Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Shooting Him In The Face

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is not letting up.

If there’s one member of the Jan. 6 committee most focused on guiding the Justice Department to charge former president Donald Trump, it’s Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Cheney was the first, back in December, to preview the crime that the committee would ultimately focus on: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress. Cheney later objected when Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said the committee wouldn’t be making a criminal referral to the Justice Department. Cheney said last week that, in fact, multiple criminal referrals could be on the way.

Cheney has now made another statement on this front, continuing to try to point the Justice Department in a specific direction.

At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney roundly and somewhat preemptively dismissed the idea that Trump was merely being guided in his actions by those around them.

“Now, the argument seems to be that President Trump was manipulated by others outside the administration, that he was persuaded to ignore his closest advisers and that he was incapable of telling right from wrong,” Cheney said.

She added: “The strategy is to blame people his advisers called, quote, ‘the crazies’ for what Donald Trump did. This, of course, is nonsense. President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child.”

She said the record, in fact, showed quite the opposite — that he was told over and over again that he had in fact lost his reelection. The committee has shared lots of evidence that he had been told this, and it would play new evidence to that effect Tuesday.

Then came the key line from Cheney: “No rational or sane man in his position could disregard that information and reach the opposite conclusion. And Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility by being willfully blind.”

Cheney’s choice of words is important. In sum, Cheney dismissed the idea floated by some legal experts that perhaps Trump could be guilty by virtue of his “willful blindness” to the fact that he had lost. Courts including the Supreme Court have established that when it comes to crimes like the one the Jan. 6 committee is focused on — obstruction of an official proceeding — proving that someone chose to remain “willfully blind” to the facts can be used to prove culpability.

Don’t think for a moment that Ms. Cheney has suddenly come over to the Democrats and will soon be sharing jello shots with Nancy Pelosi and AOC.  She is still the hard-core conservative she’s always been, and she takes after her father by not pulling punches and making no apologies for it.  Remember, he was the guy who shot a hunting companion in the face with bird-shot and it was the victim who apologized.

I also don’t think that Ms. Cheney is standing up to Trump just to shine the light of liberty and justice for all.  Yes, she is doing the right thing, but she’s also doing it to ensure that the Republican Party, or what’s left of it, remains intact and out of the hands of the crazies.

In one way, she is following in the footsteps of another Republican who did not have a problem with metaphorically shooting someone in the face: Barry Goldwater, the late senator from Arizona.  He was a hard-core conservative, unbending in his beliefs, and he was one of the Republicans who came to the White House in August 1974 to tell Richard Nixon that the jig was up: he had to resign.  Ostensibly it was for the good of the country, but he also knew that if Congress impeached and convicted the president, the GOP would be in the wilderness for several election cycles.  He was right.  The Republicans got hammered in the 1974 mid-terms and Gerald Ford lost in 1976 to Jimmy Carter.  But they came roaring back in 1980 and brought along with them the Moral Majority and the first of the crazies, Newt Gingrich.  It probably wasn’t what Sen. Goldwater had in mind, but at least they were still in the game.

Dick Cheney and his family are old-school political operatives, always playing the long game.  If Liz Cheney loses her bid for re-election, it will not be the end of her career, not by a long shot (pun intended).  And while I may disagree with her on just about every policy issue and I wouldn’t vote for her, at least we know that she is willing to stand up for her principles — and her legacy — and shoot back.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sunday Reading

What We Learned — Susan B. Glaser in The New Yorker.

It’s been hard, these last couple of weeks, to watch and rewatch the horrifying events of January 6, 2021. As the House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol has conducted its televised hearings, they have played video clips of the violence over and over again. No image is more memorable—and more disturbing—than that of the wooden gallows Donald Trump’s supporters erected on the Capitol lawn as rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” The committee documented that those threats were real. According to an F.B.I. affidavit the panel highlighted on Thursday, a government informant said that members of the far-right militant group the Proud Boys told him they would have killed Pence “if given the chance.” The rioters on January 6th almost had that chance, coming within forty feet of the Vice-President as he fled to safety.

The malice of those in the crowd toward Pence, the holier-than-thou evangelical Christian who had spent the previous four years as Donald Trump’s slavishly loyal sidekick, was remarkable.

“If Pence caved we’re going to drag motherfuckers through the streets,” one rioter was captured on video saying. “He deserves to burn with the rest of them,” another said. A man with a bullhorn agitated the crowd. “Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America,” he informed the already agitated mob. “Mike Pence has betrayed this President.” He finished with a threat and a promise: “We will never, ever forget.”

The explosive ending of the Trump Presidency has always been a story about the rift between Trump and Pence—two of the most mismatched figures ever to be thrown into a marriage of political convenience. For four years, Trump had tested and tried his sanctimonious No. 2, but Pence never broke. Not in public, not, as far as we can tell, in private, either. He was famous during the Trump years for doing and saying almost nothing that would make news. When he debated Kamala Harris during the 2020 campaign, his most memorable moment was when a fly landed on his impeccably coiffed white hair and he did not react for the full two minutes that it sat on his head.

But on January 6th, Pence finally did break with Trump, refusing to go along with the President’s absurd, illegal, and unconstitutional plot to have his Vice-President single-handedly overturn the will of the American people and block Congress’s confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory. On Thursday, the House committee devoted its hearing to attempting to explain Trump’s scheme to pressure Pence—which unfolded in a series of inflammatory Presidential tweets, angry phone calls, and bizarre White House meetings that were a mix of constitutional-law seminars and live reënactments of “The Godfather.” The committee introduced a new villain to a national television audience: John Eastman, the former law professor who concocted the absurd legal theory that Pence could unilaterally overturn the election—a concocted counterpart to what U.S. District Judge David Carter recently skewered as “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

If the hearing was designed to eviscerate the professional standing of Eastman, it succeeded blisteringly well. He was shown to be inconsistent, not on the level, and legally and historically shoddy in his work. Greg Jacob, Pence’s former counsel, testified that Eastman even acknowledged, at one point, that he knew his theory was unconstitutional and would likely be unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court—if it ever got there. The committee’s biggest reveal of the day was an e-mail from Eastman to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, asking for a Presidential pardon for himself. “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” Eastman wrote. Lawyers who don’t think they did anything wrong are not in the habit of asking for pardons. When called for a deposition by the panel, Eastman cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination a hundred times, Representative Pete Aguilar of Texas revealed.

But, of course, Americans don’t really care about John Eastman. Nor should they. It was President Trump who desperately seized on Eastman’s absurd argument that the Vice-President determines the winner of Presidential elections. It was Trump who brought this buffoon into the White House, Trump who demanded that Pence attend repeated meetings with him, and Trump who charged ahead with the plot.

Trump did not care what Eastman’s legal theories were. He just wanted him to provide one. His goal was to keep power by whatever means necessary. Once again, the January 6th panel presented compelling evidence that Trump personally orchestrated the campaign—inflaming the mob when Pence did not cave in, as Trump apparently expected, after four years of caving in. In a dramatic phone call from the Oval Office on the morning of January 6th, with his family arrayed around him listening, the President berated and castigated his Vice-President. Trump called him a “wimp,” according to one witness. A former aide to Trump’s own daughter Ivanka recalled Ivanka telling her that Trump had called Pence a “pussy.” When Pence rebuffed him anyway, Trump, a few hours later, tweeted his anger at Pence’s lack of “courage”—even as the mob stormed the Capitol. “It felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire,” one of his White House officials, Sarah Matthews, testified regarding the tweet.

Purely by coincidence, I’m sure, Thursday’s hearing took place on the seventh anniversary of the day when Trump kicked off his Presidential campaign with that famous escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower. Soon after the hearing ended, I received a fund-raising e-mail from Trump asking, “Do you remember this day 7 years ago?” and promising that if I sent him money by 11:59 P.M. I would both get my name on “the 2022 Trump Donor Wall” and have my gift “INCREASED by 600%.” (How, exactly, was not clear.) The Trump grift continues.

And that, really, was the bigger point of Thursday’s debates about the language of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and the powers vested in the Vice-Presidency. Trump remains not only an e-mail-fund-raising huckster but also the subject of historical inquiry. He continues to be what the retired federal judge Michael Luttig, a conservative legal icon who advised Pence, called him at Thursday’s hearing: a “clear and present danger” to the nation.

Doonesbury — Fluid leak.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sunday Reading

Liz Cheney Did Her Job — Charles P. Pierce on the reckoning.

I’m from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try to justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021.

These were some of the first words spoken on Thursday night at the first public hearing of the House Special Committee investigating the horrors of January 6, 2021. They came from Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, a proud son of a place called Bolton, a town with 521 residents. On December 28, 1899, according to the Bamberg Herald of Bamberg, South Carolina:

Two negroes, named Jim Martin and Frank West, were lynched on the Baker’s creek bridge, near Bolton, Miss., for the murder of an aged and highly respected citizen named Milton S. Haire and an attempted criminal assault on his niece, Miss Curran. The murder was one of the most cold-blooded in the criminal annals of the county.

Martin and West were killed without trial, two of the 500 lynchings that occurred in Mississippi between 1899 and 1948, which happened to be the year that Bennie Thompson was born. When he talks about the soured promises of Reconstruction and the deadweight of Jim Crow, Bennie Thompson knows this history the way he knows the twists and turns of the Bolton Brownsville Road that runs through his hometown. He continued:

The words of the current oath taken by all of us—that nearly every United States Government employee takes—have their roots in the Civil War. Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. Federal Government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies— foreign… and domestic.

That oath was put to the test on January 6th, 2021…But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol… who sought to thwart the will of the people…to stop the transfer of power.

And they did so at the encouragement of the President of the United States.

