2020 Election, Insurrection, Trump

Who You Gonna Believe…

In the flood of end of 2021 public opinion polling – most of it dire as to the state and future of the country – it’s easy to fixate on the obvious. Lots of our fellow Americans have answered the classic Chico Marx question – “Who you gonna believe me or your own eyes” – by doubting their own eyes.

To cite just two examples in public opinion data assembled recently by Ipsos/NPR:

  • Twenty-two percent of Americans say there was major fraudulent voting in 2020, and it changed the results of the election. This number jumps to a 54% majority among those whose primary news source is Fox News or conservative news media, 52% of Trump voters, and 45% of all Republicans.
  • Nearly one in three Republicans who are regular political news consumers (30%) say the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol a year ago where five died and hundreds have been charged with various crimes was carried out by Antifa/government agents, compared to 7% of Democrats who follow political news closely.

To maintain these beliefs – a stolen election, a riot led by Antifa thugs rather than violent Trump followers – requires a willful disregard for what your eyes reveal.

What we all saw…

Time and again Donald Trump and his supporters were rebuffed in election challenges brought in federal and state courts. Often Trump appointed judges rejected specious claims of election fraud. Trump lost a case at the Supreme Court where he had appointed three justices. Lawyers representing the former president have been sanctioned and fined for frivolous use of the courts to advance lies about the presidential election.

The facts are crystal clear unless you willfully chose to ignore them.

As for that deadly attack on the Capitol a year ago this week, the first-hand accounts of the savagery and mayhem that have emerged over the last several months when laid alongside the pictures we all saw that day paint a shocking, ugly picture of a political movement resorting to violence in an effort to stop the certification of a fair election. Yet, lies that defy our own eyes have clearly gripped many Americans.

A reader took me to task recently saying, “So you buy into the conspiracy that bunch of unarmed not so bright folks who flooded into the capital, many in costume stole one lap top and left litter not destruction behind was some sort of an organized insurrection meant to over throw the government? Well if so it was the most feeble attempt ever seen in the history of the world.”

The comment, heartfelt I’m sure, is also complete and utter nonsense. I don’t know – no one does – what was in the hearts and minds of the attackers, organized or not, but it seems pretty clear they hoped to create enough ruckus to stop the counting of electoral votes, the only action Congress was engaged in. And for a while they did stop the counting, breaking down doors and windows, injuring 140 cops and taking over significant parts of the Capitol.

Trump clearly hoped to use the crowd to intimidate then-vice president Mike Pence – why else would the mob chant “hang Mike Pence” – to disallow votes from several states and thereby disrupt the Constitutional process to affirm the next president. In his warmup act before the attack, Trump mentioned Pence by name several times, including hoping that his own vice president wasn’t listening to “the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

To dismiss the historic and awful events of January 6 as a “feeble attempt,” or as one Republican lawmaker said, “a tourist visit,” is simply delusional, down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole stuff, but it’s where a lot of fellow Americans find themselves. It is where a representative democracy finds itself.

We must acknowledge there is no chance these folks will find the truth. They are, sadly, and tragically for the country, pathologically attached to lies that are daily disproved by their own eyes. To paraphrase Voltaire, these Americans have been fed a steady diet of absurdities and now embrace atrocities.

As the columnist Eugene Robinson asked recently: “How did we become, in such alarming measure, so dumb? Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality? And how must this look to the rest of the world?”

Surely a partial answer to Robinson’s question is Donald Trump, who lied himself from Barack Obama’s birth certificate into the Oval Office, but Trump has had plenty of help in the dumbing down effort that has us awash in lies.  

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo

Trump will never change. My critical reader will never change. But what about the vast sweep of the rest of the modern Republican Party? What of the once more-or-less levelheaded western conservatives? It’s a hard reality to swallow, but the actual survival of the kind of American democracy we once protected is increasingly up to them.

Forget about the Kevin McCarthy’s, the Ted Cruz’s and the striving clowns like Idaho’s Russ Fulcher or Washington’s Cathy McMorris-Rogers. They have made their bed on a hill of lies. They care about saving nothing but themselves.

There are some others out there who clearly know better and must in their hearts quake at the thought of what very clearly might have been, and what could be. What of Idaho’s Mike Simpson or former Oregon congressman Greg Walden? Are there not at least a few other conservative truth tellers to join Liz Cheney in the defense of democracy?

It’s worth remembering what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said immediately after January 6 last year.

“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally. This was different. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”

This year McConnell said nothing about Trump, but attacked Democrats.

Make no mistake democracy’s enemies are on the move. They have momentum unincumbered by truth. Before January 6, such an atrocity was unthinkable. A year later, believing it can’t happen again – and succeed next time – is as delusional as the lies that got us to this point.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items you may find of interest..

Rebecca Solnit: When the President of Mediocrity Incites an Insurrection

A piece from a year ago that is worth revisiting.

“The epithet ‘God give me the confidence of a mediocre white man’ has mostly been used for milder circumstances, but the confidence—in their own rightness as they assaulted the symbolic center of the elected government as that government was engaged in the solemn process of confirming the choice of the voters—was stunning. Of course if there was no electoral college—an institution created to amplify the white men who enslaved Black people, Trump would never have become president in 2016, and in 2020, the Biden victory would have been affirmed and unshakeable months ago, but one of the rites of the creaky old process designed for an 18th-century 13-state nation exist was underway when the invasion transpired. You could argue that it’s because Trump won the presidency while losing by three million votes last time that he felt entitled to keep it after losing by seven million votes.”

