Heather Cox Richardson ~ Letters From An American

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May 7, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonMay 8

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo articulated today what many have been reluctant to say: What is at stake in the Big Lie and all the Republican efforts to keep it in play—the shenanigans in the secret Maricopa County, Arizona, recount; the censuring of Republicans who voted to impeach the former president; the expected removal of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from a leadership role in the party; and so on—is not the past election of 2020, but the upcoming election of 2024.

The Republican Party has demonstrated that it intends to control the government in the future, no matter what most Americans want. Iowa, Georgia, Montana, and Florida have already passed voter suppression laws, while other states are considering them. (Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s bill yesterday live on the Fox News Channel.) 

As Marshall points out, though, making sure that states return only Republicans to Congress is also about controlling the White House. Republican lawmakers are purging from state election machinery members of their own party who refused to change the outcome of the 2020 election and give a victory to Trump. The former president has fed speculation that he still hopes to overturn the 2020 election, but Marshall looks forward: Is it really possible to think that in 2024, members of the new Trump party will protect the sanctity of any election that gives a victory to a Democratic candidate? If Republicans capture the House in 2022, will they agree to certify electoral votes for a Democrat? In 2020, even before the current remaking of the party in Trump’s image, 139 House Republicans contested them. 

Trump is systematically going after leading members of the Republican Party, determined to remake it into his own organization. Several former senior White House officials told Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post that “[t]he defeated ex-president is propelled primarily by a thirst for retribution, an insatiable quest for the spotlight and a desire to establish and maintain total dominance and control over the Republican base.” Republican strategist Brendan Buck noted that Trump seems to relish fighting, rather than victory to achieve an end. “Usually,” Buck said, “a fight is the means to an end, but in this case fighting is the end.”

The Republicans are consolidating their control over the machinery of government in a way that indicates they intend to control the country regardless of what Americans actually want, putting Trump and his organization back in charge. Democrats have proposed the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1), which would start to restore a level playing field between the parties. The For the People Act would sideline the new voter suppression bills and make it easier to vote. It would end partisan gerrymandering and stop the flow of big money into elections permitted after the 2010 Citizens United decision.

But Republicans are determined to stop this measure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is especially engaged in its obstruction. He has called it a “partisan takeover” that would “give Washington Democrats unprecedented control over 50 states’ election laws.” He recognizes that restoring a level electoral playing field would hamstring the Republicans’ ability to win elections. Defeating the act is McConnell’s top priority.

The story of how Republican leaders embraced voter suppression and gerrymandering starts back in the 1980s, though the mechanics of overturning a presidential election are new to 2020. Still, their undermining of our democratic system begs the question: Why are leading Republicans surrendering their party, and our nation, to a budding autocrat?

Two days ago, when asked if he is concerned about the direction of his party,  McConnell told reporters that he is not paying attention to it because the Democrats are trying “to turn American into a socialist country,” and that “[o]ne-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.” 

In his April 28 address before a joint session of Congress, President Biden indicated he intended to reverse the course the government has been on since the Reagan years. “My fellow Americans,” Biden said, “trickle-down… economics has never worked, and it’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.” 

Republicans have tied themselves to the idea that, as Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” (although in 1981 he prefaced that statement with the words: “In this present crisis”). Since the 1990s, they have focused on tax cuts and deregulation as the key to building a strong economy, even though that program has moved wealth dramatically upward. 

Today, Republicans interpreted a jobs report that showed job growth slowing in April as a sign that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which pumped $1.9 trillion into the country to help it heal from the coronavirus recession, has failed. Rather than speeding up growth, they say, it is slowing it down. Biden pointed out that the nation has added 1.5 million jobs since he took office and that the recession will not end overnight, but Republicans insist that the federal $300 weekly unemployment checks included in the law are keeping people from going back to work. 

The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, issued a statement saying: “This is a stunning economic setback, and unequivocal proof that President Biden is sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas.” 

Citing help wanted ads, Republican governors in South Carolina, Montana, and Arkansas are ending the unemployment benefit in their own states to get people back to work. Other Republican-led states are suing the administration to force it to let them use the money provided in the American Rescue Plan not to offer help to workers, but to subsidize tax cuts. Meanwhile, still others at home are touting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan to their constituents without mentioning that they voted against it. 