At that moment, I was immensely grateful that someone like Bennie Thompson had been chosen to lead this committee. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to Rep. Liz Cheney in a moment.) To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Henry V, Bennie Thompson is but a congressman for the working day. His profile is low. He has no grand national ambitions. His ego seems to be fully out of the way of doing his job. In this, he reminds me of nobody more than Rep. Peter Rodino, who led the House Judiciary Committee through its proceedings in the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In his essential work on the Watergate summer, the late Jimmy Breslin told the story of how Majority Leader Tip O’Neill schmoozed a Nixon loyalist named Sonny Montgomery into at least letting Rodino and his committee look into the idea of impeachment.

“You know, Sonny, about this impeachment business going to the Judiciary Committee, don’t you think it would be a wonderful thing to give Peter Rodino a chance to get a little television exposure? Let people see what a great guy he is. After all these years of being on the bottom, nobody knowing him, wouldn’t it be nice to give him this little chance?”

“Sure,” Montgomery said. “Thing isn’t going any place so we might as well give Peter a little publicity.”

Another parallel between Rodino and Bennie Thompson can be found in one of the first decisions each of them made. Rodino chose for his committee counsel John Doar, an implacable and courageous attorney who had faced down shotguns during the civil-rights struggle in Alabama. Bennie Thompson chose Liz Cheney as his vice-chair and principal spokesperson. On Thursday night, we found out why.

Look, Liz Cheney voted almost 93 percent of the time with the policies of the president* she arraigned on Thursday night for instigating a violent attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. And hell, I’d rather move to Novosibirsk than live under a President Liz Cheney. But watching her on Thursday night was to see a pure-bred product of the political lizard-brain out for blood.

She laid out the case in a lawyerly fashion. Count the number of times she began a sentence with either, “You will see…” or, “We will show…”, which are the twin katana blades of any decent prosecutor. Tell them what they’re going to see, and then show them. In addition, Cheney did a fine job of explaining what each public hearing will be devoted to demonstrating.

She dropped a legitimate bombshell when she said that the committee had evidence that “multiple Republicans” in the House sought pre-emptive pardons from El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, because that’s what innocent people do. (Committee members Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin both firmly declined to name names, but that can’t last forever. Tell them what they’re going to see, and then show it to them.) And she put together a knife-to-the-ribs conclusion.

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone but your dishonor will remain.”

A mark, that will surely leave.

But I keep coming back to Bennie Thompson, who ran a focused, disciplined hearing. After that ghastly, compelling video compilation of the unruly gang of tourists, Thompson called a recess. The hearing room was a study in silence and a study in shock. Even people who had lived through the assault, even the Capitol Police officers who were lucky to live through the assault, seemed stunned. The silence was a weighted blanket, and you could see people coming to the terrifying conclusion that, yes, had the mob gotten its hands on Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, the mob would have beaten them to a pulp—if they were fortunate. I resisted believing this until Thursday night. I believe it fully now. One of the reasons my mind changed on this was because Thompson so firmly linked the events of January 6 to the history of American political violence that he learned from the old folks back in Bolton, Mississippi.

At one point in her chilling testimony, Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards described the scene around her as the mob overwhelmed the Capitol. They were not there to break windows and steal office signs. They were there to do violence to more than a building.

When I fell behind that line and I saw – I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was like something I had seen in the Middle East. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up…I was slipping in people’s blood.

So much of the history of this country has involved slipping on people’s blood. Bennie Thompson has known this his whole life. Anyone with eyes and ears knows it now.

Doonesbury — Remember when?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Primary Results

We didn’t have a primary here in Florida, but they did in places like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  The focus was on those two states because of Trump’s support of several candidates.  The results are a mixed bag for both Democrats and Republicans, but to me the best news is that freshman Rep Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) got his hat handed to him, losing his primary.  Now he can sign up for a job at Fox.

Scandal-plagued Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) has lost in the Republican primary to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, who had the backing of establishment Republicans. GOP leaders in the state, including Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), had grown tired of Cawthorn, who was chastised for questionable statements about invitations to an “orgy” and cocaine use by senior Republicans, traffic violations and weapons offenses. In the campaign’s closing days, Cawthorn did get the endorsement of former president Donald Trump, but it wasn’t enough.

In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the burly, 6-foot-8 liberal with a shaved head, won the Democratic nomination for Senate and will face the winner of a GOP primary that’s still too close to call. The primary win came on the same day that Fetterman had a pacemaker implanted after suffering a stroke last week. On the Republican side, former president Donald Trump is all-in for celebrity-turned-politician Mehmet Oz, who faces insurgent conservative candidate Kathy Barnette and businessman David McCormick.


Doug Mastriano, a Trump-endorsed Pennsylvania state senator who led the effort to overturn the 2020 results in the swing state, is projected to win the Republican nomination for governor, according to the Associated Press.

Mastriano participated in the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, the day a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol in a violent insurrection. Video apparently shows that Mastriano “took part in the January 6 insurrection” by crossing police lines and breached barricades at the Capitol.Mastriano has said he did not enter the Capitol that day and he has not been charged with a crime, though he was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee.

Mastriano has modeled himself after Trump in many ways, continuing to baselessly challenge the integrity of the country’s elections and verbally attacking the media. Over the weekend, he blocked journalists from covering one of his rallies in Pennsylvania.


Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro won the Democratic nomination for governor. He ran unopposed.

Shapiro, a former state lawmaker and county commissioner, will lead the Democrats’ fight in November to keep the governor’s mansion against the winner of the Republican’s tight primary. Eight candidates are facing off in that race, with state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has Trump’s endorsement in the race, leading the pack.

Mastriano is known for leading efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report, he “raised a litany of false and debunked claims of widespread election fraud,” by holding hearings on the subject and communicating with the Justice Department.

Shapiro, meanwhile, is known for producing a grand jury report in 2018 into child sexual abuse among Pennsylvania’s Catholic churches.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited and set to leave office early next year. He handily won the 2018 election by over 800,000 votes against then-state Sen. Scott Wagner (R).

So, the Republicans have set the table with a full buffet of crazy.  That may sound like it would be easy for the Democrats to sweep them away, but then we thought the same thing in 2016 when the GOP went with Trump.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Sunday Reading

Dry Run — Former U.S. Appeals Court J. Michael Luttig on the Republicans plans to steal the 2024 election.

Nearly a year and a half later, surprisingly few understand what January 6 was all about.

Fewer still understand why former President Donald Trump and Republicans persist in their long-disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Much less why they are obsessed about making the 2024 race a referendum on the “stolen” election of 2020, which even they know was not stolen.

January 6 was never about a stolen election or even about actual voting fraud. It was always and only about an election that Trump lost fair and square, under legislatively promulgated election rules in a handful of swing states that he and other Republicans contend were unlawfully changed by state election officials and state courts to expand the right and opportunity to vote, largely in response to the Covid pandemic.

The Republicans’ mystifying claim to this day that Trump did, or would have, received more votes than Joe Biden in 2020 were it not for actual voting fraud, is but the shiny object that Republicans have tauntingly and disingenuously dangled before the American public for almost a year and a half now to distract attention from their far more ambitious objective.

That objective is not somehow to rescind the 2020 election, as they would have us believe. That’s constitutionally impossible. Trump’s and the Republicans’ far more ambitious objective is to execute successfully in 2024 the very same plan they failed in executing in 2020 and to overturn the 2024 election if Trump or his anointed successor loses again in the next quadrennial contest.

The last presidential election was a dry run for the next.

From long before Election Day 2020, Trump and Republicans planned to overturn the presidential election by exploiting the Electors and Elections Clauses of the Constitution, the Electoral College, the Electoral Count Act of 1877, and the 12th Amendment, if Trump lost the popular and Electoral College vote.

The cornerstone of the plan was to have the Supreme Court embrace the little known “independent state legislature” doctrine, which, in turn, would pave the way for exploitation of the Electoral College process and the Electoral Count Act, and finally for Vice President Mike Pence to reject enough swing state electoral votes to overturn the election using Pence’s ceremonial power under the 12th Amendment and award the presidency to Donald Trump.

The independent state legislature doctrine says that, under the Elections and the Electors Clauses of the Constitution, state legislatures possess plenary and exclusive power over the conduct of federal presidential elections and the selection of state presidential electors. Not even a state supreme court, let alone other state elections officials, can alter the legislatively written election rules or interfere with the appointment of state electors by the legislatures, under this theory.

The Supreme Court has never decided whether to embrace the independent state legislature doctrine. But then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in separate concurring opinions said they would embrace that doctrine in Bush v. Gore, 20 years earlier, and Republicans had every reason to believe there were at least five votes on the Supreme Court for the doctrine in November 2020, with Amy Coney Barrett having just been confirmed in the eleventh hour before the election.

Trump and the Republicans began executing this first stage of their plan months before November 3, by challenging as violative of the independent state legislature doctrine election rules relating to early- and late-voting, extensions of voting days and times, mail-in ballots, and other election law changes that Republicans contended had been unlawfully altered by state officials and state courts in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Michigan.

These cases eventually wound their way to the Supreme Court in the fall of 2020, and by December, the Supreme Court had decided all of these cases, but only by orders, either disallowing federal court intervention to change an election rule that had been promulgated by a state legislature, allowing legislatively promulgated rules to be changed by state officials and state courts, or deadlocking 4-4, because Justice Barrett was not sworn in until after those cases were briefed and ready for decision by the Court. In none of these cases did the Supreme Court decide the all-important independent state legislature doctrine.

Thwarted by the Supreme Court’s indecision on that doctrine, Trump and the Republicans turned their efforts to the second stage of their plan, exploitation of the Electoral College and the Electoral Count Act.

The Electoral College is the process by which Americans choose their presidents, a process that can lead to the election as president of a candidate who does not receive a majority of votes cast by the American voters. Republicans have grown increasingly wary of the Electoral College with the new census and political demographics of the nation’s shifting population.

