Dec 17, 2021 • 42M

The 60-Year Coup, Part 2

How a narcissistic ignoramus stooge of a president animated the final assault on democracy.

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Bob Garfield
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Part 2 of Bob’s conversation with author Anne Nelson about the Council for National Policy, which has spent decades exploiting bugs in the system to gain minority control of our politics — and our future.

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TEDDY ROOSEVELT: Surely, there never was a fight better worth making than the one in which we are in.

GARFIELD: Welcome to Bully Pulpit. That was Teddy Roosevelt, I'm Bob Garfield. With Episode 21, “The 60 Year Coup: Part Two.” 

DONALD TRUMP: Together, we're committed to protecting the American people, preserving American values, defending America's heritage, and keeping America safe, strong, prosperous, and free.

GARFIELD: That was Donald Trump, hat in tiny hand, singing for his supper before the Council for Domestic Policy, the umbrella group of evangelical Christians and big energy interests, that for decades has been the patient and ruthless architect of the great right wing conspiracy. In last week's episode I spoke to Anne Nelson, research scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and author of Shadow Network: Media Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right. In part two of our conversation, we'll consider the powerful synergy of CNP and a pathological demagog and the destruction that that synergy wrought. Anne, welcome back.

NELSON: Thank you.

GARFIELD: All right. Let's now turn to the more-or-less present: the rise of Trump and the now violent assault on democracy. How was CNP involved in Trump's ascent?

NELSON: The CNP was involved with Trump, initially, very reluctantly. He wasn't one of them, he had no particular religious background, he was multiply divorced, and he really didn't reflect their values in many ways. Their favored candidate was Ted Cruz, but they had a problem - which was that Cruz had a tremendous charisma deficit, and as he lost the primaries, they realized that either they supported Trump, the primary victor, or they lived with Hillary Clinton's presidency, which was unacceptable to them.

GARFIELD: Oh, I - I'm sorry, I just - I just have to interrupt to remind you what then Senator Al Franken (laughs) said about Cruz.

AL FRANKEN: I probably like him more than most of my other colleagues like Ted, and I hate him (laughs).

NELSON: That is the case. Cruz is a formidable intelligence and strategist. He was not a winning candidate outside Texas. So the fundamentalists convened something, like, a thousand leaders and representatives in New York City in June of 2016 at the Times Square Marriott. They brought Trump out to parade him before them, and they had a number of leaders from the Council for National Policy there on the program. And publicly, what that event was about was to sell Trump to this thousand fundamentalist leaders, many of whom had been Never Trumpers, and they were like, “This is going to be your guy. You need to go home and tell your flocks that this is the plan.” But the second part of that agenda involved meetings where they cut a deal with Trump. They said, “You don't have a war chest, you don't have ground troops for the election canvassing, you don't have a strategy. And all indications are you're going to get creamed.” So we have all three of those that we can put into your service. But in return -

GARFIELD: We have a shopping list. 

NELSON: We have a shopping list, and it's basically got three items. The first one was enact some of our policies by executive orders. So when suddenly the Republican platform has this new anti-trans, anti LGBT language that was literally written by the president of the Council for National Policy, Tony Perkins, Trump enacted the anti-trans policy for the Pentagon against the Pentagon's wishes, which, you know, the Pentagon said, “This is disruptive of our operations and trans people are not a problem,” but Trump had to deliver on his deal. The second part was to create an evangelical advisory council. Obama had a religious advisory council, but it included Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims. This one was 100% Protestant, and none of these other religions needed to apply. The leadership of this council were in and out of the White House on policy discussions and photo ops on a weekly basis. The third was by far the most important, far reaching, and devastating to our democracy. And that was when they got Trump to agree that any federal judges he nominated would be approved from a list that was submitted by three organizations run by members of the Council for National Policy. These were the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Rifle Association. Now, what business the NRA has in recommending federal judge nominations? I do not know, but that's how it played out, and after his first confirmation, he invited the representatives of these groups, most of them from the Council for National Policy, for a little victory luncheon at the White House.

GARFIELD: So that was the origin story of Trump's deal with the devil, a man with not only no religion, but no ideology to speak of creating himself in the image of his political and financial sponsors. Over the ensuing - well, so then he was elected, more or less - and then over the ensuing four years, many of Trump's 30,000 lies, big and small, find their provenance, what do you know, in the CNP. So, can we just tick a few of these off beginning with the COVID hoax, and the savior drug hydroxychloroquine?

