2024 Election, GOP, Insurrection

Our Failure to Imagine …

“In any case this week has probably finished (Trump) as a serious political figure. He has cost Republicans the House, the White House, and now the Senate. Worse, he has betrayed his loyal supporters by lying to them about the election and the ability of Congress and Mr. Pence to overturn it. He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.”

“It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.”

Wall Street Journal editorial, January 7, 2021

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“Trump warns of ‘bedlam,’ declines to rule out violence after court hearing”

Washington Post headline, January 9, 2024

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A failure of imagination, the inability to consider the probability attached to something that no American alive has experienced, could portend the death knell of the world’s oldest democracy.

Think about it.

What are Donald Trump and his most fevered supporters – not to mention those officeholding Republicans who lack the moral clarity to oppose his ridiculous, fact-free ignorance and desire to rule like a Mafia don – trying to do?

Quite simply the Trumpians need to rewrite the history of what happened three years ago this month. They have to keep alive the demonstrable big lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. They must challenge the fact that a violent insurrection to prevent the lawful counting of electoral votes for president and threatened the vice president, among others, was merely a peaceful protest of patriots. The more than 700 of our fellow citizens who have pled guilty or been found guilty of participating in the assault on the Capitol aren’t criminals, in this whitewash they are “hostages.”

The front pages on January 7, 2021

Additionally, the MAGA crowd must convince just enough gullible Americans through lies, stupid social media posts, phony news sites and unhinged Trump rallies that the Orange God is a victim simply because the nation’s prosecutors and courts are attempting to get to the bottom of his vast range of criminal behavior.

By the normal rules of American politics, given his boorish personal behavior, his incitement of insurrection, his footsie with dictators, his civil conviction of rape charges, his White House grifting and his obvious disdain for our Constitution Donald Trump would have been consigned to the dust bin of history. It is the man’s great – and only gift – that he can lie his way through all of it.

The rewriting of history is necessary to keep Trump from accountability, all he really cares about, and make sure he can live to corrupt again. We are living in Trump’s Orwellian word of up is down, in is out and a get out of jail free card is his prize. And it will get worse – much worse.

It is a great threat to American democracy – arguably the greatest since the Civil War – that members of his own party let him get away with it and in doing so endorse the clear threat that he has long been. They imagine he can be tamed. It’s a fiction.

Consider one of his enablers, a Republican senator from Oklahoma most Americans have never heard of and when his career has ended will not remember why he mattered. But Senator Markwayne Mullin does matter in one sense. In video of January 6, 2021 that became public this week at a trial of one of the “patriots,” Mullin, then a congressman, can be seen and heard with another Republican lawmaker admonishing the attackers of democracy. “You should be ashamed,” they said.

Mullin was there.

He saw what happened.

He’s a big, burly guy, but he would have been foolish not to fear what would happened if the attackers busted through the door he was standing behind with a Capital police officer.

Despite his personal experience on January 6, Mullin endorsed Trump on February 10, 2023, one of the earliest Trump endorsements by a sitting senator. He made his endorsement knowing what Trump had done. The same goes for the 22 other incumbent GOP senators who have endorsed Trump as of this week, most of whom voted not to convict him of inciting insurrection.

And consider the case of another Republican senator, Jim Risch of Idaho. Risch was in the Capital on January 6. We know, not from him but from the vast video record of that infamous day, that Risch’s own private office in the Capitol was trashed by the Trump “patriots.” He has never said anything about those events – nothing.

When I first filed this piece last Thursday, Risch hadn’t endorsed Trump for another term, but I predicted that he would. And true to form, late on Saturday he made his endorsement, not to an Idaho media outlet but rather where the endorsement would gain maximum inside the Beltway exposure.

In a statement to Politico, released just before the Iowa caucus, Risch said: “I realize President Trump greatly aggravates the left and the national media. I believe that is a small price to pay for righting this ship of state which is so greatly listing. I hope Republicans will join me in nominating President Trump.”

“Aggravated the left and national media?”

The gaslighting is simply astounding. It’s as if the last seven years, January 6, all the indictments and incitement never happened. The rewriting of history in a nutshell.

The hyperpartisan Idahoan couldn’t resist a swipe at Joe Biden for “reversing” Trump’s foreign and domestic policies. Of course, he offered no specifics.

Risch knows what Trump did after the last election and during the course of his chaotic presidency it simply doesn’t make any difference to him.

Perhaps the greatest failure of imagination in American political history occurred when Republican senators refused to hold Trump to account via a conviction during his impeachment trial for the events leading up to and including January 6.

One rationale for refusing to disqualify Trump – Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said as much – was that, despite his clear responsibility for the insurrection, Trump could still be held to account by the criminal justice system.

That is happening, which is why Trump is so aggressively and improperly attacking the special counsel and others who have charged him and intend to try him. And, of course, Trump isn’t really attempting to defend himself from the indefensible. He’s frantically trying to delay his days in court. He’s offering up fantasy defenses, including that he can’t be held accountable for anything he did while president.

To make this defense even remotely plausible Trump has argued that the failure to convict him in the Senate was in effect exoneration for January 6. “Interestingly,” as historian Heather Cox Richardson noted recently, “Trump’s argument that he cannot now be charged with crimes makes the Republican senators who voted to acquit him complicit. It’s an acknowledgement of what was clear all along: they could have stopped him at any point, but they repeatedly chose not to. Now he is explicitly suggesting that their behavior shields him from answering to the law.” 

Democracy can and may die in many ways. Most notably when those most directly charged with upholding democratic values succumb to their egos, give in to their need for power and embrace what are clearly anti-democratic actions, including inciting insurrection and violating the Constitution.

It is not original to me to refer to these politicians, men like Mullin and Risch, as “Vichy Republicans.” The reference is to the politicians who went along through ambition, ego, fear or need to cling to any shred of power to accept the abandonment of French democracy in 1940.

They accommodated even when they knew it was wrong, profoundly wrong.

That shameful period, the embrace of a treasonous armistice that forged a corrupt alliance with their country’s Nazi German occupiers, still clouds the French nation and haunts French politics. That’s the thing about expediency – to accept the unacceptable you must come to refuse to imagine what principle and character can accomplish.

When the French nation attempted, after World War II, to reckon with their own “Vichy Republicans,” it was left to the resisters, most notably Charles de Gaulle, to rebuild from the rubble.

But the epitaph of this shameful period was left to a former French premier Léon Blum, who had resisted and was imprisoned by the Nazis. Testifying during the treason trial of President Philippe Petain in 1945, Blum recalled how he saw men – the Vichy traitors to French democracy – “transformed and corrupted in front of [his] eyes, as if they had been dipped into some kind of toxic bath.” 

The modern Republican Party is wallowing in its own toxic bath. We really must work to imagine what comes next.

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Additional Reading:

There’s nothing debatable about the Constitutional requirements to become president

Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana and one-time chair of the Republican National Committee, is a Never Trump conservative. Also a very accomplished lawyer, former attorney general and prosecutor. He has also been ridden out of the Republican Party for his opposition to Donald Trump.

Racicot argued powerfully this week that the 14th amendment to Constitution requires Trump’s disqualification.

“If you’ve taken an oath of office to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ and you thereafter betray its provisions by engagement in insurrection or rebellion, the 14th Amendment Disqualification Rule forever bars you from seeking that office again.”