The Electoral Count Act empowers Congress to decide the presidency in a host of circumstances where Congress determines that state electoral votes were not “regularly given” by electors who were “lawfully certified,” terms that are undefined and ambiguous. In this second stage of the plan, the Republicans needed to generate state-certified alternative slates of electors from swing states where Biden won the popular vote who would cast their electoral votes for Trump instead. Congress would then count the votes of these alternative electoral slates on January 6, rather than the votes of the certified electoral slates for Biden, and Trump would be declared the reelected president.

The Republicans’ plan failed at this stage when they were unable to secure a single legitimate, alternative slate of electors from any state because the various state officials refused to officially certify these Trump-urged slates.

Thwarted by the Supreme Court in the first stage, foiled by their inability to come up with alternative state electoral slates in the second stage, and with time running out, Trump and the Republicans began executing the final option in their plan, which was to scare up illegitimate alternative electoral slates in various swing states to be transmitted to Congress. Whereupon, on January 6, Vice President Pence would count only the votes of the illegitimate electors from the swing states, and not the votes of the legitimate, certified electors that were cast for Biden, and declare Donald Trump’s reelection as President of the United States.

The entire house of cards collapsed at noon on January 6, when Pence refused to go along with the ill-conceived plan, correctly concluding that under the 12th Amendment he had no power to reject the votes that had been cast by the duly certified electors or to delay the count to give Republicans even more time to whip up alternative electoral slates.

Pence declared Joe Biden the 46th President of the United States at 3:40 a.m. on Thursday, January 7, roughly 14 hours after rioters stormed the US Capitol, disrupting the Joint Session and preventing Congress from counting the Electoral College votes for president until late that night and into the following day, after the statutorily designated day for counting those votes.

Trump and his allies and supporters in Congress and the states began readying their failed 2020 plan to overturn the 2024 presidential election later that very same day and they have been unabashedly readying that plan ever since, in plain view to the American public. Today, they are already a long way toward recapturing the White House in 2024, whether Trump or another Republican candidate wins the election or not.

Trump and Republicans are preparing to return to the Supreme Court, where this time they will likely win the independent state legislature doctrine, now that Amy Coney Barrett is on the Court and ready to vote. Barrett has not addressed the issue, but this turns on an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, and Barrett is firmly aligned on that method of constitutional interpretation with Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, all three of whom have written that they believe the doctrine is correct.

Only last month, in a case from North Carolina the Court declined to hear, Moore v. Harper, four Justices (Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) said that the independent state legislature question is of exceptional importance to our national elections, the issue will continue to recur and the Court should decide the issue sooner rather than later before the next presidential election. This case involved congressional redistricting, but the independent state legislature doctrine is as applicable to redistricting as it is to presidential elections.

The Republicans are also in the throes of electing Trump-endorsed candidates to state legislative offices in key swing states, installing into office their favored state election officials who deny that Biden won the 2020 election, such as secretaries of state, electing sympathetic state court judges onto the state benches and grooming their preferred potential electors for ultimate selection by the party, all so they will be positioned to generate and transmit alternative electoral slates to Congress, if need be.

Finally, they are furiously politicking to elect Trump supporters to the Senate and House, so they can overturn the election in Congress, as a last resort.

Forewarned is to be forearmed.

Trump and the Republicans can only be stopped from stealing the 2024 election at this point if the Supreme Court rejects the independent state legislature doctrine (thus allowing state court enforcement of state constitutional limitations on legislatively enacted election rules and elector appointments) and Congress amends the Electoral Count Act to constrain Congress’ own power to reject state electoral votes and decide the presidency.

Although the Vice President will be a Democrat in 2024, both parties also need to enact federal legislation that expressly limits the vice president’s power to be coextensive with the power accorded the vice president in the 12th Amendment and confirm that it is largely ceremonial, as Pence construed it to be on January 6.

Vice President Kamala Harris would preside over the Joint Session in 2024. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any idea who will be presiding after that, however. Thus, both parties have the incentive to clarify the vice president’s ceremonial role now.

As it stands today, Trump, or his anointed successor, and the Republicans are poised, in their word, to “steal” from Democrats the presidential election in 2024 that they falsely claim the Democrats stole from them in 2020. But there is a difference between the falsely claimed “stolen” election of 2020 and what would be the stolen election of 2024. Unlike the Democrats’ theft claimed by Republicans, the Republicans’ theft would be in open defiance of the popular vote and thus the will of the American people: poetic, though tragic, irony for America’s democracy.

Doonesbury — How could you Nazi that coming?

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sunday Reading

Two Different Countries — David Remnick in The New Yorker on the likelihood of civil war in America.

The edifice of American exceptionalism has always wobbled on a shoddy foundation of self-delusion, and yet most Americans have readily accepted the commonplace that the United States is the world’s oldest continuous democracy. That serene assertion has now collapsed.

On January 6, 2021, when white supremacists, militia members, and MAGA faithful took inspiration from the President and stormed the Capitol in order to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election, leaving legislators and the Vice-President essentially held hostage, we ceased to be a full democracy. Instead, we now inhabit a liminal status that scholars call “anocracy.” That is, for the first time in two hundred years, we are suspended between democracy and autocracy. And that sense of uncertainty radically heightens the likelihood of episodic bloodletting in America, and even the risk of civil war.

This is the compelling argument of “How Civil Wars Start,” a new book by Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego. Walter served on an advisory committee to the C.I.A. called the Political Instability Task Force, which studies the roots of political violence in nations from Sri Lanka to the former Yugoslavia. Citing data compiled by the Center for Systemic Peace, which the task force uses to analyze political dynamics in foreign countries, Walter explains that the “honor” of being the oldest continuous democracy is now held by Switzerland, followed by New Zealand. In the U.S., encroaching instability and illiberal currents present a sad picture. As Walter writes, “We are no longer a peer to nations like Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan.”

In her book and in a conversation for this week’s New Yorker Radio Hour, Walter made it clear that she wanted to avoid “an exercise in fear-mongering”; she is wary of coming off as sensationalist. In fact, she takes pains to avoid overheated speculation and relays her warning about the potential for civil war in clinical terms. Yet, like those who spoke up clearly about the dangers of global warming decades ago, Walter delivers a grave message that we ignore at our peril. So much remains in flux. She is careful to say that a twenty-first-century American civil war would bear no resemblance to the consuming and symmetrical conflict that was played out on the battlefields of the eighteen-sixties. Instead she foresees, if the worst comes about, an era of scattered yet persistent acts of violence: bombings, political assassinations, destabilizing acts of asymmetric warfare carried out by extremist groups that have coalesced via social media. These are relatively small, loosely aligned collections of self-aggrandizing warriors who sometimes call themselves “accelerationists.” They have convinced themselves that the only way to hasten the toppling of an irredeemable, non-white, socialist republic is through violence and other extra-political means.

Walter makes the case that, as long as the country fails to fortify its democratic institutions, it will endure threats such as the one that opens her book: the attempt, in 2020, by a militia group in Michigan known as the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The Watchmen despised Whitmer for having instituted anti-COVID measures in the state—restrictions that they saw not as attempts to protect the public health but as intolerable violations of their liberty. Trump’s publicly stated disdain for Whitmer could not have discouraged these maniacs. The F.B.I., fortunately, foiled the Wolverines, but, inevitably, if there are enough such plots—enough shots fired—some will find their target.

America has always suffered acts of political violence—the terrorism of the Klan; the 1921 massacre of the Black community in Tulsa; the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Democracy has never been a settled, fully stable condition for all Americans, and yet the Trump era is distinguished by the consuming resentment of many right-wing, rural whites who fear being “replaced” by immigrants and people of color, as well as a Republican Party leadership that bows to its most autocratic demagogue and no longer seems willing to defend democratic values and institutions. Like other scholars, Walter points out that there have been early signs of the current insurgency, including the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in 1995, which killed a hundred and sixty-eight people. But it was the election of Barack Obama that most vividly underlined the rise of a multiracial democracy and was taken as a threat by many white Americans who feared losing their majority status. Walter writes that there were roughly forty-three militia groups operating in the U.S. when Obama was elected, in 2008; three years later there were more than three hundred.

Walter has studied the preconditions of civil strife all over the world. And she says that, if we strip away our self-satisfaction and July 4th mythologies and review a realistic checklist, “assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely,” we have to conclude that the United States “has entered very dangerous territory.” She is hardly alone in that conclusion. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm recently listed the U.S. as a “backsliding” democracy.

The backsliding was never more depressingly evident than in the weeks after January 6th, when Mitch McConnell, after initially criticizing Donald Trump’s role in the insurrection, said that he would support him if he were the Party’s nominee in 2024. Having stared into the abyss, he pursued the darkness.

Not so long ago, Walter might have been considered an alarmist. In 2018, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt published their Trump-era study, “How Democracies Die,” one of many books that sought to awaken American readers to the reality that the rule of law was under assault just as it was in much of the world. But, as Levitsky told me, “Even we couldn’t have imagined January 6th.” Levitsky said that until he read Walter and other well-respected scholars on the subject, he would have thought that warnings of civil war were overwrought.

Unlike Russia or Turkey, the United States is blessed with a deep experience of democratic rule, no matter how flawed. The courts, the Democratic Party, local election officials in both parties, the military, the media—no matter how deeply flawed—proved in 2020 that it was possible to resist the darkest ambitions of an autocratic President. The guardrails of democracy and stability are hardly unassailable, but they are stronger than anything that Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan has to contend with. In fact, in his attempt to be reëlected, Trump did draw the largest Republican vote ever—and he still lost by seven million votes. That, too, stands in the way of fatalism.

“We’re not headed to fascism or Putinism,” Levitsky told me, “but I do think we could be headed to recurring constitutional crises, periods of competitive authoritarian and minority rule, and episodes of pretty significant violence that could include bombings, assassinations, and rallies where people are killed. In 2020, we saw people being killed on the streets for political reasons. This isn’t apocalypse, but it is a horrendous place to be.”

