Friday, April 29, 2022

Trump, Abbott and DeSantis/Autocracy, States' Rights and Illiberal Democracy (by Heather Cox Richardson)

It has been hard for me to see the historical outlines of the present-day attack on American democracy clearly. But this morning, as I was reading a piece in Vox by foreign affairs specialist Zack Beauchamp, describing Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s path in Florida as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the penny dropped.

Here’s what I see:

Before Trump won the presidency in 2016, the modern-day Republican Party was well on its way to endorsing oligarchy. It had followed the usual U.S. historical pattern to that point. In the 1850s, 1890s, 1920s, and then again in the modern era, wealthy people had come around to the idea that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran everything. 

Although those people had been represented by the Democrats in the 1850s and the Republicans in the 1890s, 1920s, and 2000s, they had gotten there in the same way: first a popular movement had demanded that the government protect equality of opportunity and equal justice before the law for those who had previously not had either and that popular pressure had significantly expanded rights. 

Then, in reaction, wealthier Americans began to argue that the expansion of rights threatened to take away their liberty to run their enterprises as they wished. To tamp down the expansion of rights, they played on the racism of the poorer white male voters who controlled the government, telling them that legislation to protect equal rights was a plan to turn the government over to Black or Brown Americans, or immigrants from southern Europe or Asia, who would use their voting power to redistribute wealth. 

The idea that poor men of color voting meant socialism resonated with white voters, who turned against the government’s protecting equal rights and instead supported a government that favored men of property. As wealth moved upward, popular culture championed economic leaders as true heroes, and lawmakers suppressed voting in order to “redeem” American society from “socialists” who wanted to redistribute wealth. Capital moved upward until a very few people controlled most of it, and then, usually after an economic crash made ordinary Americans turn against the system that favored the wealthy, the cycle began again.

When Trump was elected, the U.S. was at the place where wealth had concentrated among the top 1%, Republican politicians denigrated their opponents as un-American “takers” and celebrated economic leaders as “makers,” and the process of skewing the vote through gerrymandering and voter suppression was well underway. But the Republican Party still valued the rule of law. It’s impossible to run a successful business without a level playing field, as businessmen realized after the 1929 Great Crash, when it became clear that insider trading had meant that winners and losers were determined not by the market but by cronyism.

Trump’s election brought a new right-wing ideology onto the political stage to challenge the rule of law. He was an autocrat, interested not in making money for a specific class of people, but rather in obtaining wealth and power for himself, his family, and a few insiders. The established Republican Party was willing to back him so long as he could deliver the voters that would enable them to stay in power and continue with tax cuts and deregulation. 

But their initial distancing didn’t last. Trump proved able to forge such a strong base that it is virtually a cult following, and politicians quickly discovered that crossing his followers brought down their wrath. Lawmakers’ determination to hold Trump’s base meant they acquitted him in both impeachment trials. Meanwhile, Trump packed state Republican machinery with his own loyalists, and they have helped make the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election an article of faith.

It is not clear whether Trump can translate his following back into the White House, both because of mounting legal troubles and because his routine is old and unlikely to bring the new voters he would need to win. It may be that another family authoritarian can, but right now that is not obvious. 

Still, his deliberate destabilization of faith in our democratic norms is deadly dangerous, creating space for two right-wing, antidemocratic ideologies to take root.

One is pushed by Texas governor Greg Abbott, who is embracing a traditional American states’ rights approach to attack the active federal government that has expanded equality since World War II. The Trump years put the states’ rights ideology of the Confederacy on steroids, first to justify destroying business regulation, social welfare legislation, and international diplomacy, and then to absolve the federal government from responsibility for combating the coronavirus pandemic. Then, of course, the January 6 insurrection saw state legislatures refusing to accept the results of a federal election and rioters carrying the Confederate flag into the United States Capitol. 

That Confederate impulse has been a growing part of the South’s mindset since at least 1948, when President Harry S. Truman announced the federal government would desegregate the armed forces, and white southerners who recognized that desegregation was coming briefly formed their own political party to stop it. 

Abbott and the Texas legislature have tapped into this traditional white southern ideology in their quest to commandeer the right wing. Texas S.B. 8, which uses a sly workaround to permit a state to undermine the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision declaring abortion a constitutional right, has become a model for other Republican states. In June 2021, along with Arizona governor Doug Ducey, Abbott asked other state governors to send state national guard troops or law enforcement officers to the Mexican border because, he said, “the Biden administration has proven unwilling or unable to do the job.” 