Read the full piece.


Which states will join the new summer meal program for low-income kids? Here’s the list.

It is, to put it mildly, a forehead slapper of a story.

“Republican governors in 15 states are rejecting a new federally funded program to give food assistance to hungry children during the summer months, denying benefits to 8 million children across the country.”

Here’s the detail … followed by the head slap.

By the way, Nebraska’s Governor Jim Pillen, one of the nation’s biggest hog farmers and a pretty well-to-do guy is also rejecting the summer school lunch money. The governor said, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

Tell that to a hungry kid, governor.


Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance against the Vietnam War and how fight for peace in the Middle East

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at an anti-war rally

I highly recommend the daily newsletter The Conversation, thoughtful, well-researched articles on current events and history written by academics for an informed audience. Really good work.

This piece is by Hajar Yazdiha, a scholar at the University of Southern California.


Churchill’s Test of Freedom – Then and Now

A great speech from August 1944 proposed seven tests regarding freedom. It still applies.

From writer and historian Richard Langworth. I recommend signing up for his periodic newsletters.


Thanks, as always. Stay out of the cold. All the best.

2024 Election, Idaho Politics, Ukraine

Who to Blame for Losing Ukraine …

Congressional Republicans once represented a political party that lead every campaign stressing its national security credentials. No price was too great, no sacrifice too significant to keep a GOP congressman or senator on top of any debate about protecting American interests around the world.

But that Republican Party is dead and gone, sacrificed on the altar of the last Republican president’s coziness with the former Russian KGB agent and disdain for post-World War II security arrangements, including NATO that have long been the bedrock of American security. Donald Trump transformed the party of Reagan, turning it into a cult following an isolationist authoritarian, one increasingly anti-free trade and openly hostile to democracy.

There is never a road so long that it doesn’t have a bend it’s said, and the modern Republican Party has come to that bend. The long, post-war road that defined the GOP brand in national security terms is in real danger of unraveling for good.

A Ukrainian serviceman rides atop an armoured fighting vehicle

As GOP members of Congress fled the capital for their Christmas cheer the headlines were stark, as in who lost Ukraine stark. “With Western aid stalled, Ukrainian troops run low on artillery shells,” said the Washington Post. “Ukraine Hits Major Russian Warship, but Loses Ground in the East,” said the New York Times, noting Ukraine had, while destroying a major Russian ship, also pulled back troops to the outskirts of Marinka – a small city reduced to ruins – marking a tactical retreat and a bleak Russian victory.

It seems all too clear that the brutal nearly two year war has reached an inflection point. Will Ukrainian forces have the stamina and the artillery shells to last through another cold winter or will Vladimir Putin prevail simply by not losing?

“Our needs are resources,” General Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military leader, said recently. “It’s weapons, it’s ammunition, it’s people. We calculate all of this in formulating our needs – people who we have lost, people who we could lose in the next year.”

The November decision by Republicans to link policy related to the U.S.-Mexican border to approval of essential aid to Ukraine is as short-sighted as it is stupid, but here we are. Just as the Ukrainian weapons stockpile disappears the GOP insists on a border security solution that has evaded Congress for a generation. It’s almost like Republicans were looking for an excuse to help Putin and they found one just outside of El Paso.

There is no mystery in the GOP linkage. The party has never sought a real policy solution to immigration or asylum seekers because it could have had one a dozen different ways over the last three presidencies. Republicans like – make that love – “the border” as a red meat issue to stoke fear and grievance within the GOP base. What’s a little Ukraine blood and territory as collateral damage to such political cynicism?

And for good measure add a little demagoguery to this retreat from international leadership, stiffing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who came to Washington earlier this month, helmet in hand, to get the tools to keep defending his country and by direct extension western Europe and the United States.

By all accounts the aid the U.S. has sent to Ukraine has caused the greatest degradation of Russian military capability since Hitler’s Panzers rolled toward Moscow in the summer of 1941. As the Center for European Policy Analysis calculated, “from numerous perspectives, when viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective, U.S. and Western support for Ukraine is an incredibly cost-effective investment.”

For a single digit percentage of the total American defense budget, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report, Russia has absorbed “315,000 dead and injured troops, or nearly 90% of the personnel it had when the conflict began.” Furthermore, the report “assessed that Moscow’s losses in personnel and armored vehicles … have set back Russia’s military modernization by 18 years.”

But such logic confuses a modern Republican backbencher like Idaho’s election denying Congressman Russ Fulcher. “We’ve already spent $113 billion in resources to Ukraine,” Fulcher said recently, “and we don’t know what the clear mission is.”

Say what? The mission is to keep Putin from winning and in the process protect western Europe from Putin’s plan to rebuild the old Soviet empire.

Fulcher helps us understand the incoherence of his position by noting that his constituents overwhelmingly oppose more aid. Precisely the arguments made before American entry into World War II when Franklin Roosevelt, facing bipartisan opposition as blinkered as Fulcher’s, persuaded Congress to support transferring U.S. supplies to a beleaguered Britain as it hung on against the Nazis.

This is the modern Republican Party, ruled by isolationist, white nationalist reactionaries in Washington – and clearly at the grassroots – who have decided to follow Trump and his Hitler-invoking rhetoric along the yellow brick road toward Putin and Moscow.

Fulcher hints at possible support for additional Ukraine aid if Joe Biden assures “serious reform, serious attention to our southern border,” but he’s joking. He’s the worst kind of congressman, one who claims to represent the will of his people even when doing so requires – assuming Fulcher were capable of such a thing – applying simple common sense.

The biggest clue that the GOP is fixing to abandon Ukraine comes from the junior senator from Idaho, James E. Risch, who by virtue of luck and Senate seniority, now sits as the ranking Republican on the once prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. Until December and the party’s pivot to link the Mexican border to the Ukrainian front line, Risch was a stout hearted supporter of American aid, even going to Kiev for a photo op with Zelensky. Now, Risch’s continuing support is conditioned on, as he says, the security issue his rightwing constituent’s fear most – desperate humans at the border fleeing poverty, crime, corruption and chaos.

“The biggest threat that my constituents feel is not from (Ukraine),” Risch said recently as he pirouetted away from the foreign policy threat of our time, “it’s from our southern border.”

Risch’s lifetime in politics may not feature accomplishment, but he is a survivor, and he can read the polls, including the November Gallup survey that shows 62% of Republicans believe the U.S. is doing too much to aid Ukraine.

Risch, once about as conversant with foreign policy as Trump, the fellow Risch carried water for during that memorable period, is now, thanks to luck and the seniority system, in a position to actually do something for Ukraine, Europe, America and the world. Don’t hold your breath. Given a choice between a moral stand based on genuine principle and the political path of least resistance, Risch always takes the low road to expediency.

The party that zipped its collective lip when Trump embraced Putin, tolerated Trump’s shakedown of Zelensky in order to influence domestic politics and remains totally silent as their party leader pushes ever farther toward authoritarianism is no party of principle.

I genuinely hope to be surprised when Congress returns early next year to take up the aid issue again, but expecting Republicans like Risch, even when they have taken a strong pro-Ukrainian positions in the past, to defend a position the least bit unpopular with “the base” is to live in a political fantasy land. And Risch has positioned himself perfectly to be against what he once was for, and he always has Joe Biden to blame.

When we start asking who lost Ukraine, remember the little men from Idaho who talked big and voted small.