The battle to preserve American democracy is not symmetrical. One party, the G.O.P., now poses itself as anti-majoritarian and anti-democratic. And it has become a Party less focussed on traditional policy values and more on tribal affiliation and resentments. A few figures, including Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney, know that this is a recipe for an authoritarian Party, but there is no sign of what is required to reverse the most worrying trends: a broad-based effort among Republican leaders to stand up and join Democrats and Independents in a coalition based on a reassertion of democratic values.

As the anniversary of the insurrection is observed, the greater drama is not obscure. We are a country capable of electing Barack Obama and, eight years later, Donald Trump. We are capable of January 5th, when the state of Georgia elected two senators, an African American and a Jew, and January 6th, when thousands stormed the Capitol in the name of a preposterous conspiracy theory.

“There are two very different movements at once in the same country,” Levitsky said. “This country is moving towards multiracial democracy for the first time. In the twenty-first century we have a multiracial democratic majority supportive of a diverse society and of having the laws to insure equal rights. That multiracial democratic majority is out there, and it can win popular elections.” And then there is the Republican minority, which too often looks the other way as dangerous extremists act on its behalf. Let’s hope the warnings about a new kind of civil war come to nothing, and we can look back on books like Walter’s as alarmist. But, as we have learned with the imperilled state of our climate, wishing does not make it so.

Doonesbury — Baby come back.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Of Course It Was Political

Rarely do I post the same columnist two days in a row, but Charles P. Pierce deserves it.

Not to employ yet another cliche that was devalued under the previous administration*, but Thursday was the day that Joe Biden became president. He became president because he called out his predecessor for the threat to the American republic that he continues to be, and, just as important, he arraigned the political party from which this presidential* thuggery emerged.

A president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transition of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol. But they failed. We saw with our own eyes: rioters menaced these halls, threatening the life of the Speaker of the House, directing to hang the Vice President of the United States of America. What did we not see? We did not see a former president, who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in a private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the national Capitol under siege.

At the beginning of his speech, the president shouted out our old pal Clio, Muse of History, also known by her MCU superhero identity, The Proclaimer (!), who must have been scribbling furiously during this peroration.

We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here is the truth: the former President of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He has done so because he values power over principle. Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, then America’s first. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He cannot accept he lost. Even after what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said. He lost. That is what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He has done what no president in American history, the history of this country, has ever done. He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. Some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it. Too many others are transforming that party into something else.

This was unprecedented in my lifetime, but it was so obviously richly deserved that the inevitable struck-dog yelping from the targets of his wrath seem like voices from another time and place, a time and a place before the artificial “unity” and “civility” that so enervated our politics was shown so vividly to be an impotent, cowardly dumbshow. Speaking of which, here’s Senator Lindsey Graham on the electric Twitter machine:

What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden. I wonder if the Taliban who now rule Afghanistan with al-Qaeda elements present, contrary to President Biden’s beliefs, are allowing this speech to be carried?

Was the speech political? Of course, it was. The violence of a year ago was political violence with a distinctly political goal. The president’s trade is politics. What did people expect, a novena?

Was the speech divisive? God, I hope so. It should have been. There should be a division between democratic self-government and the violence of the mob. That division should be stark. That division should be permanent—or, at least, it should continue to exist until political violence again is delegitimized. It was a political and divisive speech, and I thank god for it. It was also a challenge to people in my business—and to all American citizens—to take seriously the continuing peril to the republic. From Mt. Helicon, Clio is watching, and she takes no mess.

And about damn time, too.

You can almost hear the quavering whine in Lindsey Graham’s twitterpation, which is a tell that he knows he’s facing down the goddam truth and squealing like a stuck pig that it’s political and divisive — as if the insurrection wasn’t? — is the equivalent of a kid caught filching cookies.  And his toadying to Trump and the base that supports him is not just embarrassing for him, it is a threat to any semblance of justice.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sunday Reading

Every Day is January 6 — The New York Times editorial board.

One year after from the smoke and broken glass, the mock gallows and the very real bloodshed of that awful day, it is tempting to look back and imagine that we can, in fact, simply look back. To imagine that what happened on Jan. 6, 2021 — a deadly riot at the seat of American government, incited by a defeated president amid a last-ditch effort to thwart the transfer of power to his successor — was horrifying but that it is in the past and that we as a nation have moved on.

This is an understandable impulse. After four years of chaos, cruelty and incompetence, culminating in a pandemic and the once-unthinkable trauma of Jan. 6, most Americans were desperate for some peace and quiet.

On the surface, we have achieved that. Our political life seems more or less normal these days, as the president pardons turkeys and Congress quarrels over spending bills. But peel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

Truly grappling with the threat ahead means taking full account of the terror of that day a year ago. Thanks largely to the dogged work of a bipartisan committee in the House of Representatives, this reckoning is underway. We know now that the violence and mayhem broadcast live around the world was only the most visible and visceral part of the effort to overturn the election. The effort extended all the way into the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump and his allies plotted a constitutional self-coup.

We know now that top Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures privately understood how dangerous the riot was and pleaded with Mr. Trump to call a halt to it, even as they publicly pretended otherwise. We know now that those who may have critical information about the planning and execution of the attack are refusing to cooperate with Congress, even if it means being charged with criminal contempt.

For now, the committee’s work continues. It has scheduled a series of public hearings in the new year to lay out these and other details, and it plans to release a full report of its findings before the midterm elections — after which, should Republicans regain control of the House as expected, the committee will undoubtedly be dissolved.

This is where looking forward comes in. Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters, according to a running tally by a nonpartisan consortium of pro-democracy organizations.

Some bills would change the rules to make it easier for lawmakers to reject the votes of their citizens if they don’t like the outcome. Others replace professional election officials with partisan actors who have a vested interest in seeing their preferred candidate win. Yet more attempt to criminalize human errors by election officials, in some cases even threatening prison.

Many of these laws are being proposed and passed in crucial battleground states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Trump campaign targeted voting results in all these states, suing for recounts or intimidating officials into finding “missing” votes. The effort failed, thanks primarily to the professionalism and integrity of election officials. Many of those officials have since been stripped of their power or pushed out of office and replaced by people who openly say the last election was fraudulent.

Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court.

This isn’t the first time state legislatures have tried to wrest control of electoral votes from their own people, nor is it the first time that the dangers of such a ploy have been pointed out. In 1891, President Benjamin Harrison warned Congress of the risk that such a “trick” could determine the outcome of a presidential election.

The Constitution guarantees to all Americans a republican form of government, Harrison said. “The essential features of such a government are the right of the people to choose their own officers” and to have their votes counted equally in making that choice. “Our chief national danger,” he continued, is “the overthrow of majority control by the suppression or perversion of popular suffrage.” If a state legislature were to succeed in substituting its own will for that of its voters, “it is not too much to say that the public peace might be seriously and widely endangered.”

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

“The thing that’s most concerning is that it has endured in the face of all evidence,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the vanishingly few Republicans in Congress who remain committed to empirical reality and representative democracy. “And I’ve gotten to wonder if there is actually any evidence that would ever change certain people’s minds.”

The answer, for now, appears to be no. Polling finds that the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected and that about one-third approve of using violence to achieve political goals. Put those two numbers together, and you have a recipe for extreme danger.

Political violence is not an inevitable outcome. Republican leaders could help by being honest with their voters and combating the extremists in their midst. Throughout American history, party leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Chase Smith to John McCain, have stood up for the union and democracy first, to their everlasting credit.

Democrats aren’t helpless, either. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.

Whatever happens in Washington, in the months and years to come, Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.

Above all, we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

Losing It All, on Broadway — The cast of “Skeleton Crew” ventures back on stage to see where they will be playing on Broadway.  By Sheelah Kolhatkar in The New Yorker.

Most attempts to translate the 2008 financial crisis to stage or screen, such as “The Big Short,” “Margin Call” and “The Lehman Trilogy,” have focussed on the shenanigans inside Manhattan skyscrapers, where men in suits concoct financial grenades with acronyms like C.D.O. (collateralized debt obligation) and M.B.S. (mortgage-backed security). “Skeleton Crew,” a play written by Dominique Morisseau that is scheduled to open on Broadway in January, takes a different view, showing what happened to a group of Black auto-plant workers after the grenades exploded.

On a recent morning, the cast of “Skeleton Crew” took a field trip to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, on West Forty-seventh Street, to see the set. “It’s our first time. I’m nervous,” said Joshua Boone, who plays Dez, a Detroit assembly-line worker described in Morisseau’s script as a “young hustler, playful, street-savvy and flirtatious.”

The play follows Dez; two other workers, Faye (“Tough and a lifetime of dirt beneath her nails”) and Shanita (“Pretty but not ruled by it. . . . Also, pregnant”); and Reggie (“White collar man. Studious. Dedicated. Compassionate”) as rumors of a shutdown fly around their auto plant. The action all takes place in a break room.

Morisseau, who won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018, arrived with her infant son in a stroller. The play’s director, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, rushed to greet her. “Hey! The little warrior is in the house!”

The actors, wearing masks and winter coats, walked the perimeter of the stage and peered around. Adesola Osakalumi, who choreographed the show and dances in it, strode back and forth through a hidden door, glided to the center of the stage, and curtsied. Metal lockers lined one wall.

“As we start tricking out the set, I want you guys to start thinking about what you would have hanging in your lockers,” Santiago-Hudson told them. “What do you want to see every day? A blank wall? Or do you want to see pictures of family? Or do you want to see a car? Is there a team that you’re rooting for? Is there a boxer that you like? I implore you all to have something personal.”

Phylicia Rashad, who plays Faye, stood at her locker and cocked her head. Santiago-Hudson opened the metal door and furrowed his brow. “We got some big-ass coats,” he said. “I don’t know how you’re gonna get a big coat in there.”

“I don’t, either,” Rashad said.

Downstage, Boone was opening and closing his locker. Click! Slam! “My boot won’t fit,” he said, trying to wedge his sneaker onto the bottom shelf.

