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.

September 11

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 11, 2021

On the twentieth anniversary of the day terrorists from the al-Qaeda network used four civilian airplanes as weapons against the United States, the weather was eerily similar to the bright, clear blue sky of what has come to be known as 9/11. George W. Bush, who was president on that horrific day, spoke in Pennsylvania at a memorial for the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who, on September 11, 2001, stormed the cockpit and brought their airplane down in a field, killing everyone on board but denying the terrorists a fourth American trophy.  

Former president Bush said: “Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans, on a routine flight, to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror. The 33 passengers and 7 crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all.” And, Bush continued, “The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil.”

Recalling his experience that day, Bush talked of “the America I know.”

“On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another…. At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith…. At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees…. At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action.”

Today’s commemorations of that tragic day almost a generation ago seemed to celebrate exactly what Bush did: the selfless heroism and care for others shown by those like Welles Crowther, the man in the red bandana, who helped others out of danger before succumbing himself; the airplane passengers who called their loved ones to say goodbye; neighbors; firefighters; law enforcement officers; the men and women who volunteered for military service after the attack.

That day, and our memories of it, show American democracy at its best: ordinary Americans putting in the work, even at its dirtiest and most dangerous, to take care of each other.

It is this America we commemorate today.

But even in 2001, that America was under siege by those who distrusted the same democracy today’s events commemorated. Those people, concentrated in the Republican Party, worried that permitting all Americans to have a say in their government would lead to “socialism”: minorities and women would demand government programs paid for with tax dollars collected from hardworking people—usually, white men. They wanted to slash taxes and government regulations, giving individuals the “freedom” to do as they wished. 

In 1986, they had begun to talk about purifying the vote; when the Democrats in 1993 passed the so-called Motor Voter law permitting people to register to vote at certain government offices, they claimed that Democrats were buying votes. The next year, Republicans began to claim that Democrats won elections through fraud, and in 1998, the Florida legislature passed a voter ID law that led to a purge of as many as 100,000 voters from the system before the election of 2000, resulting in what the United States Commission on Civil Rights called “an extraordinarily high and inexcusable level of disenfranchisement,” particularly of African American voters. 

It was that election that put George W. Bush in the White House, despite his losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore by more than a half a million votes. 

Bush had run on the promise he would be “a uniter, not a divider,” but as soon as he took office, he advanced the worldview of those who distrusted democracy. He slashed government programs and in June pushed a $1.3 trillion cut through Congress. These measures increased the deficit without spurring the economy, and voters were beginning to sour on a presidency that had been precarious since its controversial beginnings.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, hours before the planes hit the Twin Towers, a New York Times editorial announced: “There is a whiff of panic in the air.”

And then the planes hit.

“In our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment,” Bush said. America had seemed to drift since the Cold War had ended twelve years before, but now the country was in a new death struggle, against an even more implacable foe. To defeat the nation’s enemies, America must defend free enterprise and Christianity at all costs. 

In the wake of the attacks, Bush’s popularity soared to 90 percent. He and his advisers saw that popularity as a mandate to change America, and the world, according to their own ideology. “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” he announced.

Immediately, the administration focused on strengthening business. It shored up the airline industry and, at the advice of oil industry executives, deregulated the oil industry and increased drilling. By the end of the year, Congress had appropriated more than $350 billion for the military and homeland security, but that money would not go to established state and local organizations; it would go to new federal programs run by administration loyalists. Bush’s proposed $2.13 trillion 2003 budget increased military spending by $48 billion while slashing highway funding, environmental initiatives, job training, and other domestic spending. It would throw the budget $401 billion in the red. Republicans attacked any opposition as an attack on “the homeland.” 

The military response to the attacks also turned ideological quickly. As soon as he heard about the attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked his aides to see if there was enough evidence to “hit” Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as well as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In fact, Saddam had not been involved in the attack on America: the al-Qaeda terrorists of 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Rumsfeld was trying to fit the events of 911 into the worldview of the so-called neocons who had come together in 1997 to complain that President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy was “incoherent” and to demand that the U.S. take international preeminence in the wake of the Cold War. They demanded significantly increased defense spending and American-backed “regime change” in countries that did not have “political and economic freedom.” They wanted to see a world order “friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.”  

After 9/11, Bush launched rocket attacks on the Taliban government of Afghanistan that had provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda, successfully overthrowing it before the end of the year. But then the administration undertook to reorder the Middle East in America’s image. In 2002, it announced that the U.S. would no longer simply try to contain our enemies as President Harry S. Truman had planned, or to fund their opponents as President Ronald Reagan had done, but to strike nations suspected of planning attacks on the U.S. preemptively: the so-called Bush Doctrine. In 2003, after setting up a pro-American government in Afghanistan, the administration invaded Iraq.

By 2004, the administration was so deeply entrenched in its own ideology that a senior adviser to Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that people like him—Suskind—were in “the reality-based community”: they believed people could find solutions based on their observations and careful study of discernible reality. But, the aide continued, such a worldview was obsolete. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.… We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The 9/11 attacks enabled Republicans to tar those who questioned the administration’s economic or foreign policies as un-American: either socialists or traitors making the nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Surely, such people should not have a voice at the polls. Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression began to shut Democratic voices out of our government, aided by a series of Supreme Court decisions. In 2010, the court opened the floodgates of corporate money into our elections to sway voters; in 2013, it gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act; in 2021, it said that election laws that affected different groups of voters unevenly were not unconstitutional. 