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Additional Reading:

A few items I found interesting/important …

In 1967, a Black Man and a White Woman Bought a Home … Politics Would Never Be the Same

White and Black Detroit in the 1960s …

“On their fifth night in the neighborhood, the Baileys’ telephone lines were cut.

“On the sixth night, the police did nothing. They just watched as neighbors — 80 to 100 of them — threw smoke bombs and broke windows at the house that looked exactly like their own. Gov. George Romney threatened to call the Michigan state police.

“On the ninth night, embarrassed into action, members of the Warren police department put on their riot helmets and marched behind a rumbling tank to rescue the beleaguered family at 26132 Buster Drive.”

A stunning bit of history from Michigan. Link to Politico.


Extreme weather is changing California … These road trips show how

“This year, transformations were on full display after record-breaking winter storms wreaked havoc on landscapes already reeling from years of drought, wildfires and coastal erosion. While scientists are still debating whether the intensity was increased by human-caused climate change, they have long predicted events like these will worsen as the world warms.”

A Guardian reporter talks to the road to assess climate change in California.


Why Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to college graduates still matters today

A wonderful story … be sure you watch the video piece at the very end.

“Young people, college students especially, loved Vonnegut. During the early and mid-1960s, he commanded an avid and devoted following on campuses before he had produced any bestsellers. Why was a middle-aged writer born in 1922 adored by a counterculture told not to trust anyone over 30? Why did he continue to appeal to younger generations until his death?”

Here’s the link.


Thanks, as always, for following along. It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

As you can likely tell I’m seriously concerned about the future of American politics and democracy, but I’m trying to end the year on a genuine up note. Amid the many trials and wars and political dysfunction so many good people are doing so much in their own ways – large and small – to improve the human condition. Let’s celebrate that human connection as we ring in the New Year. All the best.

See you soon …

2024 Election, Supreme Court, Voting Rights

Gutting the Voting Rights Act …

On Sunday night, March 7, 1965, the ABC Sunday Night Movie was interrupted for a breaking news bulletin from Selma, Alabama, a city of about 28,000 souls fifty miles west of the state capitol of Montgomery.

It’s a safe bet that most Americans watching the film Judgment at Nuremberg – a movie about Nazi war crime trials after World War II – had never heard of Selma in Dallas County, Alabama. After that Sunday, the events of Selma would come to define the long and still continuing struggle for voting rights in America.

As Alabama Heritage magazine has noted of Selma in the 1960s: “Despite the gains made by civil rights activists across the state of Alabama, the Black Belt city of Selma remained a bastion of racial discrimination. In particular, the city’s segregationist leadership excelled at disenfranchising the African American community. By 1964 whites made up less than half of the population of Dallas County but constituted 99 percent of the registered voters.”

Seven of every eight Black Americans who attempted to join voter rolls in that Alabama county were rejected. Little wonder that the major civil rights groups in the South, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), chose Selma as the place to launch a march for voting rights.

Alabama Governor George C. Wallace gave the order to stop the marchers. Mayhem and blood followed, all broadcast on national television giving viewers a living room view of what was at stake for Black Americans.

John Lewis (foreground) is beaten by a state trooper in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. The future congressman suffered a fractured skull. | AP Photo

“The troopers rushed forward,” the New York Times reported, “their blue uniforms and white helmets blurring into a flying wedge as they moved. The wedge moved with such force that it seemed almost to pass over the waiting column instead of through it. The first 10 or 20 Negros were swept to the ground screaming, arms and legs flying, and packs and bags went skittering across the grassy divider strop and on to the pavement on both sides. Those still on their feet retreated.”

One marcher, beaten to the point of hospitalization, was John Lewis, the chairman of SNCC and years later a member of Congress from Georgia.

Others died trying to secure the Constitutional right to simply vote in a democracy. One of the martyrs was a white Unitarian minister from California, James Reeb, who responded to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s call for white preachers to join the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Reeb died on March 12, 1965 of injuries sustained when he was beaten by white segregationists who were so opposed to fellow Americans attempting to secure the vote that they were willing to kill.

The Voting Rights Act was passed on August 6, 1965 with some naively believing a conclusive battle had been won. But while the events of that long ago bloody Sunday have faded the conservative assault on the Voting Rights Act never has.

Remember this history as you consider that Republican attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to gut – as in eviscerate – another key section of the Voting Rights Act.

The state of Louisiana brought the case to end the long established practice of individuals and voting rights organizations taking private legal action to enforce the right to vote. Louisiana and rightwing AGs like Idaho’s Raul Labrador and Montana’s Austin Knudsen claim that all that history is rubbish and that efforts to use the law to protect the right to vote cannot be invoked by private parties, but only by the Justice Department.

Rick Hasen, a law professor at UCLA and voting rights expert, has said that unless the Supreme Court reverses a recent ruling by the Eighth Circuit that ruled private actions unconstitutional the rights of minority voters will be decimated. The Justice Department, Hasen and many others say, has inadequate resources to go after a gerrymander in Wisconsin or a voter suppression effort in Mississippi or a hundred or a thousand other devious efforts to limit the Constitutional voting rights of Americans.

Hasen noted that two Supreme Court justices – Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas – have already endorsed this specious reading of the law, the Constitution and long standing precedent. Three more justices could literally erase one of the most effective tools to ensuring voting rights, and in doing so expand the conservative re-writing of not only the law, but American history.

Knudsen, the Montana attorney general and a hard right firebrand who professional ethics are under review by the state bar, is a too young to remember his state’s greatest political leader and the role Senator Mike Mansfield, the Democratic majority leader in 1965, played in passage of the Voting Rights Act. Mansfield worked tirelessly with Republican leader Everett Dirksen to assemble a bipartisan Senate coalition to ensure that the promise of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution – the right to vote for African Americans – was guaranteed. Mansfield considered the Voting Rights Act the most important legislation of his generation.

Labrador, who as a Tea Party congressman helped set the U.S. House on the path of its current dysfunction, now employs a team of zealous, even radical lawyers from everywhere but Idaho to push the latest alt right legal hobby horse. Labrador should be reminded that no less a conservative than former Idaho governor and senator Len Jordan was one of the Senate Republicans who followed his party leadership in support of the Voting Rights Act 58 years ago.

You might do well to ask what Knudsen and Labrador are doing as they waste their state’s resources by signing on to legal action designed solely to deny Americans access to the courts? Why do they believe it’s worth the effort of their high office or the spirit of their sworn oath to embrace a patently transparent effort to disenfranchise fellow Americans and trash a historic law, as well as the protections of the Constitution? 

The answer to these questions is that it is all about power – raw, unbridled political power wielded by states against their own citizens. Conservatism has become about eliminating rights, not enhancing them.

In this Aug. 6, 1965, photo, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a ceremony in the President’s Room near the Senate Chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington. Surrounding the president from left directly above his right hand, Vice President Hubert Humphrey; House Speaker John McCormack; Rep. Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y.; first daughter Luci Johnson; and Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill. Behind Humphrey is House Majority Leader Carl Albert of Oklahoma; and behind Celler is Sen. Carl Hayden, D-Ariz. (AP Photo)

Conservatives started going after the Voting Rights Act about ten seconds after Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. Now they have created a national network of extremists at every level of government determined to roll back the clock. And they have realized a fever dream decades in the making – a Supreme Court more beholden to political outcomes than legal protections. It is a truism of our age that the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse 50 years of history on abortion rights was but the beginning.