NELSON: So if you get to the beginning of 2020, the Trump campaign is in trouble and the Council for National Policy recognizes it. They had hoped that the 2020 elections would be won with a popular vote, that was cast into doubt. COVID set in a couple of months later, and the whole strategy of the Trump campaign had been built around mass rallies and data harvesting from attendees of the rallies and building on that to secure a victory. Well, mass rallies became impossible because of COVID restrictions, so there was a critical phone call that involved the president of the Council for National Policy and members of the Trump campaign staff, where they said, “We need to open up society, get the economy roaring again, and people are afraid of COVID, but they trust doctors. We have a group of doctors who will say that COVID is a hoax, will argue for the reopening of society and the mass rallies.” So that summer, these doctors were convened by Jenny Beth Martin in Washington. Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots and a leading figure in the Council for National Policy. At that point, the point person - when Dr. Simone Gold announced that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for COVID - she was put on partner media platforms of the CNP, including the Charlie Kirk Show and the Christian Broadcasting Network, spreading this disinformation 

SIMONE GOLD: With the tyranny of medical apartheid nipping at our heels, rise up. Rise up. Rise up.

NELSON: And that has now expanded into a small army of unethical physicians who are continuing the hydroxychloroquine hoax. They've added ivermectin as a cure and, in fact, they have online prescription services charging money to people who are ordering ivermectin as a COVID cure.

JAKE TAPPER: Poison control centers are reporting that their calls are spiking in places like Mississippi and Oklahoma because some Americans are trying to use an anti parasite horse drug called ivermectin to treat coronavirus, to prevent contracting coronavirus. What would you tell someone who is considering taking that drug?

FAUCI: Don't do it.

NELSON: There's no evidence that it helps against COVID and, in fact, there are several cases of deaths. Not just from COVID and the failed approach of ivermectin, but people taking overdoses of ivermectin. At the same time, they're discouraging vaccination, and the purpose that lies behind this is, I believe, to discredit any federal agency, to discredit the CDC and the NIH, and to have their followers distrust any kind of fact based authority. Whether it's science, whether it's professional journalism, whether it's federal agencies, and work them into this stoked anger and frustration that is then politically mobilized, and so is chaos.

GARFIELD: And not just because they're elites and look down at the silent majority, as Nixon called Middle America, but because there is a vast conspiracy to make money for Bill Gates or to turn children against their country, or to put right wing political dissidents into concentration camps or, you know, whatever the crazy talk is. It wasn't enough just to make people suspicious of - of expertise and authority, but to brainwash them that they were actually active enemies of the people.

NELSON: I would say that the strength of the Council for National Policy is to figure out what I call the raw nerves of our culture and to further inflame them. So right now, parents - with kids in public schools - are stressed on so many levels. Are the schools open or are they not open? Are there mandates? Are there not mandates? Can working mothers go to work if their kids aren't in school? Right? These are real, real issues. And then you put on top of that our very difficult conversation nationally about race. When the Black Lives Matter protests happened, the way that the CNP's media and other media systems played it was, “these are violent riots,” and they cherry picked photos of buildings and flame and violence in the streets and amplified it and exaggerated it. These were not invented or doctored photos, these things happened, it's just that they happened as very, very few cases and very small percentage of the peaceful protests. But that's not what their audience saw.

TUCKER CARLSON: This may be a lot of things this moment we're living through, but it is definitely not about black lives. And remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.

NELSON: Their audience saw these violent images repeated across multiple media platforms. Then they saw it repeated on Fox News and Sinclair stations. They heard it referred to on the fundamentalist radio stations. That makes all of these appeals for advancing racial justice sound to them like condoning violence.

MAN: The black thugs are burning our cities down.

NELSON: So we have a real problem in this country with these parallel media systems that don't reflect the same reality. And I really do fault a lot of the more prestigious media organizations and companies and corporations that have allowed the local news media in the middle of the country to die off. And all too often, the answer is, “Oh well, The New York Times and The Washington Post are national news organizations and they've increased their circulations.” That does not fulfill the need for the trust and the hometown newspaper that reflects the local interests and values. And that's something that urgently needs to be addressed.

