Trump, GOP autocrats have declared democracy obsolete

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

July 24, 2022

Thursday’s public hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol brought to its logical conclusion the story of Trump’s attempt to overturn our democracy. After four years of destroying democratic norms and gathering power into his own hands, the former president tried to overturn the will of the voters. Trump was attacking the fundamental concept on which this nation rests: that we have a right to consent to the government under which we live.

Far from rejecting the idea of minority rule after seeing where it led, Republican Party lawmakers have doubled down.

They have embraced the idea that state legislatures should dominate our political system, and so in 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws to restrict access to voting. On June 24, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, the Supreme Court said that the federal government did not have the power, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to protect the constitutional right to abortion, bringing the other rights that amendment protects into question. When Democrats set out to protect some of those rights through federal legislation, Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly voted to oppose such laws.

In the House, Republicans voted against federal protection of an individual’s right to choose whether to continue or end a pregnancy and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services: 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 99% of House Republicans.

They voted against the right to use contraception: 195 out of 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 96% of House Republicans.

They voted against marriage equality: 157 out of 204 Republicans voted no; 7 didn’t vote. That’s 77% of House Republicans.

They voted against a bill guaranteeing a woman’s right to travel across state lines to obtain abortion services: 205 out of 208 Republicans voted no; 3 didn’t vote. That’s 97% of House Republicans.

Sixty-two percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Seventy percent support gay marriage. More than 90% of Americans believe birth control should be legal. I can’t find polling on whether Americans support the idea of women being able to cross state lines without restrictions, but one would hope that concept is also popular. And yet, Republican lawmakers are comfortable standing firmly against the firm will of the people. The laws protecting these rights passed through the House thanks to overwhelming Democratic support but will have trouble getting past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

When he took office, Democratic president Joe Biden recognized that his role in this moment was to prove that democracy is still a viable form of government.

Rising autocrats have declared democracy obsolete. They argue that popular government is too slow to respond to the rapid pace of the modern world, or that liberal democracy’s focus on individual rights undermines the traditional values that hold societies together, values like religion and ethnic or racial similarities. Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, whom the radical right supports so enthusiastically that he is speaking on August 4 in Texas at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has called for replacing liberal democracy with “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy,” which will explicitly not treat everyone equally and will rest power in a single political party.

Biden has defended democracy across the globe, accomplishing more in foreign diplomacy than any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Less than a year after the former president threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pulled together the NATO countries, as well as allies around the world, to stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The new strength of NATO prompted Sweden and Finland to join the organization, and earlier this month, NATO ambassadors signed protocols for their admission. This is the most significant expansion of NATO in 30 years.

That strength helped to hammer out a deal between Russia and Ukraine with Turkey and the United Nations yesterday to enable Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and Russia to export grain and fertilizer to developing countries that were facing famine because of Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. An advisor to the Ukrainian government called the agreement “a major win for Ukraine.” When a Russian attack on the Ukrainian port of Odesa today put that agreement under threat, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink called the attack “outrageous.”

Biden has also defended democracy at home, using the power of the federal government to strengthen the ability of working Americans to support their families. As soon as Biden took office, Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to rebuild the economy. It worked. The U.S. has added 10 million new jobs since Biden took office, and unemployment has fallen to 3.6%. That strong economy has meant higher tax revenues that, combined with the end of pandemic spending, have resulted in the budget deficit (the amount by which the government is operating in the red each year and thus adding to the national debt) dropping considerably during his term.

The strong economy has also led to roaring inflation, fed in part by supply chain issues and high gas prices. During the pandemic, as Americans turned to ordering online at the same time that factories closed down, shipping prices went through the roof. In the past year or so, outdated infrastructure at U.S. ports has slowed down turnaround while a shortage of truckers has slowed domestic supply chains. Biden’s administration worked to untangle the mess at ports by getting commitments from businesses and labor to extend hours, and launched new programs to increase the number of truckers in the country.

While oil companies are privately held and thus have no obligation to lower their prices rather than pocket the record profits they have enjoyed over the past year, Biden has nonetheless tried to ease gas prices by releasing oil from the strategic reserve and by urging allies to produce more oil for release onto the world market. Gas prices have declined for the past month and now average $4.41 a gallon, down from a high of more than $5 last month.

Last month, on June 25, Biden signed into law the first major gun safety bill in almost 30 years, having pulled together the necessary votes despite the opposition of the National Rifle Association. On July 21, he signed the bipartisan FORMULA (which stands for “Fixing Our Regulatory Mayhem Upsetting Little Americans”—I’m not kidding) Act to drop tariffs on baby formula for the rest of the year to make it easier to get that vital product in the wake of the closure of the Sturgis, Michigan, Abbott Nutrition plant for contamination, which created a national shortage. The Biden administration has also organized 53 flights of formula into the country, amounting to more than 61 million 8-ounce bottles.