Abbott’s recent stunt at the border, shutting down trade between Mexico and the U.S., was expensive and backfired, but it was also a significant escalation of his claim of state power: he essentially took the federal government’s power to conduct foreign affairs directly into his own hands. 

The other new ideology at work is in the hands of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who, as Beauchamp pointed out, is trying to recreate Orbánism in the U.S. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has eroded Hungary’s democracy since he took power for the second time, about a decade ago. Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the equality at the heart of democracy with religious nationalism. 

To accomplish his vision, Orbán has taken control of Hungary’s media, ensuring that his party wins all elections; has manipulated election districts in his own favor; and has consolidated the economy into the hands of his cronies by threatening opponents with harassing investigations, regulations, and taxes unless they sell out. Beauchamp calls this system “soft fascism.”

DeSantis is following this model right down to the fact that observers believe that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was modeled on a similar Hungarian law. DeSantis’s attack on Disney mirrors Orbán’s use of regulatory laws to punish political opponents (although the new law was so hasty and flawed it threatens to do DeSantis more harm than good). DeSantis is not alone in his support for Orban’s tactics: Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson openly admires Orbán, and next month the Conservative Political Action Committee will hold its conference in Hungary, with Orbán as a keynote speaker. 

Trump’s type of family autocracy is hard to replicate right now, and our history has given us the knowledge and tools to defend democracy in the face of the ideology of states’ rights. But the rise of “illiberal democracy” or “soft fascism” is new to us, and the first step toward rolling it back is recognizing that it is different from Trump’s autocracy or states’ rights, and that its poison is spreading in the United States. 

—Heather Cox Richardson

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Probe finds Medicare Advantage plans deny needed care to tens of thousands


Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs) delayed or denied payments and services to patients, even when these requests met Medicare coverage rules, according to a report released by federal investigators on Thursday.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reviewed a random sample of 250 prior authorization denials and 250 payment denials that were issued in 2019 by 15 of the largest MAOs. The 15 selected MAOs accounted for almost 80 percent of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage in June 2019.

The office conducted this review out of concern that Medicare Advantage’s payment model incentivized denying payments and services. “Our case file reviews determined that MAOs sometimes delayed or denied Medicare Advantage beneficiaries’ access to services, even though the requests met Medicare coverage rules,” the OIG said. “MAOs also denied payments to providers for some services that met both Medicare coverage rules and MAO billing rules.”

According to the report, 13 percent of prior authorization requests that were denied met Medicare coverage rules, which MAOs are required to follow, meaning they would likely have been approved under original Medicare. Among the payment requests that were denied, 18 percent met Medicare coverage rules with most of the denials caused by human error.

According to the OIG, there were common reasons why requests that met Medicare rules were denied. First, MAOs used clinical criteria that were not in Medicare coverage, such as requiring tests before other procedures, which resulted in medically necessary services being denied.

Second, MAOs often claimed that there was not enough documentation to support the requests, which the OIG deemed to be “unnecessary,” with existing medical records often being sufficient enough to support a claim.

In some cases when services were denied, MAOs would offer “insufficient” alternatives. The OIG pointed to how post-acute services such as those often provided in rehabilitation centers were often denied due to being more expensive than home services.

In one specific case, post-acute services were denied for a beneficiary who was experiencing pain and swelling due to a serious bacterial skin infection and bed sores. The patient’s condition impacted their ability to lead a daily life without assistance, which met Medicare rules for skilled nursing facility care. Ultimately, this specific patient’s denial was appealed and reversed.

The OIG recommended issuing new guidance on “appropriate use of MAO clinical criteria,” an update of audit protocols and for MAOs to identify and address issues that cause errors in reviews. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has concurred with these recommendations.

Joseph Choi - The Hill

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

"Direct Relief" Awards More Than $12 Million in Grants for Ukraine War Relief


Since the invasion of Ukraine, Direct Relief has granted more than $12 million to nine organizations working on the ground to address the health impacts of the Ukraine war, whether in Ukraine itself or surrounding countries receiving refugees.

The grant funding adds to the more than 508,000 pounds (230,425 kg) of direct medical aid provided by Direct Relief since February 24, 2022, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, to groups helping refugees, internally displaced persons, and others affected by the ongoing crisis.

The Ukraine war has created shortages of vital medications, including insulin, oncology drugs, and thyroid medicines, while increasing the need for medical aid such as PPE, wound care, antibiotics, and even an antidote to chemical weapons. Direct Relief has provided all these medications and supplies to partners working in the region.