Always read Rebecca Solnit:


The Plot Against American Democracy That Isn’t Taught in Schools

A great piece here from Rolling Stone.


Wayne Thiebaud, Playful Painter of the Everyday, Dies at 101

Pancake Breakfast by Wayne Thiebaud

“In person he was a classic of the old American West, a slender man of Gary Cooperish charm and dry humor — soft-spoken, modest, layered, self-assured. Often bathed in Pacific sunshine, Mr. Thiebaud’s art looked at first flush radiant and plain as day. But on closer inspection, his pictures of idealized pies, spaghetti entanglements of highways and gumball machines rimmed in blue halos required unpacking. A rustling of unexpected sadness occasionally crept into the paintings after that initial leaping rush of joy — an unsentimental nostalgia for a bygone era or some long lost love.”

A classic New York Times obit of the painter.


Thanks for reading. Stay safe. All the best.

Insurrection, Trump, Watergate

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It…

It was the summer of 1973.  Congress was struggling, amid tense and often angry partisanship, to understand who was really responsible for the break in a year earlier at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.

The story – quickly dubbed Watergate – unfolded over a period of many months, with details large and small emerging in news reports and, we now know, by leaks from a top official at the FBI, among others. Watergate would emerge as an example of massive political corruption – one of the great scandals in American history.

In those days the United States Senate was led by a flinty Montanan, a former Butte copper miner who became a university history professor and eventually majority leader.

Mike Mansfield was a Senate “institutionalist,” meaning he literally dedicated his 24-year career to elevating the institution he led, and he was always protecting the Senate’s prerogatives and reputation.

When it became impossible to avoid questions of whether Watergate’s crimes reached the White House and were perhaps being covered up by officials in the government, Mansfield acted in the interest of the Senate and the nation.

He went to Republican leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and proposed a select committee to investigate. Scott agreed. Then Mansfield made one of the most consequential decisions of his consequential career – he selected a drawling, elderly North Carolina constitutional lawyer by the name of Sam Ervin to chair the committee.

Ultimately, the Senate vote to create the committee was unanimous, but only after Republicans tried to get a committee divided equally among GOP members and Democrats – Democrats held a healthy majority in the Senate at the time. Florida Republican Edward Gurney – shades of current Republican congressional tactics – attempted unsuccessfully to broaden the investigation to include the 1964 and 1968 presidential campaigns. The focus would be Watergate.

February 8, 1973 – Billings Gazette

Ervin was no one’s idea of telegenic. His fleshy face sported big jowls and a double chin. His white hair was often untamed. His black horned rim glasses perched uneasily on a big nose. Ervin was a throwback, a conservative southern Democrat and dead-end segregationist suspicious of too much government and too much racial equality.

But Ervin also revered the Senate and the Constitution, particularly that concept that no one is above the law. Importantly for Mansfield, Ervin was in his last term. He wasn’t running for anything.

Mansfield surrounded ol’ Sam with what appeared to many at the time to be a lackluster group of Senate second-stringers, but they had been selected with purpose. None had national political ambitions that might get in the way of a serious investigation of serious crimes.

Ervin’s investigation became critical to unraveling Watergate and forcing a presidential resignation.

From left to right – Senators Baker and Irvin, Majority Council Sam Dash, Senator Herman E Talmadge of Georgia and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii

Republicans, meanwhile, selected a handsome, articulate senator from Tennessee by name of Howard Baker to co-chair the Watergate committee. Baker was the son-in-law of the legendary Senate Republican leader, Everett Dirksen, who had operated in a highly cooperative, bipartisan way with Senate Democrats, especially Mansfield.

Still, it was widely expected that Baker would be a loyal defender of President Richard Nixon, whose role in Watergate was always at the center of the investigation. And for a long time Baker was a defender. And then he wasn’t.

On June 29, 1973, Baker asked a simple question of former White House counsel John Dean that came to define Baker’s Senate career. Dean had been fired by Nixon and was now cooperating with the Senate committee.

“My primary thesis is still,” Baker asked, “what did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Baker posed the question believing he was helping Nixon, who had repeatedly denied knowledge of the Watergate break in or any effort to cover it up. He was hoping the question would exonerate Nixon, or at least make the issue one of Nixon’s word against Dean’s.

But Baker did not yet know there were tapes – many tapes – of Nixon’s conversations with White House aides orchestrating the cover up, including trying to get the CIA involved.

All this history is worth remembering in light of the increasingly apparent role of the former president in stimulating many of his followers to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6. No Watergate analogy is perfect, but Donald Trump clearly egged on the attackers, delayed responding to the chaos aimed at Congress and his own vice president, and is now attempting to use every avenue to prevent the fully story from coming out. It’s very Nixon-like.

Text messages released this week to former Trump chief of Staff Mark Meadows – a 21st Century variation of sorts on Nixon’s White House taping system – seem to show that the former president was very involved in events leading up to and including January 6.

Trump’s own son begged Meadows to get the president to do something to stop the attack. “He’s got to condemn this s@#t ASAP,” Don, Jr. messaged.

The turd polishers at Fox News even weighed in imploring action from Trump to stop the carnage. Meadows knows all this. He also knows what Trump said and did. It’s why his contempt of Congress is so important.

One text to Meadows really stands out: a House Republican messaged him, even before several states had finalized vote counting, that Republican legislatures in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania ought just ignore the voters and name their own slate of Trump electors.

This was an early example of the political weaponizing of the “big lie” that the election was stolen. January 6 was a follow on.