GARFIELD: All right. Indulge me once again, please, in a brief pause to remind you what's happening here. Bully pulpit and the other Booksmart studio shows are here for you, specifically for an audience of listeners who value curiosity, skepticism, dimension, rigor, scope, and an honest argument about things that matter. God knows if you crave doctrinaire or simplistic rhetoric, you have a zillion options for validating your worldview. Many fewer programs tackle complexity, but like public broadcasting, our future hinges on a community of people willing to pitch in. Please consider a paid subscription which gets you not only our basic offerings, but bonus content from all three shows and my weekly column, which is sometimes about horse vending machines, sometimes about political insanity, and sometimes about life and death. And what a gift for your loved ones, or for your Secret Santa partners, or for your employees. Eighty four bucks a year, less than the cost of a HP 414, a black ink toner cartridge. Please consider investing in and please, please rate us on iTunes. Those ratings and reviews really matter. Now, I was about to ask Anne Nelson my next question. We were ticking off the list of CNC successes: abortion rights and marriage equality. Tell me what they accomplished there.

NELSON: Well, abortion has been a particular interest of theirs. And ironically, as of the 1970s, southern Protestants were not that far away from everyone else in terms of opinions on abortion policy. And I would say that there's been consistently general agreement that abortion in the first trimester for various reasons is regrettable, but acceptable. Abortion in the third trimester should be only under the most extreme circumstances. That reflects the reality. But what happened in the years following Roe vs. Wade, people connected to the Leadership Institute and other Council for National Policy partners realized that there was a way to play this and again to mobilize these Protestants in a new way. They found a term, partial birth abortion, which does not exist in medicine. You know, it's an invented term, but it is a term that evokes a very visceral response. And they found that if they told their audiences that Democrats supported partial birth abortion, they could use this as a wedge issue. Then they built on that, and this is all about emotion. This is not about medicine. This is not about scientific fact. They created these videos, which I've seen, which show animated drawings of so-called abortions. And of course, they had to use animated drawings because they were not based in reality, of the abortionist reaching into the womb and tearing the fetus apart limb by limb. And they showed these in church sanctuaries as part of their organizing activities.

GARFIELD: And who is the “they” in this “they”?

NELSON: So the Council for National Policy works with various groups connected to religious organizations. One of them is the Family Research Council. The Family Research Council has what they call a ministry of pastors that is a national organization that claims tens of thousands of pastors across the country. And this group is called Watchman on the Wall. They have an entire film and video production enterprise, as well as voter guides that are placed in the church bulletins. These churches, these Protestant churches, they may be fundamentalist, they may be Pentecostal, et cetera, have been an untapped voting block. And this is how they've tried to mobilize them, and they've done so with a great deal of success. They've accessed church directories through this organization, compared it to voting rosters, organized Get Out the Vote drives in these churches and even driven the Republican voters to the polls from the church. And the most recent development of this has been the language, “birth day abortion on demand.” And they claim that Democrats approve the execution of newborn healthy babies.

JACKIE WALORSKI: That's why we need to be able to vote on H.R. 962, the Born Alive Abortion Survivor Protection Act. I’ve long fought to defend the unborn. I'm shocked that we are now defending the right to life of newborn infants, and it's something that we have to stand together. This is extreme.

GARFIELD: That was Republican Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski.

NELSON: So the idea of birth day abortion is that a woman has her full term child healthy nine month pregnancy, and she changes her mind and can go into an abortion clinic and say, “Terminate it now.” And that's just not - that doesn't exist. But, “birth day abortion on demand” is the slogan they're selling and people buy it.

GARFIELD: And the president of the Family Research Council?

NELSON: Tony Perkins, and by the way, “birth day abortion” is a phrase that's been used not only by Ted Cruz, but by Donald Trump as well.

GARFIELD: Well, you can knock me over with a feather. 

NELSON: And by the way, as part of my research I get mailings from the Family Research Council that shows the rosy cheeked little newborn baby saying,”Democrats want to kill this baby.”

GARFIELD: And as Roe v. Wade stands very much in jeopardy before the court, Trump appointees Barrett, and Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch are certainly not expected to be abortion rights warriors in the judicial debate.

NELSON: Well, let's remember that all three of the Trump appointed judges were chosen from the list provided by Council for National Policy Affiliates. So there was definitely a litmus test involved there. The challenge to the Texas law is whether individual citizens can serve as vigilantes in enforcing the law. And so, it's not clear how abortion rights will be determined on a legal basis moving forward, but I would say that they are certainly more under threat than they've been since Roe vs. Wade.

GARFIELD: All right, let's get now to the apotheosis of right wing conspiracy, and that is Stop the Steal and the insurrection that flowed from it. It all began with attempts by the council to suppress minority votes leading up to the 2020 presidential election, and eventually mutated into creating suspicion and rage over a supposedly rigged election. As I understand it, there is smoking gun evidence that this pivot to questioning the election results was planned at the CNP before the election ever took place.

