If losers refuse to accept the legitimacy of elections, the system falls apart

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 13, 2021

As the coronavirus continues to burn across the United States, Republicans are maintaining their opposition to President Joe Biden’s new requirement that certain groups, including those who work at companies that employ more than 100 people, should either be vaccinated or be tested frequently for the virus. They insist that vaccination should be voluntary, but have no solution to the new spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to sue cities that impose vaccine requirements, saying such mandates will hurt the economy by threatening jobs. More than 11,215 Florida residents are currently hospitalized with Covid-19.

More than 243,000 children tested positive for the virus last week, the second highest number of pediatric cases since the pandemic started. About 2200 are currently hospitalized.

Democrats continue to develop the infrastructure measure they expect to pass through reconciliation, thus being able to steer the bill through the Senate without facing a filibuster (budget reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered). A recent poll conducted for CNN by the independent research firm SSRS found that 93% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents think it is important to the party’s identity to believe that the federal government should do more to help people.

The price tag on the new measure is currently around $3.5 trillion. As E. J. Dionne points out in the Washington Post, that number covers 10 years of spending, a period of time in which the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of production, is expected to be $288 trillion. So that $3.5 trillion makes up around just 1.2 percent of the economy. It’s a big number, but not a large percentage for an investment in childcare, elder care, education, and addressing climate change.

The Democrats propose to fund the bill not with deficit spending alone, as so many of our investments have been funded of late, but by cutting spending elsewhere and by raising revenue by restoring some of the taxes Republicans cut in 2017. The Democrats also propose raising taxes on individuals who make more than $400,000 a year, or couples who make more than $450,000 a year. There is a growing impulse to level the economic playing field in this country as growing inequality makes the news more frequently. As Dr. Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, told Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein, the wealth of the top 400 people in the U.S. has increased by $1.4 trillion since 2019.

While the moderate Democrats and the progressive wing of the party are sparking breathless news stories as they hash out their differences, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Republicans refuse to participate in this process at all.

Perhaps the biggest breaking news today, although it, too, is a continuation of a longer theme, is that, in California’s recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom, the campaign website of challenger Republican Larry Elder, a right-wing talk show host, is already claiming he lost the election because of fraud. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the website says. “The primary analytical tool used was Benford’s Law and can be readily reproduced.”

But the election isn’t until tomorrow.

The theme that Democrats win elections only by cheating became popular in Republican circles after the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which made it easier for poor people to vote. Republicans said Democrats, who passed the measure, were simply packing elections with their own voters. There was not then, and there is not now, evidence of widespread fraud in American elections.

Former president Donald Trump harped on the idea that Democrats cheated in the 2016 election—he insisted he would have won the popular vote as well as the vote in the Electoral College if it hadn’t been for fraudulent Democratic votes—and that idea is, of course, at the heart of his complaint about Biden’s election in 2020. There is no evidence for these accusations; they are lies. And yet, that recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents think believing that Trump won the 2020 election is important to their identity as Republicans.

California has about half as many registered Republicans as it does registered Democrats, and Newsom won in 2018 by almost 24 percentage points, so if Newsom wins tomorrow’s election it will hardly be an upset. But Elder is already claiming fraud and refusing to say he will accept the results of the election—the same playbook Trump used in 2016 and 2020. Tonight, a pastor at a rally for Elder prayed: “We don’t even look at the polls because we are looking to you, Lord. Lord, we pray that you would take down the current government…. We ask this state will be set free, and you would start with Larry Elder.”

If losers in a democracy refuse to accept the legitimacy of elections, the system falls apart.

The growing radicalism of the Republican Party is putting pressure on Democrats to pass a voting rights act to counteract the vote-suppressing measures that Republican-dominated states are enacting. Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hopes to bring a voting rights bill backed by West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin to the floor for a vote as early as next week.

Biden vows an end to wars without achievable goals

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 31, 2021

This afternoon, President Joe Biden explained to the nation why he ended the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. He reminded Americans that the purpose of the attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was to destroy the ability of the Taliban to protect al-Qaeda and to capture or kill the terrorists who had attacked America on September 11, 2001. American bombing immediately weakened the Taliban, and when U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, we met those goals.

