Even Mitch McConnell now wants to reveal all of the “participants” that were involved in the Insurrection

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

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Heather Cox Richardson

December 14, 2021

The big story today continues to be the insurrection and the many people now seemingly swept up in the investigation of it. 
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol took to the House Rules Committee its resolution to hold Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. This afternoon, the House Rules Committee voted along party lines by a vote of 8 to 4 to advance the contempt resolution to the House itself.


In the full House, where Republican leadership urged members to vote against the contempt charge, debate continued into the night. Shortly after 11:00, the House voted to refer Meadows to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress. The vote was 222 to 208, with only two Republicans—Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—voting with the Democrats. Both Cheney and Kinzinger sit on the January 6 committee.

In the course of the debate, to make their case that Meadows’s ttimony is vital to understand what happened on January 6, members of the committee continued to reveal pieces of the material they received from Meadows before he decided to stop cooperating. 


One text in particular jumped out. A Republican member of the House texted Meadows on November 4, the day after the election, saying: “HERE’S an AGRESSIVE [sic] STRATEGY: Why can t [sic] the states of GA NC PENN and other R controlled state houses declare this is BS (where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the SCOTUS[?]”
That is, a Republican member of Congress wanted Republican-dominated state legislatures not even to wait to see who had won the election—none of those states had been called by November 4—but simply to ignore the will of the voters, choose their own electors, and hope that the Supreme Court would hand the election to Trump as he had been saying for weeks it would.

 
Since the election, with the help and urging of some of Trump’s former lawyers, 19 of those Republican-dominated legislatures have passed laws making it harder for Democrats to vote and, in some cases, gotten rid of the nonpartisan election mechanisms to count votes and replaced them with partisan operatives. They have put in place a system that looks much like what this text called for. 


In Georgia, for example, Republicans in the legislature changed the law to enable them to purge Black voters from county election boards, arguing that such reforms are necessary to restore faith in the system after the 2020 election. And today, a handful of lawmakers from Georgia’s legislature launched the Georgia Freedom Caucus with the goal of moving Georgia’s Republican Party further to the right.
Our democracy is at stake. In the Declaration of Independence, this nation’s Founders declared it “self-evident” that governments are legitimate only if those they govern consent to them. If lawmakers take it upon themselves to ignore the will of the voters and themselves decide who will hold power, we will have lost the ability to consent to our government. And that government will be far more extremist than polls suggest the vast majority of us want.


A number of voting rights bills have passed the House and are waiting for Senate action. But Republicans there do not want to pass them, and Democrats cannot do it with their razor-thin majority because the Senate filibuster means that Republicans can demand 60 votes even to take up a bill. 
So right now, Democrats like Georgia’s Senator Raphael Warnock are pressing the Senate to reform the filibuster in order to pass voting rights protections with a simple majority. Democrats like Warnock are determined to pass voting rights legislation not least because they know that before the 1965 Voting Rights Act there were majority-Black counties in the South in which not a single Black person voted. In 1946, for example, 14,394 white people and 38,970 Black people lived in Leflore County, Mississippi. Of those folks, 4,345 white people were registered to vote, and they carried elections, since the 26 Black people registered to vote did not risk their safety by casting a ballot. 


It is highly unlikely the Senate will agree to get rid of the filibuster altogether, but the argument for creating a carve-out for voting rights is an easy one to make, especially since the Senate voted today to approve a higher debt ceiling increase to $2.5 trillion on a simple majority vote of 50 to 49. 
The torrent of news from the January 6 committee might give at least a few Republican lawmakers pause about continuing to shore up those who set out to undermine democracy, if not for their own principles, then for the reality that this will not play well during televised hearings next year. “We are all watching what is unfolding on the House side,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said today, “and it will be interesting to reveal all of the participants that were involved.”


Meanwhile, Meadows continues to talk to friendly media while saying he cannot talk to the January 6 committee, and after a day of ignoring the story about their texts altogether, tonight the Fox News Channel personalities identified yesterday in texts defended those texts, although they sounded nervous.  


They are apparently not the only ones with reason to be nervous. In a lawsuit parallel to that of Meadows, lawyer John Eastman, author of the Eastman memo outlining a strategy for overturning the election, today sued members of the January 6 committee, the committee itself, and Verizon to try to keep his records secret. 