You’ll hear more about this pending Supreme Court case in the days ahead and when you do remember Jim Reeb and so many others who gave their lives in the fight for these fundamental rights of citizenship.

No one, by the way, has ever been convicted of that young minister’s murder in Selma in 1965. Just one more reason why we should expect more today from those who would use the law he died for to effectively dance on his grave.

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Additional Reading:

A few other things that caught my eye …

Special counsel Jack Smith made a gutsy, momentous decision in his prosecution of Donald Trump

The always excellent Margaret Sullivan writes about the special counsel’s decision to take Trump’s claim of immunity directly to the Supreme Court.

The former guy calls him “deranged.” But Jack Smith may have just pulled off a master legal stroke.

“The former US president intends to use timing – delay, delay, delay – to avoid punishment for trying to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden, and for fomenting a violent coup.

“Nope, said Smith this week. A tough guy who has prosecuted war crimes in the Hague, Smith clearly recognizes that putting off the case until after next fall’s presidential election could let Trump off the hook.”

Link to the full piece in The Guardian.


The Convert: The radicalization of Mike Lee

Nick Catoggio writes in The Dispatch about the Utah Republican senator and whether he’s really a cynic or a convert. His verdict – Lee hasn’t just drunk the Trumpian Kool-Aid, he’s happily chugging it.

“So if he sounds like a crank, it’s not because he has to. It’s because he wants to.

“Which brings us to the other problem. Only a true convert to crank populism would embarrass himself to the degree Lee routinely does nowadays. There’s a gratuitousness to some of his lapses of judgment that suggests he’s not faking them to impress the grassroots right’s worst elements, as is often the case with his buddy Ted Cruz. One simply can’t step on as many rakes as Mike Lee has lately without being genuinely blind.”

Good example of why the Republican Party really no longer exists.


And finally …

“Welcome, fellow haters, to another bilious edition of the Most Scathing Book Reviews of the Year.”

Come for the put downs, stay for the laughs. Here’s the link.


See you soon. Tip your server. Smile at strangers. Call an old friend you haven’t spoken with for too long. Get in the spirit.

All the best.

2024 Election, Fascism, Trump

Our Fascist Government in Waiting …

“It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”

                                                            – Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

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American democracy increasingly resembles the frog placed in a pot of tepid water not realizing that as the water temperature slowly rises it’s being boiled to death.

Our temperature is rising. Too few of us are paying attention.

Just in the last two weeks the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has broadly outlined the authoritarian agenda he will implement if he gets another grab at power. The agenda – and don’t buy the nonsense that what Donald Trump says differs from what he does – is profoundly un-American, combining the worst of Know Nothing nativism from before the Civil War with the innuendo laced radicalism of Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Increasingly the con man who would be president again sounds like a beer hall agitator in Munich. And a vast army of enablers are goose stepping to his commands.

As widely reported and confirmed by Trump advisers in numerous interviews and documents, the former president, and this is a partial list, intends to:

  • Dismantle the federal civil service system that has been in place since James Garfield was president
  • Conduct wholesale deportations of millions, including people who have been living in the United States for years, or in some cases their entire lives
  • Create vast detention camps
  • Populate the federal government with thousands of cranks and seditionists who, unlike his first time, will not be dissuaded by the Constitution or law from targeting political opponents through a totally politicized justice system
  • Purge the U.S. military of officers unwilling to carry out illegal orders
  • Dispatch the National Guard to patrol major American cities and use the power of the federal budget to direct local policing
  • Eliminate the federal Department of Education and exert unprecedented control over local schools and colleges
  • Enact – again – a ban against Muslims entering the country
  • Pardon the guilty of January 6 and lock up any resisters
  • Re-evaluate – read withdraw – from NATO, the western alliance that has provided security for much of Europe in the post-World War II era
  • End U.S. aid to Ukraine, ensuring that his Russian authoritarian role model, will be able to do to Poland and the Baltic states what he has tried to do to Ukraine

Meanwhile, Trump – a profoundly ignorant man, but at the same time a highly skilled propagandist – is continually conditioning his most ardent followers to their own embrace of his distorted and deeply dangerous approach to American politics. He no longer walks to the edge of inciting violence, but routinely destroys any boundary.

In what the Atlantic called a “dystopian, at times gothic speech” that “droned on for nearly 90 minutes,” Trump told a crowd of his Florida followers recently that he will eliminate the “liars and leeches” who have been “sucking the life and blood” out of America.

Who are these people, these liars and leeches? Mitt Romney? Career prosecutors in several states and the federal government who have investigated Trump’s actions and proven corruption – stands indicted 91 times – and attempt, as the law and our Constitution demand, to hold him accountable? Are the judges charged with administering justice the liars and leeches? Is he talking about former four-star generals who have pronounced him ignorant, unstable and unfit?

Like a Mussolini praising Hitler, he touts as role models the murderous Putin and the strongmen of Hungry, China and North Korea.

This must be called what it is – a fascist government in waiting. The supreme leader’s language no longer hints at the prospect of fascist actions to come, but rather confirms them.

“In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day,” Trump said on social media, “we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American dream.”

“This is straight-up Nazi talk,” writes New Republic editor Michael Tomasky, “in a way he’s never done quite before. To announce that the real enemy is domestic and then to speak of that enemy in subhuman terms is Fascism 101. Especially that particular word.”

That word would be vermin. What decent, Constitution loving American calls other Americans “vermin?”

Whether Trump knows it or not, and one suspects he does and certainly his speechwriters know this language – down to the same words – were often employed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s to justify the wholesale eliminate of European Jews. This is solely the language of division and hatred. The language of a man and a movement willing to jettison any respect or deference to the rule of law and the Constitution. It is the language of fascism.

A singular feature of fascist governments through modern history is to demonize a class of people as “subhuman” – Jews, indigenous people, migrants, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, on and on. Demagogues must have a target. Anyone “different” from their mass of followers or any critic is fair game. The fascist leaders of history – in Italy, Germany, Spain – required an enemy, even one casually defined, to focus the hatred and channel the grievance and fear of his followers.

During a recent rally in New Hampshire Trump pledged to “root out … the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country … The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day, every single day. The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

The threat is from within. Really? But who, exactly? Who are these vermin? Career educators trying to teach history? Librarians who reject book banning? Newspaper columnists who deplore the ugliness and historical import of such deranged, unhinged talk from a person in a position of power and influence? Maybe you are the “vermin” – watch yourself – lest you be intimidated and frightened into silence. This is how the authoritarian consolidates his power.

“He’s telling us exactly what he intends to do — like it or loathe it,” write Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Axios. “And this time, he’ll have prefabbed institutional muscle to turn pugilistic words into policies and action from the get-go.”

This is not a new story, but it may be history too many Americans have failed to understand or heed.

The pot is boiling. There can be no mystery where this is headed. Recall the past. Fight against un-American words and actions by hateful, ignorant people. Embrace democracy and the Constitution.. Influence the present.

A democracy is too important to lose.


Additional Reads:

A few suggestions from across the world wide web …

Note-taking Lessons From America’s Greatest Biographer

An exhibit on the biographer Robert Caro is now open at the New York Historical Society.

