Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 28
Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.
The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:
First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.
Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.
They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.
Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”
This week Gaslit Nation welcomes Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) who gives us an inside view on the Capitol attack, what steps need to be taken to hold the perpetrators accountable, how the Biden administration can ensure a more just and fair United States, and much more!
GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 24
Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.
After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”
In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”
The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.
The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 17
Today the House of Representatives approved awarding Congressional Gold Medals to members of the Capitol Police for their defense of the Capitol on January 6. Four hundred and thirteen members voted in favor, and 12 Republicans opposed the measure. A number of party members took offense at the language in the bill, which referred to the Capitol as “the temple of our American Democracy” and called the rioters “a mob of insurrectionists.”
Part of their objection comes from their eagerness to downplay what happened on January 6 and to redefine it as a much less important event than it was.
Last week, six top Republican senators expressed dismay to the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, over the continued presence of nearly 2300 National Guardsmen and a fence topped with razor wire around the Capitol. While security experts are concerned about ongoing threats, especially around the time of Biden’s expected address to a joint session of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the security is “overdone.” In a letter to Pittman, the five say it is “entirely unclear” why the fencing remains. They say it “sends a terrible message to American citizens, as well as to our allies and adversaries.”
The fencing reminds Americans of what happened on January 6 and the Republicans’ complicity in that attack, refusing, as they did, to hold Trump accountable for inciting the insurrection. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) did not sign the letter to Pittman, but he told a right-wing talk radio host that he was not frightened by the rioters on January 6 because they were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” In contrast, though, he said he would have been worried if the rioters were “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters.”
Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | February 15
Monday federal holidays generally mean that not much gets done. Today was a bit of an exception, since we are dealing with the fallout from the Senate’s refusal to convict former president Trump for the January 6 insurrection.
For the Republicans, that acquittal simply makes the split in the party worse. First of all, it puts the Republicans at odds with the majority of Americans. According to a new ABC/Ipsos poll, 58% of us think Trump should have been convicted, and more than three-quarters of us—77%– think the senators’ votes reflected partisanship rather than the facts.
But Republicans disagree. Trump packed state Republican positions with his supporters because he was afraid he would face primary challengers in 2020, and those loyalists are now defending him. State Republican parties have censured a number of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump; of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict, Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) have already been censured, and a censure effort is underway against Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 75% of Republicans want Trump to continue to lead the party.
But 21% don’t, and between 24% and 28% blame him for the January 6 riot.
That split means the Republican Party, which was already losing members over the insurrection, stands to lose even more of its members if it continues to defer to the former president. Already, the Democratic National Committee has prepared a video advertisement to circulate on digital platforms, highlighting Republicans leaving their party. It includes a clip from former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele saying that “when you’re losing Republican members and you’re left with QAnon and Proud Boys, you’ve got to reassess whether or not you are even close to being a viable party.” The video ends with Biden urging Americans to come together and to “help us unite America and build back better.”
For Democrats, the Senate trial put on display for the American public an impressive group. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) gave the lead impeachment manager from Trump’s first Senate trial, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) a run for his money as a model for brains and morals. But Raskin was not alone. Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-US Virgin Islands) and Representative Joseph Neguse (D-CO), relatively unknown outside of their home districts, got significant positive national attention during the trial, suddenly becoming household names. The entire Democratic team shone and indicated that the young Democrats have quite a deep bench of talent, especially in contrast to the younger Republicans, who seem to excel in media appearances more than in policy.
Democrats recognize that the Senate acquittal means there is considerable interest in an actual accounting of what happened in the insurrection. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she will urge the House to establish an independent commission, like the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks, to study what led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Members of both parties have asked for such a commission.
The Senate trial also gave powerful proof of just how undemocratic the Senate has become. Voting rights journalist Ari Berman noted that the “57 senators who voted to convict Trump represent 76.7 MILLION more Americans than 43 senators who voted to acquit.”
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted that the adherence of all but seven senators to Trump “should end the absurd talk that there is a burden on President Biden to achieve a bipartisan nirvana in Washington. If most Republicans can’t even admit that what Trump did is worthy of impeachment, how can anyone imagine that they would be willing and trustworthy governing partners?”
Dionne added that the acquittal made an overwhelming case for getting rid of the filibuster, which in its current incarnation effectively means that no legislation can pass without support from 60 senators. Thanks to the 50-50 split in the Senate, getting to 60 means getting 10 Republican votes. This is impossible, Dionne says, because clearly “There are not 10 Republican Senate votes to be had on anything that really matters.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is simply working around Republican lawmakers, starting with the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly stand against the bill, in part because it calls for $350 billion to provide aid to states and cities. But Republican governors and mayors are desperate for the assistance. Republican voters like it, too.
Last Friday, Biden invited governors and mayors from both parties to the White House to ask them what they needed most. The Republican mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, told reporters that he had had more contact with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the first weeks of their administration “than I had spoken to the prior administration in the entirety.”
Biden is about to hit the road to try to convince Senate Republicans to support the relief package, going directly to the people to sell his ideas.
The Democrats also have another trick to lay on the table to get Republican support. Today, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced they would back the return of a new version of so-called “earmarks,” more formally known as “member-directed spending,” in legislation.
These “Community-Focused Grants,” as the new lingo calls them, are funds that individual congress members can direct toward their districts. In the past, earmarks were made by lawmakers and were occasionally havens for corruption—which is what people remember—but even at their worst, they made up less than 1.1% of federal spending and tended to actually produce things that districts needed.
Democrats cleaned the system up before then-House Speaker John Boehner declared a moratorium on it in 2011. After the ban, the government still targeted federal money to get votes, but the power to make those calls shifted to the executive branch rather than Congress. For much federal spending, Congress appropriates the amounts but the executive branch decides where to spend it. A 2020 congressional study established that presidents use that money “to influence policy and support their preferred projects without receiving approval from Congress.” To that, we can add that a president targeted federal money to try to buy reelection.