However, the situation has also created needs that cannot be answered by shipments of medical aid. Ukrainians who have fled the country are finding themselves with no means to pay for urgently needed prescription medications. A Kyiv hospital offering free care to people injured or affected by the war is unable to pay its medical staff their salaries. A coalition of first responders, invited by the Ukrainian government to conduct search-and-rescue operations in the country, needs transportation and equipment. 
The grants provided by Direct Relief will help with these costs, and much more.

Recipients of grants provided or committed include the following:

Direct Cash Assistance to Ukrainian Refugees ($10 million provided): Ukrainian refugees in Poland will receive medical care, but face high copays for prescription medications that many, fleeing without income or resources, will not have the means to pay. With a focus on mothers and their children, along with older adults, this grant will be used to pay prescription copays for Ukrainian refugees at pharmacies throughout Poland. The program is a joint initiative between Direct Relief and Pelion, Poland’s largest healthcare company.

Charity Fund Modern Village and Town ($250,000 provided): This Ukrainian NGO has established a distribution center in central Ukraine, where they have procured medicine, medical supplies, and hygiene items for people fleeing the violence. Two $100,000 grants were used to help defray operational costs, such as for trucking and generators. In addition, the organization has been tasked with emergency patient transfers out of conflict zones in eastern Ukraine, for patients with cancer, cystic fibrosis, pericarditis, and other conditions requiring urgent medical attention. An additional $50,000 was granted to help Charity Fund continue these services in the coming months. 

Ukrainian Diabetes Federation ($150,000 provided): The war in Ukraine has created severe logistical hurdles for people with diabetes, making it difficult to access insulin, glucose monitoring equipment, and even food. This in-country organization distributes medical equipment and is currently monitoring where people who need insulin are located and where they are fleeing. This grant will be used for operational costs so that they can distribute material aid, also provided by Direct Relief, and continue gathering and sharing vital information. 

Polish National Agency for Strategic Reserves ($350,000 committed): The Polish government has appointed this organization to act as a hub for humanitarian aid, including medical and other needed materials. In this role, they have been working with Direct Relief to store medical aid safely. They will use the funding to continue their humanitarian operations.  

Project Joint Guardian ($50,000 provided): This organization is a coalition of U.S. and international firefighters that support first responder and search and rescue efforts around the world. At the invitation of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, the group will send 20 representatives out to conduct search and rescue and first responder operations, as well as training Ukrainian responders in some rescue techniques. (Direct Relief is providing logistical services to send search and rescue equipment items to Ukraine, and the 20 representatives will also use Direct Relief emergency medical backpacks.) The funding will be used to cover transportation costs and purchase needed equipment. 

Society for Critical Care Medicine ($750,000 provided): This organization is a global community of clinicians who care for critically ill or injured patients in over 100 countries. Members in Ukraine and the surrounding countries have identified critical medical aid needed for people affected by the ongoing war. The funding will be used to procure medication and supplies needed most urgently by intensivists in these countries, using well-established supply chains. 

Polish Diabetes Federation ($102,000 committed): This organization is a senior member of the International Diabetes Federation. They have identified 500 Ukrainian refugees in Poland who have diabetes, need help, and will use the funding for pharmacy and food vouchers for these patients. 

Dobrobut Hospital ($750,000 provided): Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this was a private hospital network in Kyiv with a large fleet of ambulances. Once the war began, they began acting as a nonprofit hospital, providing care on a pay-if-you-can basis and sending ambulances into the community to find victims of attacks and bring them to hospitals. The grant will allow them to provide free care to all patients and pay salaries and supply food for medical staff over the coming months.

Please Donate. Here are three links:

Direct Relief
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Santa Barbara, California 93117 

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Russia’s war in Ukraine has reawakened fears about the bomb—and endangered the principle of deterrence by Robin Wright


In his Nobel Peace Prize speech, in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, pronounced that “the risk of a global nuclear war has practically disappeared.” Moscow and Washington had veered “from confrontation to interaction and, in some important cases, partnership,” he said. The Soviet Union’s collapse—which birthed fifteen new states, including Ukraine—transformed the world.

In the new Europe, Gorbachev added, every country believed that it had become “fully sovereign and independent.” Historians imagined that the end of the Cold War would lead to the demise of the nuclear age, amid new diplomacy and arms-control treaties. The ingrained fears—that kilotons of destructive energy and toxic radiation could decimate a city and incinerate tens of thousands of human beings—began to dissipate. Beyond policy wonks, the word “nuclear” largely dropped from the public lexicon.

Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has jolted the world back into an uncomfortable consciousness of the nuclear threat. In the past month, official warnings have emerged at a striking pace. “Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” William Burns, the C.I.A. director and a former ambassador to Russia, warned on April 14th. The U.S. assessment of when and why Moscow might use such weaponry has changed, Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, conceded in testimony to a House Armed Services subcommittee.

A prolonged war in Ukraine will sap Russia’s manpower and matériel, while sanctions will throw the nation into an economic depression and undermine its ability to produce more precision-guided munitions and conventional arms, he said. “As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength, Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences.” Putin’s aggression is “reviving fears” of a more “militaristic Russia.”

The Kremlin’s successful test, on April 20th, of a missile capable of flying at hypersonic speeds and carrying up to ten nuclear warheads anywhere in the world—and of outsmarting defense systems—contributed to the ominous optics. “This truly unique weapon will force all who are trying to threaten our country in the heat of frenzied, aggressive rhetoric to think twice,” Putin boasted on state television. Last month, Washington cancelled its own test of an intercontinental missile to “manage escalation,” the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, testified.

Russia has not yet repositioned its nuclear forces, Burns said, despite saber-rattling about a heightened state of readiness. Nor is its new missile ready for deployment. But Putin’s reckless war now has a “distinct nuclear dimension”—with lessons that extend far beyond Ukraine and that will endure after the war is over, the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C., concluded this month. Putin’s invasion “underscores the reality that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars,” Daryl Kimball, the organization’s executive director, told me. “U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven to be useless in preventing Russian aggression against Ukraine.” The war has imperiled a long-standing premise of deterrence—having a bomb to avoid being bombed. Kimball reflected, “When nuclear deterrence fails, it fails catastrophically.”

The war in Ukraine underscores an even bigger problem. The infrastructure of global security—like the bridges, railways, and power grids that make up our physical infrastructure—is decaying. The challenge ahead is to devise a new or more stable security architecture—with treaties, verification tools, oversight, and enforcement—to replace the eroding models established after the last major war in Europe ended, seventy-seven years ago.

Putin’s invasion has also exposed changes to the global balance of nuclear power. Shortly before his retirement last month, I sat down with Kenneth (Frank) McKenzie, Jr., a four-star general who once wore a key around his neck that unlocked sensitive material necessary for the President to respond to a nuclear crisis. In what feels like a throwback to the Cold War and his early days as a young marine officer, he said, the U.S. is again focused on nuclear threats from Moscow.

Only the capabilities have reversed. During the Cold War, between 1945 and 1989, Washington advanced its nuclear arsenal to counter Moscow’s growing might in conventional arms. In 1954, it tested a weapon a thousand times more powerful than Little Boy, the devastating bomb dropped on Hiroshima. America even produced nuclear land mines. After the Soviets got the bomb, the U.S. still had an eight-to-one advantage in nuclear capabilities during the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962. By the Cold War’s end, the U.S. had developed a “capability and capacity edge, really, over the rest of the world that appeared insurmountable,” McKenzie said.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Pentagon “took a holiday” from studying high-end warfare, the general told me. “We looked away,” he said. The U.S. was drawn into a war in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, in 2001, and then opted to invade Iraq, in 2003. McKenzie was deployed in both wars. The U.S. focused on conventional conflicts and insurgencies, while Russia, under Putin, built up its nuclear arsenal. Today, U.S. and Russian capabilities have “completely inverted,” McKenzie said. The U.S. has superiority in conventional arms, while Moscow has more nuclear weapons—and more options to deliver them.

The type of nuclear weapons most at issue has also changed. There’s more than one. The U.S. dropped two strategic nuclear bombs on Japan. Strategic weapons are long-range—they travel some three thousand miles—and produce high-yield explosions. They can destroy vast swaths of land and any human within range. Russia currently has just over six thousand strategic warheads; the U.S. has fifty-five hundred. Beginning in the nineteen-seventies, the two countries negotiated several treaties to limit strategic weapons, though all but one have since been scrapped. The New start treaty is the only surviving bilateral pact; it was extended for five years shortly after Biden’s Inauguration, but it seems more tenuous now.