Caro in his New York office

“We mere mortals can peek behind the scenes of his work by visiting the oldest museum in New York City—the New-York Historical Society. It acquired the rights to Caro’s archives and turned them into a permanent exhibit, with plans to rotate the collection of documents over time. The exhibit displayed different stages of his writing process, from interviewing to outlining, so I picked some highlights to share below.”

If you care about history – and writing it – this is a must read. Link here:


Basketball Season: Requiem of a Mississippi cheerleader

The novelist Donna Tartt remembers her young life as a cheerleader.

“The gymnasiums were high-ceilinged, barnlike, drafty, usually in the middle of some desolate field. We were always freezing in our skimpy plaid skirts, our legs all goose-pimples as we clapped and stamped on the yellowed wooden floor. (Our legs, being so much exposed, were frequently chapped from cold, yet we were forbidden to put lotion on them, Cindy and the older girls having derived a pathological horror of “grease” from—as best as I could figure—the Clearasil ads in Tiger Beat and Seventeen—this despite the fact that grease was the primary element of all our diets.)”

Excellent piece of writing.


Inside the $1.5-Trillion Nuclear Weapons Program You’ve Never Heard Of

I found this piece both fascinating … and deeply unsettling.

A Minuteman missile in South Dakota

“Since the advent of plutonium production, less than a century ago, some parts of the U.S. have borne more of those costs than others. This past summer I drove to the city that’s still making the weapons it was supposed to eradicate the need for; to the plains where nuclear missiles control local economies; to a mine 2,000 feet underneath the desert floor where much of America’s plutonium waste from weapons production goes to rest. My hope was to hear from people who live in those communities to better understand where that era has left them as we teeter on the edge of a new arms race.”

Makes me want to dust off the plans for the bomb shelter. From Scientific American.


Thanks for reading. See you again soon.

2024 Election, GOP, House of Representatives, Idaho, Simpson

The Sadness of a GOP Squish

House Republicans this week elected a speaker. Turns out political exhaustion is a big advantage in today’s GOP. A guy who before this week virtually none of us had ever heard of turned out to be the (far, far) right guy at the right time.

After going three weeks with no speaker, while a government shutdown looms (again), the Middle East boils and Ukraine strains to beat back Putin’s totalitarian onslaught on western democracy all the GOP’s many factions united behind Mike Johnson. The new gavel pounder is a Louisiana backbencher whose only real qualification is that he is not Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan or Tom Emmer. For those keeping score at home – those guys all were destined to be speaker until they weren’t.

The new Speaker of the House

Yet, the issue of the week is not that House Republicans elected a genuine political radical from the far, far right as Speaker of the House, but how, as there can no longer be doubt, the entire party has been transformed once and finally into an ideological cesspool of resentments, hatreds, conspiracy, white Christian nationalism and hyper partisan nonsense, or worse.

Exhibit A in the no longer in doubt department is one of the nation’s prime examples of the certain death of real, constructive, character-driven conservatives. Idaho remains as good a case study as any of the vast rot that has polluted conservative politics and turned people who once displayed real character and occasional bipartisanship into craven, quivering opportunists clutching for a grip on power regardless of the cost in their own shame and their country’s democracy.

A week ago, Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, a guy who once stood over Barack Obama’s shoulder in the Oval Office to celebrate a bipartisan Idaho wilderness bill, was pilloried by his party’s state chairwoman for having the audacity – even independence – to vote NO to deny the loathsome Jim Jordan the speaker’s gavel.

Simpson’s “inclination to engage in inside-the-Beltway political games rather than focusing on the pressing business that truly matters to our constituents is disappointing,” fumed Idaho’s top GOP mouthpiece and John Bircher, Dorothy Moon. “Representative Simpson has served in congress for decades. Perhaps all this time away from Idaho has caused him to lose sight of the real work that Americans need on the important issues that impact them and their families.”

In a widely circulated op-ed defending his vote against Jordan, the bomb throwing Ohio election denier, Simpson fell back on the argument that he was merely defending the priorities his Idaho constituents, including workers at the Idaho National Laboratory and the state’s agricultural interests.

“It is abundantly clear the next Speaker of the House could seriously impact Idahoans’ way of life. Fortunately, I know my constituents want me to continue fighting for issues that are important to them. I cannot vote for a Speaker who does not support our state. And I will not take Chairwoman Moon’s ill-advised input when I have been fighting for Idaho longer than she has lived in the state.”

Simpson specifically cited Jordan’s votes against the Department of Energy budget and Simpson’s own Farm Workforce Modernization Act, legislation to give these critical workers a path to citizenship. Trouble is Johnson voted NO on those issues as well.

Simpson withheld support from the former wrestling coach because Jordan has never voted for a farm bill, and while Johnson reluctantly voted for the last major farm bill, he severely criticized the nutrition provisions of the bill, which must be reauthorized before the end of the year.

As Politico reported, Johnson favors deep cuts to the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the country’s largest program that helps to provide food aid for low-income Americans” and which is a hot button issue that will surely emerge as the dysfunctional Republican majority attempts to pass a new farm bill.

“I cannot – and will not – support a Speaker who has repeatedly taken positions against Idaho’s best interests,” Simpson declared as he tried to hold off criticism of his vote against Jordan. His principled stand had the shelf life of an overripe avocado.

On Wednesday Simpson enthusiastically voted for Johnson, described by one partisan wag as “Jim Jordan in a sports coat,” a guy with a scant experience but with a voting record almost identical to Jordan’s. In the space of five days Simpson went from standing up for his own voting record and policy priorities to voting for a speaker who has never supported the Idaho priorities Simpson found so important before he didn’t.

Moreover, Johnson is every bit as much an election denier and conspiracy theorist as Jordan. He lead the effort to round up congressional support – including that of Idaho’s other House seat warmer, Russ Fulcher – for the whack-a-doodle Texas lawsuit that would have thrown out millions of votes in several states.

Sidney Powell, the Donald Trump lawyer who recently pled guilty to election interference charges in Georgia, was a full throated proponent of the nonsense that a Hugo Chavez inspired Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines cost Trump the election. Fox News spent $787 million to settle a lawsuit over that lie. The man now second in line for the presidency was an “intellectual” architect of this lie.

Johnson has taken fringe positions on LGBTQ rights, opposed same sex marriage and been a champion of a national ban on abortion. Yet, Mike Simpson, the momentarily pragmatic Republican who took flak for his anti-Jordan vote, mentioned none of this in a statement saying he was “proud” to vote for the new speaker.

There is a word for such behavior – gutless.

As the Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes wrote this week – he might have had Simpson in mind – “For a few halcyon moments, it looked like the center would hold as a modest rump of ‘moderates’ blocked the ludicrous Jim Jordan. But in the end, the squishes did what squishes do; and their defeat was as comprehensive as it was condign.”

It’s Mike Simpson’s screwball critic Dorothy Moon, the election denying crackpot atop the state’s Republican Party, who won this skirmish. The nuts are in full control. No evidence can disabuse them of their fantasies. No farm bill or health concern of a pregnant Idahoan is near important enough for them to back off their fear and loathing for real policy, or heaven forbid actual governing. The gentleman from Idaho had a brief moment, then he again embraced the real power in his party.

Simpson did get one part right – it is abundantly clear that the new speaker will seriously impact the way of life of his constituents.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other things I’ve stumbled across that may be of interest …

Former Iowa Sen. Dick Clark dies at 95

Dick Clark’s 1978 re-election campaign features in my book Tuesday Night Massacre, a story about the rise of independent expenditure campaigns and how they have warped our politics.

