Biden: “Folks are tired of being played for suckers. It’s about basic fairness.”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

July 19, 2023

A little more than two years ago, on July 9, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to promote competition in the U.S. economy. Echoing the language of his predecessors, he said, “competition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing.

“Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth…. But what we’ve seen over the past few decades is less competition and more concentration that holds our economy back.”

In that speech, Biden deliberately positioned himself in our country’s long history of opposing economic consolidation.

Calling out both Roosevelt presidents—Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses, and then by championing competition. 

Biden promised to enforce antitrust laws, interpreting them in the way they had been understood traditionally. Like his progressive predecessors, he believed antitrust laws should prevent large entities from swallowing up markets, consolidating their power so they could raise prices and undercut workers’ rights. Traditionally, those advocating antitrust legislation wanted to protect economic competition, believing that such competition would promote innovation, protect workers, and keep consumer prices down. 

In the 1980s, government officials threw out that understanding and replaced it with a new line of thinking advanced by former solicitor general of the United States Robert Bork. He claimed that the traditional understanding of antitrust legislation was economically inefficient because it restricted the ways businesses could operate. Instead, he said, consolidation of industries was fine so long as it promoted economic efficiencies that, at least in the short term, cut costs for consumers.

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MAGA Republicans hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to U.S. national security

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

July 14, 2023

Traditionally, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the annual budget and appropriations of the Department of Defense, passes Congress on a bipartisan basis. Since 1961 it has been considered must-pass legislation, as it provides the funding for our national security.

For all that there is grumbling on both sides over one thing or another in the measure, it is generally kept outside partisanship. Late last night, House Republicans broke that tradition by loading the bill with a wish list from the far right.

Republicans added amendments that eliminate all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in the Defense Department; end the Defense Department program that reimburses military personnel who must travel for abortion services; bar healthcare for gender transition; prevent the military academies from using affirmative action in admissions (an exception the recent Supreme Court decision allowed); block the Pentagon from putting in place President Biden’s executive orders on climate change; prevent schools associated with the Defense Department from teaching that the United States of America is racist; and block military schools from having “pornographic and radical gender ideology books” in their libraries.

House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted: “We don’t want Disneyland to train our military. House Republicans just passed a bill that ENDS the wokism in the military and gives our troops their biggest pay raise in decades.” In fact, the events of last night were a victory for right-wing extremists, demonstrating that they hold the upper hand in the House.

Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), both military veterans, expressed shock that so many Republicans voted to strip abortion protections from military personnel. “[T]hey will say, ‘this is a really bad idea,’ ‘this is not where the party should be going,’ ‘this is a mistake,’” Sherill said. “[W]ell then why did everyone but two people in the Republican conference vote for this really bad amendment?”The bill passed by a vote of 219 to 210, largely along partisan lines.

This year’s budget is $886 billion as the U.S. modernizes the military to compete with new threats such as the rise of China, and it provides a 5.2% increase in pay for military personnel. But Senate Democrats will not vote for it with the new partisan amendments and are working on their own measure. While there will be a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two versions, McCarthy has offered a position on that committee to Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), one of the extremists. This is an unusual offer, as she is not on the House Armed Services Committee. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said: “Extreme MAGA Republicans have hijacked a bipartisan bill that is essential to our national security and taken it over and weaponized it in order to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.”

“We are not going to relent, we are not going to back down, we’re not going to give up on the cause that is righteous,” Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said.Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) summed up the vote today on Twitter. “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the bill that funds all of our military operations. It is typically bipartisan and is about as serious as Congress gets.

What weapons of war we fund, which allies we share them with, how we recruit. National security is a BFD. We can have our political debates about any number of issues but it is generally understood that when Americans are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend us, it’s time to check the crazies at the door. But today, the crazies won.“

They won first because [McCarthy] put the crazies in positions of power. But second because none of the “moderate” Republicans had the courage to stay the hell out of KrazyTown…. Is every member of the [House Republican Conference] a homophobic, racist, science denying lunatic? No. But the lesson of today is that the ones who aren’t are massive cowards completely unfit for any position of leadership. 