NELSON: The way I describe it is that a year in advance of the elections, when the CNP realized that Trump's reelection was not a done deal, they over time develop Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, Plan E. Plan A was he wins the popular vote in the Electoral College. Great. Plan B was he loses the popular vote, as he did in 2016, but he wins the Electoral College. And his majority in the Electoral College was a matter of some seventy seven thousand votes in three states, the equivalent of a not very big town, (laughs) right? He won by a narrow margin, in terms of the Electoral College, against losing three million votes in the popular vote. Plan B was a repeat of 2016, but then the Electoral College started to come into question and they were losing certain critical states. So they said, “Well, how do we keep him in power if he loses the popular vote and the Electoral College?” That's when they began to explore ways that they could challenge fraud in the election, get Republican legislatures to substitute their own electors, as opposed to those that resulted from the state election -

GARFIELD: To literally subvert the election process.

NELSON: Well, it would counteract the electoral process, but it turns out that in our constitution, our elderly constitution, there is a clause that involves the independent state legislature doctrine, where the founders said, “maybe you can't trust the voters and the state legislature needs to step in when there are charges of fraud.” So there were these moments of tension after the election and pressures on state officials, including Republican state officials, but they just were not able to implement it soon enough. Then the next step in our electoral process was the certification of the Electoral College votes, January 6th. In the weeks leading up to this date, Ali Alexander was starting the Stop the Steal movement; he had been on the roster of the Council for National Policy. Ginni Thomas, who is in a leadership position, wife of Clarence Thomas, tweeted her support for the January 6th protest. Charlie Kirk tweeted that his organization would be sending protesters to Washington on January 6th. I believe that the House Investigatory Committee will be coming out with a lot more details on this, but what is obvious is that the CNP was actively supporting the events of January 6th. We don't know how many of them, and how far they were going, but I will say that Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots co-founder and a - and a very active leader in the CNP, was on the program for January 6th. And Simone Gold, the doctor leading the hydroxychloroquine hoax, made the incursion into the Capitol, and she has recently been named a member of the CNP and has been leading anti-vaccination rallies in critical states. So they're all over the event.

GARFIELD: And then there was Cleta Mitchell, who was a former Oklahoma politician, who was in the thick of Trump's attempts to get state officials, notably in Georgia, to audit their elections and dig up the votes that would be required to overturn the Biden victory.

NELSON: Yeah. Dig up or create, (laughs) or -

GARFIELD: Here Mitchell is infamously on the phone with Trump and Georgia state officials. 

TRUMP: You have all these different people that - that voted, but they don't live in Georgia anymore. Uh, that was that number, Cleta, it was a pretty good number too. 

MITCHELL: Well, the - the number that - the number who had registered out of state after they moved from Georgia. Um, and so they - they had a date when they moved from Georgia. They registered to vote out of state, and then they - it's like forty five hundred. I don't have that right in front of me, but it’s something like that - 

TRUMP: And then they came back in and they voted!

GARFIELD: And Mitchell has CNP ties, no?

NELSON: Oh yes, she's a longtime member and she's an astute lawyer who knows a lot about election law, which makes her especially adept at subverting it. She's been a specialist in terms of their strategy, and she's still going strong.

GARFIELD: All right, so here we are. At this critical juncture for the future of American democracy. And, you know, we can draw a straight line back to the late 70s, early 80s and the convergence of fossil fuel interests like the Koch brothers, and the then nascent religious right. Does that alliance still represent the core of CNP?

NELSON: The religious right and the fossil fuel interests are very, very powerful in the CNP, and I think that what's really happened is that they have converted the religious right into basically a political organization. The longer they go, there's less recognizable religion, and some of the trappings of some sects of Christianity are used as recruitment measures. But (laughs), I would say it's far more political than spiritual in nature, and in some ways it's ferociously intolerant.

GARFIELD: It is now increasingly understood that Christian nationalists are way more nationalists than they are Christian, that they're - they're nativists and they're often explicitly white supremacist, and that the Christian part is just sort of a - a way to get their foot in the door for really ugly nationalism.

NELSON: I have esteemed colleagues who use the term Christian nationalist. I don't favor it because ultimately a lot of the people we're talking about are voters, and there are a lot of people who are being misled and lied to and don't have a clear ideology. They might be working class people, they might be rural people, and farmers who are in information starved environments. So assuming they are operating from an ideology when they're actually acting from a deeply flawed information environment, it may mean that you - you lose the chance to connect with them and to engage and talk to them.

