go up, and that could cost the hedge-funders billions. Yes, with a B. Those of us who read the newspapers in 2020 and 2021 know how this will end. Still, Gillespie delivers a wonderful, spritely-paced David vs. Goliath story, as the rubes—joined together via an internet chat board and Gill’s basement livestreaming—strive to outmaneuver the condescending and overly confident Masters of the Universe, who deploy their considerable power and influence to try to crush the GameStoppers. The bad guys include hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who seemingly conspires with the owners of the Robinhood stock-trading app (which is used by Gill’s army) to throttle these unruly outsiders storming the well-guarded gates of Wall Street. (Griffin, a big-dollar GOP funder, didn’t like Dumb Money and his depiction; he has sent Sony Pictures letters threatening legal action—which is quite an endorsement of the film.)
Paul Dano cashes in as Gill. He’s one of the better actors of his generation. (He was recently the Riddler in The Batman and was marvelous as Beach Boy Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy—and don’t forget his breakout performance in Little Miss Sunshine.) He deftly conveys absolute underdogness as he navigates the dilemmas that arise in assorted how-can-this-be-happening circumstances. SNL alum Pete Davidson as his ne’er-do-well brother is hilarious. My only complaint about this movie is that the Wall Street villains, Plotkin, Cohen, and Griffin—each skillfully played, respectively, by Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Offerman—do not receive more screen time. Their billion-dollar smugness and you-can’t-touch-us arrogance warranted even more lampooning than Dumb Money serves up. For any list of top films about class warfare, Dumb Money is a smart pick.
“When the Roses Bloom Again,” Laura Cantrell. Laura Cantrell grew up in Nashville, went to school at Columbia University, has spun discs as a deejay at alternative radio stations, and worked at Big Finance firms. She has also enjoyed a career as an Americana roots-ish singer-songwriter much appreciated by her peers. A few months ago, she released her first album in nine years, Just Like a Rose. For this project, she collaborated with an all-star cast of producers, musicians, and writers who have worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Krall, the Talking Heads, Robert Plant, John Prine, Sheryl Crow, Patty Loveless, Ringo Starr, and others. This impressive lineup is a testament to her standing within the musical cosmos. On “When the Roses Bloom Again,” she duets with my pal Steve Earle. The lyrics about a soldier and his sweetheart strolling before he’s off to war were written by Woody Guthrie, the music composed by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. The song first appeared on Volume III of the Wilco and Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue albums, but here Cantrell and Earle claim it for their own.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
November 21, 2023: The tragic indifference of “no ceasefire”; a Thanksgiving time-out; David Fincher’s silent The Killer; Claire Lynch rides an “Empty Train”; and more.
November 18, 2023: Is it anti-Christian to criticize Speaker Mike Johnson?; the congressional ethics report on George Santos; a bizarre Albania-Russia-GOP caper; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 14, 2023: The Money Kings and Zionism, antisemitism, and conspiracy theories; the GOP’s minority rule; Oisin Leech’s “October Sun”; and more.
November 11, 2023: Donald Trump and revenge: a love atory; the GOP and minority rule on abortion; Dumbass Comment of the Week; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 7, 2023: Can we doomscroll to peace in the Middle East?; Mike Johnson in the Holy Land; “Now and Then” more Lennon than Beatles; the meta rock world of Daisy Jones & the Six; and more.
November 4, 2023: How the Hamas-Israel war threatens American democracy; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jared Kushner); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 31, 2023: Scoop: Mike Johnson urged a religious test for politicians; Michael J. Fox can’t sit still in his new documentary; U2 goes atomic; and more.
October 28, 2023: Leonard Leo and the Deep State on the right; recent news about Mitt Romney and Mike Johnson; Dumbass Comment of the Week (House Republicans); the Mailbag; and more.
October 24, 2023: Imagine Trump in charge during the Hamas-Israel war; Steve Bannon and Alex Jones conspiracy-mongering together; a Jim Jordan tale; George Santos speaks; and more.
October 21, 2023: Biden and Netanyahu’s delicate dance; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ari Fleischer); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 18, 2023: No blank check for Bibi; the strange trip of Asteroid City; Devon Gilfillian gives us a closer with “Love You Anyway”; and more.
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