John Stoehr on the Dangers of Illiberal Politics

If you’ve happened to tune in to MSNBC or CNN on a day when a massive hurricane is not pummeling a coastal region, you might think that the only major news in this country concerns the many legal issues facing a certain former president of the United States. But, according to this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio, John Stoehr, there are plenty of other pressing political issues worth analyzing. First, we examine the recent mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, including what it tells us about the white supremacy movement and how the right-wing actually benefits politically from these events. Then, we discuss whether the reversal of Roe v. Wade has placated Republicans or if it has just paved the way for restricting other basic freedoms like contraception. And yes, we still manage to sneak in a few minutes to talk about the upcoming trials of the 45th president.

Narrator 00:02 – This is Sea Change Radio, covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

John Stoehr (JS) 00:20 – I think our rhetoric would be much healthier if we dropped the whole idea of America being a special place, because we’re not that different from other democracies. And we’d know this if we, if we paid attention to other democracies, but, you know, Americans typically don’t.

Narrator 00:34 – If you’ve happened to tune into MSNBC or CNN on a day when a massive hurricane is not pummeling a coastal region, you might think that the only major news in this country concerns the many legal issues facing a certain former president of the United States. But according to this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio John Stoehr, there are plenty of other pressing political issues worth analyzing. First, we examine the recent mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, including what it tells us about the white supremacy movement and how the right wing actually benefits politically from these events. Then we discuss whether the reversal of Roe v Wade has placated Republicans, or if it has just paved the way for restricting other basic freedoms like contraception. And yes, we still manage to sneak in a few minutes to talk about the upcoming trials of the 45th President. I am joined now on Sea Change Radio by John Stoehr. He is the founder of the editorial board. People should go to editorial to check it out. John, welcome back to Sea Change Radio.

John Stoehr (JS) 01:57 – Thanks for having me again, Alex.

 Alex Wise (AW) 01:58 – Always a pleasure to talk to you, my friend. So first I feel like we should probably give the latest mass shooting its due. The Jacksonville massacre was ugly, as they all are, but the politics of this one were unavoidable because it happened right in the state where Ron DeSantis is running for president and, and it had race and guns and pretty much all the terrible stuff that were faced with, with a, the candidacy of a DeSantis. So anybody who hasn’t been following it, give us a little summary of it and your analysis if you can.

John Stoehr (JS)  02:38 – Sure. Well, uh, on August 26th, a 21 year old white supremacist entered a Dollar Store in Jacksonville, Florida, and, uh, he shot three black people to death before shooting himself to death. Um, he, uh, was armed with a semi-automatic rifle, an AR 15, and a semi-automatic pistol, a Glock, uh, that he had purchased legally, uh, even though he was involved in domestic violence incident in 2016. And he was involuntarily committed, uh, for a mental health examination. The year following, um, basically my, my thesis is that, um, this shooter, whose name I don’t use, um, because I don’t want to glorify him, uh, is part of what I think of as the Republican Party’s para paramilitary wing. These are people who are reacting to liberal values and democratic politics in that they believe liberal values and democratic politics are a threat to their way of life. Um, I tend to think of these, uh, and another piece in the editorial board, I describe him as one of what, one of what’s called the chosen people. And I don’t mean Jews, I mean what Thomas Jefferson called the chosen people. And that is a, what was at the time there, a white rural majority, uh, people in small towns and small places, farmers and so on, who were considered the most authentic of Americans, the most American of Americans. And, um, these are people who basically controlled the country all the way up until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, uh, which empowered everybody else to have a say in American democracy. And at that point, and I quote a historian here, uh, these most authentic of Americans no longer were considered the most American, and then they’ve been angry ever since. So I think this guy is one of those people. And, um, he demonstrated that by massacring three black people.

Alex Wise (AW) 04:53 – And on the, the other side of the coin, not the actual shooter, but the conservative wing of this country, part of your thesis is that they benefit from these acts of violence in a counterintuitive way. Like we would think, oh, well, these guys like Ron DeSantis have been pushing guns, and then people go and use these guns and act violently. We would think that, uh, somebody like a Ron DeSantis would have political blood on their hands, so to speak. But you had a different take. I think it was, it was quite astute.