Later, the cast members gathered at the studio on West Forty-third Street where they’d been rehearsing. Brandon J. Dirden, who plays Reggie, a worker who’s moved up to a management job, said that he’d once appeared in a play about Enron, the energy-trading company that collapsed in 2001, after an accounting scandal. “I remember, during previews, stepping outside and someone walked by and said, ‘You couldn’t pay me to watch a play about how we lost all our money,’ ” he said. “People don’t want to see these man-made crises.”

“Skeleton Crew” is one of three plays that Morisseau has written about Detroit, where she grew up. In 2008, she recalled, she watched the city change as a wave of foreclosures swept across the country. “That’s when I said, ‘Something’s going on.’ That was the first time I ever heard about predatory lending.”

Chanté Adams, who plays Shanita, is from Detroit, too. “I was just starting high school,” she said. “I remember the sadness that washed over the city. Family gatherings stopped. All of a sudden, houses started to get boarded up. And people started squatting in those houses.”

Boone said he hoped that Broadway audiences (mostly wealthy, mostly white) would come away with a new empathy for the workers who make the things they use every day, who pick up trash and build cars. “I believe there’s a direct correlation between the increase in the amount of money we attain and the decrease in morality,” he said. Does making lots of money, he asked, “change something inside of you that separates you from the person next to you?”

He sat up in his chair. “I ain’t got time for no more surface,” he said. “Like, coming through this pandemic, it beat some people up.” COVID had devastated many and empowered others, he added, and the latter group had an obligation to help.

“Yeah, come get this surgery, come get this work, don’t put a Band-Aid on it,” he went on. “Don’t run from it. Don’t look for the fun thing to escape and lighten up. Go deeper, go darker into it. And come out with more light.” He exhaled. “That’s it, I’m done.”

Doonesbury — Oops.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sunday Reading

A Person of the Year: Jamie Raskin — David Remnick in The New Yorker on how one politician devoted his fight for democracy to his lost son.

Ninety-four years ago, the editors of Time magazine declared the transatlantic aviator and anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh their first-ever Man of the Year. This editorial gambit proved a winner on the newsstand, and a parade of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other worthies followed. There have been a few odd choices along the way. In 1941, the editors tapped Dumbo, the Disney elephant, as Mammal of the Year. Alas, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, rudely relegating the animated pachyderm to the inside pages of the magazine. F.D.R. seized Time’s cover and the annual laurel in Dumbo’s stead.

This year, the wealthiest individual in the world, Elon Musk, was Time’s choice for Person of the Year. I speak for no one except myself, but is this the moment to valorize a supposed man of science who cast early doubt on the COVID vaccines and told the world that “kids are essentially immune”? Might as well give the accolade to Eric Clapton. Others on Time’s list of “most influential people” for 2021 are distinctly more inspiring­­­–Stacey Abrams, for example, who is leading the fight against voter suppression in the U.S., or the Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is languishing in a prison camp at the order of Vladimir Putin.

And yet one person of the year, an individual who embodies both the tragedy and resilience of our time, was missing: Jamie Raskin. A Democratic member of the House, Raskin is fifty-nine and represents Maryland’s Eighth District. He was at the Capitol with his colleagues on January 6, 2021, to witness what should have been the routine certification of Joe Biden’s election as President. Instead, he witnessed an insurrection. This bloody assault, which threatened constitutional democracy and the nation’s democratically elected leaders, came just one day after the burial of Thomas Bloom Raskin, the congressman’s beloved twenty-five-year-old son. At the Capitol, Raskin told me, he could still hear the sounds of the day before: the prayers of mourning, the clods of dirt shovelled onto the casket. Meanwhile, maniacs shouting deranged slogans and threats were storming down the hallways of Congress in search of enemies.

Tommy Raskin, by all accounts, was a brilliant, politically committed student, who had been attending Harvard Law School. He was an antiwar activist, a believer in justice for human beings and animals alike, a hungry reader, an avid writer—a generous, decent young man who, as a statement from his family described him, possessed “a perfect heart, a perfect soul, a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, and a dazzling radiant mind.” Tommy Raskin also suffered from depression. And his condition deepened during the long months of COVID. On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Raskin found his son dead in bed. Tommy had taken his own life and left behind a handwritten note for his parents and two sisters: “Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”

When I first spoke to Jamie Raskin, early in the year, it was nearly impossible for him to talk about his son without weeping. This has eased somewhat. Now, whole minutes go by when his mind does not dwell on the loss and what he might have done­­ to save his “dear boy.” Raskin has also been consumed by a sense of mission. Not long after the insurrection failed, Nancy Pelosi tapped him to be the lead manager of Trump’s second impeachment trial, a task he performed with eloquence and organizational skill. Now, as a member of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, he is once more at the center of the struggle over the Trump legacy and the future of constitutional democracy.

In the past year, as Raskin was in the depths of his grief and consumed with his work on Capitol Hill, he somehow seized the late-night hours to write a book. Writing, he told me, was a way to avoid cycling down into the depths, a way to make at least some sense of what he and those around him were suffering. “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy” will be published just after the New Year.

“I wrote this book in five months,” Raskin told me. “I was sleepless and couldn’t think about anything else. It was therapeutic. I just did the audio version, and that was wrenching to do. But I’m sleeping better these days. . . . I am not drowning in grief and agony in quite the way I was. And a lot of that is that we’re trying to honor the spirit and the wishes Tommy expressed in his farewell note: ‘Look after each other.’ That is a pretty specific set of instructions, and it has given me a roadmap for the rest of my life.”

“Unthinkable” is not a work of emotional austerity; rather, it is an unburdening, a howl, a devotional. The grief is nightmarish, but the love that suffuses the text is even more powerful––the love for family and a lost child, as well as a love for a fragile democracy. It takes its greatest inspiration from the idealism of Raskin’s son.

“Tommy was someone who felt the pain of other people in a way that you don’t come upon very frequently,” Raskin said. “He could stay up all night worried about children caught in the civil war in Yemen. Or children separated from their parents at the border. Or victims of gun violence. He was an enormously joyful and happy and funny young man, but he experienced the other end of the emotional spectrum very acutely.”

Raskin went on, “Tommy had a clinical diagnosis, but, having said that, everyone’s mental-health struggles take place in a social context. The COVID-19 period has been dreadful for young people. It’s been so isolating and demoralizing. During COVID, Tommy’s spirits sank further south, like so many in his generation. Studies show that a majority of young people have experienced heightened anxiety and depression during COVID, and it’s also exacerbated by climate change and vicious political extremism. I’m not saying Tommy’s death was caused by right-wing politics or Donald Trump’s catastrophic COVID-19 policies. But his situation existed in a social context.”

In recent weeks, Raskin has been immersed in the January 6th investigation and the committee’s attempt to wrest evidence from Trump’s circle, most recently Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, who initially coöperated and then reversed course. “Mark Meadows has one foot in and one foot out,” Raskin said. “He turned over thousands of documents, which are a very rich reservoir of information. But then Donald Trump had a tantrum and called his book ‘fake news,’ and then Mark Meadows called his own book ‘fake news’ and cancelled his coöperation with our committee.” The House has voted to recommend holding Meadows in contempt of Congress for his refusal to coöperate.

The goal of the committee and Raskin’s pursuit is clear: “If we can get a comprehensive and fine-grained portrait of the events on January 6th and all of the causes leading up to them, it could blow the roof off the house,” he said. “It will lay bare that there is a kind of constellation of forces threatening the future of American democracy. January 6th was not the final act, but perhaps the prologue to a titanic struggle between democracy and violent authoritarianism in America.”

Raskin said that he hopes there will be hearings early in 2022 and a final, comprehensive report by the spring or summer, well before the end of this Congress. “I’ll give you my preliminary analysis of what happened on that day,” he said. “There were three rings of activity. The outer realm is a mass demonstration that became a riot. And Donald Trump drew tens of thousands of people to Washington with promises of a ‘wild’ protest and a campaign to ‘stop the steal.’ The middle ring is comprised of organizations like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, various militia groups, and QAnon networks. Those people arrived in paramilitary formation, having engaged in real training,” he said. “They were the first to smash our windows and lead the movement to try to take over the House and Senate chambers.

“The scariest of the three rings is the inside of the coup. I use that word, ‘coup,’ knowing that it’s not the usual political parlance. A coup usually takes place against an elected President. This was a President moving against a Vice-President–it was, as the political scientists call it, a ‘self-coup,’ ” Raskin said. “After he lost, he moved into overdrive and began a massive ideological onslaught against the election to propagandize his followers . . . . He approached G.O.P.-run state legislatures to overturn the popular elections and appoint slates in his name. He went to state election officials like Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state in Georgia, and browbeat them to nullify the election results—or, in the case of Georgia, to ‘find’ votes. He waged a war in the Department of Justice to get them to weigh in on various cases he brought or his supporters were bringing.

“When that failed, he turned his attention to Mike Pence. The objective was to get Pence to use lawless and unprecedented powers to reject [Electoral College] slates and return them to the state capitols.” Trump hoped that Biden would be denied his victory on January 6th and, under the 12th Amendment, there would be a one-state, one-vote ballot in the House, which the Republicans would win. “Then Trump would have invoked the Insurrection Act, as his advisers were telling him to do, and declared something like martial law and use the National Guard to put down any unrest,” Raskin said.

There is a lot left to know: Who coördinated or gave orders to the various elements of the insurrection? What role did Trump play? Who put up the money to rent the buses, buy the air tickets, reserve the hotel rooms? “January 6th brought together disparate right-wing elements into a mass right-wing street violence movement. We’ve got to be clear-eyed about that,” Raskin said. “Long after Donald Trump is gone, we’ll be dealing with a movement of violent, neo-Fascist elements who came very close to knocking over the U.S. government. And they know it. Their Web sites are filled with proud commemorations of January 6th. They lament only that they left their firearms back in their hotel rooms and in their cars. They fault themselves only for not completing the job on January 6th. And remember: the political scientists tell us that the sign of a successful coup is a recent unsuccessful coup, an event where they can diagram and analyze their previous mistakes so they can correct them the next time around.”