Here’s a way to think about updating Howard Baker’s classic question: not only what did Trump know and when, but what did your member of Congress know and when?

It’s clear some members of Congress were communicating with the organizers of the attack and with the White House. What did they know and when? We deserve to know. If there is nothing nefarious about the actions of members of Congress who swore an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution then so be it, but we need to know.

Most House Republicans, including every member from the West with the exception of Liz Cheney of Wyoming has tried to hamper the January 6th investigation, labeling it “partisan,” and voting to let Meadows and others get away with stiffing Congress. But all that is a smoke screen.

Congress has every right – indeed an obligation – to investigate such fundamental and dangerous abuses.

Congressional power to investigate and hold accountable the executive branch was established as long ago as 1792 and has continued through the Civil War, the sinking of the Titanic, war profiteering during World War II, Watergate and Benghazi.

By undermining the ongoing investigation of January 6, Republicans may be protecting themselves from the wrath of Donald Trump and his most fevered supporters, but they are putting partisanship ahead of American democracy. We need to know what all of them knew and when they knew it.

Meanwhile, it seems worth noting that a detailed Associated Press survey of every single claim of voter fraud in six contested states found fewer than 475 questionable votes out of millions cast. “The findings build on a mountain of other evidence,” the AP report said, “that the election wasn’t rigged, including verification of the results by Republican governors.”

Yet, the lies continue. Holding to account those involved on January 6 has truly become the urgent necessity of democracy.

—–0—–

Additional Readings:

A few other suggestions that I think will be worth your time…

Nicholas Kristof Wants to Be a Governor. Why Won’t He Talk to National Media?

Actually, I think it’s pretty smart of the former New York Times columnist turned Oregon gubernatorial candidate not to spend any time worrying about national media. He should be talking to the Eugene Register-Guard and the Ontario Observer. Still, this piece does pose some important questions.

Nick Kristof: journalist turns politician

Garret Epps, writing in Washington Monthly, used Kristof’s book – Tightrope – as a takeoff point for his questions.

Tightrope is a terrific book, regardless of what one thinks of Kristof’s proposed policy responses, which include improved early childhood programs, universal high-school graduation, elimination of unwanted pregnancies, a monthly child allowance for families, programs to wipe out child homelessness, and a ‘baby bond’ given to each child at birth to generate wealth as kids grow up, and programs to guarantee a job for any American who wants one.”

Here a link to the full story with some historical context on whether journalists get very far in politics.

Spoiler: It’s rare, but Oregon has some history.


How a Kennedy Became an Anti-Vax Juggernaut

I confess I’ll never understand the anti-vax attitude. It boggles my mind. And there is this.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. strode onto the stage at a Southern California church, radiating Kennedy confidence and surveying the standing ovation crowd with his piercing blue Bobby Kennedy eyes. Then, he launched into an anti-vaccine rant. Democrats ‘drank the Kool-Aid,’ he told people assembled for a far right conference, branded as standing for ‘health and freedom.'”

Here’s the link:


When Radio Stations Stopped a Public Figure From Spreading Dangerous Lies

I have been listening to a terrific podcast called Radioactive. It’s produced by Tablet magazine and focuses on the rise and eventual demise of the 1930’s Catholic priest and radio personality Father Charles Coughlin.

The Royal Oak, Michigan radio priest who pioneered hate on the airwaves

Coughlin was a fascinating and dangerous character. Read this and then listen to the podcast.

“Coughlin’s Detroit ministry had grown up with radio, and, as his sermons grew more political, he began calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt a liar, a betrayer and a double-crosser. His fierce rhetoric fueled rallies and letter-writing campaigns for a dozen right-wing causes, from banking policy to opposing Russian communism. At the height of his popularity, an estimated 30 million Americans listened to his Sunday sermons.’

From Smithsonian magazine:


Bros., Lecce: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever

Finally, the viral story of the week – or perhaps the year. An absolutely hilarious and bitter review of a Michelin star restaurant in Italy.

“We headed to the restaurant with high hopes – eight of us in total, led into a cement cell of a room, Drake pumping through invisible speakers. It was sweltering hot, and no other customers were present. The décor had the of chicness of an underground bunker where one would expect to be interrogated for the disappearance of an ambassador’s child.”

It gets better. Here is the review:

And here’s the Washington Post on how the review went bonkers viral.


As always…have a good weekend. Be safe. Get the booster.

Insurrection, Politics, Trump, Uncategorized

Our Constitutional Crisis…

Raising the federal debt limit so our government can pay the bills it has already rung up ought to be the political equivalent of an uncontested lay-up in basketball.

Senate Republicans, willing to force the U.S. economy to the brink of insolvency and crater the recovery from a deadly pandemic by filibustering the issue, are forcing Senate Democrats to save the game by effectively making a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

If what nihilistic Republicans are doing weren’t so economically irresponsible, indeed potentially catastrophic, it would be cause for a laughable case of hypocritical cynicism. After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the guy orchestrating this bit of potentially fatal political theater, has voted 32 times for a debt ceiling increase during his time in Washington.

There ought to be a Mt. Rushmore for cynics like the Kentucky senator, but no block of granite exists large enough to feature all the worthy cynics. (Any monument would surely have to make room for Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a world-class enabler of federal debt with repeated votes to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and one who now refuses to pay the very bills he created.)

Yet, while this cliffhanger dominates the news, underscoring how broken our politics continues to be, an existential crisis of democracy is unfolding in real time. Tragically, this crisis remains out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. Our constitutional crisis is under the daily radar screen for two reasons: Republican officeholders are ignoring it and too many Americans have grown comfortable with the undemocratic, authoritarian, insurrectionist politics of the political right.

