Americans are waking up to Trump’s threats – “a risk that we simply cannot take”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

December 5, 2023

A new filing today by Special Counsel Jack Smith in the case United States of America v. Donald J. Trump for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election shows Smith’s office establishing that Trump has a longstanding pattern of refusing to accept election results he dislikes. 

As early as 2012, the filing notes, Trump baselessly alleged that voting machines had switched votes intended for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the 2016 campaign he “claimed repeatedly, with no basis, that there was widespread voter fraud,” and publicly refused to commit to accepting the results of that election. This pattern continued in 2020, but in that election he took active steps to seize power.

The filing introduced information that Trump, an agent, and an unindicted co-conspirator tried to start a riot at the TCF Center in Detroit as vote counting showed Biden taking the lead. As Josh Kovensky of Talking Points Memo points out, this scheme sounds much like the Brooks Brothers Riot of 2000 that stopped vote counting in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Roger Stone was a participant in the Brooks Brothers Riot; in 2020 he was working to keep Trump in office. 

Smith’s team shows how this pattern continued to play out in the 2020 election, with Trump urging supporters like the Proud Boys to back him, falsely asserting that the election had been stolen, and attacking former supporters who denied that the election had been stolen. The pattern has continued until the present, with Trump calling those who were found guilty of offenses related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol “hostages” and claiming they were “treated horribly.” 

Smith recounts these facts to establish Trump’s motive and intent on January 6, but his identification of a longstanding pattern indicates it would be a grave mistake to think Trump has any intention of campaigning fairly or accepting any result in 2024 other than his return to the White House. 

New House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who has endorsed Trump for president and was a key organizer of the congressional effort to keep Trump in office, has promised to release all the surveillance footage from the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Trump supporters insist that the full tapes will reveal that the attack was not as bad as the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol showed. Johnson said that the tapes must be shared publicly for “transparency.” 

Today, Johnson supported Trump’s message about January 6 when he said that he was making sure the faces of rioters are blurred in the surveillance footage. “We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ [Department of Justice] and to have other, you know, concerns and problems,”  he said. Johnson’s spokesperson quickly walked back the comment, saying Johnson meant to say that faces were blurred to prevent “all forms of retaliation against private citizens from any non-governmental actors.” 

Also today, Kash Patel, who served on Trump’s national security team and is widely expected to return in a second Trump administration, expanded the authoritarian threats Trump people have been making to include the media. On former Trump ally Steve Bannon’s podcast, Patel promised that the Trump team would fill government positions from top to bottom with loyalists and would use the Department of Justice to go after those perceived to be Trump’s enemies. 

“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media,” Patel said. “Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections—we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”

Yesterday, former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), who is promoting her new book, Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning, called out Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) for his continuing hold on military appointments that kept more than 450 routine promotions from taking effect over the past ten months. Tuberville claimed his refusal to permit the nominees’ confirmations was an attempt to change Pentagon policy of permitting leave for service members in states that ban abortion to obtain abortion care elsewhere. But on NPR yesterday, Cheney wondered: “Why is Tommy Tuberville doing that? Is he holding those positions open so that Donald Trump can fill them?”

Today, under great pressure from members of his own party who worried the Democrats would change the rules to weaken the power of the Senate minority, Tuberville released his hold on most of the nominees. The Senate promptly confirmed 425 of them. 

Still, Tuberville retained holds on 11 officers of the most senior rank. According to congressional reporter for Punchbowl News Andrew Desiderio, the positions left vacant are commander of Pacific Air Forces, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Air Component Command for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, commander for Air Combat Command, the head of the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program, the head of Northern Command (which defends the United States and coordinates defenses with Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas), the head of the U.S. Cyber Command, vice chief of staff of the Army, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, vice chief of Space Operations, and vice chief of Naval Operations. 

Last night, Cheney explained to political commentator and television host Rachel Maddow exactly what a second Trump presidency would look like, Cheney said: “He would take those people who are the most radical, the most dangerous, who had the proposals that were the most dangerous, and he will put them in positions of supreme power. That’s a risk that we simply cannot take.”

Mark Joyella of Forbes took note of Maddow’s introduction last night, in which the host stressed the importance of protecting democracy. She began by emphasizing how much she and Cheney disagreed about everything in politics, so much so that it was as if they were on different planets at war with each other. 

Maddow made that point, she said, because “in civic terms, in sort of American citizenship terms, I think it’s really important how much we disagree. It’s important how far apart we are in every policy issue imaginable. It is important that Liz Cheney is infinity and I am negative infinity on the ideological number line. It’s important because that tells you how serious and big something has to be to put us, to put me and Liz Cheney, together on the same side of something in American life.”