Raskin is an ardent liberal from a left-leaning background. His mother, Barbara, was a novelist and journalist; his father, Marcus, worked in the Kennedy Administration and made his reputation as an activist against the Vietnam War and as the co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank in D.C. But, with constitutional democracy at risk, Raskin has searched for allies among Republicans. “Liz Cheney is an important figure in our times. And I have similar praise for Adam Kinzinger and Mitt Romney­­––for all the Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump,” he said. “Historically, the left never defeats fascism on its own. . . . I continue to disagree with Liz Cheney on a range of issues, but she is an ardent constitutional patriot. She doesn’t believe her party must win. Her party is now one of ‘rule or ruin.’ Either they rule, or they eliminate any basic democratic norms. They have positioned themselves outside the constitutional order.”

Raskin said that there is little comfort to take in the fact that the Republican Party is aging, shrinking, and devoid of a coherent policy platform. “Madeleine Albright argues that fascism is not an ideology; it’s just a strategy for taking power and maintaining it,” he said. “Our challenge is that, for now, we have the White House and a very narrow majority in Congress. The G.O.P. controls all the anti-democratic levers in the country. And they are engaged in the gerrymandering of districts, the promotion of voter suppression in various states, the use of the filibuster to block policy—they’ve packed the courts with Federalist Society bloggers. It’s a race between the will of the majority—the values of the majority—versus the G.O.P.’s control of political institutions.”

Nor should anyone be confident that the Trump era is over or that authoritarian power is a concern only for foreign countries. “We got an excellent and terrifying glimpse of what an authoritarian America could be on June 1, 2020, when Trump organized the government against Black Lives Matter and against the people in Lafayette Square, and again on January 6th,” Raskin said, adding, “Trump has tapped into, and unleashed, and increased forces of right-wing authoritarianism that we will live with long beyond his natural years. That’s why we can’t totally fetishize his own reckoning with the justice system––as much as I favor and hope for it.”

The country is not lacking for committed democrats, yet Raskin seems worthy of special note this year because of the unforgettable and tragic circumstances in which he has fought for individual and collective liberty. As we finished our long conversation the other night, he said, “My book was a labor of love for Tommy and my family, but also for our country. I’m on a mission of hope. There are millions of hurting people in the country. We’ve lost more than eight hundred thousand people to COVID-19—which means eight hundred thousand grief-stricken families. There are comparable numbers in the opioid crisis, the epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse, a staggering mental-health crisis. We have to bring people some hope. We have to make it clear that part of the solution to despondency is to engage in politics and to fight back.”

Doonesbury — The wrong guy.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

And… Scene

John Cole at Balloon Juice takes a good shot at being a playwright.  Here he is putting his views on the current political scene in a ten-minute play.

Scene: An openly hostile and coordinated crowd of agitators confronts school boards, leveling demands.

Mob: We are sick of you saying white people are bad and teaching Crucial Raisin Theory!!!

Board Members and Teachers: What?

Mob: We meant critical race theory!

Teacher: I don’t know what that is.


Teacher: I just teach basic history.


Teacher: Well, yes.



Scene: The Local Nightly News

Bobblehead: In several counties across the state, concerned parents have gathered to peacefully address school boards and to discuss issues with the curriculum. Let’s go to Brandy, who dropped out of engineering, pre-med, english, and all her other classes to pursue a degree in journalism and has no training or specialty in anything, who is on the scene.

Brandy: Yes, thank you Bobblehead, I am here with Jimbob Angersmith, who works down at the Save-Alot and has dabbled in Republican politics via multiple engaged facebook groups, a school board member, and a teacher to share their thoughts:


Board Member: We don’t teach critical race theory. I had to google it before the meeting.


Brandy: JimBob, what exactly is critical race theory?

JimBob: OH YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS AND THEY BETTER STOP TEACHING IT HERE LOOK AT THIS (shows clip of Tucker Carlson on his phone)

Brandy: What do you think Mr. School Board Member

Board Member: We don’t teach critical race theory we don’t even have the money to teach a lot of the stuff we should we’re short staffed and underpaid and our buildings are crumbling.

Brandy: And how about you, Mrs. Teacher:

Teacher: They tried to tear my mask off in the parking lot. Why do they all have guns? I’m afraid to go to the store.

Brandy: That’s the scene down here, Bobblehead, back to you.

Bobblehead: Great report Brandy, keep up the excellent work. Now to our panel of three guests from CPAC to explain why this is bad news for Democrats.


I would happily sponsor John Cole as a full-fledged member of the Dramatists Guild.

I didn’t listen to the post-election wrap-ups on cables or in the paper.  I drove to work listening to WDNA, the public jazz station in Miami, and when I got to the office, I streamed WIAA, the classical music stream from Interlochen Public Radio.  I came home and caught up with car restoration on Motor Trend, and Episode 3 of “Midnight Mass” on Netflix.  It’s not that I don’t care about the outcome of the election.  It’s because John’s piece is exactly what I knew I would hear: the Very Serious People will nod their heads and even if the Democrats had run the table in Virginia and New Jersey, it would still be good news for John McCain.

I intend to participate in every election where I can vote and I intend to support candidates who support what I believe.  But I’m also glad for my subscription to Netflix, and if the crazies win, I’ll be looking at real estate in the Bahamas.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Lighten Up A Little

It’s election day and the cables are all twitterpated about the gubernatorial race in Virginia and, to a lesser extent, New Jersey.  There are also races for mayor in New York and Boston, and some elections here in Miami.  I don’t have an election to go to, so I might catch up on “Law & Order” reruns.

Watching the cable frenzy, keep in mind that they have a vested interest in making these elections interesting. That interest, of course, is keeping you watching instead of switching over to the adventures of Lennie Briscoe and Jack McCoy and keep you watching their money-makers: ads for Medicare supplements and boner pills.

Unlike his predecessor, Joe Biden isn’t worrying about the shenanigans on Morning Joe. Charlie Pierce:

It is to the president’s credit that he really doesn’t seem to care very much about the drama-critic aspects of the elite political press. That frees him up to do what he wants. This, of course, occasionally means he’s free to make compromises and decisions that drive me and many others up the wall. But that’s the way he rolls, and it’s far too late for him to change now, even though he seems to have made a profound turn towards FDR in terms of his belief in the federal government’s ability to help its citizens. The upside of this trait is that he can hang his predecessor out to dry in front of the entire world. From CBS News:

He went further in remarks shortly afterward, taking the unusual step of apologizing for Mr. Trump. “I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States, in the last administration, pulled out of the Paris Accord and put us sort of behind the eight ball,” he said at another opening day event. In his address, Mr. Biden sought to stress that human-caused damage to the climate was already taking a devastating toll on people through natural disasters, and it could only be addressed if nations come together. “Worse is yet to come if we fail to seize this moment,” the president said, promising that the U.S. would lead by example, not words.

Yes, elsewhere, Senator Joe Manchin (D-Anthracite) is mucking things up again in his own distinctive way. And elements of the elite political press are measuring his presidency for a shroud because it seems like they have nothing else to cover. And the Supreme Court increasingly looks like one of those big black cloud beasts from science fiction. But this president insists that there’s a dry path through all the raindrops, and if he can have a little fun along the way, who am I to deny him a skip-step or two?

So, unless there’s an election in your district — in which case, get out and vote — take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Sunday Reading

When Will It End? — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on Trump’s permanent revolution.

After Donald Trump lost the Presidential election last year, a law professor named John Eastman drafted, for Trump’s use, a two-page manual for unlawfully throwing out the electoral votes of certain states as they were being tallied in Congress, on January 6th. The name he mentions most often in the memo is that of Vice-President Mike Pence. It appears in such statements as “Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected” and, regarding disrupting the count, “The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission.” Eastman also spoke at Trump’s January 6th rally, where he said that what “we are demanding of Vice-President Pence” is that he intervene in the electoral count. Trump, speaking shortly afterward, cited Eastman’s authority when he said, “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

Soon afterward, the assault on the Capitol began, and, once it became clear that the Vice-President was not going to do what Trump and his allies demanded, a group of insurrectionists chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” Members of the Pence family were also in the Capitol, and in danger. Eastman is expected to be subpoenaed in the coming days by the House select committee investigating the events surrounding January 6th. In addition to writing that memo, and a revised, more detailed one—in which he declares that letting the results stand would mean that Americans were no longer “a self-governing people”—he attended a meeting with Trump and Pence in the Oval Office on January 4th. (Eastman says that he ultimately advised Pence to delay the count, not to stage a coup.) An area of inquiry for the committee is how much pressure Trump put on Pence to help him overturn the election. (A lot, it seems.)

But one person who doesn’t appear eager to dwell on that question, at least not publicly, is Pence himself, who has been biding his time giving speeches and setting up an organization called Advancing American Freedom. Last month, in an interview with Sean Hannity, on Fox News, he said that the media is trying to use January 6th to distract from President Biden’s “failed agenda” and to “demean the character and intentions” of people who voted for Trump. He assured Hannity that he and Trump had “parted amicably” after leaving office, and had stayed in touch. On social media and in a podcast he has launched, he steadily repeats the phrase “Trump-Pence Administration”—linking his name with that of a man who was ready to abandon him to a mob.

Pence’s position is intriguing on a human level, but it is significant in political terms, too, because it captures so much about the state of the G.O.P., where the 2024 Presidential race is headed, and how much the contest over the legacy of January 6th matters in setting that course. Trump seems to realize that as much as anybody. After Pence appeared on Fox News, Trump put out a statement saying that the interview “very much destroys and discredits the Unselect Committees Witch Hunt on the events of January 6th.” The interview does not do that, of course. But the Trump-Pence dance underscores how high the stakes are for the committee. Trump, in trying to obstruct the investigation into January 6th—with spurious claims of executive privilege, for example—is fighting not only to impose his view of the past but to insure his political future.