Also today, a federal judge ruled that the House Ways and Means Committee has a legitimate reason to review Trump’s tax returns and that he must hand them over. Congress has been trying to get them since 2019. Federal law says that when the congressional committees that oversee taxation ask for an individual’s tax return, the Treasury Department and the IRS must turn it over, but Trump has fought the law on the grounds that the committee has no legitimate reason to look at his taxes and is only seeking to embarrass him. The judge gave Trump 14 days to appeal. 


And finally, Karl A. Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, sued the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, as well as many of their leaders, for their roles in the January 6 insurrection. The suit charges that the defendants kept U.S. officials from doing their duties surrounding an election—in violation of a law written to stop the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction—and seeks monetary damages to bankrupt the organizations.

Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

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Heather Cox Richardson

December 7, 2021

On the sunny Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, Messman Doris Miller had served breakfast aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia, stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and was collecting laundry when the first of nine Japanese torpedoes hit the ship.

In the deadly confusion, Miller reported to an officer, who told him to help move the ship’s mortally wounded captain off the bridge. Unable to move him far, Miller sheltered the captain behind the ship’s conning tower. Then another officer ordered Miller to pass ammunition to him as he started up one of the two abandoned anti-aircraft guns in front of the conning tower. Miller had not been trained to use the guns because, as a Black man in the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to serve the white officers. But while the officer was distracted, Miller began to fire one of the guns. He fired it until he ran out of ammunition. Then he helped to move injured sailors to safety before he and the other survivors abandoned the West Virginia, which sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

That night, America declared war on Japan. Japan declared war on America the next day, and four days later, on December 11, 1941, Italy and Germany both declared war on America. “The powers of the steel pact, Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, ever closely linked, participate from today on the side of heroic Japan against the United States of America,” Italian leader Benito Mussolini said. “We shall win.” Of course they would. Mussolini and Germany’s leader, Adolf Hitler, believed the mongrel Americans had been corrupted by Jews and “Negroes,” and could never conquer their own organized military machine.

The steel pact, as Mussolini called it, was the vanguard of his new political ideology. That ideology was called fascism, and he and Hitler thought it would destroy democracy once and for all.

Mussolini had been a socialist as a young man and had grown terribly frustrated at how hard it was to organize people. No matter how hard socialists tried, they seemed unable to convince ordinary people that they must rise up and take over the country’s means of production.

The efficiency of World War I inspired Mussolini. He gave up on socialism and developed a new political theory that rejected the equality that defined democracy. He came to believe that a few leaders must take a nation toward progress by directing the actions of the rest. These men must organize the people as they had been organized during wartime, ruthlessly suppressing all opposition and directing the economy so that businessmen and politicians worked together. And, logically, that select group of leaders would elevate a single man, who would become an all-powerful dictator. To weld their followers into an efficient machine, they demonized opponents into an “other” that their followers could hate.

Italy adopted fascism, and Mussolini inspired others, notably Germany’s Hitler. Those leaders came to believe that their system was the ideology of the future, and they set out to destroy the messy, inefficient democracy that stood in their way.

America fought World War II to defend democracy from fascism. And while fascism preserved hierarchies in society, democracy called on all men as equals. Of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war, more than 1.2 million were African American men and women, 500,000 were Latinos, and more than 550,000 Jews were part of the military. Among the many ethnic groups who fought, Native Americans served at a higher percentage than any other ethnic group—more than a third of able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50 joined the service—and among those 25,000 soldiers were the men who developed the famous “Code Talk,” based in tribal languages, that codebreakers never cracked.

The American president at the time, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hammered home that the war was about the survival of democracy. Fascists insisted that they were moving their country forward fast and efficiently—claiming the trains ran on time, for example, although in reality they didn’t— but FDR constantly noted that the people in Italy and Germany were begging for food and shelter from the soldiers of democratic countries.

Ultimately, the struggle between fascism and democracy was the question of equality. Were all men really created equal as the Declaration of Independence said, or were some born to lead the rest, whom they held subservient to their will?

Democracy, FDR reminded Americans again and again, was the best possible government. Thanks to armies made up of men and women from all races and ethnicities—a mongrel population—the Allies won the war against fascism, and it seemed that democracy would dominate the world forever.