The Rachel Maddow Show was the most watched news show on cable television last night, with 3.15 million viewers. The Fox News Channel’s show Hannity, hosted by personality Sean Hannity, had just under 2 million viewers. 

It seems clear Americans are waking up to Trump’s threats to stack the government with loyalists, weaponize the Justice Department and military, deport 10 million people, and prosecute those he perceives to be his enemies in politics and the media. Interviewing Trump tonight, Hannity tried to downplay Trump’s statements about his authoritarian plans for a second term by getting him to commit to staying within the normal bounds of a president should he be elected in 2024. The first time he was asked, Trump sidestepped the question. So Hannity asked again. “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?” he asked. 

“Except for day one,” Trump responded.

Warnings that “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

December 1, 2023

Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, died today. Named to the court by President Ronald Reagan to honor a campaign promise, O’Connor was known as a pragmatist who paid attention to the real-world consequences of the court’s decisions and who was willing to rethink her positions. 

Traditionally, this understanding of how court decisions affect lives has come from justices who have held elective office before their elevation, and O’Connor fit the bill: she served in the Arizona state senate for 5 years, eventually becoming majority leader. Since she stepped down in 2006, there have been no judges on the court with that elective experience, and the court has swung hard to the right. 

For the sixth time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives today voted to expel one of its members, Representative George Santos (R-NY). Expulsion requires two thirds of the House. The resolution to expel Santos passed by a vote of 311 to 114, with 105 Republicans voting with all but four Democrats (two voted no and two voted present). 

Representative Max Miller (R-OH) told his colleagues that Santos’s campaign had charged both Miller’s credit card and that of his mother for contributions that exceeded legal limits and of which they were both unaware. “You, sir, are a crook,” he told Santos.

But the top four members of the Republican leadership—Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN), and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY)—and more than 100 other Republicans voted against expelling Santos, who is under criminal indictment and by whom a House Ethics Committee report suggested even more “uncharged and unlawful conduct.” 

Santos was a reliable right-wing vote, and losing him will make the Republicans’ majority even slimmer than it already was, suggesting that Republican leadership and much of the rank and file were more interested in power than concerned about criminal behavior among their conference.

“To hell with this place,” Santos said after the expulsion.   

The quest for power also showed up this week when a federal appeals court released secret text messages from Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) to other participants in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, revealing his frantic attempts to end the right of the American people to choose their president. 

In that attempt, Perry communicated with Justice Department attorney Jeff Clark, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, many of Trump’s lawyers, and numerous Pennsylvania state lawmakers including Doug Mastriano, none of whom contacted authorities about the attempt to overthrow our democratic system.  

Perry also contacted other Republican representatives, including Jody Hice (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chip Roy (R-TX), and representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) about the effort. They didn’t alert anyone to the anti-democratic effort, either. 

Stopped by a gag order from attacking the staff of Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the fraud trial of the Trump Organization in Manhattan, former president Trump has turned to attacking Engoron’s family. Trump has alleged on social media that Engoron’s wife has been posting about him on social media, but she has not: the posts Trump has identified are not from her, although blog posts by far-right extremist Laura Loomer said they were.

Trump seems to be trying to get out from under the legal cases against him by threatening participants in the legal system and by delaying the trials until next year’s election. It is his position that if he wins the presidency in 2024, Trump’s lawyer told a judge in Georgia today, Trump cannot be tried as part of the racketeering case of those who tried to overturn the 2020 election until at least 2029. 

In the Washington Post yesterday, neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan warned that “a Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable,” and today in The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last agreed. He pointed to a conversation neoconservative thinker William Kristol had this week with journalist Jonathan Karl, in which Karl described a dystopian future painted not by Democrats but by former Trump employees: a government full of Trump loyalists who understand “that they are free to break the law because they will be pardoned” as Trump seeks retribution against those he sees as his enemies. 

“The storm is coming,” Last warned readers. “The world looks normal right now, but it is not. Forces are in motion that will bring us to a point of national crisis one year from now.”

And yet, in Washington, D.C., the federal judge overseeing the case concerning Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election today rejected Trump’s request to throw the case out on the grounds that, as president, he had absolute immunity for anything he did while in office.

Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote that being president “does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.” Trump’s “four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” she added.

Trump is not exactly going out of its way to attract voters, either. He has once again embraced the idea of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. More than 40 million Americans get their health coverage under the ACA, and as many as one out of every two people too young for Medicare have a pre-existing health condition that, without the protection of the ACA, could make healthcare insurers discriminate against them. 