GARFIELD: Well, I hear you, and certainly the news desert that has formed in many communities that hitherto were well-served by local newspapers and other outlets has contributed to the dominance of right wing media and social media in feeding misinformation and disinformation to the - the civically and politically undereducated, right? On the other hand, you know, cops, bunco squad cops, people who investigate frauds on individuals. Historically, they don't show a whole lot of sympathy for the people who get conned because they think that they were predisposed to try to get something for nothing.

EDDIE JONES: Grifters got an irresistible urge to be the guy who’s wise. There's nothing to whippin a fool. Hell, fools are made to be whipped.

GARFIELD: Don't you think that these fascist emotions reside deep in the nerve roots of the society, and some people are just predisposed to be propagandized to and to be demagogued?

NELSON: Hmm, interesting question. I think every society has aberrations in many of its pockets. And if somebody is a true psychopath, you don't want to put them in a position of power (laughs), you know? And when you have violent dictatorships, that's often what happens - is psychopaths and their allies achieve positions of power and have their way with the population. But otherwise, I do believe in the incredible power of propaganda, and one thing that breaks my heart is that these people are preyed upon from their better instincts. They want those little babies - those little newborn babies to live. That's a kindness. And if they're being told, I mean, if I were told that Democrats wanted to execute all the newborn babies, I would abhor that as well. It's just not true.

GARFIELD: No, they only want to execute a relatively small percentage of the newborn babies.

NELSON: (laughs) But when they're being blanketed by their media systems with this and surrounded by people who are repeating these things, you know, it's all confirmation bias, right? 


NELSON: Then they don't have much of a shot at the correction. And as you said, the news deserts are a huge part of this.

JOHN OLIVER: The newspaper industry today is in big trouble. Papers have been closing and downsizing for years, and that affects all of us. Even if you only get your news from Facebook, Google, Twitter or Arianna Huffington's block quote junction and book excerpt clearinghouse, those places are often just repackaging the work of newspapers. And it is not just websites.

NELSON: When I was growing up in Oklahoma, our newspaper had, in our small town, had a substantial circulation percentage wise, and the front pages carried stories from The Associated Press, and the New York Times Syndicate, and people were more or less working from the same page of facts and reporting. Now that newspaper is struggling to survive and many of the other newspapers in the state have gone under. And what has rushed in to fill that breach are these right wing radio talk shows, Sinclair, Fox, all of these organizations that are not working according to basic journalistic principles. I see it as a huge part of the problem.

GARFIELD: I think it's fair to say the various tentacles of the Council for National Policy, arm in arm with Trump, have entirely taken over the Republican Party, or nearly entirely. There are a few so-called moderates remaining. I don't know how moderate they are, but I guess they're not Trumpistas. Now, with the understanding that you can't fight napalm with rhetoric, I ask you this very basic question: Where the fuck have the Democrats been for four decades while this has been going on? Why haven't they built machines to fight, you know, Koch brothers dark money to win in legislatures, to play the long game the way these right wingers have? Why aren’t they using software so cleverly? Why aren't they finding new ways to educate and inspire voters? Where the hell have they been?

NELSON: I think following the triumphs of the Democrats, you know, with the New Deal, they thought they'd identified their MO’s and they were relying on trade unions, and they were relying on the major media to tell their story correctly. And they also became complacent regarding demographics. They could point to the numbers and say it's clear that the United States is becoming younger, more diverse, both racially and religiously, and all of that works in our favor. That was true. It left them playing defense, and on the other side, they said, “All right, so in order to snatch victory away from the demographics, we have to work twice as hard, be twice as smart, and have a plan that truly understands the actual mechanics of our government, not the aspirational ones.” A lot of people in the United States still think that we've got a democracy that rests on the popular vote. That is simply not the case. Our system is a patchwork. Much of it's obsolete. The role of the state legislatures and the differentials in the election law from state to state, oh my goodness, it takes years of study to even understand how it works, and it doesn't work the way you were told it worked in your civics class. It's much more complex and manipulable than certainly I thought in the past. So I see signs that Democrats are starting to take data more seriously. The Koch brothers funded this massive data operation called i360 that's been a major help to the Republicans, and the Democrats are just now coming up to speed on the use of data. The other thing is that the Democrats have donors and strategists, they certainly do. They don't have the same kind of nonpolitical party ground troops, and their dependency on the trade unions has been a problem because trade union membership in this country has plummeted over the last few decades, including in industrial states, which is why Democrats start having trouble in places like Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

GARFIELD: And the political sympathies of the rank and file, the working class rank and file, have also drifted towards Republicans.