Let’s briefly review the path to constitutional crisis:

Months before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump began to raise doubts among his supporters that the election would be conducted fairly. Unlike any presidential candidate before, Trump said in so many words: if I lose, the election was rigged. He repeated this fable over and over – for months.

As election day drew closer, Trump ramped up the lies about election integrity, advancing bogus arguments about mail in ballots or dead people voting. On election night – trailing in key states – Trump declared victory and began turning up the heat on local election officials to find some way to turn the outcome in his favor. Trump’s pressure on election officials in Georgia is still the subject of criminal review.

Next, and in advance of state-level certification of the election, came the lies about vote counts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Trump lawyers went to court in several states to try to stop certification, or to advance election fraud claims. In not one single case in a dozen states has any remotely creditable evidence been presented to a court supporting the former president’s case. Nothing has surfaced because there is nothing there.

Still, the lies, aided by the silence, or even worse actively abetted by Republican elected officials, took hold. Public opinion polling indicates a majority of Republicans have now bought the lies, which Trump repeated again this week.

The lies, beyond the clear damage to the legitimacy of American democracy, have had other real consequences. Election officials in numerous states have been on the receiving end of harassment and even death threats. A group of Republican crackpots in Arizona, egged on by their lying leader, convened, as the Arizona Republic reported, their “own group of fake electors who promptly voted to throw Arizona’s vote to Donald Trump? Turns out they weren’t engaged in meaningless wishful thinking or yet another wild PR stunt to play to the base. They were involved in an actual plan to stage a coup.”

We now know that Trump enlisted the help of a conservative lawyer from California to concoct a legal rationale for a coup. The theory held that then-vice president Mike Pence could, on his own motion, reject the Electoral College votes of several states that Trump lost.

The lawyer, John Eastman, meet with Trump at the White House on January 5, 2021, the day before Congress was scheduled to certify, as a purely procedural matter, the presidential election.

As a violent mob chanting “hangMike Pence” attacked the Capitol on January 6th, Pence, somewhat amazingly given his fealty to Trump, followed the Constitution.

We also know that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a meeting of his top staff in this period to remind them of the military’s duty to the Constitution. Milley also spoke with his Chinese counterpart to ensure him that the U.S. was not about to launch a war. There are other reports that Milley observed that Trump was unstable and capable of precipitating a “wag the dog” type incident to hold on to power.

The incident Trump and supporters planned for and encouraged happened, of course, on January 6th on the steps and inside the United States Capitol.





On January 6, then-president Donald Trump speaks to the crowd that later attacked the U.S. Capitol

If this weren’t recent American history staring us square in the face it would be a good plot line for a second rate made for TV movie, and perhaps that is why it’s easy for some to dismiss the lying, scheming and the threats. This kind of crazy, undemocratic action just doesn’t happen in our county. Right.

But dismissal of lies about election fraud, a coup plot and a deadly insurrection is a profoundly dangerous response to this web of treason. The worst is likely yet to come. By 2024, amateurish “Stop the Steal” stunts will be professionalized. Trump will run again. The election will be close. And the reaction – almost certainly chaos and crisis.

As Robert Kagan, no squishy liberal, wrote recently in the Washington Post: “As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.”

As Kagan correctly notes, many, many Trump supporters see the web he has woven “as a patriotic defense of the nation,” and therefore “there is every reason to expect more such episodes.”

Europeans all too easily slipped the bonds of democracy less than one hundred years ago to follow charismatic, authoritarian leaders into fascism and dictatorship.

It’s often said: “But, it can’t happen here.” Are you sure about that?

Better yet, what are you doing about it?

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few additional items that you may find of interest…

The foul-mouthed farmer sticking his neck out for Democrats’ agenda

From Politico, a great profile of Montana Senator Jon Tester. (Personal opinion: we could use some more like him.)

Montana Senator Jon Tester

“There’s no one in the Senate like Tester these days, both physically and politically. He’s a hulking presence as he ambles through the chamber’s marble halls, dispensing plainspoken wisdom and pushing what he calls ‘positive vibes.’ When he sips a bottle of beer, he cradles it in between his pinky finger and thumb — a necessary habit since he lost three fingers in a meat grinder as a child.”

If Democrats hope to ever build a working majority in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, they are going to have to embrace candidates like Jon Tester in rural western states.

Here’s a link to the full profile:


Vaccine Mandates are Working

This really shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

“Coronavirus vaccine mandates imposed by employers seem to be working so far, suggesting that most vaccine holdouts would rather get the shot than lose their job.”

Here’s the link:


The MAGA Trashiest Police Report in History

When you have been around politics and politicians long enough you develop a kind of radar about those individuals who are phony or incompetent or just creepy. Campaigns have a way of attracting some of the best and worst people. Trump’s campaigns were an exception. They seemed to have attracted only the worse, including Cory Lewandowski.

Tim Miller in The Bulwark dishes the goods about Lewandowski’s evening in Vegas with a woman from Idaho named, wait for it, Trashelle.

“My most sacred maxim for assessing what is happening in politics: “When in doubt it’s Veep, not House of Cards.

“But after I saw the full statement provided to authorities by Trashelle Odom, I realized that at long last we may have found the point at which this maxim breaks down.

“Because the Lewandowski Affair wasn’t a binary choice between Veep or House of Cards. It’s Veep and House of Cards. The singularity had been achieved.”