Americans appear to like the new direction of the country. Seventy-seven percent liked the American Rescue Plan and 56% like Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan for infrastructure, while 65% want to tax people making more than $400,000 a year to pay for it. At the same time, a new Pew poll suggests that the divisiveness of the Trump years is easing and that young people in particular are not interested in the culture wars.

Faced with the prospect of voters rejecting their economic policies, Republican leaders are undermining democracy.

Letters From An American, Heather Cox Richardson

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April 20, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonApr 21

Today a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota, convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on all counts in the death of George Floyd. On May 25, 2020, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds after arresting him for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. The jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 75 years in prison, and will be sentenced in two months.

As we heard this verdict today, it was striking how many Americans breathed a sigh of relief. It stands out to me that, although a girl passing by, Darnella Frazier, had the presence of mind to record a video of the entire encounter on her cell phone so we could all see what happened entirely too clearly, we were not certain of the outcome.

When they released information about Floyd’s death on May 26, the Minneapolis police department described it like this: “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. [He was, in fact, dead.] Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.” 

If Ms. Frazier had not captured the video, would Chauvin be in prison right now? Between 2013 and 2019, only 1% of killings by police have resulted in criminal charges. 

How many of those deaths are like that of Mr. Floyd? 

I cannot help but think of the famous image of Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price and Sheriff Laurence A. Rainey laughing at a hearing after their arraignment following the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964. 

Price and Rainey were members of the Ku Klux Klan. On June 21, Price stopped James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, allegedly for speeding, then arrested them on suspicion that they had burned a church. That night, after they paid their speeding ticket and left, Price followed them, stopped them, ordered them into his car, and then took them down a deserted road and turned them over to two cars full of his fellow terrorists. They beat and murdered the men and buried them at an earthen dam that was under construction. 

Price and Rainey thought it was funny when they were arraigned along with 16 of their friends—not for murder, because Mississippi refused to bring charges, but for conspiracy and violating the civil rights of the murdered men, both federal offenses. And why shouldn’t they think it was all a joke? The jury was white and, after all, they were law enforcement officers. 

But, in the end, Price was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison (he served four) and Rainey, who was not at the murder scene, was found not guilty, but lost his job and his marriage and blamed the FBI and the media for ruining his life.

That’s what at stake today, of course. After 1877, certain white men in the American South could commit crimes with impunity, doing whatever they wished to the rest of us, because the region had become a one-party state. Protesters like Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner set out to reestablish the principle of equality before the law. In 1964, Price and Rainey tried to stop them and found, to their surprise, that the world had changed. Then, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act protecting the right of Black people to vote and the stranglehold of the white supremacists on the one-party South loosened.

In 2021, once again, certain people in our government and law enforcement would like to exercise the political dominance of a one-party state and the power that comes with it, this time on a national scale. Today, Chauvin found, to his apparent surprise, that the world is changing.

May her extraordinary act of bearing witness bring peace to Ms. Frazier.

Rest in power, Mr. Floyd.

Avlon compares Tucker Carlson’s comments to George Wallace ~ CNN

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~~~ LISTEN ~~~

CNN’s John Avlon looks at Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and his defense of the ‘great replacement’ theory. Where did the racist theory start and what does it have to do with the Capitol riot?

Letters From An American

April 16, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonApr 17

Today, news broke that a number of pro-Trump House Republicans, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), are organizing the “America First Caucus,” which calls for “a degree of ideological flexibility, a certain intellectual boldness… to follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.”

The seven-page document outlining their ideas, obtained by Punchbowl News, is a list of the grievances popular in right-wing media. It calls for regulation of “Big Tech,” which right-wing commentators claim is biased against them; an end to coronavirus lockdowns, which the authors say “have ruined many businesses to bankruptcy such that many Americans are left unemployed and potentially destitute”; opposition to “wasteful social justice programs like the Green New Deal”; support for oil and gas; and rejection of “globalist institutions.”