NELSON: Well, there are a lot of reasons for that. They see Democratic policies, trade policies and others, even environmental policies, right, as taking something away from them. For example, in my home state of Oklahoma something like a quarter to a third of people are employed in various capacities at the oil industry. And if you say, all right, we're doing away with fossil fuels now for the sake of the environment, they say, well, what will happen to us? And I don't hear a lot of answers to that question and that questions legitimate. I mean, I'm all in favor of great policies on climate change, but you need to talk to the affected population and show them that they are in the picture, that they're looking out for them, they're going to have a life in the future, or they're not going to vote for you. I also feel that a lot of the conversation about white nationalism sounds alienating to many voters who don't consider themselves racist.

MAN: I don't have a racist tone in my body, I never have.

MAN: You know, giving me a fair shake, I'm not a racist. You know, I don't have a racist bone in my body. I never have.

WOMAN: President Trump today declared, “I don't have a racist bone in my body.” 

NELSON: They think they're not racist, but they're told that they're racist, whether they think they are or not. And then they feel that there's this adversarial dynamic going on and then, “vote for us, even though we've just been calling you a racist.” And - and that formula doesn't doesn't work very well.

GARFIELD: (laughs)

NELSON: Engagement and inclusive language may take longer to accomplish in reforms, but they may be more effective in the long run.

GARFIELD: All right, so there's this question I sometimes ask at the end of conversations like this. I ask it for two reasons: One, I just have no other way to conclude because I'm not that good at my job. 

NELSON: (Laughs) 

GARFIELD: But the other is that I believe I know the answer and I despair of it. And the question is: Anne, what's going to happen?

NELSON: Well, over the next 11 months, I believe this country is going to have the greatest moment of truth it's had, certainly, in my lifetime. I think of it as a battle royale. The radical right realizes that this is perhaps their last chance to seize power and, if they succeed, they will change enough more laws in terms of gerrymandering and voter suppression that they will consolidate their hold on power for the foreseeable future. They'll have more time to prepare the way to substitute electors in 2024 if they need to. And at that point, if they can secure Congress, the executive branch, and the judiciary, they can institute the equivalent of a one party state. Will that happen? It depends on what everybody else does in the meantime. If everybody else goes into a non-strategic approach to the elections, where they think that acting out anger on the streets in protest is going to win votes in swing states, then it's playing into their hands. If people who want to defend democracy look at the electoral map and figure out what needs to be done, in which districts, with which parts of the electorate then there is a chance of a reprieve, which would be long enough to enact some of the reforms that would need to happen in order to forestall a virtual dictatorship in the future.

GARFIELD: There were two rulings early in the Roberts court which seem to have gotten the GOP about 80 percent towards their goal. One was to regard political money as political speech and, therefore, pretty much out of the purview of Congress to limit it, which was a big, fat gift on a platinum platter to the Koch brothers and others of their ilk. And the other was to say the federal government no longer was needed to police voting rights in certain southern states, which after the Voting Rights Act of, I believe, 1960 were required to pass federal scrutiny so as not to systematically keep mostly black people from the polls. Those are now the law of the land. Is there any way to recover from such fundamental aberrations in the administration of government?

NELSON: Not without winning some elections and making some compromises in states that we're not used to talking to. There's a project called Issue One that I recommend, and it's made up of many former congressmen, Democrats and Republicans, who are concerned with saving democracy. And I think that it is very important to frame it like that, and not devolve into this animosity and labeling and name calling, but saying, you know, what is democracy? What is the biggest tent we can manage where we don't have to agree on specific policies, we never have in our history. But we have to agree on the process of negotiation. That is our political system. And if we lose that and have religious dominionists who want to exert dominion over the rest of the population without that kind of process, then we've - we’ve lost a lot. So I think it's important for people to really rethink how they approach our national conversation and reach across state lines or political lines and engage and listen to each other. If that can happen, there might be some hope.

GARFIELD: (Sighs) From your lips to God's ears. And thank you so much.

NELSON: Hope he's listening! 

GARFIELD: I hope she is. 

NELSON: (laughs) 

GARFIELD: Anne Nelson is a research scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and author of the newly updated, and couldn't be more zeitgeist book, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right. All right, we're done here. Bully Pulpit is produced by Matthew Schwartz and Mike Vuolo. Our theme was composed by Julie Miller and the team at Harvest Creative Services in Lansing, Michigan. Bully Pulpit is a production of Booksmart Studios. I'm Bob Garfield.