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Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Saturday, September 25, 2021
On Monday [September 20], we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.
That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.
This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately.
If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is?
And yet, Republican lawmakers, with the notable exceptions of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), have largely remained silent about the fact that the head of their party tried to destroy our democracy.
The best spin on their silence is that in refusing to defend the former president while also keeping quiet enough that they do not antagonize the voters in his base, they are choosing their own power over the protection of our country.
The other option is that the leaders of the Republican Party have embraced authoritarianism, and their once-grand party—the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that saved the United States in the 1860s, the party that removed racial enslavement from our fundamental law—has become an existential threat to our nation.
Democracy requires at least two healthy parties capable of running a government in order to provide oversight for those currently in control of the government and to channel opposition into peaceful attempts to change the country’s path rather than into revolution. But Republicans appear to believe that any Democratic government is illegitimate, insisting that Democrats’ calls for business regulation, a basic social safety net, and infrastructure investment are “socialism” that will destroy the country.
With Democrats in charge of the federal government, Republicans are cementing their power in the states to support a future coup like the one Eastman described. Using “audits” of the 2020 elections, notably in Arizona but now also in Pennsylvania and Texas, Trump loyalists have convinced their supporters to distrust elections, softening the ground to overturn them in the future. According to a new poll by NORC at the University of Chicago, 26% of Americans now believe that “[t]he 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president,” and 8% believe that "[u]se of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency."
Arguing that they have to stop the voter fraud they have falsely claimed threw the election to Biden, Republican lawmakers in 18 states have passed more than 30 laws to cut down Democratic voting and cement their own rule. Trump supporters have threatened election workers, prompting them to quit, and have harassed school board members and local officials, driving them from office.
Although attorneys general are charged with nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we learned earlier this month that in September 2020, 32 staff members of Republican attorneys general met in Atlanta, where they participated in “war games” to figure out what to do should Trump not be reelected. The summit was organized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which sent out robocalls on January 5 urging recipients to march to the Capitol the following day “to stop the steal.” In May, RAGA elevated the man responsible for those robocalls to the position of executive director, prompting others to leave.
In states where Republicans have rigged election mechanics, party members need to worry about primary challengers from the right, rather than Democratic opponents. So they are purging from the party all but Trump loyalists, especially as the former president is backing challengers against those who voted in favor of his impeachment in the House in January 2021. Last week, one of those people, Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), announced he was retiring, in part because of right-wing threats against his family.
Trump loyalists are openly embracing the language of authoritarianism. In Texas, Abbott is now facing a primary challenger who today tweeted: “Texans deserve a strong and robust leader committed to fighting with them against the radical Left. They deserve a leader like Brazil has in Jair Bolsonaro…..” Bolsonaro, a right-wing leader whose approval rating in late August was 23%, is threatening to stay in power in Brazil against the wishes of its people. He claims that the country’s elections are fraudulent and that “[e]ither we’ll have clean elections, or we won’t have elections.”
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) today used language fascists have used in the past to stoke hatred of their political opponents, tweeting that “ALL House Democrats are evil and will kill unborn babies all the way up to birth and then celebrate.” Yesterday, the leader of Turning Points U.S.A., Charlie Kirk, brought the movement’s white nationalism into the open when he told a YouTube audience that Democrats were backing “an invasion of the country” to bring in “voters that they want and that they like” and to work toward “diminishing and decreasing white demographics in America.” He called for listeners to “[d]eputize a citizen force, put them on the border, give them handcuffs, get it done.”
Today, we learned that the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest, Hungary, where leader Viktor Orbán, whom Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson has openly admired, is dismantling democracy and eroding civil rights. When former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest earlier this week at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court.
Establishment Republicans who are now out of power are not on board the Trump train. They are quietly backing anti-Trumpers like Representative Cheney. Former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, former Florida governor Jeb Bush—who was widely expected to win the Republican nomination in 2016, only to be shut out of it by Trump—and former president George W. Bush's former adviser Karl Rove have all donated money to Cheney to help her stave off a challenge from a Trump loyalist in the 2022 election. Next month, former president Bush himself will hold a fundraiser for Cheney in Texas.