And now we grapple with the logical extension of that argument as a former Republican president claims he won the 2020 election because, all evidence to the contrary, Democratic votes were fraudulent.

Today, former president Bush called out the similarities between today’s domestic terrorists who attacked our Capitol to overthrow our government on January 6 and the terrorists of 9/11. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home, “he said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

In doing so, we can take guidance from the passengers on Flight 93, who demonstrated as profoundly as it is possible to do what confronting such an ideology means. While we cannot know for certain what happened on that plane on that fateful day, investigators believe that before the passengers of Flight 93 stormed the cockpit, throwing themselves between the terrorists and our government, and downed the plane, they all took a vote.

Trump and his co-conspirators must account for the damage they have inflicted on American democracy

By Robert Reich September 7, 2021

The former president’s attempted coup is not stopping. He still refuses to concede and continues to rile up supporters with his bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Tens of millions of Americans believe him.

Last Sunday, at a Republican event in Franklin, North Carolina, Congressman Madison Cawthorn, repeating Trump’s Big Lie, called the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6th “political hostages”.

Cawthorn also advised the crowd to begin stockpiling ammunition for what he said was likely to be American-versus-American “bloodshed” over unfavorable election results.

“Much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs,” he said, “there’s nothing I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.”

Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas Republicans’ strict voter law based on Trump’s Big Lie – imposing new ID requirements on people seeking to vote by mail and criminal penalties on election officials who send unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, empowering partisan poll watchers, and banning drive-through and 24-hour voting.

This year, at least 18 other states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote, based on Trump’s Lie.

Last Thursday, at Trump’s instigation, Pennsylvania Republicans launched an investigation soliciting sworn testimony on election “irregularities”, scheduling the first hearing for next week.

Arizona’s Republican “audit” will report its results any day. There’s little question what they’ll show. The chief executive of Cyber Ninjas, the company hired to conduct it, has publicly questioned the election results. The audit team consists of Trump supporters and is funded by a group led by Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The Republican Chair of the Wisconsin State Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee has begun “a full, cyber-forensic audit”, akin to Arizona’s. Trump’s first White House Chief Of Staff, Reince Priebus, says Wisconsin Republicans are prepared to spend $680,000.

These so-called audits won’t alter the outcome of the 2020 election. Their point is to cast further doubt on its legitimacy and justify additional state measures to suppress votes and alter future elections.

It’s a vicious cycle. As Trump continues to stoke his base with his Big Lie that the election was stolen, Republican lawmakers – out to advance their careers and entrench the GOP – are adding fuel to the fire, pushing more Americans into Trump’s paranoid nightmare.

The three top candidates to succeed Richard Burr in North Carolina all denounced the Senator’s vote to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. The four leading candidates to succeed Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania all embraced Trump’s call for an “audit” of election results.

A leading contender for the Senate seat being vacated by Richard Shelby in Alabama is Representative Mo Brooks, best known for urging the crowd at Trump’s rally preceding the Capitol riot to “start taking down names and kicking ass”. Brooks has been endorsed by Trump.

Yet even as Trump’s attempted coup gains traction, most of the rest of America continues to sleep. We’ve become so outrage-fatigued by his antics, and so preoccupied with the more immediate threats of the Delta variant and climate-fueled wildfires and hurricanes, that we prefer not to know.

A month ago it was reported that during his last weeks in office Trump tried to strong-arm the Justice Department to falsely declare the 2020 Presidential Election fraudulent, even threatening to fire the acting Attorney General if he didn’t: “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen.”

The news barely registered on America’s collective mind. The Olympics and negotiations over the infrastructure bill got more coverage.

A top Trump adviser now says Trump is “definitely running” for president in 2024, even though the 14th Amendment to the Constitution bars anyone from holding office who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the nation.

Federal legislation that would pre-empt state voter suppression laws is bogged down in the Senate. Biden hasn’t made it a top priority. A House Select Committee to investigate the Capitol riot and Trump’s role is barely off the ground. The Justice Department has made no move to indict the former president for anything.

But unless Trump and his co-conspirators are held accountable for the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict on American democracy, and unless Senate Democrats and Biden soon enact national voting rights legislation, Trump’s attempted coup could eventually succeed.

It is imperative that America wake up.


Robert Reich is an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as well as serving as the United States Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997 under President Bill Clinton

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.

Truth telling about decay in America: Michael Moore interviews Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is one of the great journalists, thinkers, war reporters and truth-tellers of our time. He won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on global terrorism while at the New York Times, who later fired him for speaking out against the Iraq war.

He joins Michael to speak on Afghanistan, the collapse of the American empire, the upcoming 9/11 anniversary, and the end of abortion rights in Texas (and around the U.S.)

Hedges was a war correspondent for many years and has seen awful human degradation, societies in collapse, social bonds being ruptured, and people turning to “self-destructive behavior and magical thinking.” Alarmingly, he sees all of these signals of decay here in America.

Hedges has also studied the Evangelical Christian Right in America and wrote a prescient book in 2008 titled, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” He details the decades-long battle on women’s reproductive rights, the cynical and dishonest methods used to restrict access to abortion and how this pernicious form of fascism has only grown stronger since that book was published.

However, as a teacher, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a graduate from Harvard’s Divinity School, Hedges draws on the teachings of great philosophers and theologians to lay out a moral imperative for solidarity and struggle and explains why we must not succumb to despair.