And yet we stayed on in Afghanistan while the terrorist threat spread across the world. Biden wants the country to face that modern threat, rather than the threat of twenty years ago. “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan,” he said.

Researchers estimate that the war in Afghanistan has cost more than 171,000 lives. It has wounded more than 20,700 U.S. service members and taken the lives of 2461 more. It has cost more than $2 trillion, which adds up to about $300 million a day for twenty years.

“After 20 years of war in Afghanistan,” Biden said, “I refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”

The president made it clear he envisions a different kind of foreign policy than the U.S. has embraced since 2002, when the Bush Doctrine, developed by the neoconservatives under Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, committed the United States to launching preemptive military actions in order to change regimes in countries we perceived as potential sponsors of terrorism—the doctrine that led us into invading Iraq in 2003, which diverted our attention and resources from Afghanistan.

“[W]e must set missions with clear, achievable goals,” Biden said. “This decision… is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries…. Moving on from that mindset and those kind of large-scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home.”

Biden has been very clear that he envisions a foreign policy based less in military personnel on the ground than in technology, the “over-the-horizon” weapons that the administration used to strike ISIS-K leaders the day after that group claimed responsibility for an attack at the gates of the Kabul airport that killed more than 160 Afghans and 13 Americans. “We will continue to support the Afghan people through diplomacy, international influence, and humanitarian aid,” Biden said. “We’ll continue to speak out for basic rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls…. [H]uman rights will be the center of our foreign policy.”

Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have explained that they expect to use modern tools to combat terrorism. Today, Biden said that the way to protect human rights “is not through endless military deployments, but through diplomacy, economic tools, and rallying the rest of the world for support.”

Biden’s new approach to foreign affairs includes finances. As soon as the Afghan government fell, the U.S. and other allies withheld aid to Afghanistan and froze the country’s assets held in western banks. The World Bank stopped funding the country, the International Monetary Fund froze $460 million in emergency reserves, and the U.S. froze about $7 billion of the $9.5 billion of Afghan central bank reserves held in U.S. banks. The European Union, which had promised $1 billion to the country over the next five years, has now said that money will depend on Afghanistan’s human rights record under its new government.

Russian lawmakers and state media have been gloating that the U.S. left Afghanistan. Now, though, they suddenly find their country with the U.S. gone and an unstable Afghanistan on their doorstep. Yesterday, they called on the U.S. and its allies to unfreeze money and to work to rebuild the country, even as they warned that it would never meet U.S. standards for human rights or democracy.

Biden’s emphasis includes working with allies to combat the crises facing the globe in the twenty-first century. Today, John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, left for a four-day trip to Japan and China to advance discussions about the climate crisis, a crisis increasingly obvious in the U.S. as California wildfires have forced the evacuation of the resort town of South Lake Tahoe and the U.S. Forest Service closed all national forests in California until September 17.

More than 15,000 firefighters are combating dozens of fires in California, but the emergency personnel from Louisiana had to return to their home state to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which has knocked out electric power for hundreds of thousands.

Today, President Biden met with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the heads of two of the largest utilities in the Gulf Coast to discuss restoring and maintaining the power grid in the face of the era’s new extreme weather events. The president also launched a 75-day comment period on how climate change is changing financial markets, focusing initially on insurers, who have $4.7 trillion worth of assets, much of which is invested. The administration is trying to understand how climate change could destabilize the economy.

Biden and Blinken have also made it clear they think nothing will strengthen America’s standing in the world more than strengthening democracy at home.

Today, the Texas legislature passed SB1, the sweeping voter suppression bill Democrats had tried to stop by walking out of the legislature to deny the Republicans a quorum. The new measure is a microcosm of voter suppression bills across the nation in Republican-dominated states.

It bans mail ballot drop boxes and gets rid of drive-through voting and extended hours. It criminalizes the distribution of applications for mail-in ballots and permits partisan poll watchers to have “free movement” in polling places, enabling them to intimidate voters. Texas is just 40% white and has 3 million unregistered voters, the vast majority of whom are Black or Latino. The new measure is designed to cut young people of color, whose numbers are growing in Texas and who are overwhelmingly Democrats, out of elections. In debates on the measure, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan asked members not to use the word “racism.”