Other establishment Republicans currently in power might be staying quiet about the party’s slide toward authoritarianism because they are simply hoping that the Trump fire will burn itself out. The former president is no longer commanding the crowds he once did, and his increasing legal woes as well as the investigation into the insurrection will almost certainly take up his time and energy. The mounting coronavirus deaths among his unvaccinated supporters also stand to weaken support for his faction.
But the fact that Republican lawmakers have ignored the Eastman memo, which outlines the destruction of our democracy, suggests that the party, which organized in the 1850s to protect the nation against those who would destroy it, has come full circle.
—Heather Cox Richardson
Thursday, September 23, 2021
“The Hairy Eagle, as it was dubbed more than 150 years ago, stuns all who see it, probably because the wreath is made entirely from human hair. And not just any hair. It was woven with tresses provided by President Abraham Lincoln, his vice president and cabinet members, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and numerous United States senators, as well as First Lady Mary Lincoln and three cabinet members’ wives—37 people in all. Measuring roughly a foot in diameter, the eagle-adorned artwork is accompanied by an index showing exactly whose hair was used for each section of the sculpture.
“‘This piece is just astounding,’ says Robert Searing, a curator at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) in Syracuse, New York, which houses the relic. ‘The first time I saw it, my jaw hit the floor; I couldn’t believe it. First of all, the fact that it is human hair, and that it is so incredibly well-crafted. And then obviously, as a historian, as somebody who has a deep affection for Abraham Lincoln … words escape me. … There’s not another item like this anywhere as far as we know. And the provenance is indisputable.’
“Commissioned as a fundraising tool for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a quasi-governmental agency run by volunteers seeking to ensure the health and safety of Union soldiers, the wreath was displayed prominently at the Metropolitan Fair, a charity event held in New York City in April 1864. Guests paid $1 for the opportunity to sign their names in a book accompanying the artifact. The goal was to raise $1,000. At the close of the fair, the wreath was to be presented to the Lincolns as a keepsake.
“But the Hairy Eagle never made its way to the White House. Instead, it hung in a Brooklyn shop window, then was displayed at another fair before disappearing for decades. In the 1920s, the family of the man who’d made the wreath donated it to the OHA; since then, this unique piece of history has only been displayed publicly three times. It remains a basically unknown Civil War relic that is, literally, priceless…” (Smithsonian Magazine).
Friday, September 17, 2021
"When our democracy is
threatened from within, we must save it ourselves... Transcending forces of
decay, disinformation, and disunion will not be easy. This is the great
national calling of our time: the North Star that must guide decisions about
ending or enduring disastrous presidencies. There is no quick fix for the
challenges we face. They are surmountable only if each of us resolves anew that
America and democracy are well worth fighting for" -Laurence Tribe on
"It doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If truth doesn't matter, we're lost" -Adam Schiff.
Because most of us live as social, rational human beings, we have implicitly consented to moral and social contracts that have been devised. It is because we understand why moral precepts are beneficial for all of us; that we have the Rule of Law, established in the U.S. Constitution; that we have a shared set of moral and legal expectations for our conduct that makes it imperative to appeal to a public sense of justice regardless of political party affiliation.
Because Republicans in power continue to polarize politics through hyper-partisanship, unprincipled partiality, and political stagnation; because they continue their unwavering allegiance to their extensive tribalism, their powerful interests, their dark money, and Trump's base so they are guaranteed campaign funds and reelection; because they continue their irreparable damage to the constitutional system, democratic institutions, and separation of powers; because most of them ignored and some of them encouraged a violent uprising against America, it is up to the rest of us to preserve our slowly-dying democracy!