While we have heard a lot about Biden’s inability to pass the Build Back Better part of his infrastructure plan because of the refusal of Republicans and Democratic senator Joe Manchin (WV) to get on board, Biden nonetheless shepherded a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill through this partisan Congress, investing in roads, bridges, public transportation, clean energy, and broadband. Last Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that 1 million households have signed up for credits to enable them to get broadband internet, a program financed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Love or hate what Biden has done, he has managed to pull a wide range of countries together to stand against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian attack in Ukraine, and he has managed get through a terribly divided Congress laws to make the lives of the majority better, even while Republicans are rejecting the idea that the government should reflect the will of the majority. That is no small feat.

Whether it will be enough to prove that democracy is still a viable form of government is up to us.

Trump: “An impressionable child” ?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

July 13, 2022

Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol held its seventh public hearing. This one focused on how former president Trump summoned right-wing extremists to Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, in a last ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Committee members reiterated that Trump’s advisors had told him repeatedly that there was no evidence for his claims that the election had been corrupt. Again and again, White House officials demanded of Trump’s allies that they produce evidence of their accusations of fraud, and they never produced anything, choosing instead to attack those demanding evidence as disloyal to Trump. There is no doubt that Trump knew quite well there had been no fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election, and that he was lying when he continued to insist the election had been stolen.

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the committee’s co-chair, began the hearing by noting that there had been a change recently in those defending Trump’s actions as it has been established that Trump’s advisors had made it clear to him the election was not stolen. From arguing that he didn’t know the election was fair, they have switched to suggesting that he was misled by bad actors like John Eastman, who articulated the plan to have Vice President Mike Pence refuse to count certain of Biden’s electors, or Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.

But, Cheney said in words carefully calculated to infuriate the former president: “This is nonsense. Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in this country, he is responsible for his own actions…. [He] [c]annot escape responsibility by being willfully blind.”

The focus in today’s hearing was on Trump’s actions between December 14, when the Electoral College met in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia to certify the ballots that elected Democrat Joe Biden, and the morning of January 6, when Trump pointed the rally-goers at the Ellipse toward the U.S. Capitol.

With the electoral votes certified for Biden on December 14, even then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Biden publicly on his election, and numerous White House officials, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Attorney General Bill Barr, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, either urged Trump to concede or began looking for new jobs on the assumption the White House would change hands on January 20.

But Trump and his allies looked to January 6, when those electoral votes would be counted, as the last inflection point at which they might be able to overturn the election.

On December 18, 2020, four days after the electors met, Trump’s outside advisors, including lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and Patrick Byrne, former chief executive officer of Overstock, got access to the White House through a junior staffer and met with Trump. They brought an executive order that had been drafted on December 15, the day after the electors had certified the votes for Biden. It called for Trump to order the Defense Department to seize state voting machines, and it appointed Powell as special counsel to investigate voter fraud, giving her broad powers. They wanted Trump to implement it.

Cipollone got wind of the meeting and crashed it about 15 minutes in. Over the next six hours, White House officials and the Trump team members who insisted the election was stolen faced off, exchanging personal insults, accusations of disloyalty to the president, even challenges to fight physically. Cipollone, White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, and their team demanded evidence to support the theories Trump’s outside team insisted were true. In turn, the outside team repeated conspiracy theories and accused the others of being wimps: Powell told the committee the White House team all should have been fired, and Giuliani told the committee he told them all they were “a bunch of p*ssies.”

In the end, Trump was convinced not to follow the direction of the outside advisors. But he didn’t take the advice of those officials telling him to concede, either. Instead, shortly after the meeting broke up, Meadows walked Giuliani out of the White House to make sure he didn’t sneak back into Trump’s company. Then, at 1:42 on the morning of December 19, Trump reiterated to followers that the election had been stolen and that there was no statistical way that he could have lost.

Then he typed the words: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6. Be there, will be wild!”

Immediately, his most loyal supporters recognized this tweet as a call for armed resistance. “Trump just told us all to come armed,” one tweeted. “F*cking A, this is happening.”

Far-right media, including Alex Jones of InfoWars, amplified Trump’s tweet with calls to violence. The committee introduced testimony from a former Twitter moderator who said: “We had not seen that sort of direct communication before” in which Trump was speaking directly to supporters and inciting them to fight. After the December 19 tweet, it was clear, the person said, “not only were these individuals ready and willing, but the leader of their cause was asking them to join him in this cause and in fighting for this cause in DC on January 6 as well.”