“There is space—and demand—for reasonable differences of opinion in our democracy. This isn’t about whether we agree. It’s about whether we can trust that—differences aside—we trust that we’ve got each other’s back if we ever find ourselves in a foxhole together. That’s usually a metaphor, conflating the horrors of war with the much lower-stakes lives that most of us are fortunate enough to lead. But today, the entire [House Republican Conference] told us—both literally and metaphorically—that they don’t give a damn about the rest of the unit.”

How we remember Juneteenth. Our history matters

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

June 19, 2023

(June 19th) is the federal holiday honoring Juneteenth, the celebration of the announcement in Texas on June 19th, 1865, that enslaved Americans were free. 

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant of the U.S. Army, but it was not until June 2 that General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department, the last major army of the Confederacy, to the United States, in Galveston, Texas. Smith then fled to Mexico. 

Seventeen days later, Major General Gordon Granger of the U.S. Army arrived to take charge of the soldiers stationed there. On June 19, he issued General Order Number 3. It read:  

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” 

The order went on: “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

While the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing enslavement except as punishment for a crime had passed through Congress on January 31, 1865, and Lincoln had signed it on February 1, the states were still in the process of ratifying it. 

So Granger’s order referred not to the Thirteenth Amendment, but to the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, which declared that Americans enslaved in states that were in rebellion against the United States “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons.” Granger was informing the people of Galveston that, Texas having been in rebellion on January 1, 1863, their world had changed. The federal government would see to it that, going forward, white people and Black people would be equal.

Black people in Galveston met the news Order No. 3 brought with celebrations in the streets, but emancipation was not a gift from white Americans. Black Americans had fought for the United States and worked in the fields to grow cotton the government could sell. Those unable to leave their homes had hidden U.S. soldiers, while those who could leave indicated their hatred of the Confederacy and enslavement with their feet. They had demonstrated their equality and their importance to the postwar United States. 

The next year, after the Thirteenth Amendment had been added to the Constitution, Texas freedpeople gathered on June 19, 1866, to celebrate with prayers, speeches, food, and socializing the coming of their freedom. By the following year, the federal government encouraged “Juneteenth” celebrations, eager to explain to Black citizens the voting rights that had been put in place by the Military Reconstruction Act in early March 1867, and the tradition of Juneteenth began to spread to Black communities across the nation.

But white former Confederates in Texas were demoralized and angered by the changes in their circumstances. “It looked like everything worth living for was gone,” Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight later recalled. 

In summer 1865, as white legislators in the states of the former Confederacy grudgingly ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, they also passed laws to keep freedpeople subservient to their white neighbors. These laws, known as the Black Codes, varied by state, but they generally bound Black Americans to yearlong contracts working in the fields owned by white men; prohibited Black people from meeting in groups, owning guns or property, or testifying in court; outlawed interracial marriage; and permitted white men to buy out the jail terms of Black people convicted of a wide swath of petty crimes, and then to force those former prisoners into labor to pay off their debt.

In 1865, Congress refused to readmit the Southern states under the Black Codes, and in 1866, congressmen wrote and passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Its first section established that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” It went on: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

That was the whole ball game. The federal government had declared that a state could not discriminate against any of its citizens or arbitrarily take away any of a citizen’s rights. Then, like the Thirteenth Amendment before it, the Fourteenth declared that “Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” strengthening the federal government.

The addition of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 remade the United States. But those determined to preserve a world that discriminated between Americans according to race, gender, ability, and so on, continued to find workarounds. 

On Friday, June 16, 2023, the Department of Justice—created in 1870 to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment—released the report of its investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the City of Minneapolis in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer. The 19-page document found systemic “conduct that deprives people of their rights under the Constitution and federal law,” discriminating against Black and Native American people, people with behavioral health disabilities, and protesters. Those systemic problems in the MPD’s institutional culture enabled Floyd’s killing. 

