Trump loyalists are on the ropes – watch for just $49.99!

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 8, 2021

Early in the wake of Trump’s presidency, Republican Party lawmakers facing upcoming elections appear to have made the calculation that radicalized Trump voters were vital to their political futures. They seemed to worry that they needed to protect themselves against primary candidates from the right, since primaries are famous for bringing out the strongest partisans. If they could win their primaries, though, they could rely on tradition, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to keep them in office.

So Republicans tried to bury the January 6 insurrection and former president Trump’s role in it. Although both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called attention to Trump’s responsibility for the attack immediately after it happened, they voted to acquit him of the charge of “incitement of insurrection” placed by the House of Representatives, and either to echo or not to oppose the accusation that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Republican governors like Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, both of whom appear to have presidential ambitions, along with Kristi Noem in South Dakota, took strong stands against immigrants who they insisted were invading the country, masks that they claimed were stifling children, and now, in Texas (but soon to spread), against abortion. At the same time, Republican-dominated states dramatically restricted the right to vote.

This calculation is hardly a secret. In Washington state, two Trump-type candidates have recently challenged the popular Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for the former president’s impeachment. Trump has endorsed one of them, and Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a Trump loyalist, traveled there this weekend to boost that candidate’s campaign.

Republicans in Texas have swung hard right to rally their white base in a state that is now majority minority. The governor recently directed state police to arrest immigrants believed to have come to America illegally. The Republican legislature has passed, and the Republican governor has signed, a draconian abortion law empowering neighbors to collect $10,000 if they win a lawsuit against anyone who “abets” an abortion after six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant; a strong voter suppression bill; and a law that permits people to carry guns without a permit.

​​Democratic state Representative Ron Reynolds, vice chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, told the AP’s Will Weissert and Paul J. Weber: “They have to entertain and they have to appease because these are the people that are excited about voting in Republican primaries.”

But the Republicans’ move right was always a political gamble. The fact that politics is getting so frantic suggests it is a gamble they are afraid they are losing.

Far from disappearing, the events of January 6 loom larger every day. On September 4, Jacob Chansley, who then called himself “QAnon Shaman” and was seen in the Senate Chamber on January 6, shirtless, painted, wearing a horned helmet, and carrying a flagpole topped with a spear, pleaded guilty to a felony. He could face 41 to 51 months in prison. He is one of 600 charged so far in the insurrection. Like others, he claimed he believed Trump had called him to the Capitol that day.

Some Republican lawmakers might be looking at Chansley’s four or so years in prison and getting nervous as they might face their own day of reckoning.

Senate Republicans filibustered the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6, so the House created a select committee instead. McCarthy tried to sabotage the select committee by adding to it two representatives who had already declared their opposition to it; then, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them, McCarthy withdrew all the Republicans from the committee and refused to participate in it, clearly hoping to discredit its work as a partisan hit job. But Pelosi invited anti-Trump Republican representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to participate in the committee, and they agreed. As of September 2, Cheney is now the committee’s vice-chair.

The committee has asked a wide variety of sources for a wide variety of records, prompting what certainly looks like concern from lawmakers who worked closely with the former president. When the select committee asked telecommunications companies to preserve the phone records of certain members of Congress, as well as the former president and members of his family, the lawmakers in question strongly opposed the committee’s request.

McCarthy claimed that any company turning over private information was “in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” although experts say there is no law that stops companies from complying with a subpoena (and, of course, Republicans demanded—and received—Hillary Clinton’s private data in 2016). McCarthy seemed to issue a threat when he said: “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

Eleven House Republicans wrote a letter to Yahoo (mistakenly addressing it to a CEO who left the company in 2017) warning that “the undersigned do not consent to the release of confidential call records or data,” claiming that “your company has a legal obligation to protect the data of your subscribers and customers,” and threatening that “[i]f you fail to comply with these obligations, we will pursue all legal remedies.”

The eleven lawmakers signing the letter were those most closely associated with Trump: Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Scott Perry (R-PA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jodie Hice (R-GA), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Jim Banks (R-IN), who seems to have aims for higher office.

Greene warned that any company complying with the committee’s request would be “shut down.”

McCarthy also claimed that the Department of Justice had said Trump did not cause, incite, or provoke the violence on January 6. This prompted select committee chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice-Chair Cheney to issue a statement “on McCarthy’s January 6th misinformation campaign,” calling “reports of such a conclusion… baseless.”