Meanwhile, today, House Republicans have been on a media blitz to insist that the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has no right to examine the phone records of fellow congresspeople. On Tucker Carlson’s show on the Fox News Channel, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said, “These telecommunication companies, if they go along with this, they will be shut down. That’s a promise.”

There is no longer any daylight between the radical fringe like Greene and Republican leadership. Today House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who had at least one phone call with former president Trump on January 6, put out a statement warning that attempts to investigate the phone data of congresspeople from the January 6 insurrection would “put every American with a phone or a computer in the crosshairs of a surveillance state run by Democrat politicians.” If the companies comply with the committee’s request—which McCarthy mischaracterized as a “Democrat order”—he said, “a Republican majority will not forget.”

In response, representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted the legal code: 18 U.S. Code § 1505: “Whoever…by any threatening letter or communication…endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede…the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any…investigation is being had by either House…Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned…”

“I don’t think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1 percent of this country who put that uniform on, who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation,” Biden said today. He called his listeners back to President Abraham Lincoln’s defense of democracy at Gettysburg when he said: “As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look to the future, not the past—to a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure, to a future that honors those who served and all those who gave what President Lincoln called their ‘last full measure of devotion.’”

Individualism vs. The Common Good

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 27, 2021

America is in a watershed moment. Since the 1980s, the country has focused on individualism: the idea that the expansion of the federal government after the Depression in the 1930s created a form of collectivism that we must destroy by cutting taxes and slashing regulation to leave individuals free to do as they wish. 

Domestically, that ideology meant dismantling government regulation, social safety networks, and public infrastructure projects. Internationally, it meant a form of “cowboy diplomacy” in which the U.S. usually acted on its own to rebuild nations in our image.

Now, President Joe Biden appears to be trying to bring back a focus on the common good. 

For all that Republicans today insist that individualism is the heart of Americanism, in fact the history of federal protection of the common good began in the 1860s with their own ancestors, led by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.”

The contrast between these two ideologies has been stark this week.

On the one hand are those who insist that the government cannot limit an individual’s rights by mandating either masks or vaccines, even in the face of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus that is, once again, taking more than 1000 American lives a day. 

In New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has required teachers to be vaccinated, the city’s largest police union has said it will sue if a vaccine is mandated for its members. 

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order prohibiting any government office or any private entity receiving government funds from requiring vaccines. 

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has also forbidden mask mandates, but today Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional. Cooper pointed out that in 1914 and 1939, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual rights take a back seat to public safety: individuals can drink alcohol, for example, but not drive drunk. DeSantis was scathing of the opinion and has vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, NBC News reported this week that information about the coronavirus in Florida, as well as Georgia, is no longer easily available on government websites.

On the other hand, as predicted, the full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has prompted a flood of vaccine mandates.

The investigation into the events of January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, also showcases the tension between individualism and community. 

Yesterday, after months in which Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, called for the release of the identity of the officer who shot Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, Capitol Police officer Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the 28-year veteran of the force who shot Babbitt, gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News

Right-wing activists have called Babbitt a martyr murdered by the government, but Byrd explained that he was responsible for protecting 60 to 80 members of the House and their staffers. As rioters smashed the glass doors leading into the House chamber, Byrd repeatedly called for them to get back. When Ashli Babbitt climbed through the broken door, he shot her in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. Byrd said he was doing his job to protect our government. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

The conflict between individualism and society also became clear today as the House select committee looking into the attack asked social media giants to turn over “all reviews, studies, reports, data, analyses, and communications” they had gathered about disinformation distributed by both foreign and domestic actors, as well as information about “domestic violent extremists” who participated in the attack.

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) immediately responded that “Congress has no general power to inquire into private affairs and to compel disclosure….” He urged telecommunications companies and Facebook not to hand over any materials, calling their effort an “authoritarian undertaking.” Banks told Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson that Republicans should punish every lawmaker investigating the January 6 insurrection if they retake control of Congress in 2022.

