Prayer Warriors for Herschel carry a lead pipe with a flag on it

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

October 4, 2022

Anti-abortion Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker did not, in fact, sue the Daily Beast over the story he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion. Instead, his son Christian Walker took to social media to call his father out for lying, abuse, and abandonment and to call out MAGA Republicans for continuing to support his father while claiming to believe in “family values.”

Walker’s supporters immediately blamed the son for hurting his father’s campaign. The candidate himself stayed away from the media, attending a private event sponsored by “Prayer Warriors for Herschel.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, organized to elect Republicans to the Senate, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both reaffirmed their support for Walker. They will continue to keep spending to boost his campaign. Still, concern about the outcome in Georgia has prompted the right-wing super PAC Club for Growth Action to plan a massive $2 million ad buy in Spanish for the Nevada senate race, backing Republican Adam Laxalt against Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto.

Dana Loesch, a former spokesperson for the National Rifle Association and a former writer and editor for the right-wing media outlet Breitbart, made the position of party leaders clear: “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles,” she said. “I want control of the Senate.”

It is unclear if this scandal will hurt Walker with supporters who have already swallowed lies about his businesses, academic achievements, relationship with law enforcement, unacknowledged children, and accusations of domestic violence. But abortion is a key issue—perhaps THE key issue—in this election, and the demonstration that a Republican Senate candidate is calling for a nationwide abortion ban even as he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion will likely not sit well with those upset about the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Republicans are determined to take control of the country no matter what it takes.

Today, Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, who is up for reelection, revised his August story about his role in overturning the 2020 election. After saying his part in the delivery of fake electoral votes to the vice president was only “a couple seconds,” he now says that he texted with Wisconsin-based lawyer Jim Troupis, who was working for Trump to overturn the results of the election in Wisconsin, for about an hour. He also downplayed the events of January 6 as not an “armed insurrection.”

In the Washington, D.C., trial of the Oath Keepers today, though, prosecutors played a recording of a November 2020 meeting in which Oath Keepers planned to bring weapons to Washington and “fight” for Trump. The gang’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, said it would be “great” if protesters were there, because violence would enable Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

“Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn’t hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it,” codefendant Kelly Meggs told attendees.

A lawyer for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed in court today that the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, Kelli Ward, repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when testifying before the committee. Ward was one of Arizona’s false electors.

Also today, in a story about Trump’s disregard for the correct handling of classified records, Washington Post reporters Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, and Jacqueline Alemany said Trump White House chief of staff John Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, told them that Trump “rejected the Presidential Records Act entirely.”

The Presidential Records Act is a federal law.

In contrast to the course of the current Republican Party, President Joe Biden has focused on demonstrating that democracy works. Today, the CHIPS and Science Act, which provided $52 billion in public investment in semiconductor manufacture, appeared once again to pay off: Micron announced that it would spend up to $100 billion over the next 20 years to build up to four plants in upstate New York near Syracuse to build computer chips. The company estimates that the project will create almost 50,000 jobs generally over the next 20 years, with about 9,000 of those in the plants themselves.

“To those who doubted that America could dominate the industries of the future, I say this,” Biden said in a statement. “[Y]ou should never bet against the American people.”

Today, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson brought an important new philosophy to the law when the Supreme Court heard arguments over Merrill v. Milligan, a voting rights case. This case concerns Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which, as summarized by the Department of Justice, “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified” in the act.

In 2021, Alabama’s legislature cut the state into seven districts that “crack and pack” Black voters. About 27% of the residents of Alabama are Black, but they are either “packed” into one district or “cracked” among the others, diluting their overall strength.

Registered voters, the Alabama chapter of the NAACP, and the multifaith Greater Birmingham Ministries sued under the Voting Rights Act. A district court of three judges, two of whom were appointed by Trump, agreed that the redistricting violated the law and gave the legislature two weeks to redraw the map to create two Black-majority districts.

The state immediately filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, which was granted, allowing the states to use the original map for this year’s elections.

In today’s arguments, Alabama Solicitor General Edmund G. LaCour Jr. claimed that states must draw districts that are “race neutral.” When Justice Jackson pressed him to explain, he turned to the Fourteenth Amendment, saying it “is a prohibition, not an obligation, to engage in race discrimination.”

Jackson then turned on its head the so-called “originalism” that has taken over the court. “I understood that we looked at the history and traditions of the Constitution and what the framers and founders thought about,” she said, “and when I drilled down to that level of analysis, it became clear to me that the framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment in a race-conscious way.”

She’s right, of course, and while she followed up with more Reconstruction history, she could have gone even farther: when President Andrew Johnson vetoed the 1866 civil rights bill on the explicit grounds that it was not race neutral (among other things), Congress repassed it over his veto and based the Fourteenth Amendment on it.

Jackson’s approach was about more than this case, important though it is. She brought to the court what has been called “progressive originalism” or, perhaps more accurately, legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern’s term “egalitarian constitutionalism.” The Reconstruction Amendments—the 13th, 14th, and 15th—give to the federal government the power to protect individual rights in the states, and originalists’ avoidance of them has always stood out. Those amendments launched an entirely new era in our history; scholars call it a “second founding.”

Now, it appears, that second founding has an advocate on the Supreme Court.

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

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 7

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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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HCR: Taxes and “seed money”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 6

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Heather Cox Richardson

April 6, 2021

I spent much of today thinking about the Republican Party. Its roots lie in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in spring 1854, when it became clear that elite southern slaveholders had taken control of the federal government and were using their power to spread their system of human enslavement across the continent. 

At first, members of the new party knew only what they stood against: an economic system that concentrated wealth upward and made it impossible for ordinary men to prosper. But in 1859, their new spokesman, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, articulated a new vision of government. Rather than using government power solely to protect the property of wealthy slaveholders, Lincoln argued, the government should work to make it possible for all men to get equal access to resources, including education, so they could rise to economic security. 

As a younger man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem die because the settlers in the town did not have the resources to dredge the Sangamon River to increase their river trade. Had the government simply been willing to invest in the economic development that was too much for the willing workers of New Salem, it could have brought prosperity to the men who, for lack of investment, failed and abandoned their town. The government, Lincoln thought, must develop the country’s infrastructure.

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HCR: Corporations to stand against the Trump wing of the party in Georgia

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 5

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Heather Cox Richardson

April 5, 2021 (Monday)

For people sick of news, there is nothing happening that cannot wait, so tonight’s letter is a good one to skip. 

Otherwise, there are lots of developing stories today. Top of the list is the story of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is implicated in what appears to be a significant sex scandal involving underage girls. 

Running a close second is the story Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times broke this weekend: in the closing days of the 2020 election season, the Trump campaign scammed supporters out of more than $122 million by tricking them into “recurring” donations. The campaign had to refund those donations after the election, and it apparently did so by using money raised after the election by asking for funds to challenge the election results. In effect, supporters unknowingly made a no-interest loan to the campaign.

Today’s overarching story is connected to this one. It is the same as yesterday’s big story, and the day before that, reaching on backward until the 2020 election. Republican Party leaders continue to insist, without evidence, that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that Democrats stole it from him through voter fraud. A new Reuters/Ipsos found that six in ten Republicans believe this Big Lie.

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

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 18

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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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