But as the impulse of WWII pushed Americans toward a more just and inclusive society after it, those determined not to share power warned their supporters that including people of color and women as equals in society would threaten their own liberty. Those reactionary leaders rode that fear into control of our government, and gradually they chipped away the laws that protected equality. Now, once again, democracy is under attack by those who believe some people are better than others.

The once-grand Republican Party has been captured by the right wing. It has lined up behind former president Donald Trump and his cronies, its true believers refusing to accept that a majority of Americans turned Trump out of office in 2020 and replaced him with a Democrat, President Joe Biden. They insist that it is not possible for a Democrat to have been legitimately elected and blame “voter fraud” for the result, although repeated recounts and inspections have proved the vote counts were accurate.

Some Republican lawmakers evidently believe the Big Lie that Trump won in 2020; others are going along with it out of opportunism or fear, but they are not speaking out to counter the lies poisoning our democracy. Even after January 6, when insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol and threatened the lives of our top lawmakers, 147 Republicans voted to challenge the election results. Now, 68% of Republicans think that Democrats “stole” the 2020 election.

Now, Republican lawmakers are silent as Republican-dominated legislatures in 19 states have passed 33 laws to make it harder for Black and Brown Americans, as well as others expected to back Democrats, to vote. Some of those states have taken the power to certify official votes away from nonpartisan officials and given it to Republicans. Had these laws been in place in 2020, Trump would almost certainly still be in office.

As we learn more about the events of January 6, it is clear that the former president and his inner circle corrupted the Department of Justice and possibly other parts of the government, launching a coup that came perilously close to success. And, as Barton Gellman details this week in The Atlantic, they are arranging the mechanics of our democracy to make sure that next time, they won’t fail. They will put in place an autocracy in which a powerful leader and his chosen loyalists make the rules under which the rest of us must live.

Will we permit the destruction of American democracy on our watch?

When America came under attack before, people like Doris Miller refused to let that happen. For all that American democracy still discriminated against him, it gave him room to stand up for the concept of human equality—and he laid down his life for it. Promoted to cook after the Navy sent him on a publicity tour, Miller was assigned to a new ship, the U.S.S. Liscome Bay, which was struck by a Japanese torpedo on November 24, 1943. It sank within minutes, taking two thirds of the crew, including Miller, with it.

I hear a lot these days about how American democracy is doomed and the reactionaries will win. Maybe. But the beauty of our system is that it gives us people like Doris Miller.

Even better, it makes us people like Doris Miller.

Biden economy is “booming”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

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Heather Cox Richardson

December 1, 2021

The U.S. economy is booming.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified today before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, saying that although the rise in COVID cases due to the Delta variant had slowed recovery, the gross domestic product is still on track to grow about 5% in 2021. According to Christine Romans, CNN’s chief business correspondent, the last time we had that kind of growth was under the Reagan administration forty years ago.

Unemployment is also down. The economy added 531,000 jobs in October, dropping the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent, the lowest rate since November 1969. The recovery is not even, though, with jobs harder to find for Black and Brown Americans than for White Americans.

Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan is restoring the nation’s basic social safety net. According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, food insecurity dropped 24% for families as a result of Biden’s Child Tax Credit, creating “a profound economic and moral victory for the country.”

Powell also noted that inflation is up, from the 2% level for which administrations aim to about 5%. He predicted that inflation will ease as supply chains smooth out and as the administration takes measures at its disposal.

In illustration of what sort of measures those might be, Biden released 50 million barrels of the nation’s oil reserves to combat the rising gas prices that have grabbed headlines. Other nations, including India, the United Kingdom, and China, released some of theirs as well, and the price of WTI Crude has dropped back to what it was in early September. That fix may very well be temporary as economic growth puts pressure on oil supplies. 

The success of the Democrats’ measures illustrates the effectiveness of the “liberal consensus” of the years between World War II and the Reagan Revolution, when members of both parties believed the government should promote economic growth by supporting those at the demand side of the economy. That meant giving those just starting out access to resources which they would, in turn, reinvest in the economy, helping all to rise. 

The Reagan years reversed this popular understanding as lawmakers claimed instead that the best way to nurture the economy was to focus on the “supply side”—those wealthy people who, officials argued, would invest their money in the economy and create jobs. To free up capital for those people, Republicans focused on cutting taxes. 