Trump says he will replace the ACA with something better, but his advisors acknowledge that they have no plans to do more than chip away at the existing law.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders are calling attention to Trump’s threats against the ACA and today are touting that under Democratic governor Roy Cooper, North Carolina has become the 40th state to expand Medicaid under the ACA. This means that 600,000 North Carolinians are now eligible for healthcare coverage.

“Despite this progress, MAGA Republicans still want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said, “just like my predecessor tried and failed to do repeatedly.”

Other Republican leaders don’t seem terribly worried about attracting anyone but their base, either. House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) was in the news today for having written the foreword for and promoted a book that advanced conspiracy theories against Democrats and attacked poor voters as “unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency.”

And perhaps even the base will be dismayed by news out of Florida, where the chair of the state Republican Party, Christian Ziegler, is under investigation for sexual battery and rape. Ziegler is married to Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty; she has said public schools are “indoctrination centers for the radical left,” and that she wants to bring “religious values” into them. 

The Florida Center for Government Accountability, which broke the story, calls the Zieglers “one of Florida’s top political power couples,” close to both governor Ron DeSantis and Trump.

The U.S. and China appear to be making an effort to move forward on better terms

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

November 16, 2023

The summit of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies continued today in San Francisco, California. 

Formed in 1989, APEC is made up of the economies of 21 nations around the Pacific Rim: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia, Vietnam, and the United States. Together, these economies make up about 62% of global gross domestic product and almost half of global trade.

David Sanger of the New York Times today noted an apparent shift in the power dynamic between President Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping, who met yesterday for a four-hour conversation. Earlier in his presidency, Xi was riding on a strong economy that overshadowed that of the U.S. and looked as if it would continue to do so. Then, Xi favored what was known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy: the aggressive defense of China’s national interests against what Chinese envoys portrayed as foreign hostility, especially that of the U.S. 

Under that diplomatic regime, Xi emphasized that liberal democracy was too weak to face the twenty-first century. The speed and momentous questions of the new era called for strong leaders, he said. In early February 2022, Russia and China held a summit after which they pledged that the “[f]riendship between the two States has no limits.” 

Things have changed. 

The U.S. has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic with a historically strong economy, while China’s economy is reeling from a real estate bubble and deflation at the same time that government crackdowns have made foreign capital flee. This summer, Xi quietly sidelined Qin Gang, the foreign minister associated with wolf warrior diplomacy, and in October, he replaced Defense Minister General Li Shangfu, who is under U.S. sanctions for overseeing weapon purchases from Russia. 

Indeed, China has also been quietly pushing back from its close embrace of Russia. Just weeks after their February 2022 declaration, Russia invaded Ukraine in an operation that Russian president Vladimir Putin almost certainly expected would be quick and successful, permitting Russia to seize key Ukrainian ports and land. Such a victory would have strengthened both Russia and China at the same time it weakened Europe, the United States, and their allies and partners. 

Instead, Ukraine stood firm, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and allies and partners have stood behind the embattled country. As the war has stretched on, sanctions have cut into the Russian economy and Putin has had to cede power to Xi, accepting the Chinese yuan in exchange for Russian commodities, for example. This week, Alberto Nardelli of Bloomberg reported that the European Union is considering another round of sanctions, including a ban on the export of machine tools and machinery parts that enable Russia to make ammunition. 

In a piece at the Center for European Policy Analysis today, Julia Davis, who monitors Russian media, noted that Russia lost an extraordinary 997,000 people between October 2020 and September 2021, even before the war began. Now it is so desperate to increase its population that its leadership claims to have stolen as many as 700,000 Ukrainian children and is urging women to have as many children as possible.  

Holly Ellyatt of CNBC noted that to the degree they even mentioned it, Russian media sniped at the Biden-Xi summit, but it was hard to miss that although Russian president Putin was not welcome to attend, Xi came and engaged in several high-level meetings, assuring potential investors that China wants to be friends with the U.S. Also hard to miss was Xi’s pointed comment that the China-U.S. relationship “is the most important bilateral relationship in the world.” 

Going into this summit, then, the U.S. had the leverage to get agreements from China to crack down on the precursor chemicals that Chinese producers have been shipping to Latin America to make illegal fentanyl, restore military communications between the two countries now that Li has been replaced, and make promises about addressing climate change. Other large issues of trade and the independence of Taiwan will not be resolved so easily. 

Still, it was a high point for President Biden, whose economic policies and careful investment in diplomatic alliances have helped to shift the power dynamic between the U.S. and two countries that were key geopolitical rivals when he took office. Now, both the U.S. and China appear to be making an effort to move forward on better terms. Indeed, Chinese media has shifted its tone about the U.S. and the APEC summit so quickly readers have expressed surprise. 