The other type of nuclear weapons is tactical, or nonstrategic, which the U.S. is more worried about today. They are shorter-range—they travel up to three hundred miles—and often have lower-yield warheads. (Some, though, carry more kilotons than the Hiroshima bomb.) They are designed to take out tank or troop formations on a battlefield—not wipe out a city. In the history of nuclear weapons, there has never been a treaty—bilateral or international—that limits developing or deploying tactical nukes anywhere.

During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union produced thousands each, with Moscow controlling up to twenty-five thousand. Afterward, the U.S. dismantled most of its tactical arsenal and withdrew most of those weapons from Europe. Russia kept more of its stockpile. There is now a vast disparity in tactical arsenals. Last month, the Congressional Research Service reported that Russia has up to two thousand tactical nukes, while the U.S. has around two hundred.

Today, Russia also has many more delivery systems for tactical nuclear weapons—submarine torpedoes, ballistic missiles on land or sea, artillery shells, and aircraft—while the U.S. has only gravity bombs that can be dropped from warplanes. “They have more diverse capabilities than we do,” McKenzie concluded. More than a hundred U.S. tactical nukes are again situated in Europe, at bases in five NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey. Most of Russia’s are on its western front, near the borders of NATO members.

Four scenarios may lead Russia to use a nuclear weapon, according to Kimball of the Arms Control Association. To coerce Kyiv or its NATO allies to back down, Putin could carry out a “demonstration” bombing in the atmosphere above the Arctic Ocean or the Baltic Sea—not for killing, but “to remind everyone that Russia has nuclear weapons.” Russia could also use tactical weapons to change the military balance on the ground with Ukraine. If the war expands, and NATO gets drawn into the fight, Russia could further escalate the conflict with the use of short-range nuclear weapons. “Both U.S. and Russian policy leave open the possibility of using nuclear weapons in response to an extreme non-nuclear threat,” Kimball said. Finally, if Putin believes that the Russian state (or leadership) is at risk, he might use a tactical nuclear weapon to “save Russia from a major military defeat.”

Russia has lost some twenty-five per cent of its combat power in the last two months, a Pentagon official estimated this week. Moscow’s military doctrine reserves the right to use nuclear weapons “in response to the use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction” against Russia or its allies, and also in response to aggression via conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is threatened.” In military jargon, the country’s policy is “to escalate to de-escalate,” Richard Burt, the lead negotiator on the original start accord, which was signed by Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush in 1991, told me. “The idea is to so shock the adversary that a nuclear weapon has been used, to demonstrate your resolve that you’re willing to use a nuclear weapon, that you paralyze your adversary.”

The new nuclear reality poses another challenge: how to limit nuclear weapons beyond Russia and the United States. Nine nations now have nuclear capabilities. Putin’s war undermines the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the cornerstone of international arms control since 1968. It is the only binding commitment—now signed by almost two hundred states—that seeks to disarm those nations which have the bomb and to prevent others from getting it. The treaty is based on the U.N. Charter, which stipulates that all nations must refrain “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Since the nineteen-sixties, experts have debated whether Washington and Moscow would use a limited number of tactical nuclear weapons on a conventional battlefield—for example, to destroy a military position or gain a chunk of territory. “The answer is no,” Kimball said. “There is nothing like a limited nuclear war.” At the end of his military career, McKenzie, who spent more than four decades preparing for wars of all kinds, reflected on the nuclear stakes. “We should be rattled right now,” he said. “I am rattled. I’m concerned about where we are.” Three decades after Gorbachev’s speech, the respite now seems illusory.


Robin Wright, a contributing writer and columnist, has written for The New Yorker since 1988. Her first piece on Iran won the National Magazine Award for best reporting. A former correspondent for the Washington Post, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sunday Times of London, she has reported from more than a hundred and forty countries. She is also a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has been a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as at Yale, Duke, Dartmouth, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Portside: The New Nuclear Reality | Portside


Sunday, April 24, 2022

"I do not believe that most Americans want a dictatorship" -Heather Cox Richardson


The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol filed a motion asking a judge to put an end to the attempts of Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to stonewall the committee. Meadows has tried to avoid talking to the committee or providing it with documents, using several different arguments that essentially try to establish that the U.S. president cannot be held accountable by Congress. The committee’s motion carefully explains why those arguments are wrong.

To support their belief that the Congress has the right and responsibility to investigate the circumstances of the January 6 insurrection—a correct understanding of our governmental system, in my view—the committee gave the judge almost 250 pages of evidence.