Clark several a single term in the Senate. It was an impressive six years.

“Clark was elected to the Senate in 1972 after launching a longshot bid against two-term Republican Sen. Jack Miller. With little money for his campaign, Clark opted to walk across Iowa during numerous trips in 1972.”

Read more here.

And here is another story about Dick Clark from the New York Times.


We Don’t Talk About Leonard: The Man Behind the Right’s Supreme Court Supermajority

The news site ProPublica is doing some of the most important investigative reporting in the world right now including this deep dive into the man who masterminded the right wing takeover of the Supreme Court.

Leonard Leo, the man who remade the Supreme Court

“[Leo] advised Trump on the nominations of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Before that, he’d helped pick or confirm the court’s three other conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But the guests who gathered that night under a tent in Leo’s backyard included key players in a less-understood effort, one aimed at transforming the entire judiciary.”

Read the entire story.


Montana Course Teaches Students How to Cut the B.S. Out of B.S.

“An online course, Calling Bullshit examines why it’s so easy to spread misinformation and untruths and why it’s so hard to combat it, while exploring what citizens can do to become better consumers and producers of factual information.

“’The name is definitely provocative, but the class is not about the cussword,’ said course instructor Professor Lee Banville, director of [the University of Montana’s] School of Journalism. ‘It’s about information literacy. People need to be both better sharers of information and better consumers of information.'”

Could I hear an amen, please. Here’s the full story.


Two stories about hotels – I love hotels.

The opening of a luxury hotel in downtown Portland has divided the city

I’m often leery of national reporting on local issues and this Fast Company piece seems a bit overwrought, but it gets at some of what continues to happen in a once great city that struggles to be great again.

“The story of the Ritz-Carlton’s fraught relationship with the local community dates back to tax breaks folded into the Trump administration’s 2017 tax overhaul, creating the Opportunity Zone program. The idea behind Opportunity Zones was to encourage investors to build in impoverished or struggling areas by allowing them to defer and reduce taxes on capital gains that they reinvest into these developments. If they hold the new investment for a decade, they never have to pay taxes on those gains.”

Link to the full piece.

Inside the Taliban’s luxury hotel

And a wild story about Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“The Intercontinental Hotel, Afghanistan’s first luxury hotel, opened in 1969. It was built in a time that feels much further away than the year suggests. Afghanistan was at war for more than 40 years. Rulers came and went, and every one of them was here, at the Intercontinental. Its former luxury has faded, but the Intercontinental has remained a symbol: those who rule Kabul rule Afghanistan, and those who rule Kabul rule the Intercontinental.”

From The Guardian.


One win, 17,000 defeats – life as a Washington General

And I’ll leave you with this fun piece. Every basketball fan knows that the Washington Generals are the team that always loses to the famous Harlem Globetrotters. Except one time the Generals didn’t lose.

Red Klotz, coach of the Generals, is in the suit. The perennial losers are in green.

“In front of a disbelieving audience in the city of Martin, Tennessee, the man known as Red broke one of the most sacred unwritten rules in sport. As player-coach for the Washington Generals, Klotz shot the winning basket against the Harlem Globetrotters.

“‘They looked at us like we’d just killed Santa,’ Klotz would claim, as jeers rang around the university gymnasium.”

Great story from BBC.


Thanks for reading. All the best.

2024 Election, Democracy, GOP, Trump

Trump’s Mafia …

It was news in South Dakota this week, a state that has become as red as Donald Trump’s neckties, that the state’s two Republican United States senators won’t be attending an upcoming Trump rally scheduled in the Black Hills.

Among those RSVPing regrets is John Thune, the number two Republican leader in the Senate. Thune and South Dakota’s other GOP senator, Mike Rounds, have done what few other high profile Republicans have done – think Idaho’s Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch or Wyoming’s John Barasso, for example – and finally put distance between themselves and the party’s cult leader.

The South Dakota senators, about as conservative as they come, have endorsed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott for president. Hardly worth a profile in courage award, but better than the vast majority of Republican officeholders who act like backing the party’s leading presidential candidate – or carefully avoiding any comment on his many indictments and proven criminality – is totally normal.

It is not totally normal. Nothing about American politics at the moment is remotely normal. Nothing about the Republican Party’s embrace of a much indicted sociopathic serial liar is normal. Nothing is normal, as the Morning Consult poll found this week, in the fact that three of five Republican voters say they’d vote for a convicted sexual abuser even if he’s behind bars on Election Day next year.

Nothing. Normal. About. Any. Of. This.

As The Bulwark’s Jonathan Lash wrote recently:

Pretend we could go back in time, to January 2017, and tell people that in six years:

  • Trump will have been impeached twice.
  • He will have been found guilty of rape by a jury of his peers.
  • He will have been soundly defeated for re-election, but refused to concede the loss.
  • In an effort to remain in power he will put in motion a vast conspiracy to overturn the result through extralegal methods.
  • When this conspiracy fails he will incite a violent insurrection in which he directs his armed supporters to invade the Capitol and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes.
  • He will be indicted in four separate criminal cases.
  • He will seek a return to the White House explicitly for the stated purpose of ‘retribution.’
  • And he will be leading the Republican field by >30 points.

The party of Lincoln, and TR and Eisenhower is now a stewing cesspool of grievance and denial willingly embracing neo-Nazis and a wide array of conspiracists. The party leader’s legal team – many of them indicted in Atlanta this week – are a mockery of Republican appeals to law and order.

The degradation and destruction of the once Grand Old Party is both stunning and frightening, but mostly frightening.

Frightening in that Trump’s mesmerized supporters believe in him, and his avalanche of demonstrable lies more than they believe their own friends, family and religious leaders. As the CBS News-YouGov poll recently discovered these folks cling to the lies and rabid misinformation more than ever in the face of Trump’s grand jury indictment for attempting to overturn the presidential election in Georgia. Making off with the nation’s secrets for whatever reason and defying not only the law but common sense in refusing to return them deepens their regard for this shallow, foul man.

Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him continues to metastasize in the conservative body politic. The devotion to that enormous lie is the single biggest reason more Republican officeholders refuse to do what the senators from South Dakota have done, namely move on from the fabulist-in-chief. The Crapo’s and Risch’s of American politics know it’s all bull, but they won’t really confront it because they are afraid … of their own voters.

There have been so many turning points in this American melodrama – the Access Hollywood tape, Trump’s persistent praise of the murderous Russian thug, the grifting of the presidency through a gaudy Washington hotel, the Unite the Right neo-Nazi spectacle in Charlottesville, the serial departures of Cabinet secretaries who thought they could contain the fabulist and discovered they couldn’t, the name calling, the threats, the incitement of insurrection.

And It will only get worse, while the GOP elected elite works to delist grizzly bears or neuter the IRS.

Amid all this crazy, outrageous and full on dangerous behavior, history is likely to record as one of the most egregious acts in presidential history, Trump’s mafia-inspired efforts to shakedown Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in order to manufacture dirt on his political opponent.

All of Trump’s venality and disdain for American – and European – democracy was on clear display in his telephone call to the man who now tries to save the independence of his country against the brutal aggression of The Donald’s pal, Vlad. Simply put, Trump was eager to intimidate another democracy to help destroy one at home. Meanwhile, the GOP edges closer to Putin, while most of the rest of the world shuns him as never before.

