HCR: The America First Caucus and ‘nativist dog whistles’

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 16

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 16, 2021

Today, news broke that a number of pro-Trump House Republicans, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), are organizing the “America First Caucus,” which calls for “a degree of ideological flexibility, a certain intellectual boldness… to follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.”

The seven-page document outlining their ideas, obtained by Punchbowl News, is a list of the grievances popular in right-wing media. It calls for regulation of “Big Tech,” which right-wing commentators claim is biased against them; an end to coronavirus lockdowns, which the authors say “have ruined many businesses to bankruptcy such that many Americans are left unemployed and potentially destitute”; opposition to “wasteful social justice programs like the Green New Deal”; support for oil and gas; and rejection of “globalist institutions.”

And, with extraordinary clarity, it shows the ideology that underpins these positions, an ideology eerily reminiscent of that of the elite slaveholders of the 1850s American South.

“America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty,” the document says, but that federalism has been undermined by decadent and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington. The authors propose to get rid of regulation and the regulatory state, thus restoring individual freedom. This is the exact argument that animated elite slaveholders, who vowed to keep the national government small so it could not intrude on their institution of human enslavement.

The authors of the America First Caucus platform lay out very clearly the racial argument behind the political one. America, the authors write, is based on “a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” and “mass immigration” must be stopped. “Anglo-Saxon” is an old-fashioned historical description that has become a dog whistle for white supremacy. Scholars who study the Medieval world note that visions of a historical “white” England are fantasies, myths that are set in an imaginary past.

This was a myth welcome to pre-Civil War white southerners who fancied themselves the modern version of ancient English lords and used the concept of “Anglo-Saxon” superiority to justify spreading west over Indigenous and Mexican peoples. It was a myth welcome in the 1920s to members of the Ku Klux Klan, who claimed that “only as we follow in the pathway of the principles of our Anglo-Saxon father and express in our life the spirit and genius of their ideals may we hope to maintain the supremacy of the race, and to perpetuate our inheritance of liberty.” And it is a myth that appeals to modern-day white supremacists, who imitate what they think are ancient crests for their clothing, weapons, and organizations.

Emphasizing their white nationalism, the members of the America First Caucus call for “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture… stunningly, classically, beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.” They also condemn the current education system, calling it “progressive indoctrination” and saying it works “to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” They conclude that “The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.” They envision a world in which people who think as they do control the nation.

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GasLit Nation: Joe Manchin Gaslights America

April 14, 2021

This week we take on the new mascot of obstructionism and excuse for legislative inaction — Joe Manchin! This human barrier to democracy has not received the level of investigation he deserves, so we dove in. We discuss his recommendation that everyone be nice to the seditious Capitol attackers and not upset them with something scary like voting rights, his seemingly self-destructive opposition to the filibuster, and his bizarre voting history and policy proposals, particularly regarding the Middle East.

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

HCR: Is Biden assuming the mantle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 13

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 13, 2021

Today, the administration issued a proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week. It noted that Black American mothers die from pregnancy-related complications at two to three times the rates of White, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women, no matter what their income or education levels. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris declared their commitment to “building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color.”

There has been talk lately about President Biden assuming the mantle of Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who piloted the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. There is a lot to that. Biden is enthusiastically embracing the idea that the government has a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure. That ideology has been on the ropes since voters elected President Ronald Reagan, who argued that the government pioneered by Roosevelt smothered business growth and stifled individualism by levying taxes for programs that Washington bureaucrats thought would benefit the nation.

Since he took office, Biden has used the government to help ordinary Americans. He began by ramping up coronavirus vaccines at an astonishing rate, and then got through Congress the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, designed to rebuild the economy after the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. Now he is turning to the American Jobs Plan, another massive package designed to remake American infrastructure as it creates high-paying jobs, just as FDR’s New Deal did.

Biden is clearly trying to undermine the Republican mantra that government is inefficient, and he is succeeding. His own chief of staff, Ron Klain, has made it a point to compare the two men.

But an article by Laura Barron-Lopez, Alex Thompson, and Theodoric Meyer in Politico begs to differ. Based on an interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), the piece makes the argument that Biden is far more President Harry Truman than FDR. Unlike FDR, who constantly had to compromise with white southern Democrats to get his measures through Congress and thus had to back off on issues of racial justice, Truman worked to advance civil rights in the U.S. More like Truman than FDR, Biden has focused on addressing racial equity in his response to the various crises he has taken on in his first days in office.

To my mind, though, what jumps out about Biden and Harris is not their focus on either jobs or Black Americans, but rather their attention to the needs of children and mothers. Even before the pandemic, 21.4 million American women lived in poverty, as did nearly 11 million children, about 14.4% of kids under the age of 18.

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HCR: Trump, Covid and a nation’s suffering

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 9

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 9, 2021

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people across the world, including about 675,000 people in the United States. And yet, until recently, it has been elusive in our popular memory. America’s curious amnesia about the 1918 pandemic has come to mind lately as the United States appears to be shifting into a post-pandemic era of job growth and optimism.

A year ago today, I noted that we were approaching 17,000 deaths from Covid-19. Now our official death count is over 560,000. If anyone had told us a year ago that we would lose more than a half million of our family and friends to this pandemic, that number would have seemed unthinkable. And yet now, as more shots go into arms every day, attention to the extraordinary toll of the past year seems to be slipping.

Remembering the nation’s suffering under the pandemic matters because the contrast between the disastrous last year and our hope this spring is a snapshot of what is at stake in the fight over control of the nation’s government.

Ever since President Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Republicans have argued that the best way to run the country has been to dismantle the federal government and turn the fundamental operations of the country over to private enterprise. They have argued that the government is inefficient and wasteful, while businesses can pivot rapidly and are far more efficient than their government counterparts.

And then the coronavirus came.

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HCR: Lincoln, “better” voters, and Boogaloo Bois

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 7

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 7, 2021

Last night, commentator Kevin Williamson published a piece in National Review justifying voter suppression by suggesting that “the republic would be better served by having fewer—but better—voters.” Representatives, he says, “are people who act in other people’s interests,” which is different from doing what voters want.

This is the same argument elite slaveholder James Henry Hammond made before the Senate in 1858, when he defended the idea that Congress should recognize the spread of human enslavement into Kansas despite the fact that the people living in that territory wanted to abolish slavery. Our Constitution, Hammond said, did not dictate that people should “be annoyed with the cares of Government,” but rather directed that they should elect leaders who would take those cares upon themselves.

It is the same argument wealthy men made in the 1890s when they illustrated that laws calling for “better” voters meant that white registrars would hand-pick the nation’s voting population. In the South and the North both, legislators wrote new state constitutions to keep Black men, immigrants, and poor workers from the polls. Leading Americans argued that such men “corrupted” the vote by electing lawmakers who provided public infrastructure like schools and hospitals, paid for with the tax dollars of hardworking white men. To keep poor voters and men of color from the ballot, new state laws called for literacy tests, in which white registrars personally judged a man’s ability to read; poll taxes for which one had to keep the receipts; grandfather clauses, in which a man could vote if his grandfather had, and so on.

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