A simple explanation for Pence’s complacency is that he wants to run for President himself, and can’t afford to alienate Trump if he is to have any hope of making it through the primaries. According to a recent poll, Trump’s favorability rating among Republicans is eighty-six per cent. His Save America PAC, the new Make America Great Again, Again! super PAC, and ancillary political funds have raised more than a hundred million dollars. But Trump may not want to help anyone but Trump. In September, when asked by Fox News if he would run, he said, “It is getting to a point where we really have no choice.” It’s hard to know whom he means by “we.” In a Morning Consult/Politico poll that asked Republicans whom they would support out of more than fifteen potential candidates for 2024, forty-seven per cent chose Trump. Pence came next, with just thirteen per cent. Close behind Pence was Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and a Trump ally, with twelve per cent. (Six per cent chose Donald Trump, Jr.—twice as many as picked Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.) When Trump was asked recently, in an interview with Yahoo Finance, what he thought of DeSantis’s Presidential prospects, he said, “If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else.” But Trump didn’t believe it would come to that. He said he thought that, if he ran, “most people would drop out, I think he would drop out.”

Trump may be right. Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, criticized him in straightforward terms after January 6th; in February, she told Politico that the Party had been wrong to follow him. A few weeks ago, she told the Wall Street Journal, “We need him in the Republican Party.” She also said that, if “there’s a place for me” in the 2024 race, “I would talk to him and see what his plans are. . . . We would work on it together.” Perhaps she was hinting at the Vice-Presidential spot; it’s extraordinary to think that there are people who would like to be the next Mike Pence. One wonders if candidates for the job would be given copies of Eastman’s memos and asked to check off the unconstitutional moves that they would be willing to make.

Far from being a witch hunt, the investigations into January 6th have continued to uncover unsettling material concerning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. (The Senate Judiciary Committee reported last month on his attempts to enlist officials in the Department of Justice in that cause.) There’s no shortage of reminders that he hasn’t moved on. Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy letter to the editor from Trump, full of baseless claims that the vote count in Pennsylvania was wrong. “The election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven’t figured out,” he informed the Journal. In a statement a week earlier, he spoke in even more strident terms: “The insurrection took place on November 3, Election Day. January 6 was the Protest!”

There can hardly be a better example of why a clear accounting of the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol is so crucial. According to Trump, the real insurrection was never put down. January 6th, in that sense, is a long way from over.

Doonesbury — Fade out.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

They Mean Business

They’re being lied to and they’re believing it.  From Philip Bump in the Washington Post.

The death toll from Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud is murky, ranging from one to seven depending on how you count. Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran shot as she tried to climb through a window near where members of Congress were evacuating during the riot on Jan. 6 is the one indisputable death. Without Trump’s false claims about the election there’s no massive rally on that day in that place, no mob overrunning the building and no one breaking the window where Babbitt died.

Other deaths are less direct. Two people died of natural causes in the midst of the mob; another from what a medical examiner called “amphetamine intoxication.” Three police officers died in the aftermath of the riot, including two who took their own lives. Officer Brian D. Sicknick was thought to have died as a result of injuries sustained during the attack; it was later determined that he died of natural causes.

That, then, is an estimation of the number of people who have died as a result of Trump’s false claims about the election, claims that are now a central point of belief for his party. What is not clear is how many more people might die because of them.

On Monday, the right-wing youth organization Turning Point USA had an event during which founder Charlie Kirk took questions from members of the audience. At one point, a bearded man asked one, as seen in video obtained by Media Matters.

“At this point, we’re living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny,” he said. “When do we get to use the guns?”

Members of the audience applauded.

“No, and I’m not — that’s not a joke,” he continued. “I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

Kirk’s response was not, as you might hope, a strident rejection of the premise. He argued that an embrace of violence was what the left wanted, allowing for the creation of “Patriot Act 2.0.” (The original Patriot Act was not a project of the political left, as some will recall.) When the questioner asked “where the line” was, Kirk didn’t say that there was no line that would warrant the use of gun violence for political purposes, instead suggesting that the next step was for states to reject federalism.

We’ve pointed this out before, but it’s important to reiterate it now. The problem with these false claims of election fraud — these false, nonsensical, debunked, irrational, garbage claims of election fraud — is that people believe them. They believe them because they trust the people making the claims, like Trump or Kirk. They believe them because people who know they’re false think it’s useful to pretend they aren’t. People believe that the 2020 election was stolen because Trump insists that it was because he’s embarrassed it wasn’t. Because Trump’s allies went along with it so he wouldn’t be mad at them and so that they could rationalize new limits on voting.

But if you actually believe this happened, then you’re in the position of that guy in the audience. If you think the election was stolen and that no one is doing anything about it, it’s natural to wonder why more isn’t being done. That was clearly part of what unfolded on Jan. 6 itself: A lot of people who thought the election had been stolen were convinced that being at the Capitol at that time afforded them the chance to do something. They were told the election was stolen and they accepted that, and then Trump told them the time and place where intervention was needed. So they showed up.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made a similar point on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast Tuesday.

“The real truth is the communist revolution that the Democrats funded and waged every single day and every single night in American cities all across our country,” she said, misrepresenting last year’s protests centered on the death of George Floyd. “You see, that was an attack on innocent American people, whereas Jan. 6 was just a riot at the Capitol. And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.”

Just a riot at the Capitol — and one somehow rationalized by the Declaration of Independence. After all, it’s not like Joe Biden won the election fairly.

This is not the first time that Greene has downplayed the violence on that day or celebrated those who engaged in it. She has repeatedly suggested that those arrested for their roles in the violence were unfairly targeted, at one point referring to them as “prisoners of war.” She is also the legislator who, in a photo of freshmen legislators taken a few days before the riot, wore a face mask reading “stop the steal” — a slogan centered on the false claims of fraud. At another point, her mask read “Trump won.”

Trump didn’t win. Donald Trump lost. Those are words he loathes hearing, so he’s done everything in his power to pretend they aren’t true. And as a result, his supporters injured scores of police officers at the Capitol, and several gave their lives. As a result, frustrated supporters are wondering out loud when they get to murder the people Trump is saying stole the election. As a result, those musings are greeted not with condemnation but applause.

This is not a trajectory on which the death toll doesn’t grow.

The only people who can stop this are the people who started it.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

I’ve got something to say about “you people.”

That, as you may recall, was how I referred, in a recent column, to Mike Pence and others who have apparently sworn an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Florida taco bowl connoisseur who used to be president. It left a handful of readers well and truly irked. As one of them put it: “‘You people?’ How dare you lump all Trump voters like that.”

Well, dear reader, I cannot tell a lie. That objectifying language was no accident. Rather, it was designed to make a point. In order to understand that point, you have to understand something else:

I’m an American. By that, I don’t simply mean that I’m a U.S. citizen, though I am. But what I really mean is that I venerate the ideals on which this country was founded.

Unalienable rights. Life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Of faith. Of conscience. Government by consent of the governed. Equality before the law. Because of those ideals, America already was a revolution even before it won independence from England. Despite themselves, a band of slaveholding white men somehow founded a nation based on an aspirational, transformational declaration of fundamental human rights.

And then came the taco bowl connoisseur and his acolytes. Their values — more accurately, their lack of values — have coarsened the country, impoverished its spirit, debased what once was revered. Like something out of “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel of a fascist takeover, our foundational ideals suddenly seem flimsy and insubstantial, thin tissues of fidelity in a hurricane of contempt.

Indeed, to witness politicians openly rigging the electoral process by installing loyalists to count votes, to watch them lionize insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol, to see them wheedle and rationalize rather than stand up for the country they purport to love and to know all of this happens while we, the people, watch TikToks, play Madden and otherwise go on with business as usual — as if the nation did not face a threat to its very existence — is to realize that not only can “it” happen here but that arguably, it already is.

It’s a realization that forces a choice: Shall we embrace fidelity or surrender to the storm? For some of us, that’s no choice at all. Hence, “you people” — less a call for division than a belated recognition that division has already come, that some of us have seceded from common cause, common ideals, common hope — and that the rest of us must recognize that, if only so that we can be clear-eyed about saving ourselves.

To put that another way: If I never see another cable-news reporter doing interviews in some red-state diner to help the rest of us “understand” the people there, it will be too soon. How about we send that reporter to a blue-state shopping mall to help the people in the diner understand the rest of us? What they will learn is they have no monopoly on frustration or anger.

You people don’t believe in freedom of speech. My people do.

You people don’t cherish the rule of law. My people do.

You people don’t support democratic ideals. My people do.

You people don’t value facts and reason. My people do.

You people don’t honor the aspirational and transformational ideas that made this country great. My people do.

For those reasons and more, you people are not my people.

My people are Americans.

Doonesbury — Fierce irony.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

We Mean Business

From the Washington Post:

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is planning to ramp up its efforts to force Trump administration officials to cooperate with its inquiry, and on Wednesday it issued a subpoena for a former Justice Department official panel members view as key to the examination of the former president’s efforts to overturn election results.

The committee said it is seeking records and testimony from Jeffrey Clark, a Trump-era Justice Department official who sought to deploy department resources to support President Donald Trump’s false claims of massive voting fraud in the 2020 election.

“The Select Committee needs to understand all the details about efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. “We need to understand Mr. Clark’s role in these efforts at the Justice Department and learn who was involved across the administration. The Select Committee expects Mr. Clark to cooperate fully with our investigation.”

A lawyer for Clark declined to comment.


Lawmakers who sit on the panel — seven Democrats, two Republicans, all appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — said they are prepared to pursue criminal charges against witnesses like Bannon who have balked at cooperating.

“We are completely of one mind that if people refuse to respond to questions without justification that we will hold them in criminal contempt and refer them to the Justice Department,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, said in an interview Tuesday.