Minneapolis police performed 22% more searches, 27% more vehicle searches, and 24% more uses of force on Black people than on white residents behaving in similar ways. They conducted 23% more searches and used force 20% more on Indigenous Americans.  

The Justice Department’s press release specified that the city and the police department “cooperated fully.” The two parties have “agreed in principle” to fix the problem with sweeping reforms based on community input, with an independent monitor rather than litigation. 

While the Senate unanimously approved the measure creating the Juneteenth holiday last year, fourteen far-right Republicans voted against it, many of them complaining that such a holiday would be divisive. 

How we remember our history matters.

Trump Under Arrest. In Federal Custody

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

June 13, 2023

It was quite a chyron from CNN, marking the first time in the history of the United States that a former president has been charged with federal crimes. And in this case, what crimes they are: the willful retention, sharing, and hiding of classified documents that compromise our national security. Trump’s own national security advisor John Bolton said, “This is material that in the hands of America’s adversaries would do incalculable damage to the United States. This is a very serious case and it’s not financial fraud, it’s not hush money to porn stars, this is the national security of the United States at stake. I think we’ve got to take the politics out of this business when national security is at stake.”

Cameras were barred in the courtroom as Trump pleaded not guilty to the 37 charges in Miami today. Presiding magistrate judge Jonathan Goodman ordered Trump not to communicate with witnesses about the case, including co-defendant Waltine Nauta, then released him on his own recognizance, that is, without needing to post bail. Special prosecutor Jack Smith was in the courtroom; ABC’s senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott reported that Trump did not look at Smith.

Then Trump went back to his residence in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he gave a speech that New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who is close to the Trump camp, described as low energy, focusing on his insistence that he had a right to keep the classified documents (which experts agree is nonsense and amounts to a confession) and that the indictment was “the most evil and heinous abuse of power.” Right-wing Newsmax and the Fox News Channel (FNC) carried the speech; CNN and MSNBC did not.

FNC has been hemorrhaging viewers since it fired Tucker Carlson, a threat to its bottom line that might have been behind its chyron tonight attacking Biden by claiming “WANNABE DICTATOR SPEAKS AT THE WHITE HOUSE AFTER HAVING HIS POLITICAL RIVAL ARRESTED.”

In statements similar to the one from FNC, right-wing pundits spent the day flooding Twitter and other social media with furious insistence that Trump is being unfairly prosecuted, followed by attacks on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and with allegations that there are tapes of President Biden accepting bribes—allegations that Biden openly laughed at this evening.

But that performative outrage among leaders did not translate into support on the ground in Miami. Law enforcement had been prepared for as many as 50,000 protesters, but only a few hundred to a thousand turned out (one wearing a shirt made of an American flag and carrying the head of a pig on a pole).

The lack of supporters on the ground was significant. Since the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, much of Trump’s power has rested on his ability to call out his base to silence opponents by threatening violence. That power was in full force on January 6, 2021, when his loyalists set out to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would make Democrat Joe Biden president, believing they were operating under the orders of then-president Trump.

Since then, though, more than 1,000 people who participated in the events of January 6 have been charged with crimes, and many have been sentenced to prison, while Trump, who many defendants say called them to arms, has skated. That discrepancy is likely dampening the enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters for protest.

Today Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo pointed out that the audacity of Nevada’s militia-related Bundy family simply grew as family members launched successive stands against the federal government without significant legal repercussions. Republican politicians cheered on their attacks on federal officials for political gain, while Democratic politicians didn’t push to go after them out of concern that a show of federal power would alienate Nevada voters.

Trump’s threats and determination to stir up his base seem to reflect a similar consideration: if he can just rally enough support, he might imagine, the federal government will back off.

Federal officials permitting politics to trump the rule of law in our past have brought us to this moment.