JS 05:25 – Well, he, he does have political blood on his hands. I don’t, I don’t think there’s any doubt about

AW 05:29 – No, no, but you’re saying that they actually are able to turn this into a positive for them in some way, which I hadn’t really thought of. Why don’t you expand?

JS 05:38 – Okay. So when we usually, when we think about gun rights and gun control, we’re thinking on an individual level. And the Republicans always make sure that we, our focus stays on an individual level so that they always seem to be standing up for the individual’s right to bear arms. Right. But if you think of, um, if you think of, you could pull back and think of, of the issue in a more societal level there, according to one source, there has been 476 as of right now, uh, mass shootings in this country since the beginning of this year. Um, if you think about it, that’s, um, that’s, that’s one really good way of, um, keeping people scared and keeping people afraid, um, keeping them quiet. Even. Um, there, there in a lot of, a lot of countries, um, that, you know, Americans don’t pay attention to other countries, but in some other countries you have political parties that, um, forge informal, indirect ties with basically the, that society’s very worst. People <laugh>, you know, basically think of like criminal elements. And they do that in order to, they, they, they create these ties and create incentives for these very worst people to go and basically terrorize a much larger group of people. Like basically it’s middle class such in order to get that larger group of people to think, well, they either need to play ball with the political party, or they need to give up on politics altogether. Right.

 AW 07:17 – What countries are you thinking of?

JS 07:20 – I’m thinking of, of, uh, of Jamaica actually is one country I’ve recently been to where that is the, the, apparently the dynamic now, I’m no expert in Jamaica. This is just something I was, I was Ed educated about when I got there. And, um, you could, you could say the Republican Party does something similar to this, basically, like, they, they, they make informal relations with, with vigilantes, with people who feel like everything has gone to hell and, and the law and politics, and nobody can trust anybody anymore. And they need to take matters into their own hands. They need to take the law into their own hands. They need to seek justice on their own. You see what I’m saying?

 AW 07:58 Because the democratic system is broken. So just going out and campaigning or doing door-to-door campaigning or just voting, that’s not enough. You need to, and you see a lot of that rhetoric on television with Republican leaders talking about just little murmurings of civil war and having to take matters into our own hands. That kind of messaging.

 JS 08:20 – Absolutely. Taking things into your own hands. And, you know, these are the very worst people you can think of because they, they don’t have any, they’ve either given up on, on, on society and generally, or democracy generally, and they, uh, are willing to hurt people. Right. Um, and they’re willing to hurt people for what they believe is a good cause. Right. And it’s a good, and, and the reason they even think it’s a good cause is because the, the Republicans have established enough, have set out, sent out enough lies and propaganda in order to rationalize the very worst behavior among these very worst people.

AW 08:56 – And let’s turn to the race element of it. You write on the editorial board, the threat of mass death can establish a climate of fear and loathing that silences dissent among people who endure the greatest burdens placed on them by the orders of white power. If censorship can’t be done legitimately, it can be by sanctioning otherwise illegitimate behavior. So you talk about this white power element in the same article that you, you mentioned how Ron DeSantis has kind of equated, he’s not alone, but anti woke really means anti-black.

 JS 09:30 – Mm-hmm, anti-woke means anti-black. I mean that they’ve established that is enough and anti and an and woke, by the way, remember where woke comes from, it’s a reaction to the political gains that were made democratically in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer. That’s where woke comes from. That’s right. And so we, what we’re saying is the anti anti woke is anti George Floyd, you know, there, it’s really that. But, you know, because news tends to be, news tends to be, uh, disseminated in bits and pieces. We forget that this larger context, you know, and, and the Republicans benefit from that, those bits and pieces where normal people who have other things to do than pay attention to politics, don’t have the time to put all these pieces together, <laugh>. Right. Um, that’s why you and I do what we do in order to help people.