And, with extraordinary clarity, it shows the ideology that underpins these positions, an ideology eerily reminiscent of that of the elite slaveholders of the 1850s American South. 

“America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty,” the document says, but that federalism has been undermined by decadent and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington. The authors propose to get rid of regulation and the regulatory state, thus restoring individual freedom. This is the exact argument that animated elite slaveholders, who vowed to keep the national government small so it could not intrude on their institution of human enslavement. 

The authors of the America First Caucus platform lay out very clearly the racial argument behind the political one. America, the authors write, is based on “a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” and “mass immigration” must be stopped. “Anglo-Saxon” is an old-fashioned historical description that has become a dog whistle for white supremacy. Scholars who study the Medieval world note that visions of a historical “white” England are fantasies, myths that are set in an imaginary past. 

This was a myth welcome to pre-Civil War white southerners who fancied themselves the modern version of ancient English lords and used the concept of “Anglo-Saxon” superiority to justify spreading west over Indigenous and Mexican peoples. It was a myth welcome in the 1920s to members of the Ku Klux Klan, who claimed that “only as we follow in the pathway of the principles of our Anglo-Saxon father and express in our life the spirit and genius of their ideals may we hope to maintain the supremacy of the race, and to perpetuate our inheritance of liberty.” And it is a myth that appeals to modern-day white supremacists, who imitate what they think are ancient crests for their clothing, weapons, and organizations. 

Emphasizing their white nationalism, the members of the America First Caucus call for “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture… stunningly, classically, beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.” They also condemn the current education system, calling it “progressive indoctrination” and saying it works “to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” They conclude that “The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.” They envision a world in which people who think as they do control the nation.

Indeed, the document embraces the Big Lie that Biden did not, in fact win the 2020 election. Despite the fact that all evidence proves that the 2020 election was one of the cleanest in our history and that President Joe Biden won, fair and square, the America First Caucus Policy Platform insists that the 2020 election was characterized by “massive voter fraud” and calls for limiting the vote.  

Behind all this, of course, is the idea that a Democratic victory in an election is, by definition, impossible. 

This extraordinary document makes it clear that Republican leaders are reaping what they began to sow during the Nixon administration, when party operatives nailed together a coalition by artificially dividing the nation between hardworking white taxpayers on the one hand and, on the other, people of color and feminist women whose demand for equality, the argument went, was code for government handouts. In the years since 1970, Republicans have called for deregulation and tax cuts that help the wealthy, arguing that such cuts advance individual liberty. All the while, they have relied on racism and sexism to rally voters with the argument that Black and Brown voters and feminist women—“feminazis,” in radio host Rush Limbaugh’s world—wanted big government so it would give them handouts. 

It was a political equation that worked with a wink and a nod until former president Trump put the racism and sexism openly on the table and encouraged his supporters to turn against their opponents. They have now embraced open white supremacy. 

The platform of the America First Caucus appears to have woken up some of the business Republicans—who want tax cuts and deregulation, but not the mindless white nationalism of the Trump supporters—to what has taken over their party. Today House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to say that “America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion. The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans—not nativist dog whistles.” 

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the third most powerful Republican leader in the House, tweeted, “Republicans believe in equal opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. We teach our children the values of tolerance, decency and moral courage. Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teaches us all we have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate.” 

In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, former President George W. Bush defended immigration in our past, present, and future as “a great and defining asset of the United States.” “New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been,” he wrote as he described his new book, made up of portraits he has painted of Americans who came originally from other nations.

Will the business Republicans’ newfound inclusiveness manage to reclaim their party? It’s not at all clear that what conservative commentator Tom Nichols calls “an extremely dangerous authoritarian party” will not win out. 

Republicans in the Arizona state Senate today put teeth into the Big Lie when they announced they have hired a private company connected with Trump to recount the ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona, in the 2020 election. They claim they want to “restore integrity to the election process,” although the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, dominated by Republicans, voted unanimously to certify Biden’s win and both state and federal judges have verified that the existing count is valid. County officials have distanced themselves from this recount. 