It’s a classic:


OK, enough fun for one day. Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

GOP, Insurrection

Some Legacy…

No politician ever admits to caring about a “legacy.” It’s a lie. They all want to be remembered, to be memorialized in some way for their good works or brave deeds.

They all wonder what the third paragraph of their obituary will say about them. “Senator Snort led the defense of Social Security when the program was under attack.” Or “Congressman Cleverton engineered the federal funding for Cleverton Dam, the massive concrete structure that bears his name.”

Or will the legacy be, as was the case with Congressman Charles E. Wiggins when he died in March 2000, a fact the gentleman from California would rather we forget?

California Congressman Charles E. Wiggins in 1974. He’s seen with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Peter Rodino, of New Jersey during the impeachment hearings for Richard Nixon

“As a congressman, Mr. Wiggins was considered one of [Richard] Nixon’s staunchest defenders. Along with two other members of the House Judiciary Committee, he led the president’s defense when the Watergate hearings began in the summer of 1974. The strategy was to construe the evidence as narrowly as possible, require ironclad proof and propose benign explanations of information damaging to the president.”

In fairness to the memory of Mr. Wiggins – he later became a federal judge – he eventually decided Nixon was a crook and came around to support his impeachment. As the New York Times reported, in order to change his mind, Wiggins had to hold in his hands the transcript of the taped conversation where Nixon committed to obstructing justice. Wiggins had to read the actual words of presidential betrayal to believe what he had been defending was a lie.

I thought about the long-forgotten Charles Wiggins when earlier this week, a burly, bearded Capitol Police officer, Harry Dunn, recounted for a congressional committee his experiences during the January 6 insurrection. Dunn was graphic, detailed and totally believable. He laid bare the lie that the riot of Donald Trump supporters was no big deal, as well as the fiction that Trump had not helped instigate the attack on American democracy.

“This n—– voted for Joe Biden!” Officer Dunn said a rioter screamed at him, prompting the crowd to turn on him with shouts of “Boo! F—— n—–!”

Later, Dunn implored elected members of Congress to uncover the full extent of Trump’s role.

Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn

“There was an attack on January 6, and a hit man sent them,” the police officer said. “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

Imagine being, as old Charles Wiggins was in 1974, among the last to call into question the actions of a president in the face of such obvious and total depredation of democracy?

Imagine, for example, being Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, who first attempted to turn a bipartisan investigation into a clown show and then refused to participate at all. McCarthy couldn’t be bothered to watch Officer Dunn’s testimony this week. Too busy, perhaps, working on denial of his own role on January 6. We know McCarthy spoke to Trump that day. What do you suppose they talked about?

Or imagine being Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale, an election denier, who expressed his disappointment with the words of fellow Republican Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans who has called for a reckoning with Trump and his incitement of insurrection. Cheney, who is in perpetual GOP purgatory for her embrace of the truth, urged lawmakers to find out “what happened every minute of that day in the White House” on January 6. “Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.”

“We did not have an armed invasion of the Capitol,” Rosendale said in response. “We had a breach in security.” Try telling that to the Capitol Police officer who testified under oath that one Trump supporter tried to gouge his eye out. Or the story of another officer caught in a scrum where one attacker shouted to get his gun and kill him with it.

Or imagine being Idaho Senator Jim Risch or Wyoming’s John Barasso or Montana’s Steve Daines, all of whom opposed an independent, bipartisan investigation of January 6, and near as I can tell had no reaction to the officer’s testimony this week. What the three senators were outraged about was a letter written more than 30 years ago by a college environmental activist who warned that trees in a proposed Forest Service timber sale had been spiked. Tracy Stone-Manning will be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management, but Risch, a little man in high performance dudgeon, called her a “terrorist” and a “criminal.”

Risch and Barasso and Daines have been on this attack line for several weeks but have nothing significant to say about an attack on the Capitol that put their own lives are risk. They have gladly enlarged the January 6 memory hole of denial and deflection; the modern characteristics of what it takes to be a leader of the Republican Party. And let us not let Senator Mike Crapo continue to skate away in silence. Crapo voted against an independent investigation and now sits on his hands awaiting a re-election he demonstrably does not deserve.

What perverse level of political sycophancy, what degree of moral depravity has overtaken these people and dunked them in the turgid water of Trumpland?

The conservative writer Mona Charen has it right. It’s easy to blame it all on the far-right “base” of the Republican Party, the deplorables who have hijacked conservatism in fealty to conspiracy, science denial, and the anti-democratic Trump cult. But Charen argues the base excuse is a cop out, pardon the pun.

“We have seen the end of 160 years of the peaceful transfer of power,” Charen wrote in The Bulwark. “We’ve seen the majestic United States Capitol turned into a scene from a dystopian fantasy; an armed mob attempting to subvert an election. They smashed and tortured and caused deaths. They erected a gallows and hunted for the speaker of the House and for the vice president. And Republicans, almost to a man and woman, are excusing, downplaying, or whitewashing what happened. An entire political party has abandoned commitment to the rule of law.”

Recall that these Republicans – Risch, Crapo and all the rest – who quake in fear of the authoritarian reality of their party and its leader could have done something. They did nothing. They knew he was a con and a crook, and they were against him before they weren’t any more.

“The great tragedy of this moment is not that Trump attempted what he did,” Mona Charen said, “but that so few Republicans tried to stop him when it would have made a difference.”