 JS 10:22 – Normal people figure things out. Um, so yeah, I mean, anti woke is annotated black. And the, and, um, you know, there, there’s a reason I say in that same piece that, that what I, I re I I recount the scene that happened in last weekend, uh, sorry, a couple weekends ago, uh, when DeSantis arrived at a candlelight vigil for those three black murder victims. And, uh, he went and he went there and he basically did everything he could not to bring up the real cause for the murder, which was, which is racism. He called the, the killer or scumbag and, and, and so on,

AW 11:02 – And guns. You can’t also talk about guns being the problem with this shooting, which is absurd, but

 JS 11:08 – Right. He, he got booed viciously booed. And what’s important, I think in that scene, the, the, the way I talk about it in my piece is that the booing is democratic politics, right? That’s democratic politics. That’s people raising hell when they see something is wrong, right? But DeSantis represents the opposite force, which I think is anti-political politics. It’s getting people in a democracy to stop acting democratically what his, his biggest goal, who he, he which he can never achieve, is getting all those people to shut up. You can’t do that. They’re never going to shut up. But he, but anti-political politics is never going to stop either. The, the more people keep raising hell, the more other people want them to shut up. And this is a dynamic that we keep living with. And the, and the sad outcome is that people die.

(Music Break) 12:14

AW 12:59 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to John Stoehr, he’s the founder of The Editorial Board. When you’re talking about guns and gun ownership, I can’t help but think about American exceptionalism. And the in-group is thinking that yes, guns are dangerous in the home, but I’m an exception because I’m a good gun owner. That thought process is not that dissimilar from the thought process that you hear on the right talking about Donald Trump undergoing some kind of a witch hunt, because this should not happen in this country. We’re, we’re exceptional. But that specialness of the ingroup is such a dangerous one. And, and it has a real domino effect on our body politic.

 JS 13:43 – Oh, yeah, sure.

 AW 13:44 – And Democrats do it too. It’s like the greatest country on earth should not suffer this. We just always say that as it’s pablum.

 JS 13:51 – Yeah, it is pablum. So, I mean, what does that mean that we’re the best and so on? Take that to its, take that farther and farther out, and what does that, what are we really saying? What we’re saying is that God chose us, right? We don’t need democratic politics. We don’t need to argue with each other. We don’t need to compromise. We don’t need to bargain, we don’t need to do anything like that. God is on our side, so therefore we can kill you. I mean, that, that, that’s what that, that means. So you take that all the way to the end, and that means that we, that we as human beings are no longer human beings, and we don’t need to live, operate on a human level. What we can do is access godly heights in order to vaporize the opposition, you know? And so, yeah, I mean, that, that kind of rhetoric is dangerous and it has led in history to very, very bad outcomes. I don’t think we’re going to, ever, in the United States, we’re ever going to, I mean, who knows? Nobody knows the future, but I don’t see like a holocaust level kind of thing. And I know that’s often referred to, but it’s, I, I think, but I think the more we refer to these holocaust level tragedies, I think the less we see what’s actually going on, which is a slow motion kind of guerilla warfare that’s going on. I mean, 400, 476 mass shootings, you know, there’s a root to that. And the root is that some people are having a problem and they believe that they can turn to a gun to solve their problems. They can turn to violence. Right? And we have a society that enables that, right? We have a whole political organization that, that’s one of their main tenets is that, you know, a man should have, has a right to defend himself against whatever, whatever evil. You just pick an evil out of thin air, and he has a right to defend himself. And so that’s a very dangerous place to be. And I think, and well, we’re seeing it except that we don’t see it. That’s, that’s, that’s the problem, is that we kind of have this pretend this make believe level of thinking where all this mass death that we’re seeing isn’t really happening, or it is, it doesn’t make us less exceptional, you know, because it’s actually, we are less exceptional. I think our rhetoric would be much healthier if we dropped the whole idea of America being a special place, because we’re not that different from other democracies. And we’d know this if we, if we paid attention to other democracies, but you know, Americans typically don’t.

AW 16:19 – So another part of illiberal politics that’s being played out on a daily basis, and we’ll see it more and more running up to the 2024 election, is the role of abortion in this country. You would think that after the Democrats had a healthy midterm in 2022, that Republicans might shy away from abortion, but no, as you write, they’re pivoting to birth control. They can’t quit anti-abortion politics in your words.

JS 16:53 – No. And they, and they, and they aren’t really making that pivot either. I’ll, I’ll explain that. Once the, uh, Republican rhetoric started equating abortion with murder, there was no turning back. You’re not going to, I mean, how do you turn back from that? I mean, and they had, and they went that far in order to put a fire under, uh, six right-wing Supreme Court justices, and to have them turn that, turn that whole thing around.