The anti-government anti-mask movement also probably seemed like a better idea before the Delta variant hit. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis have doubled down on opposing mask mandates: DeSantis has gone so far as to use the government to prevent private businesses from requiring masks and to block local officials from requiring masks in schools.

But mask mandates are widely popular, and as hospitalizations and deaths spike among the unvaccinated, popular opinion is turning against anti-maskers. The area around Miami, Florida, has seen the deaths of at least 13 school staff from Covid-19; hospitalizations of children are rising; and north Idaho has begun to ration medical care; Covid hospitalizations on Labor Day 2021 were 61,000 higher than they were a year ago (99,000 versus 38,000), and health care workers are exhausted. Doctors are beginning to push back against the anti-maskers, while school boards in Florida are defying DeSantis’s ban and Texas schools are challenging Abbott’s rule in court.

While Trump-reflecting lawmakers are demanding Americans put their lives, and their children’s lives, on the line for “freedom,” news broke tonight that Trump and his son Don, Jr., will spend the night of September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, commenting on a “gamecast” of a boxing match between former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (who stepped in when Oscar De La Hoya tested positive for Covid) and Vitor Belfort at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. “I love great fighters and great fights,” Trump said. “You won’t want to miss this special event…”—which can be purchased for $49.99.

Republican base got what it wanted, destroying the right to legal abortion. Why no celebration?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 3, 2021

In the light of day today, the political fallout from Texas’s anti-abortion S.B. 8 law and the Supreme Court’s acceptance of that law continues to become clear.

By 1:00 this afternoon, the Fox News Channel had mentioned the decision only in a 20-second news brief in the 5 am hour. In political terms, it seems the dog has caught the car.

As I’ve said repeatedly, most Americans agree on most issues, even the hot button ones like abortion. A Gallup poll from June examining the issue of abortion concluded that only 32% of Americans wanted the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision overturned, while 58% of Americans opposed overturning it.

“’Overturning Roe v. Wade,’” Lydia Saad of Gallup wrote, “is a shorthand way of saying the Supreme Court could decide abortion is not a constitutional right after all, thus giving control of abortion laws back to the states. This does not sit well with a majority of Americans or even a large subset of Republicans. Not only do Americans oppose overturning Roe in principle, but they oppose laws limiting abortion in early stages of pregnancy that would have the same practical effect.”

While it is hard to remember today, the modern-day opposition to abortion had its roots not in a moral defense of life but rather in the need for President Richard Nixon to win votes before the 1972 election. Pushing the idea that abortion was a central issue of American life was about rejecting the equal protection of the laws embraced by the Democrats far more than it was ever about using the government to protect fetuses.

Abortion had been a part of American life since its inception, but states began to criminalize abortion in the 1870s. By 1960, an observer estimated that there were between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal U.S. abortions a year, endangering women, primarily poor ones who could not afford a workaround.

To stem this public health crisis, doctors wanted to decriminalize abortion and keep it between a woman and her doctor. In the 1960s, states began to decriminalize abortion on this medical model, and support for abortion rights grew.

The rising women’s movement wanted women to have control over their lives. Its leaders were latecomers to the reproductive rights movement, but they came to see reproductive rights as key to self-determination. In 1969, activist Betty Friedan told a medical abortion meeting: “[M]y only claim to be here, is our belated recognition, if you will, that there is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until we assert and demand the control over our own bodies, over our own reproductive process….”

In 1971, even the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention agreed that abortion should be legal in some cases, and vowed to work for modernization. Their convention that year reiterated its “belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves” but also called on “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

By 1972, Gallup pollsters reported that 64% of Americans agreed that abortion was between a woman and her doctor. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans, who had always liked family planning, agreed, as did 59% of Democrats.

In keeping with that sentiment, in 1973, the Supreme Court, under Republican Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a decision written by Republican Harry Blackmun, decided Roe v. Wade, legalizing first-trimester abortion.

The common story is that Roe sparked a backlash. But legal scholars Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel found something interesting. In a 2011 article in the Yale Law Journal, they showed that opposition to the eventual Roe v. Wade decision began in 1972—the year before the decision—and that it was a deliberate attempt to polarize American politics.