Today, Biden emphasized “the unlimited potential of our partnerships…to realize a future that will benefit people not only in the Asia-Pacific region but the whole world,… [a] future where our prosperity is shared and is inclusive, where workers are empowered and their rights are respected, where our economies are sustainable and resilient.” 

Biden and administration officials noted that companies from across the Asia-Pacific world have invested nearly $200 billion in the U.S. since Biden took office, creating tens of thousands of good jobs, while the U.S. has elevated its engagement with the region, holding bilateral talks, creating new initiatives and deepening economic partnerships. 

Today, Biden and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced that the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an economic forum established last year as a nonbinding replacement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership former president Trump abruptly pulled out of, had agreed on terms to set up an early warning system for disruptions to supply chains, cooperation on clean energy, and fighting corruption and tax evasion.

In a very different event in San Francisco today, a federal jury convicted David DePape, 43, of attempted kidnapping and assault on account of a federal official’s performance of official duties for his attack on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul with a hammer on October 28 of last year, fracturing his skull. 

DePape’s lawyers did not contest the extensive evidence against him but tried to convince the jury that DePape did not commit a federal crime because he did not attack Pelosi on account of Representative Pelosi’s official position. Instead, they said, DePape had embraced the language of right-wing lawmakers and pundits and believed in a conspiracy theory that pedophile elites had taken over the country and were spreading lies about former president Donald Trump. 

DePape told jurors he had come to conspiracy theories through Gamergate, a 2014–2015 misogynistic online campaign of harassment against women in the video game industry, which turned into attacks on feminism, diversity, and progressive ideas. Trump ally Steve Bannon talked of pulling together the Gamergate participants behind Trump and his politics. 

Also today, a subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee set up to investigate allegations against Representative George Santos (R-NY) issued its report. The Republican-dominated committee found that Santos had lied about his background during his campaign and, furthermore, that he appears to be a serial liar. Those lies also “include numerous misrepresentations to the government and the public about his and his campaign’s financial activities.” 

That is, the committee found, Santos defrauded his campaign donors, falsified his financial records, and used campaign money on beauty products, rent, luxury items from Hermes and Ferragamo, and purchases at the website Only Fans. The subcommittee recommended the Ethics Committee refer Santos to the Department of Justice, and “publicly condemn Representative Santos, whose conduct [is] beneath the dignity of the office” and who has “brought severe discredit upon the House.” 

Santos says he will not run for reelection.

GasLit Nation: Warnings from Syria on How to Stop Putin in Ukraine

March 9, 2022


Putin’s brutal escalated invasion of Ukraine was predictable – not only because he announced it in advance, but because Russia has carried out extreme military violence in other regions for decades, most notably Chechnya in the 2000s and Syria over the last decade. As Ukraine continues to fight back, Syria suffers due to the partnership of Putin and Assad and the war crimes they carried out on Syrian civilians, which killed hundreds of thousands and displaced several million. To understand what may be in store for Ukraine, we need to understand Syria, so we invited an expert on Syria for an urgent discussion with Gaslit Nation.

HCR: Are Trump’s attacks on China leading to hate crimes against Asian-Americans?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 18

Heather Cox Richardson

On Tuesday, in Georgia, a gunman murdered 1 man and 7 women, at three spas, and wounded another man. All three of the businesses were operating legally, according to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and had not previously come to the attention of the Atlanta Police Department, although all three had been reviewed by an erotic review site. The man apprehended for the murders was 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is described as deeply religious. Six of the women killed were of Asian descent.

Yesterday, at the news conference about the killings, the sheriff’s captain who was acting as a spokesman about the case, Jay Baker, told reporters that Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” The spokesman went on to say that the suspect “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” that had spurred him to murder, and that it was too early to tell if the incident was a “hate crime.” Long told law enforcement officers that the murders were “not racially motivated.” He was, he said, trying to “help” other people with sex addictions.

Journalists quickly discovered that Baker had posted on Facebook a picture of a shirt calling COVID-19 an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”

As Baker’s Facebook post indicated, the short-term history behind the shooting is the former president’s attacks on China, in which he drew out the pronunciation of the name to make it sound like a schoolyard insult.

The story behind Trump’s attacks on China was his desperate determination to be reelected in 2020. In 2018, the former president placed tariffs on Chinese goods to illustrate his commitment to make the U.S. “a much stronger, much richer nation.” The tariffs led to a trade war with China and, rather than building a much stronger nation, resulted in a dramatic fall in agricultural exports. Agricultural exports to China fell from $15.8 billion in 2017 to $5.9 billion in 2018.

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