AW 17:17 – So is it a winning strategy to just constantly be the puritanical party that’s trying to enforce, you know, 17th century values on a 21st century world?

JS 17:30 – Well, I not, I do not pretend to foresee the future. So with, is it a winning strategy? I don’t know. I don’t think so, or I, I can’t imagine that most people, most of the time are going to get behind that kind of thing, especially in a presidential election, you know, where majorities matter, even in senate races, I think, you know, the Republicans are going to have a hard time. We, we know that they are going to have a hard time because they’re running away from it. Or at least they’re trying to have, have things both ways on the one they’re speaking out of both sides of their mouths. In other words, on the one side, they’re speaking to their people and they’re like, no, don’t worry, we’re still anti-abortion. Don’t, don’t, no worries. And on the other side, they’re like, no, we’re not, we’re not that much anti-abortion. We’re actually pro birth control. Or it’s either that or they’re saying, uh, nevermind the anti-abortion politics. Pay more attention to the transphobia. And those, those scary people who want kids to have sex change sex changes. And the groomers and the pedophiles pay attention to that. You know, they’re either fearmongering or soft balling, uh, in order to distract from where they, where, where they are, which is anti-abortion politics. The problem with anti-abortion politics is that it’s unpopular <laugh> really, you know, the only, the only reason that we are in the place that we are is because the Supreme Court stepped into democratic politics and made a decision, right? Otherwise, if it, if it were, if we were just doing normal campaigning and legislation, anti-abortion politics, it would just not, not win. Because most people, most of the time, even if they hate abortion, they still want it to be legal, right. In some form. I mean, that’s how Americans have a complicated opinion of abortion. They want it, they don’t want it to go away, but they want it to have, they want it to be reasonable. And what, where reasonable is, is where the contention lies.

 AW 19:18 – I couldn’t help but think that the new moderate position staked out by the Republicans was expounded upon by Nikki Haley in the g o p debate, where she was saying like, we shouldn’t be executing women who get abortions. Like, and that was like, wow, okay, “She’s pretty, pretty moderate.”

JS 19:38 – Moderate (laughs)

 AW 19:38 – Like this is like the new middle ground. Sorry, go on.

 JS 19:42 – Right, <laugh>. So why are we even talking about quote unquote pivot to birth control? It’s because there are some vulnerable house Republicans, uh, they represent swing districts who are nervous about anti-abortion politics. They’re nervous because anti-abortion politics is unpopular. And, and Democrats are mobilized. So what are they doing? They’re trying, they’re introducing, they have introduced back in July legislation that quote unquote, would expand access to birth control. It really wouldn’t do any such thing if you read the language of, of the legislation. But they’re, they’re, they’re creating the appearance of, of, of pivoting to birth control in order, because that is in line with what they’ve been saying for a while, which is that, you know, if you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t get pregnant. And what’s one way of not getting pregnant is by using birth control, et cetera. I have a piece in the editorial board that basically breaks down like all the problems with that, which first of the most important one is that Republicans themselves have equated birth control with abortion. They, they have made the argument that that’s the same thing. And in fact, that argument has been so influential that it, that, that it determined a Supreme Court ruling a few years ago, uh, in, in, in favor of, uh, private companies that didn’t want to pay for birth control in their health insurance programs because they believed it was the same thing as abortion <laugh>. So they’re really in this, damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation, but they’re trying to create the appearance of not being damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. How that will play out is, you know, I don’t know, I don’t know. The, the 2024 i, I ex, I would expect that it’s going to be hell for them in 2024 because, um, there are just so many angry Democrats and who are, who are, are doing everything they can to unseat these folk. But there’s also, you know, just more the, now that abortion is not a national, a federal, right? People are, people are upset about it. That when, when Roe is law, it was easy to be an anti-abortion Republican because you never really expected Roe to go away. So you could just keep attack, you could keep, you know, p poking the bear, but the bear was never going to go away. Right? Well, the bear’s gone now <laugh>, and

 AW 22:07 – It also led to complacency on the left where we say, well, that’s, they’re not going to take it away.