In 1972, Nixon was up for reelection, and he and his people were paranoid that he would lose. His adviser Pat Buchanan was a Goldwater man who wanted to destroy the popular New Deal state that regulated the economy and protected social welfare and civil rights. To that end, he believed Democrats and traditional Republicans must be kept from power and Nixon must win reelection.

Catholics, who opposed abortion and believed that “the right of innocent human beings to life is sacred,” tended to vote for Democratic candidates. Buchanan, who was a Catholic himself, urged Nixon to woo Catholic Democrats before the 1972 election over the issue of abortion. In 1970, Nixon had directed U.S. military hospitals to perform abortions regardless of state law; in 1971, using Catholic language, he reversed course to split the Democrats, citing his personal belief “in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn.”

Although Nixon and Democratic nominee George McGovern had similar stances on abortion, Nixon and Buchanan defined McGovern as the candidate of “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion,” a radical framing designed to alienate traditionalists.

As Nixon split the U.S. in two to rally voters, his supporters used abortion to stand in for women’s rights in general. Railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, in her first statement on abortion in 1972, activist Phyllis Schlafly did not talk about fetuses; she said: “Women’s lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women’s libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career, make them feel that they are ‘second-class citizens’ and ‘abject slaves.’ Women’s libbers are promoting free sex instead of the ‘slavery’ of marriage. They are promoting Federal ‘day-care centers’ for babies instead of homes. They are promoting abortions instead of families.”

Traditional Republicans supported an activist government that regulated business and promoted social welfare, but radical right Movement Conservatives wanted to kill the active government. They attacked anyone who supported such a government as immoral. Abortion turned women’s rights into murder.

Movement Conservatives preached traditional roles, and in 1974, the TV show Little House on the Prairie started its 9-year run, contributing, as historian Peggy O’Donnell has explored, to the image of white women as wives and mothers in the West protected by their menfolk. So-called prairie dresses became the rage in the 1970s.

This image was the female side of the cowboy individualism personified by Ronald Reagan. A man should control his own destiny and take care of his family unencumbered by government. Women should be wives and mothers in a nuclear family. In 1984, sociologist Kristin Luker discovered that “pro-life” activists believed that selfish “pro-choice” women were denigrating the roles of wife and mother. They wanted an active government to give them rights they didn’t need or deserve.

By 1988, Rush Limbaugh, the voice of Movement Conservatism, who was virulently opposed to taxation and active government, demonized women’s rights advocates as “Femi-nazis” for whom “the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur.” The complicated issue of abortion had become a proxy for a way to denigrate the political opponents of the radicalizing Republican Party.

Such threats turned out Republican voters, especially the evangelical base. But support for safe and legal abortion has always been strong, as it remains today. Until yesterday, Republican politicians could pay lip service to opposing the Roe v. Wade decision to get anti-abortion voters to show up at the polls, without facing the political fallout of actually getting rid of the decision.

Now, though, Texas has effectively destroyed the right to legal abortion.

The fact that the Fox News Channel is not mentioning what should have been a landmark triumph of its viewers’ ideology suggests Republicans know that ending safe and legal abortion is deeply unpopular. Their base finally, after all these years, got what it wanted. But now the rest of the nation, which had been assured as recently as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that Roe v. Wade was settled law that would not be overturned, gets a chance to weigh in.

Nanci Griffith’s first appearance on Austin City Limits (Full Set)

This recently uploaded YouTube video is from Nanci Griffith’s first appearance on Austin City Limits, shortly after the release of her breakthrough album Once in a Blue Moon. I remember watching this amazing performance for the first time on PBS on 1985. It was my introduction to Nanci, whose music I’ve cherished for the following 35 years.

Rest in Peace, Nanci. Thanks for the beautiful music.

GasLit Nation: Hold Onto Your Humanity

Aug 18, 2021

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

We break down myths about “the unvaccinated” vs the anti-vaxxer propagandists and discuss the institutional distrust that have made a diverse crowd of Americans hesitant about the vaccine. We go through twenty years of horrific policy decisions that enabled a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, wasted trillions of tax dollars, and led to war crimes and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian casualties. And we end with hopeful words from our December 2019 interview with Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Charlottesville began a wave of violent populism that mutated into authoritarianism

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

August 11, 2021

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home. 

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.” 

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”  

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government. 

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators. 

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government. 

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them. 

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020.  And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum. 

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands. 

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”