Included was some of the material I’ve been waiting for: a list of members of Congress who participated in planning to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

We have heard a lot about independent lawyers and members of the executive branch who were willing to try to keep Trump in office. We have also heard about people at the state level. But while there has been plenty of speculation about what members of Congress were involved, we had little to go on.

We knew that both former energy secretary Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) had texted with Meadows about possible avenues for overturning the election. We knew that Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) had recorded videos before the insurrection that suggested they supported it. We had an odd statement from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on January 5 saying that he, not then–Vice President Mike Pence, would count the certified electoral ballots the next day. We had Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) allegedly saying to Jordan on January 6, “Get away from me. You f**ing did this.”

But the January 6th committee has just given us a bigger—although not the whole, yet—picture.

In last night’s filed motion was part of the testimony to the committee from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former special assistant to the president and the chief of staff. When asked which members of Congress were involved in calls about overturning the election—including calls saying such efforts were illegal—Hutchinson named Representatives Greene, Jordan, Boebert, Scott Perry (R-PA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jody Hice (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Debbie Lesko (R-AZ).

The heart of this group was the “Freedom Caucus,” which was organized in 2015 to move the Republican Party farther to the right. Its first chair was Jim Jordan; its second was Mark Meadows. Its third was Andy Biggs. Mick Mulvaney, who would go on to Trump’s White House, and Ron DeSantis, who is now governor of Florida, were key organizers.

Let’s be clear: the people working to keep Trump in office by overturning the will of the people were trying to destroy our democracy. Not one of them, or any of those who plotted with them, called out the illegal attempt to destroy our government.

To what end did they seek to overthrow our democracy?

The current Republican Party has two wings: one eager to get rid of any regulation of business, and one that wants to get rid of the civil rights protections that the Supreme Court and Congress began to put into place in the 1950s. Business regulation is actually quite popular in the U.S., so to build a political following, in the 1980s, leaders of the anti-regulation wing of the Republican Party promised racists and the religious right that they would stomp out the civil rights legislation that since the 1950s has tried to make all Americans equal before the law.

But even this marriage has not been enough to win elections since most Americans like business regulation and the protection of things like the right to use birth control. So, to put its vision into place, the Republican Party has now abandoned democracy. Its leaders have concluded that any Democratic victory is illegitimate, even if voters have clearly chosen a Democrat, as they did with Biden in 2020, by more than 7 million votes.

Former speechwriter for George W. Bush David Frum wrote in 2018: "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” And here we are.

As if to illustrate this point, news broke today that a North Carolina official threatened to fire an election official unless she gave him access to the county’s vote tabulators. The news agency Reuters noted that this threat was only one of more than 900 instances of intimidation of election officials in what has become commonplace after the 2020 election.

It appears that elected officials of the Republican Party are willing to overturn a legitimate Democratic victory to guarantee that only a Republican can hold office. That means a one-party state, which will be overseen by a single, powerful individual. And the last 59 days in Ukraine have illustrated exactly what that kind of a system means.

Standing against that authoritarianism, Democratic president Joe Biden is trying to reassure Americans that democracy works. He insisted on using the government to support ordinary Americans rather than the wealthy, and in his first year in office, poverty in the United States declined, with lower-income Americans gaining more than at any time since the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. Lower-income workers have more job opportunities than they have had for 30 years, and they are making more money. They have on average 50% more money in the bank than they did when the pandemic hit.

Biden’s insistence on investing in Americans meant that by the end of his first year, the U.S. had created 6.6 million jobs, the strongest record of any president since record keeping began in 1939. By the beginning of April, the economy had added 7.9 million jobs, and unemployment was close to a 50-year low at 3.6%. Meanwhile, the deficit is dropping; we should carve $1.3 trillion off it this year.

Biden’s deliberate reshaping of the American government to work for ordinary Americans again, regulating business and using the federal government to enforce equal rights, so threatens modern Republicans that they are willing to destroy our country rather than allow voters to keep people like Biden in power.

I do not believe that most Americans want a dictatorship in which a favored few become billionaires while the rest of us live without the civil rights that have been our norm since the 1950s, and no voting rights to enable us to change our lot.

Tonight, news broke that Democrats in Utah have voted to back independent candidate Evan McMullin for senator rather than run their own candidate. McMullin is trying to unseat Republican Senator Mike Lee, whose texts to Meadows as they conspired to overturn the election have lately drawn headlines. Democrats are gambling that there are enough Democrats, Independents, and anti-Trump Republicans in Utah to send Lee packing.

—Heather Cox Richardson