To proceed with a criminal contempt charge, the full committee must meet, which is unlikely this week, but lawmakers will probably signal their intention to proceed to seek contempt charges, said one of the people familiar with the process.

And then there’s this:

A Colorado judge on Wednesday prohibited a local official who has embraced conspiracy theories from overseeing November’s election, finding she breached and neglected her duties and was “untruthful” when she brought in someone who was not a county employee to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines.

The effort by Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters (R) to ferret out supposedly hidden evidence of fraud amounted to an escalation in the attacks on the nation’s voting systems, according to experts, one in which officials who were responsible for election security allegedly took actions that undermined that security in the name of protecting it.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) filed a lawsuit in August seeking to formally strip Peters of her election duties after passwords for Mesa County’s voting machines were posted online and copies of the hard drives were presented at a symposium hosted by MyPillow executive Mike Lindell, who denies that President Biden won the 2020 election.

It’s time to start kicking some ass. This is not some petty partisan squabble. It never has been. This is about the future of what’s left of our democracy, and unless you prefer to see this devolve further into chaos, we need to make it clear that from now on out, this shit is getting very real and some people way above the mobsters are going to pay for the riot and ruin they incited. End of play.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Elections Canada

I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that Canada is holding a national election today.

Canadians head to the polls today for the final day of voting in this 44th general election and surveys suggest the result is far from certain with as many as six parties in contention for seats in Parliament.

More than 5.8 million Canadians have already voted in the advance polls, and Elections Canada has received nearly one million special ballots — a record-setting early turnout that suggests there’s an energized electorate.

Poll workers will start the vote count tonight, but the outcome may not be known until tomorrow after the many mail-in ballots are verified at hundreds of returning offices nationwide.

This 36-day election featured policy talk on everything from housing and the COVID-19 response to Canada’s place in the world, but there were also heavy doses of partisan sniping as the leaders jockeyed for front-runner status in a very close race.

They do things differently in Canada. Since they have a parliamentary system, the people don’t vote for a national candidate; they vote for their local Member of Parliament, and the party with the most seats gets to choose the prime minister. There are 338 districts, called ridings, across Canada. Since there are more than two major parties in Canada — the four big ones are the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, and the Bloc Quebecois — the winner may not have a majority of 170 seats, so they have to work with the others to get things done. There are other, smaller parties, including the Greens and a populist quasi-Trump group called the People’s Party of Canada, but the odds are very long that they’ll win even one seat.

As of this morning, the Liberals have the lead in seats, but not a majority.

Canada also does not have permanent election campaigns like we do. Parliament was dissolved and the election was called on August 15, and the campaign ends today, 36 days later. The prime minister can call for an election any time he or she wants, with one required at least every five years. Justin Trudeau bet that he could pull off a majority win based on his performance dealing with Covid-19 and other issues that made his party popular, but it’s not always a sure thing; other PM’s have had their garter snapped and found themselves out of office and out of a job. After all, to be prime minister, you have to win your seat in your own riding, and it’s happened where the incumbent PM has had his poutine handed to him by his own constituents.

One other way that Canadians do it differently is by having the national election run by a federal agency, Elections Canada. They handle all of the process across all the provinces and territories, and they present the results. Here in the U.S., it’s up to each state to do it, which, as we’ve seen in the last few years, can be a clustasrophe with different rules for different people in different states. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to rig a national election with over a thousand different systems running in 50 states, each handled by local officials.

Like I said, they do things differently in the True North.  I’m not sure I’d want a parliamentary system here — although the idea of Nancy Pelosi as Prime Minister has a certain charm — but I like the idea of having an election over and done within a month, and I like the idea of a representative knowing that their job could be up for grabs at any time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

This Close

This is some scary shit:

Twice in the final months of the Trump administration, the country’s top military officer was so fearful that the president’s actions might spark a war with China that he moved urgently to avert armed conflict.

In a pair of secret phone calls, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that unseated President Donald Trump, and the other on Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol siege carried out by his supporters in a quest to cancel the vote.

The first call was prompted by Milley’s review of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. That belief, the authors write, was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and deepened by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric toward China.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

Li took the chairman at his word, the authors write in the book, “Peril,” which is set to be released next week.

In the second call, placed to address Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6, Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

Li remained rattled, and Milley, who did not relay the conversation to Trump, according to the book, understood why. The chairman, 62 at the time and chosen by Trump in 2018, believed the president had suffered a mental decline after the election, the authors write, a view he communicated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a phone call on Jan. 8. He agreed with her evaluation that Trump was unstable, according to a call transcript obtained by the authors.

Believing that China could lash out if it felt at risk from an unpredictable and vengeful American president, Milley took action. The same day, he called the admiral overseeing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing the military exercises, according to the book. The admiral complied.

Meanwhile it was revealed that Vice President Mike Pence, apparently worried about his place in history, not to mention his job at the time, was trying to figure out a way to both follow the law and keep Trump from siccing the mob on him.

Ever since Mike Pence announced on Jan. 6 that he lacked power to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election in Congress, it’s been widely suggested that the vice president was one of the few heroes in this ugly tale.

But new revelations in the forthcoming book by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa cast doubt on this account. And the new details also hint at lines of inquiry about Jan. 6 that will shape aspects of the House select committee’s examination of those events.

The key details concern Trump’s relentless pressure on Pence to help subvert the electoral college count on Jan. 6, pursuant to the vice president’s role as president of the Senate. The day before, in the Oval Office, Trump angrily told Pence that various people believed he did have the power to somehow derail the count.

CNN reports on what the book says came next:

“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.

“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.

“But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” Trump asked, according to Woodward and Costa.

“No,” Pence said. He went on, “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”

I’ve done everything I could and then some. That’s at odds with the portrayal of Pence as a heroic defender of the Constitution and the rule of law who bravely rebuffed Trump’s corrupt pressure on him to help destroy them both.

Obviously Pence might have been exaggerating his efforts to placate Trump. But notably, the book also reports that Pence privately said the same to former vice president Dan Quayle, who basically had to persuade him he had no power to help Trump:

Over and over, Pence asked if there was anything he could do.

“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him.

The fact that this country was basically saved from a nuclear war and a coup d’etat by a general with a conscious and Dan Quayle (DAN QUAYLE!) should tell you what real peril we were in and what needs to be done to protect us from here on out.

Newsom Beats Recall Effort

From the Los Angeles Times:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom survived a historic recall election Tuesday, winning a major vote of confidence during a COVID-19 pandemic that has shattered families and livelihoods and tested his ability to lead the state through the largest worldwide health crisis in modern times.

The recall offered Republicans their best chance in more than a decade to take the helm of the largest state in the union. But the effort was undercut when Newsom and the nation’s leading Democrats, aided by visits to California by President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, portrayed the campaign to oust the governor as a “life and death” battle against “Trumpism” and far-right anti-vaccine activists.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder led the 46 candidates on the second question on the ballot hoping to become governor, but that became meaningless after a majority of California voters decided to keep Newsom in office.

It’s an encouraging sign for both the Democrats and the country that he survived by almost 30 percentage points. The choice between Gov. Newsom and Larry Elder, a right-wing radio gabber, didn’t really matter. And as much as I would like to have the option here in Florida to recall the governor we have, I don’t think it’s all that good an idea to mount a recall campaign half-way through their term unless they’re being read their Miranda warnings.

As for reading the tea leaves of how this bodes for other Democrats running for election this year — notably in New Jersey and Virginia — it is a good sign that perhaps the electorate is fed up with the right-wing nutsery. If the Democrats win the governorships in those states, there’s some glimmer of hope.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Make A Federal Case Of It

Charlie Pierce on what needs to be done to deal with rogue states like Texas:

From the Washington Post:

The Justice Department is exploring “all options” to challenge Texas’s restrictive abortion law, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday, as he vowed to provide support to abortion clinics that are “under attack” in the state and to protect those seeking and providing reproductive health services. The move by the nation’s top law enforcement official comes just days after the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas abortion statute that bans the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. The court’s action stands as the most serious threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling establishing a right to abortion, in nearly 50 years.

I know that some people have been frustrated by what appears to be Merrick Garland’s dilatory approach to investigating the former president* and all the rest of the staff from Camp Runamuck. I feel much the same way. But, if the DOJ acts on this, it’s a very encouraging development. If Garland decides to give Greg Abbott in Texas a little taste of what Eisenhower gave Orval Faubus in 1957, or what the Kennedy brothers gave Ross Barnett in 1962, that’s all to the good. It’s past time that the “federal” part of federalism gets exercised again. The central government has a duty, based in the ninth and 14th amendments, to safeguard the civil liberties of its citizens against any threat to them, including those posed by state governments and state governors. As Dolores Barclay told

Eisenhower was boxed into a corner and reached a point where he had to show the power of the federal government and chop off continued insurrection of southern segregationists. His decision was decidedly political—to maintain federal power—and to ensure that Brown was enforced.

It’s time to flex that power again. Even the shadow-docket card trick from the Supreme Court allows that, theoretically anyway, the right to privacy and the right to terminate a pregnancy that is derived from it both remain intact. The ridiculously gerrymandered statehouses and the fanatical ideologues in the governor’s offices have left the administration, and the central government, no choice but to defend that right against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The rallying cry of the anti-freedom movements of the 1960’s was “states rights,” meaning that Alabama didn’t need to listen to the feds when it came to civil rights (but then came begging when a hurricane or a tornado wiped out a city or a trailer park).

What happens in Texas doesn’t just stay in Texas.  Women seeking reproductive health care — which goes way beyond the abortion issue — will now have to travel to other states, putting the burden on them to deal with them as well as their own citizens.  I sincerely doubt that the clinics in New Mexico or Colorado or wherever they go will turn them away simply because they come from a state run by an idiot, but the strain on their own resources is an undue burden.

There is a delicate balance between state and federal government.  As President Josiah Bartlet once noted, there are times when we are one country and times when we are fifty states.  This is a time when we need to be just the one.