Biden’s new turn is especially obvious tonight in international affairs. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a country we entered almost 20 years ago with a clear mission that became muddied almost immediately, has sparked Republican criticism for what many describe as a U.S. defeat. 

Since he took office, Biden has insisted on shifting American foreign policy away from U.S. troops alone on the ground toward multilateral pressure using finances and technology.

After yesterday’s bombing in Kabul took the lives of 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel, Biden warned ISIS-K: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.” 

Tonight, a new warning from the State Department warning Americans at the gates of the Kabul airport to “leave immediately” came just before a spokesman for CENTCOM, the United States Central Command in the Defense Department overseeing the Middle East, announced: “U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

Biden’s strike on ISIS-K demonstrated the nation’s over-the-horizon technologies that he hopes will replace troops. Even still, the administration continues to call for international cooperation. In a press conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby responded to a question about U.S. control in Afghanistan by saying: “It’s not about U.S. control in the Indo-Pacific. It’s about protecting our country from threats and challenges that emanate from that part of the world. And it’s about revitalizing our network of alliances and partnerships to help our partners in the international community do the same.“

Meanwhile, this afternoon, news broke that the Taliban has asked the United States to keep a diplomatic presence in the country even after it ends its military mission. The Taliban continues to hope for international recognition, in part to claw back some of the aid that western countries—especially the U.S.—will no longer provide, as well as to try to get the country’s billions in assets unfrozen.

A continued diplomatic presence in Afghanistan would make it easier to continue to get allies and U.S. citizens out of the country, but State Department spokesman Ned Price said the idea is a nonstarter unless a future Afghan government protects the rights of its citizens, including its women, and refuses to harbor terrorists. Price also emphasized that the U.S. would not make this decision without consulting allies. “This is not just a discussion the United States will have to decide for itself.… We are coordinating with our international partners, again to share ideas, to ensure that we are sending the appropriate signals and messages to the Taliban,” he said.

Evacuations from Afghanistan continue. Since August 14, they have topped 110,000, with 12,500 people in the last 24 hours. 

Perhaps the news story that best illustrates the tension today between individualism and using the government to help everyone is about a natural disaster. Hurricane Ida, which formed in the Caribbean yesterday, is barreling toward the U.S. Gulf Coast. When it hit western Cuba today, it was a Category 1 storm, but meteorologists expect it to pick up speed as it crosses the warm gulf, becoming a Category 4 storm by the time it hits the U.S. coastline. The area from Louisiana to Florida is in the storm’s path. New Orleans could see winds of up to 110 miles an hour and a storm surge of as much as 11 feet. Louisiana officials issued evacuation orders today. 

The storm is expected to hit Sunday evening, exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina did. But this time, there is another compilation: this is the very part of the country suffering terribly right now from coronavirus. Standing firm on individual rights, only about 40% of Louisiana’s population has been vaccinated, and hospitals are already stretched thin.

Today, President Biden declared an emergency in Louisiana, ordering federal assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the region ahead of the storm, trying to head off a catastrophe. The federal government will also help to pay the costs of the emergency. 

HCR: On covid, Biden’s relief bill and news on Trump insurrection

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | March 5

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

In coronavirus news today, there were a record 2.4 million vaccines administered.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) is denying any involvement in a vaccine drive in a private, gated community after which a resident of the community, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R), made a donation of $250,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis Political Action Committee. This appears to be part of a pattern in Florida, where vaccine administration seems to track with wealthy communities whose members donate to the governor’s campaign funds.

News about the January 6 insurrection continues to mount, with a mid-level Trump appointee from the State Department, Federico Klein, arrested yesterday on several felony charges, including assaulting police officers, stemming from the riot. Tonight the New York Times revealed that a member of the far-right Proud Boys organization was in contact with someone at the White House in the days before the insurrection.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has catalogued almost 2000 pages of public social media posts from those representatives who voted to overturn the election. The material reveals that a few representatives were active indeed in pushing the idea that the election was stolen and Trump supporters must fight. Especially active were Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Billy Long (R-MO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is slow-walking the confirmation of Merrick Garland as attorney general, an odd stance at a time when one would think we would want all hands on deck to investigate the insurrection and ongoing domestic terrorism

Continue reading