That is their legacy. And the country’s legacy, too.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some good reads culled this week from many sources…

The Beltway Can’t Stop Talking About Him. The Voters He Needs Barely Know Him

When J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy came out I read it with considerable interest. Many of us were trying to understand the heartland appeal of the former guy. Vance seemed like an interesting guy: up from poverty, stellar education, business success and perhaps a new kind of conservative, a populist with ideas. It also seemed like he totally saw through the Donald Trump appeal and saw the faux business tycoon as a conman.

JD Vance, the venture capitalist and author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” speaks with supporters after a rally Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Middletown, Ohio, where he announced he is joining the crowded Republican race for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat being left by Rob Portman. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

More and more the hype around the book and the follow on movie seems like it was manufactured to promote a political career, which Vance is now trying to launch. He’s a candidate for the U.S. Senate. He’s taken great pains to cleanse his anti-Trump views.

He may just be another opportunistic rich guy trying to get into elective office. And as this story makes clear, he has some work to do. From Politico.

“Vance has countered with an apology tour of sorts, scrubbing his old tweets and making the case, often and to anyone who will listen, that though he was at first skeptical of Trump himself, he bought into Trump’s ideology all along, and has since come around on the man too. Meanwhile, a super PAC supporting Vance, financed by $10 million from the tech investor Peter Thiel, has spent six figures on digital ads that emphasize Vance’s criticisms of Democrats and Big Tech, and his Hillbilly Elegy story.”

A story from Ohio that may leave you wondering – again – just how it is that the American conservative movement has fallen so far.


4 Reasons I’m Wearing a Mask Again

Some confusing, or maybe just unwelcome guidance out of the CDC this week about masks and the effort to control a still raging pandemic.

I think The Atlantic has done remarkable work covering this huge story. Here’s reporter Katherine J. Wu on why she’s gone back to wearing a mask.

“If I get infected, that affects more than just me. I worry about the strangers I encounter—many of them maskless—whose immune status I don’t know. I worry about the youngest kids in my social network, who aren’t yet eligible for shots, and the elderly and immunocompromised, whose defenses may be weaker than mine. I worry about the people in my community who have been structurally barred from accessing the vaccines, or who are reluctant to take the shots. My risk of getting COVID-19 is low. Theirs is very much not.”

Get the shot. Wear a mask indoors. Be smart. Be safe. Read the full story here:


ARE YOU ALLOWED TO CRITICIZE SIMONE BILES?: A DECISION TREE

The satirical site McSweeney’s has created a decision tree in response to the criticism of Simone Biles, the sensational gymnast who decided to end her participation in the Olympics. An, yes, I know there are big issues here about the rights of athletes, mental health, social media, etc.

This cuts through all that…funny.


Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

Insurrection, Politics, Trump

The West’s Homegrown Threat…

America has some history with populist demagogues. 

A Catholic priest from Detroit became a major figure in the 1930’s by playing to fears about economic collapse. Charles Coughlin, a kind of Rush Limbaugh-like character, had a national radio following. Coughlin advocating monetizing silver as a panacea for the depression decimated economy. It was later revealed the priest was trading in the metal, using his secretary to conceal his purchases, but knowledge of that scam still didn’t derail him. He moved on to stoking anti-Semitism

Father Charles Coughlin: American Demagogue

In the same period, a fantastic character skyrocketed onto the national scene touting a plan to make “every man a king.” Huey Long appealed to the have nots by building highways, hospitals and schools in Louisiana, but he also presided over a virtual police state where, among other things, he required state employees to hand over a portion of every paycheck to his political operation. Huey would almost certainly have made a play for the White House had not an assassin shot and killed him in a hallway of the state capitol building in Baton Rouge. 

A more recent variety of domestic demagogue – Joe McCarthy, Pat Buchanan, a guy named Trump to name a few – came into being playing on old American tropes: fear of “others,” hatred of our government or the evil threats of vicious foreign elements bent on our destruction. Much of the American story has been built on need to defend the country against someone or something determined to undermine or demolish all that is good. 

Usually, the demagogue defines the threat as “endangering the American way of life,” a statement so broad and ill-defined as to satisfy the grievance of that segment of our society that is always upset about something. 

Until Donald Trump inspired an insurrectionist attack on the U.S Capitol six months ago, the American demagogues have sought, often in odious and fundamentally destructive ways, to achieve political power by winning elections. Or at least they attempted to crush their opponents in the marketplace of ideas. But Trump has brought a new reality to American life: the demagogue as commander of what can only be called an armed militia. 

This happened just six months ago…

A significant number of the Americans who assaulted their own seat of government on January 6 identify with certain militia movements – the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers. The Guardian reported in March on leaked documents from some of these groups indicating that have attracted hundreds if not thousands of members who are current or former military or law enforcement personal, but the groups also “include men and women, of ages ranging from their 20s to their 70s, doing jobs from medical physics to dental hygiene and living in all parts of the country.” 

One Three Percenter patch says: “We’re everywhere.” Another proclaims: “Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” As evidence of the January insurrection has made clear, these militia groups are heavily armed and certainly dangerous. Chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were not a statement of abstract political theory. 

Which bring us to the West latest home-grown demagogue: Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate and anti-government militia crusader Ammon Bundy

It’s easy to dismiss Bundy with his big hat and attention attracting antics as a joke, a marginal figure much like the usual marginal figures who pay the filing fee and show up on a ballot somewhere in the West. I’ve been guilty of dismissing Bundy as someone few people should take seriously. I was wrong. He’s different. 

The Catholic priest in the 30’s or a Pat Buchanan, who proclaimed himself the head of the “pitchfork brigade” in the 1990’s, certainly had followers who could be and were stirred up at the drop of a microphone, but until recently American demagogues didn’t command armed militias. Now they do. 