There is a perverse symmetry that on the same day Rudy Giuliani was indicted in Georgia the leader of the Russian militia that provided Putin’s only effective fighting force against Ukraine died, likely on orders from Donald’s pal. Rudy with the light brown hair dye was, of course, Trump’s Ukrainian bagman charged with assembling dirt on Joe Biden. Meanwhile, the fabulist says he could end the brutal aggression against Ukraine with one phone call. Right.

This farce become tragedy is as if the script for The Godfather or GoodFellas had been substituted for the shredded ruminants of the rule of law, or any sense of decency in the GOP. Trump is the Vito Corleone of our politics, keeping it all in the family, fronted by corrupt lawyers and evil politicians willing to do anything to protect his own skin and the family business. Just don’t get caught.

Forget the pundits who tell you there is future salvation for the Republican crime family and all of its enablers. There isn’t. Won’t happen. The only way to banish this level of corruption is to take them to trial, convict them in front of a jury of their peers and vote the enablers into the inglorious history they so richly deserve.

Imagine your political legacy being that you couldn’t bring yourself to call bull on this BS.

Michael Corleone, to play out the mafia analogy, eventually tried to go legit, but the stink of the family crimes never left him.

There is simply no washing or wishing away these crimes.

—–O—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

No OB-GYNs left in town: what came after Idaho’s assault on abortion

Montana journalist Kathleen McLaughlin writes about how Idaho’s anti-abortion laws have impacted the state’s medical care, including doctors like Amelia Huntsberger, an OB-GYN in northern Idaho who has had enough.

“The raft of extreme abortion laws left doctors like Huntsberger unsure if they could continue to practice any kind of family medicine in Idaho, where untrained political figures now have greater say over medical decisions than physicians. Across Idaho, doctors are leaving, looking to practice in safer states. After months of weighing their options, including many sleepless nights, the Huntsbergers finally decided the risks and anxiety were too much. It was time to leave.”

Read the entire story from The Guardian.


How the PAC-12 scramble will impact WSU’s athletics

I confess to having less and less interest in college football. The massive realignment chasing massive money has ruined conferences and will almost certainly destroy rivalries. The PAC-12 – the Conference of Champions – is no more with several schools including Washington State and Oregon State left as orphans.

Here’s Nicholas K. Geranios on the impact on WSU.

“College sports isn’t cheap. Washington State, one of the thriftier programs amid the so-called power-conference teams, will spend more than $84 million on athletics in fiscal 2024. Other schools spend far more.”

Read the full piece:

And here’s an idea from Joe Matthews – an all California conference. It makes too much sense, so will never happen.


Shameless Self Promotion

As you likely know, I have a new book out – Mansfield and Dirksen: Bipartisan Giants of the Senate – and I’m about to go into full book tour mode with events early next in Boise and then across Montana, Mike Mansfield’s home. In October, I’ll be in Illinois for a few days to visit Ev Dirksen country.

And … some nice coverage of the book already.

A really enjoyable visit with Oregon legislator and excellent interviewer Ben Bowman on his Oregon Bridge podcast. Here’s that link.

A very generous review here from Jim Heffernan, an Oregonian who gives the book a very close read. Jim says: “I do not often order a book before publication. But the subject and the author compelled me to take the risk. I am very glad I did. Marc Johnson is a very good writer and historian, and he did not disappoint me.” Here’s that link.

Thanks Jim.

And a nice piece with reporter Tim Shelley with the Peoria, Illinois NPR station. Tim said: “The politicians of today’s U.S. Senate could stand to learn a thing or two from Everett Dirksen and Mike Mansfield.”

He’s not wrong. And here’s that link.


More soon. Thanks for reading. Hope to see you …

Domestic Terrorism, Idaho Politics

Condoning What You Won’t Condemn …

It was entirely predictable that Ammon Bundy, the native alt right radical of the American West, would, after terrorizing and threatening health care workers and judges in Idaho, and after being assessed millions for his behavior, would cloak himself in martyr clothes and play the victim.

An Idaho jury recently awarded the state’s largest hospital – St. Luke’s – and several harassed members of its leadership $52.5 million in actual and punitive damages owing to the domestic terrorism tactics of Bundy and his followers in 2022.

As NPR’s Kirk Siegler summarized the case: “The drama goes back to March of 2022 when Bundy led a series of tense protests against the hospitalization of one of his associate’s infant grandkids who state social workers said was malnourished. According to court documents, protesters, some armed, tried to force their way into the hospital’s locked exits. Some held ‘wanted’ signs naming individual doctors and nurses and even blocked an ambulance entrance as car horns blared.”

A Bundy inspired protest at Idaho’s St. Luke’s hospital. (Idaho Press photo by Brian Myrick.)

The antics of Bundy and his followers caused St. Luke’s to effectively shut down for a period of time and the hospital spent a bucket load on increased security. As Kyle Pfannenstiel reported in the Idaho Capital Sun, St. Luke’s hospitals in Boise and Meridian, Idaho “saw 667 more appointments canceled than usual during the week around the protests” and the health system spent “$4.6 million hiring about 74 full time security staff

Bundy, of course, thumbed his nose at the legal process that finally held him to account by refusing to offer a defense or even show up in court. And after posting a photo online of the female judge who presided over his case Bundy, not man enough to show up in the judge’s court, threatened the jurist.

“Please do not sanction a war that may end in innocent blood and require others to bring justice upon those who are responsible for shedding it,” Bundy wrote.

Bundy is a symptom and not a cause of a much bigger problem, namely the studied willingness of many rightwing politicians to enable our Bundys at the same time they ignore them.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, as he cruised to re-election in 2022, winning an election where Bundy won 101,000 votes running as a Republican turned independent, might have made Bundy a central issue for Idaho voters. But Little never mentioned the man with the big hat and even bigger threats. The same can said for every member of Idaho’s congressional delegation and most members of the overwhelmingly right leaning state legislature.

Even worse, some Idaho lawmakers have supported Bundy and his rhetoric, part of a long tendency of too many on the far right to delegitimize government, intimidate the courts and trash the Constitution while proclaiming to defend it.

Truth be told the elected leaders of what was once the party of Lincoln are caught in the right’s doom loop of anti-government rhetoric that stretches at least back to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Rightwing voters, fed a decades-long diet of nonsense and fables about a “deep state” with IRS agents ready to ambush you in the driveway or armies of pedophiles grooming the nation’s children, have washed down this warped political ideology with the refreshing Kool-Aid of blind and ignorant hatred.

About the only things the far right stands for today are the conspiracy theories Bundy invoked in his attack on the Idaho hospital and a profound hatred for our government that, thanks to an Idaho jury, can still hold these radicals accountable.

For Americans who tend to forget – or ignore – their history, it bares mentioning that the radicalization of the American right, the radicalization epitomized by characters like Bundy, has been a long time in coming.

As historian Sean Wilentz wrote recently in the New York Review of Books rightwing talk radio poured accelerant on the politics of hatred after the disastrous siege of the armed Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas in 1993. “Go for a head shot,” Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy shouted to a radio audience, “instructing listeners on how to kill federal firearms officials.”

“The second violent American revolution,” Rush Limbaugh declared around the same time, “is just about – I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart – is just about that far away.”