Supporters wrote comments like: “Why don’t we just kill them? Every last democrat, down to the last man, woman, and child?” and, making the link between Trump’s determination to stay in office and white supremacy: “It’s time for the DAY OF THE ROPE! WHITE REVOLUTION IS THE ONLY SOLUTION!”

As Trump continued to post about January 6 on Twitter and continued to insist he had won the election, militias, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists began to work together to coordinate an attack on the Capitol. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, along with other extremists groups, worked with Trump allies to plan the attack. Those allies included Michael Flynn and Patrick Byrne.

Another ally was Trump confidant Roger Stone, who talked both to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers “regularly.” The committee got access to an encrypted chat of the “Friends of Stone,” or “FOS,” including Stone, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and agitator Ali Alexander. Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, spoke directly with Stone about security on January 5 and 6. Stone was guarded on January 6 by two Oath Keepers who have been indicted for seditious conspiracy.

Stone was also close enough to the Proud Boys to have “taken their so-called fraternity creed required for the first level of initiation to the group.” The clip of that oath shows him saying: “Hi, I’m Roger Stone. I’m a Western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”

The committee made it clear that Trump deliberately created the crisis on January 6. Katrina Pierson, organizer of the Ellipse rally, was so worried about Stone, Jones, and Alexander as speakers at the rally, that she talked to Meadows on January 2 about them, warning a fellow organizer that Trump “likes the crazies.” On that same day, Meadows warned his assistant Cassidy Hutchinson that things could get “real, real bad” on January 6.

The committee produced evidence from a number of emails and tweets from Trump and other organizers saying that after the rally, Trump would urge attendees to march to the Capitol, undercutting the argument that the move was spontaneous. In fact, it was long planned.

The committee also introduced evidence that the White House coordinated with members of Congress to encourage the Big Lie and to fight the election results. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) set up a meeting between members of Congress (and one member-elect) on December 21, with the subject line: “White House meeting December 21 regarding January 6.” That meeting included Trump, Pence, Meadows, Giuliani, and ten representatives: Brian Babin (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jody Hice (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), and recently elected Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

This sheds light on Trump’s comment to officials from the Department of Justice in which he asked them just to say the election was corrupt and leave the rest up to him and the Republican congress members. A number of those involved in the meeting later asked for presidential pardons.

Some in Trump’s inner circle were excited about what was to come. Phone logs show Trump spoke to confidant Steve Bannon at least twice on January 5. After the first call, Bannon said on his podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” “It’s all converging and now we’re on…the point of attack.” “I’ll tell you this: it’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen…. It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different and all I can say is strap in.”

That night, as supporters gathered at Freedom Plaza to hear the extremist speakers who had been excluded from the event of January 6, including Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander, Trump was in a notably good mood for the first time in weeks. Stone told the crowd it was in an “epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light, between the godly and the godless, between good and evil. And we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness.”

In his speech the next day at the Ellipse, Trump insisted on inserting attacks on Pence and urging his supporters to “fight like hell [or] you’re not going to have a country anymore.” That rhetoric, former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told Pierson, had caused people to die.

Today’s hearing ended with the testimony of former Oath Keepers social media manager Jason Van Tatenhove, who warned that the Oath Keepers are a danger to the country, and a Trump supporter, Stephen Ayers, who was not affiliated with any right-wing groups but who stormed the Capitol after Trump told him to. Both of them blamed themselves for being misled by Trump and extremism. Van Tatenhove warned that the danger is ongoing.

As if on cue, Cheney dropped the information that since the last hearing, Trump has tried to reach a witness with a personal phone call. The witness avoided the call and contacted a lawyer instead. This attempt smacks of desperation on Trump’s part, as well of isolation: no one would do the dirty job of intimidating a witness for him. The committee sent the information about this attempt, which involves someone the public has not yet seen testify, to the Department of Justice.

More and more, witnesses seem to be siding with transparency and the committee rather than with Trump. Today, Dan Friedman of Mother Jones published a tape of Bannon on October 31, 2020, laughing as he explains to a private audience that Trump will “win” in 2020 simply by declaring he won, even if he didn’t.

Trump knew that Democratic mail in ballots would show up in the vote totals later than Republican votes cast on election day, “[a]nd Trump’s going to take advantage of it,” Bannon said. “That’s our strategy. He’s gonna declare himself a winner…. So when you wake up Wednesday morning, it’s going to be a firestorm,” he said. “You’re going to have antifa, crazy. The media, crazy. The courts are crazy. And Trump’s gonna be sitting there mocking, tweeting sh*t out: ‘You lose. I’m the winner. I’m the king.’”

And, Bannon continued: “Here’s the thing. After then, Trump never has to go to a voter again…. He’s gonna say ‘F*ck you. How about that?’ Because…he’s done his last election. Oh, he’s going to be off the chain—he’s gonna be crazy.”