In a Los Angeles Times profile of Bundy this week one sentence stands out: “Standing in his kitchen, Bundy recently used his smartphone to pull up the latest stats for People’s Rights — nearly 60,000 members organized in 29 states and Canada, all promising to protect their fellow members if called, he claimed. Bundy is quick to describe it as a linked network of ‘neighbors’ who make independent choices and are not under his direction.” 

The lie to that last claim is put to rest by a visit to Bundy’s YouTube channel where he certainly is directing those 60,000 folks. In other statements he has called his followers “neighborhood watch of steroids.” 

News accounts often describe Bundy as “a far right activist,” but that description falls short. He’s the most visible leader of a huge network of heavily armed, anti-government militia members

An American demagogue like Huey Long certainly called his followers to action, but the action was aimed at winning elections. We know what kind of action Bundy is capable of. He masterminded the armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon, he defied federal agents in a grazing standoff in Nevada and he led a violent demonstration inside the Idaho capitol building. The $750 he was fined recently for failing to leave a legislative meeting room in Boise is less than a slap on the wrist and will almost certainly embolden Bundy and his followers for the next action. 

“We have the potential for multiple Malheurs in multiple states, in that at any moment they could bring hardened far-right activists, often heavily armed, into any one event,” Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, told the Los Angeles Times in February. 

Bundy’s play for political office in Idaho is a joke, at least in this sense. He doesn’t believe in his own government or the idea that a democratic society runs on rules and law. He flouts such conventions as easily as he summons a mob to intimidate a local elected official. His political campaign is a means to an end and the end is to menace real elected officials into silence and acceptance. 

Who knows what Ammon Bundy, a true believer secure in the sacredness of his own opinions, is ultimately capable of? He has certainly given us a preview of coming attractions. No elected official in the West – and particularly in Idaho – should be surprised when he ratchets up his pressure campaign, as he surely will.

And while some elected Republicans, the fringe of the fringe, have embraced and encouraged Bundy’s anti-government nonsense most others have sat quietly, apparently hoping he will just go away. But he’s not going away. He’s now injected himself into the very heart of their party. 

There is a stark choice here for most elected Republicans: risk alienating Bundy’s militia followers by pushing back on all that he stands for, or choose to support the rule of law and democracy. The recent Republican track record on that choice isn’t very encouraging. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Items I found interesting, important or fun….

White House fire meeting was a bunch of hot air

President Joe Biden summoned a group of western governors to the White House recently to talk about the latest terrible fire season in the region. He left the governors of Montana and Idaho out of the meeting. It was a dump call, whether intentional or caused by West Wing bungling. Here’s Darrell Erhlick in The Daily Montanan.

“It seems like someone in the White House would have gazed over the terra incognita on the map of the United States — that vast expanse between the two better-known coasts — and thought, ‘Hmm, there seem to be a lot things that could burn up there in northwestern land located between, say, North Dakota and Washington.’

“But if such a musing or consideration happened, we didn’t hear about it.”

Read the full piece here:


Reasserting Checks and Balances: The National Emergencies Act of 1976

A great – and mostly forgotten – piece of American political history.

Senators Mathias and Church in 1974

“The story of this obscure Senate committee begins with the Vietnam War. In 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon pledged to end the war if elected. In the spring of 1970, however, President Nixon secretly expanded the war into Cambodia—without congressional approval. Weeks later, Nixon announced the expansion of the war into Cambodia on national television. The administration’s actions infuriated many senators, especially Frank Church, a long-time Vietnam War critic.”

From the Office of the Senate Historian:


The 3 Simple Rules That Underscore the Danger of Delta

I confess to not understanding the reluctance by millions of people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I keep wondering if they realize why hardly anyone of my generation contracted polio – because we got the vaccine!

In any event, I hope they will reconsider and in the meantime this from Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yong in The Atlantic.

“Fifteen months after the novel coronavirus shut down much of the world, the pandemic is still raging. Few experts guessed that by this point, the world would have not one vaccine but many, with 3 billion doses already delivered. At the same time, the coronavirus has evolved into super-transmissible variants that spread more easily. The clash between these variables will define the coming months and seasons. Here, then, are three simple principles to understand how they interact. Each has caveats and nuances, but together, they can serve as a guide to our near-term future.”

The bottom line: vaccines work. Read the full piece:


When George Harrison vacationed in southern Illinois

A great story about a member of The Beatles before he was famous. Turns out George Harrison spent part of 1963 in the rural Midwest. Who knew?

Yes, that George Harrison

“Louise said George was in a band back in England, where he lived. So, later that day, Chris and Monty went to Skaggs Electric Supply Company, which sold records alongside light bulbs and extension cords, and asked the proprietor if he had anything by a band called the Beatles. The man shook his head. ‘Never heard of ’em,’ he said.”

Good story…read it here.


Many thanks for following along. Be well.

GOP, Insurrection

Whitewashing Insurrection…

By one account local and federal law enforcement authorities have arrested at least 444 people and charged them with crimes related to the violent January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the insurrectionist assault that left five dead and dozens, including many police officers, seriously injured. 

One of the injured, Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, who was brutally assaulted by the mob, said this week he has had difficulty watching some Republican elected officials “whitewash” the outrageous episode over the last few weeks. 

“I experienced the most brutal, savage hand-to-hand combat of my entire life. Let alone my policing career, which spans almost two decades,” Fanone told CNN. “It was nothing that I had ever thought would be a part of my law enforcement career, nor was I prepared to experience.”

Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

One of the latest Northwesterners arrested was a 62-year-old Hillsboro, Oregon man who, among other things, is charged with striking police officers and breaking through barricades. Nearly a dozen residents of Idaho, Washington and Oregon have been charged in what has been described as the most documented crime in American history. Many of the insurrectionists took time out to snap selfies or willingly commented to journalists on camera. 

Yet, even with nearly daily reports of more arrests the unprecedented events of January 6 feel more and more like ancient history rather than a still fresh wound. Part of the reason is our collective short national attention span, but an even more important factor about why this bloody riot is rapidly receding is what Officer Fanone identifies – a conservative whitewashing of events that took place in real time on live television over the space of several hours. 

The man with the most to gain from erasing history – other than the guy who incited the riot – is, of course, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California. By continuing to downplay the events of January 6, McCarthy is hoping fellow Republicans can use their gerrymandered districts across the country to reclaim control of the House next year. McCarthy, as craven and vacuous a politician as our craven and vacuous age is able to produce, would then almost certainly become Speaker of the House. 

“After the House chamber was evacuated on January 5, Mr. McCarthy retreated to his Capitol office with a colleague, Representative Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas,” Mark Leibovich reported recently in the New York Times. “When it became evident the rioters were breaking in, Mr. McCarthy’s security detail insisted he leave.” But Representative Westerman was left behind, as he confirmed in a recent interview.

Fearing for his own life, while rioters shouted “hang Mike Pence” Westerman said he grabbed a Civil War sword from a display in McCarthy’s office and then barricaded himself in the minority leader’s private bathroom, waiting out the siege, crouching on the toilet.

To appreciate the extent of the effort by McCarthy and numerous others to diminish and ultimately dismiss January 6, you have to recall in some detail what transpired in the immediate aftermath of the riot and then analyze that information side by side with what is happening now. 

While the riot was underway, McCarthy called the instigator at the White House to implore him to call off his mob. We know this because Washington state congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler reported that McCarthy told her the substance of the call and that the then-president dismissed the attack, lying about its origins as the work of antifascists. 

After McCarthy told the president he was wrong – and the president knew he was wrong because he had spoken to his supporters that very day and then watched them storm the Capitol on live television – the then-president responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy stands to gain from whitewashing insurrection

A week after the riot McCarthy told the entire House of Representatives, the American people and the world: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.” 

Fast forward to last Sunday when McCarthy is sitting across the table from Fox News Sunday questioner Chris Wallace. “I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” McCarthy said in a feeble and fabulist effort to defend the indefensible. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call . . . telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later.” Hours later. 

Recalling this timeline is important not only for what it says about the lengths political figures like McCarthy are willing to go tell us what we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears didn’t really happen, but also because it’s a reminder that the shape shifting McCarthy is no outlier as a Republican whitewasher. 

With a very few notable exceptions, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Herrera Beutler, and Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois among them, the vast majority of Republican officeholders have quietly and gladly moved on from January 6. Northwest lawmakers like Idaho’s Mike Simpson and Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rogers immediately decided they wouldn’t hold the highest figure in the government accountable for his actions leading up to and including January 6. They have said nothing of substance about it since. 

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher remains deeply implicated in the January 6 events due to his very public efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, so his silence about the still unfolding aftermath and efforts to whitewash history makes sense, at least from the standpoint of avoiding having his reprehensible role in encouraging the violence highlighted over and over. 

No Northwest Republican has called for the kind of investigation of January 6 that would in more normal, rational times receive bipartisan support. No major Republican figure in Idaho has joined Cheney in saying the riot instigator should have no future in the party. None have acknowledged that the domestic terrorism behind the insurrection has been, as the FBI director said in March, “metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon.” 

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Liz Cheney said back in January. “Everything that followed was his doing.” 

Morally deficient Republicans want us to forget the single greatest threat to democracy in our lifetime. They lack courage. And honesty. It’s up to us to hold them to account just like those who stormed the Capitol to kill, maim and destroy democracy must be held to account.  

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

For your consideration…some worthwhile items…

PANDEMICS – THEN AND NOW

John Barry is the historian of the 1918 pandemic. He writes in Wilson Quarterly about the lessons learned and lost from the last time the world faced what the world is still facing. 

“In 1918, the public was lied to, and the lies mattered. Initially, when the public still believed official pronouncements, lies killed people who exposed themselves. But soon deaths became too common for anyone to trust what the government said. I believe that ultimately society is based on trust, and as trust dissipates, society begins to fray; one saw this alienation in 1918 both in large cities and rural communities – even to the extent that people starved to death because others lacked courage to bring them food.” 

Read the full piece. Worth your time


HOW DONALD TRUMP WANTED THE END OF HISTORY

The great Rebecca Solnit reckons with the end of the last presidency. 

“To those who opposed him, the years felt like a constant barrage of insults to fact, truth, science, of attacks on laws, on rights, on targeted populations from Muslims to trans kids, on the environment, on scientists, on institutions that might protect or promulgate any of these preceding things, and on memory itself. It was a disorder from which we were forever trying to emerge into order, like people clawing a slimy bank, only to slump back into the ooze.”

Read her piece here:


NEVER STUPID TO ASK QUESTIONS 

“Philip Marlowe, that most self-reliant of fictional detectives, had no boss and no one to boss around. Not so his creator, Raymond Chandler, who needed some help.”

Chandler

I love Chandler’s stories. This is good


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.