But while that system never worked as promised, Republicans have come to believe that tax cuts are the most important way to expand the economy. With the American Rescue Plan helping the U.S. to recover from the economic crunch of the pandemic faster than other nations, and with the extraordinary numbers we’re now seeing, Biden’s plan has once again illustrated the power of supporting ordinary Americans. 

And such legislation is popular, so popular that, right on cue, Republicans who voted against the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill are advertising its benefits to their constituents as if they were responsible for it. Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) has a new ad out boasting that “Congressman Rob Wittman is Bringing Broadband to the Northern Neck.” “It’s the future,” the ad reads, and Wittman “has helped bring broadband to thousands of homes and businesses. And he will not stop until every Virginian is given an equal opportunity to connect to the future.” 

Wittman voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The headline-grabbing news today, though, came from investigations into the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection. 

Early this morning, Hugo Lowell of The Guardian reported that multiple sources told him that Trump had called the “war room” at the Willard Hotel several times on January 5 to talk about how they could stop Congress from counting the certified ballots that would make Joe Biden president. The team at the Willard was led by lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and Boris Epshteyn and Trump loyalist Steve Bannon. Trump called the lawyers separately from the others, trying to keep from jeopardizing claims of attorney-client privilege. 

Although those at the war room have maintained that they were acting only on the wishes of state legislators who worried about voter fraud, reports of phone calls from the president challenge that position. Lowell wrote: “Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard. The conversations also show Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motivations of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack and halted Biden’s certification, until it was later ratified by Congress.”

After the story came out, Trump’s spokesperson said, “This is totally false,” but offered no more information.

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is looking into the Willard meetings. Today, though, it interviewed Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, the man who recorded a phone call with Trump as the then-president tried to get him to overturn the results of the election. Raffensperger testified for five hours. 

Also today, Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, dropped his refusal to answer the January 6th committee’s subpoena and has begun to cooperate, providing records and agreeing to be interviewed. Meadows had refused to participate in the process, citing Trump’s order that he stay silent. But after a grand jury found Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress, and as the House considers charging former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who came up with a scheme to overturn the election and who has also refused to answer a subpoena, with criminal contempt of Congress, Meadows has apparently reconsidered his position.

Former federal prosecutor and legal analyst Renato Mariotti notes that this is a good move on Meadows’s part because it means that any future refusals will go to court, not criminal prosecution. Meadows is the highest-ranking official to testify before the committee and has made it clear he continues to expect to keep mum about what he considers sensitive material. Still, his participation will indicate to others that they should tell their stories before someone else’s testimony makes their information worthless as a bargaining chip. 

The House committee today voted to hold Clark in contempt of Congress and passed the resolution on to the full House. The committee wrote: “The Select Committee believes that Mr. Clark had conversations with others in the Federal Government, including Members of Congress, regarding efforts to delegitimize, disrupt, or overturn the election results in the weeks leading up to January 6th,” and it expects him to comply with the subpoena. It rejects Clark’s contention that his conversations with Trump were a “sacred trust” and wrote that Trump had not, in fact, tried to assert executive privilege over Clark’s testimony. The committee noted that “the willful refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to 1 year.” 

Those who call themselves “conservative” are the very opposite of conservative

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

November 22, 2021
Heather Cox Richardson

Yesterday, the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency, Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov, told Military Times that he expects Russia to attack his country in late January or early February. Russia has placed more than 92,000 troops at its border with Ukraine. 


In a visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, took a broader view of the mounting tensions in central and eastern Europe. Russian president Vladimir Putin “is testing the unity of the European Union, he is testing the unity of NATO allies, he is testing our society, Ukrainians, he is testing Poland, the Baltic countries,” Reznikov said.


Indeed, although U.S. and European officials for weeks have been warning Putin to pull back from the Ukraine border, he has escalated his rhetoric against Ukraine, claiming that Russians and Ukrainians represent “one people—a single whole.” At the same time, he has backed a rising authoritarian in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko. Putin has established a joint military base in Belarus and backed Lukashenko’s use of Middle Eastern migrants to destabilize nearby Poland. Poland is a member of both the European Union and NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which joined the U.S., Canada, and Western European nations together in 1949 to oppose first the USSR and then, after the USSR crumbled, the rising threat of Russia. 