At the same time, though, news is not good for Trump’s supporters. Yesterday, the Treasury Department dropped the bombshell that Trump’s 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort worked with Russian intelligence to swing the 2016 election, while House Republicans accused the intelligence community of spying on them. Today the Department of Justice launched a civil suit against Trump adviser Roger Stone, saying that he and his wife “intended to defraud the United States” by hiding income and that they owe nearly $2 million in back taxes. It is not unimportant that Manafort and Stone began their political consulting careers under Richard Nixon.

Perhaps most notably in this era of social media, McCarthy’s tweet recalling the Republican Party’s older, inclusive days got what is called “ratioed” on Twitter, with significantly more people disparaging the tweet than liking it. The Republicans are “the party of the Confederacy, white supremacy, Black voter suppression, Kremlin collusion, and violent insurrection,” one person wrote. “The party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Jefferson Davis.”

Heather Cox Richardson ~ A Letter From An American

April 5, 2021 

Heather Cox RichardsonApr 6

For people sick of news, there is nothing happening that cannot wait, so tonight’s letter is a good one to skip. 

Otherwise, there are lots of developing stories today. Top of the list is the story of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is implicated in what appears to be a significant sex scandal involving underage girls. 

Running a close second is the story Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times broke this weekend: in the closing days of the 2020 election season, the Trump campaign scammed supporters out of more than $122 million by tricking them into “recurring” donations. The campaign had to refund those donations after the election, and it apparently did so by using money raised after the election by asking for funds to challenge the election results. In effect, supporters unknowingly made a no-interest loan to the campaign.

Today’s overarching story is connected to this one. It is the same as yesterday’s big story, and the day before that, reaching on backward until the 2020 election. Republican Party leaders continue to insist, without evidence, that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that Democrats stole it from him through voter fraud. A new Reuters/Ipsos found that six in ten Republicans believe this Big Lie.

This falsehood has been rejected by bipartisan election officials and the courts, including the Supreme Court, but in 43 states Republican legislators are using it to justify election laws that will make it significantly harder to vote. 

Those new laws have met with significant pushback, leaving Republicans scrambling to argue that the laws actually make it easier to vote, not harder. This is not true. Former Wall Street Journal correspondent Douglas Blackmon wrote a tremendously clear thread on Twitter spelling out how the Georgia law, for example, makes it illegal for Georgia voting officials to send absentee applications to each voter, and makes it harder to get absentee ballots. It eliminates most drop boxes for ballots, as well, and makes it harder for working people to vote. Blackmon says the law’s “intent seems to be causing much longer & slower lines at the polls, which… will mean large numbers of working class, elderly, and sick voters who just give up and go home.”

The passage of a new voter suppression law in Georgia has opened up a rift between Republican lawmakers and corporations, which in the past have been firmly in the Republican camp. After all, Republicans hailed the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned election restrictions that had been in place for more than a century and permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts on elections. The justices argued that corporations and other groups had a right to spend money under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Now that corporations are taking a stand against the Georgia election law, Republicans are no longer so keen on corporate free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long advocated the use of big money for his political causes and who in 2020 got the most money from the nation’s top chief executive officers, today issued a statement calling the corporations who oppose the Georgia election law bullies. He said: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”

McConnell’s sudden turn against corporate political speech is not as counterintuitive as it seems. He wants corporate support in general, of course, but he also appears to need corporate money to fend off a revolt in his caucus. While corporations got cold feet about the Republicans after the January 6 coup and the refusal of 147 Republican lawmakers to count the certified ballots for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, small donors turning out for Trump’s Big Lie made up for the lost corporate money. Now, as corporations stand against the Trump wing of the party in Georgia, it appears the power in the party is shifting away from McConnell’s corporate wing and toward Trump followers who like the extremists promising to continue fighting the culture wars. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is similarly struggling with his conference as far-right representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) try to use procedural tools to snarl congressional operations, turning every last House operation into a partisan fight. 

While Democrats are pushing quite popular legislation, Republicans are shifting toward lawmakers who are not only aiming a wrecking ball at Congress, but also are facing one of the biggest sex scandals in a generation and one of the biggest funding scandals ever. 

It’s no wonder McConnell is unhappy.