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Exactly two years ago today, after about a six-week hiatus during the summer, I wrote a Facebook post that started: “Many thanks to all of you who have reached out to see if I'm okay. I am, indeed (aside from having been on the losing end of an encounter with a yellow jacket this afternoon!). I've been moving, setting up house, and finishing the new book. Am back and ready to write, but now everything seems like such a dumpster fire it's very hard to know where to start. So how about a general overview of how things at the White House look to me, today....”
I went on to explain that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), had written a letter to then–acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, on Friday, September 13, telling Maguire he knew that a whistleblower had filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who had deemed the complaint “credible” and "urgent.” This meant that the complaint was supposed to be sent on to the House Intelligence Committee. But, rather than sending it to the House as the law required, Maguire had withheld it. Schiff’s letter told Maguire that he knew about the complaint and that Maguire had better hand it over. Schiff speculated that Maguire was covering up evidence of crimes by the president or his closest advisors.
Readers swamped me with questions. So I wrote another post answering them and explaining the news, which began breaking at a breathtaking pace. And so, these Letters from an American were born.
In the two years since then, we have lived through the Ukraine scandal—the secret behind the whistleblower complaint in Schiff’s letter—which revealed that then-president Trump was secretly running his own foreign policy team to strong-arm Ukraine into helping the president’s reelection campaign.
We lived through the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October 2019, leaving our former Kurdish allies to be murdered by Turkish troops. ISIS freed compatriots from jails and launched new attacks, and Russian troops moved into the positions we had held in the region.
We lived through the impeachment hearings, the trial of former president Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, then the president’s acquittal on those charges and his subsequent purge of career government officials and their replacement with Trump loyalists.
Then, on February 7, just two days after Senate Republicans acquitted him, Trump picked up the phone and called veteran journalist Bob Woodward to tell him there was a deadly new virus spreading around the world. It was airborne, he explained, and was five times “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” “This is deadly stuff,” he said. He would not share that information with other Americans, though, continuing to play down the virus in hopes of protecting the economy.
The pandemic, more than 660,000 of us—1 American in 500—have not lived through.
We have, though, lived through the attempts of the former president to rig the 2020 election, the determination of American voters to make their voices heard, the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, the election of Democrat Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and the subsequent refusal of Trump and his loyalists to accept Biden’s win.
And we have lived through the unthinkable: an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob determined to overrule the results of an election and install their own candidate in the White House. For the first time in our history, the peaceful transfer of power was broken.
Rather than disappearing after the inauguration of President Biden, the reactionary authoritarianism of the former president’s supporters has grown stronger. Senate Republicans acquitted Trump for a second time in his second impeachment trial-- this time for incitement of insurrection-- and in Republican-dominated states across the country, legislatures have passed laws to suppress Democratic voting and to put the counting of votes into partisan hands.
We have seen the attempts of Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress to move America past this dark moment by making coronavirus vaccines widely available and passing the American Rescue Plan to rebuild the economy. We have watched the U.S. withdraw from the longest war in our history, losing 13 military personnel in the exit from Afghanistan that brought out more than 130,000 evacuees.
And we are, today, watching the fight over the survival of our democracy. If you are tired, you have earned the right to be. And yet, you are still here, reading.
I write these letters because I love America. I am staunchly committed to the principle of human self-determination for people of all races, genders, abilities, and ethnicities, and I believe that American democracy could be the form of government that comes closest to bringing that principle to reality. And I know that achieving that equality depends on a government shaped by fact-based debate rather than by extremist ideology and false narratives.
And so I write. But I have come to understand that I am simply the translator for the sentiments shared by hundreds of thousands of people who are finding each other and giving voice to the principles of democracy. Your steadfast interest, curiosity, critical thinking, and especially your kindness—to me and to one another—illustrates that we have not only the power, but also the passion, to reinvent our nation.
To those who read these letters, send tips, proofread, criticize, comment, argue, worry, cheer, award medals (!), and support me and one another: I thank you all for taking me along on this wild, unexpected, exhausting, and exhilarating journey.