 JS 22:12 – They’re not going to take it away. They don’t really mean what they say. There’s all kinds of ways of rationalizing away what they really intended to do. Right? But now that Roe is gone, now people are, people are like, wait a minute. We’ve just had 50 years of, of in which we took the right to an abortion for granted. And now that, that, that those 50 years are gone, that’s not acceptable. So even in, that’s why you’re seeing polls now that even in states, uh, even in states where, uh, abortion is largely banned or banned altogether, you have an increase in support in abortion rights. You know, because people didn’t really expect any of this to happen until it happened. I call it the great reversal.

(Music Break) 22:57

AW 23:48 – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio, and I’m speaking to John Stoehr. He’s the founder and the editor of the editorial board. So John, we’ve gone almost this entire conversation without talking about Donald Trump’s legal woes, and I don’t want to get into the legal angles of all the different cases, but if you spent an hour or two watching cable news, you would think that’s the only news in the world is that there’s a possibility of Donald Trump going to prison without breaking down each case. What’s your big takeaway from that?

 JS 24:19 – What does it mean when more and more of these prosecutors step forward? It means this man has less and less political power, right? They smelled blood and they went after him, right? So the more he’s com accused of crimes, the less support he seems to be getting. And the more Republican, specifically Republican voters seem to be looking for options. His life depends on winning this presidential campaign. <laugh>, you know, really his whole life depends on winning this presidential campaign. And the thing about that is that, that’s a really bad presidential campaign. I mean,

 AW 24:57 – “Vote for me, or I’ll go to jail.”

JS 24:59 – Yeah. “Vote for me or go to jail.”  I mean, maybe I’m being naive in saying this, but I just think most people, most of the time, and, and I’m talking about like respectable property, owning law abiding people, middle class people, they’re not going to want to hear about, constantly hear about the 2020 election or constantly hear about his steal, stealing of government secrets and stuff. They’re just, they’re going to start tuning all that out because they have concerns of their own that they want elected officials to take care of, right? I mean, Trump basically is saying, he, he’s running a basically a campaign of revenge, right? Saying, vote for me and I’ll take, and I’ll obliterate the enemy.

AW 25:43 – But he’s also saying he’d obliterate democracy, which is, it’s so much more overt than it was in 2016 when he was running. I think the downside is so much more terrifying to clear-eyed people. That’s one of the reasons why we’re so obsessed with seeing him being prosecuted, is that there’s this hope that they can keep him off the ballot. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I think it’s just going to be our own pound of flesh that we get to extract from this terrible man. If he does go to prison for his misdeeds, I think it’ll be gravy after he, he loses the election without jinxing anything there.

JS 26:22 – I’ll knock on some wood for you, <laugh>, but in my opinion, this opinion of mine is not mine alone. And that this is really going, this is a political problem that has to be solved politically. And the law enforcement is, is not going to save us. You know, he could go to prison and still run for president. I mean, he could,

AW 26:40 – And he’ll get millions and millions of votes.

JS 26:41 – From prison. Yeah. It’s still going to be a problem. And it’s still have to, it’s still going to be a political problem that has to be solved politically. It just, there’s no, there’s no way around that. I, I see a lot of Democrats doing these days with Jack Smith and Fannie Willis and, uh, Alvin brag up in Manhattan. I see a, them doing what to them, what they did with Mueller, the Mueller report. Yeah, the whole, like, Mueller’s going to save us. Mueller’s not never saved us. You know, what saved us was normal, partisan democratic politics. That’s what saved us, you know? And it’s going to save us again, just the struggle, the work, put in the work, put in the struggle, do what needs to be done and hope for the best. I mean, that’s, that’s not to say that that damage won’t be done. Lots of damage is going to be done. We’re already seeing it. Jacksonville was an instance of damage being done. That guy was, as I said, he was, he was one of the chosen. And those, the chosen is the, exactly the Trump’s people. America is their birthright. They have a right to boss everybody else around and anybody else who complains about it only deserves annihilation. And I think most people, most of the time are just tired of that.

AW 27:52 – John Stoehr is the editor of The Editorial Board. People can go to editorial and subscribe. John, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.

JS 28:01 – Thank you, Alex.

AW 28:17 – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis. And our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Herbie Hancock, Johnny Cash, and David Byrne. To read a transcript of this show, go to to stream, or download the show, or subscribe to our podcast on our site, or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio. I’m Alex Wise.