What we have here is a proxy battle over the future of liberal democracy—government based on individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise, and consent of the governed.
Since it declared independence from the old USSR in 1991, Ukraine has moved toward the European Union, a stance that threatens the wealth and power of oligarchs with ties to Russia who have consistently tried to regain control of the country. Part of Putin’s reach for Ukraine reflects that the Russian economy has underperformed under his 20-year rule; Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 significantly boosted Putin’s popularity in Russia, but that enthusiasm faded in the sluggish economy. 


But Putin’s attempt to undermine democracy is also ideological.
In 2019, he told the Financial Times that liberalism—the set of ideas necessary for freedom and embraced by America’s Founders—is obsolete.
Those governing principles have outlived their purpose, Putin said. The multiculturalism that comes from liberalism has led to the breakdown of traditional values and permitted migrants to “kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected, he said.” “[Liberals] cannot simply dictate anything to anyone.”


In that, he led the way for Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who champions what he calls “illiberal democracy,”or “Christian democracy.” Replacing the multiculturalism, immigration, and nontraditional family structures of modern democracies with a society based on Christianity, nationalism, traditional families, and white supremacy will strengthen Hungary, he says. 


Putin, Orbán, Lukashenko, and others like them are advancing a very old version of society. They believe that a few men—white, Christian—should run the world and amass both wealth and power while the rest of us support them. While they attract voters with their cultural stands—attacking immigration and gay rights, for example—they have rigged elections, turned their economies over to cronies, and stifled the press. They have turned their nations from democracy to an authoritarianism that has been called “kleptocracy” or “soft fascism.”


In short, they want to abandon democracy for autocracy—government by a dictator.
Astonishingly, radicals of the American right have embraced this vision. Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson has been open about his support for both Orbán and Russia, and in 2022, the Conservative Political Action Conference will meet in Budapest, where, apparently, they think they will feel at home. Leaders on the American right hammer constantly on cultural issues, deliberately inflaming voters against immigration, Black rights, and transgender students on school sports teams, for example, as signs that American society is collapsing and that we must turn to Christianity and traditional values to restore our stability. 


Now, as Americans have chosen multiculturalism, civil rights, and equality, the American right has turned to the power of the state to impose their will on the rest of us, just as Orbán and Putin have used the state in their own countries. We are seeing calls from right-wing leaders to institute Christianity as the basis of our government, attacks on immigration and civil rights, and the systematic dismantling of our right to vote, that is, our right to consent to the government under which we live. 
That those who claim to love America, which once billed itself as the leader of the world, are taking their lead from minor authoritarian countries—the economy of Russia is comparable to that of Texas, while Hungary’s population is comparable to Michigan’s—shows the extraordinary poverty, or perhaps the extraordinary greed, of their vision. 


In 1776, the Founders of this country declared independence from monarchy, not just from England’s King George III but from all kings. In part because they could not see women or people of color as equal to white men, they could envision the concept of natural equality for everyone else. That, in turn, made them stand against the idea that some men should rule over others on the basis of their wealth, ancestry, or religion. 


Instead of these old forms of government and society, they stood firm on the idea that all men are created equal and that they have natural rights they bring with them into society. These rights include—but are not limited to (James Madison would later add the free exercise of religion, for example)—the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 
Governments, they said, are made by men to secure these rights, and they are legitimate only as long as those they govern consent to them.  


Our democratic government, based on ideas Putin and Orbán explicitly reject—the liberal ideas of individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise—is the heritage of all Americans, expanded as it has been since 1776 and imperfectly though it has been, so far, applied. 
In today’s America, those who call themselves “conservative” are the very opposite of conservative: they are dangerous radicals seeking to bring us to our knees by attacking the grand philosophy that made this nation great—and which, if we could finally make it a reality, could make it greater still—replacing it with the stunted beliefs of petty tyrants.

GasLit Nation: The Infrastructure of Autocracy

November 17, 2021

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

Welcome to month ten of post-Capitol attack America in which no elite operatives have been punished for the worst attack on the Capitol since 1812! This includes fascist felon Steve Bannon, who turned his surrender for subpoena dodging into a reality TV show starring himself. We discuss Bannon’s brazen criminality and why the lack of urgency from agencies tasked with accountability is so dangerous. In times of extreme threat, complacency is complicity. 18. This is part of a long and destructive pattern.