After the Civil War, officials charged Confederate president Jefferson Davis and 38 other leading secessionists with treason but decided not to prosecute when the cases finally came to trial in 1869. They wanted to avoid the anger a trial would provoke because they hoped to reconcile the North and South. They also worried they would not get convictions in the southern states where the trials were assigned.

In the end, between President Andrew Johnson’s pardons and Congress’s granting of amnesty to Confederates, no one was convicted for their participation in the attempt to destroy the country. This generosity did not create the good feeling men like General Ulysses S. Grant hoped it would. Instead, as Civil War scholar Elizabeth Varon established in her book on the surrender at Appomattox, it helped to create the myth that the southern cause had been so noble that even the conquering northern armies had been forced to recognize it. The ideology of the Confederacy never became odious, and it has lived on.

The same quest for reconciliation drove President Gerald R. Ford to grant a pardon to former president Richard M. Nixon for possible “offenses against the United States” in his quest to win the 1972 election by bugging the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Washington, D.C., Watergate Hotel.

Ford explained that the “tranquility” the nation had found after Nixon’s resignation “could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States.” The threat of a trial would “cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

In an echo of 100 years before, Ford’s generosity did not bring Nixon or his supporters back into the fold. Instead, they doubled down on the idea that Nixon had done nothing wrong and had been hounded from office by his “liberal” enemies. Nixon himself never admitted wrongdoing, telling the American people he was resigning because he no longer had enough support in Congress to advance the national interest. Although his support had collapsed because even members of his own party believed he was guilty of obstructing justice, violated constitutional rights of citizens, and abused his power, Nixon blamed the press, whose members had destroyed him with “leaks and accusations and innuendo.”

The willingness of government officials to ignore the rule of law in order to buy peace gave us enduring reverence for the principles of the Confederacy, along with countless dead Unionists, mostly Black people, killed as former Confederates reclaimed supremacy in the South. It also gave us the idea that presidents cannot be held accountable for crimes, a belief that likely made some of the presidents who followed Nixon less careful about following the law than they might have been if they had seen Nixon indicted.

Holding a former president accountable for an alleged profound attack on the United States is indeed unprecedented, as his supporters insist. But far from being a bad thing to stand firm on the rule of law at the upper levels of government, it seems to fall into the category of “high time.”

GasLit Nation: Can Florida, and the rest of our democracy be saved?

May 31, 2023


This conversation was recorded May 24, 2023 as a Gaslit Nation live taping and includes at the end a 
Q&A of questions dropped in the chat by our audience. Thank you to everyone who joined us!

Can Florida, and with it, the rest of our democracy be saved? Or is Florida destined to be an authoritarian cesspool under Brooks Brother Viktor Orbán – Ron DeSantis? In this special solution-rich episode of Gaslit Nation, author David Pepper discusses his latest book Saving Democracy: A User’s Manual for Every American.

David shares important lessons from the upset of Jacksonville’s mayoral race; why Florida’s Democratic Party State Chair Nikki Fried could give DeSantis a run for his money, and we discuss how Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota have their acts together while New York’s Democratic Party remains stuck under Jay Jacobs who handed the House to Kevin McCarthy, bringing the American and therefore the global economy to the brink. (Elections have consequences, which is why Jay Jacobs must be replaced – join the movement here!)

If you’re stuck in a so-called blue state like New York that’s failing due to machine politics and complacency, or if you live in a fascist-gerrymandered hostage state known as a red state, this discussion has concrete steps you can take to empower your community. Local elections are the frontlines of our democracy, no matter where you live. And none of us are in this battle alone.

Thank you to everyone who joined our live taping with David Pepper. Be sure to check out his book Saving Democracy. If you would like to join a future live taping of Gaslit Nation, be sure to support the show at the Truth-teller level or higher. And to submit questions for our regular Q&As, sign up at the Democracy Defender level or higher. We’ll be back with an all new Q&A this coming Friday so stay tuned! Thank you to everyone who supports the show – we could not make Gaslit Nation without you!