Jeffrey Toobin documents in a new book – Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremismthe long arc of this radicalization.

McVeigh, the Oklahoma City mass murderer, was a Limbaugh fan who used a copy of The Turner Diaries, a dystopian 1978 novel that features an attack on the U.S. Capitol and became a how-to guide for a generation of domestic terrorists, to implement his fantasy of a white supremacist revolution.

The bomb McVeigh ignited inside a rented Ryder truck destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people, including 19 children. McVeigh, it should be noted, obtained his copy of The Turner Diaries thanks to an ad in The American Hunter, the magazine of the National Rifle Association.

McVeigh went to his just rewards never expressing remorse for the slaughter he manufactured, sorry apparently only that his actions didn’t spark the revolution he sought. It takes little imagination to connect the dots to January 6, the Proud Boys and the conspiracies theories of Q-Anon.   

A Bundy Ranch Facebook post on January 6, 2021

And now we must wonder what else an Ammon Bundy and his crowd are capable of. Start the wonder by heeding his words about “a war that may end in innocent blood.”

Bundy, even more importantly, is the current case study of the tendency on the right to condone what they refuse to condemn. Bundy’s been huffing and threatening for years, somehow evading the law by the ignoring the law, leading an armed takeover of an Oregon bird refuge and causing a near riot in the Idaho capitol building. Threatening a hospital and its staff is for him all in a day’s work.

Taking on Bundy would, of course, require courage, a quality hard to find among a political class who can’t find the guts to reject as their likely presidential candidate a guy who incited an insurrection after failing to steal an election. An effective response to Bundy would also require a willingness to call out the shocking number of people who support him, clearly too much to ask of politicians who think no farther than their next primary.

Thank goodness a hospital CEO – St. Luke’s Chris Roth in the Bundy case – has more backbone than any Republican officeholder. “Standing up to the threats, bullying, intimidation, disruption, and self-serving actions of the defendants was necessary,” Roth said of the lawsuit against Bundy. “Inaction would have signaled that their menacing behavior was acceptable. Clearly, it is not, and the jury’s decision validates that fact.”

Yet as heartening as Roth’s courage is a sad fact remains. The abject failure by elected Republicans in Idaho and across the West to challenge and unambiguously condemn these homegrown terrorists puts them – and all of us – on a rendezvous with catastrophe.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

Marichal, Spahn and the greatest game ever pitched

“On July 2, 1963, two baseball legends engaged in one of the greatest pitchers’ duels in baseball history.

“This was a 16-inning thriller in San Francisco, scoreless until the very end, and both Marichal and Spahn went the distance. It is still the last Major League Baseball game where both starters pitched into the 16th inning.”

It has become unusual for a Major League pitcher to last eight innings. Read about this incredible game where both hurlers went 16 innings.


Leon Gautier, last surviving French D-day commando, dies at 100

“The commandos came ashore carrying four days’ worth of rations and ammunition, 30kg (nearly 70lbs) in all. They sprinted up the beach with their heavy sacks and spent 78 days straight on the frontlines, in ever-dwindling numbers. Of the 177 who waded ashore on the morning of 6 June, just two dozen escaped death or injury, Gautier among them.”

Incredible. This from The Guardian.


Could a Special Plea Deal Keep Trump Out of the White House?

Jill Lawrence suggests that the once and would be future president just might, if facing a real jail date, take a plea deal in return for never seeking office again. Kind of like Spiro Agnew. Remember him?

“For Trump, who fancies himself a master dealmaker, a particular deal comes to mind: allowing him to avoid prison if he agrees to drop out of the presidential race (or resign the presidency, if it came to that) and never run for public office again. Ever.”

Read the entire piece:


Finally … my new book is out.

I’ve been fortunate to line up several events – in Boise September 6 (register here) and in Manzanita on August 30 (register here). I’ll also be at the Montana Book Festival in September (details to come) and have other events across Montana in September.

Check with your local independent bookstore or order from the University of Oklahoma Press.

Thanks.

2024 Election, Britain, Trump

The Narcissistic Howl …

There is only one reason why a twice impeached, once defeated, twice indicted serial liar continues to threaten the very foundations of American democracy and seems almost certain to be the Republican presidential candidate again next year.

And the sole reason cannot be placed at the less than humble feet of the Peach Prince of Mar a Lago.

Donald Trump was always going to be Donald Trump. The people who have known him for years knew of Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that requires him to always and forever be at the center of everything. He must always be right and if challenged for being wrong there is but one possible response: lie, exaggerate and bluster in hopes of getting out of the corners he inevitably paints himself into.

We knew Donald scammed contractors at his less-than-successful hotels and casinos. We knew the man broadly embraced by evangelical Christians was certain to brag about his sexual conquests and, of course, he did. One of those “conquests” ended in a recent Trump civil conviction for sexual abuse and defamation. When Trump subsequently called the victim (and the winner of the case) “a whack job,” E. Jean Carroll sued him again and a judge ruled that that case could proceed.

Donald Trump in court in a civil case were he was found guilty and fined $5 million

His former attorney general and defense secretary say the top-secret government documents Trump secreted away to a bathroom (among other places) in his gaudy Florida club is all the proof needed that the man they once worked for it a serious threat to national security. But we knew that long ago.

Trump proved he’s a threat when he stood side-by-side with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in 2018 and embraced Putin’s propaganda over the analysis of his own intelligence agencies. He proved it again when he tried to shake down the president of Ukraine to manufacture dirt on his political opponent and again when he summoned the mob to attack Congress and his own vice president to prevent certification of an election he clearly lost.

But as the old saying goes: don’t blame the cat for not being a dog. Or in the present case, don’t blame a life-long con man – former attorney general Bill Barr calls Trump a “fundamentally flawed person who engages in reckless conduct that leads to situations, calamitous situations” – for being a life-long con man.

Here’s who we blame: the gutless, shameless enablers and character deficient toadies in the American conservative movement who could have sent Trump permanently back to Mar a Lago on any number of occasions and punted at every single opportunity. These folks, the senators and congressmen, the political straphangers, the consultants and campaign hacks, the big money donors, the podcasting grifters, the Tucker Carlson-types who made money and soiled reputations, those folks are the true guilty parties.

Rather than dispose of the cancer growing on American democracy, a cancer now spread to the most important of the nation’s political institutions, including the Supreme Court, the guilty ones fed the disease, acting like character and facts and basic honesty were as fungible as a phony degree from Trump University.

It didn’t have to be.

Contrast the lickspittle response to Trump’s law and norm trashing by the vast majority of elected Republicans with the British Conservative Party’s recent slashing, decisive and ultimately disqualifying banishment of former prime minister Boris Johnson. Boris is smarter and cleverer at lying than Trump, but the two share the same crude narcissism and penchant for lying that has warped their respective political parties.

The Tories first cashiered Johnson as leader last year during a cascading series of political scandals that culminated with a raft of resignations from government by senior Conservative Party leaders. That happened after Boris initially appeared to survive allegations that he had broken the law and his own government’s Covid health care guidance while drinking Champagne with partying staff at Downing Street.

But because politics in the UK is not yet as broken as it is here in the former colonies that wasn’t the end of the road for the foppish fraud. Parliament commissioned, unanimously by the way, an extensive study of whether Johnson had purposely mislead the House of Commons, and by extension the country, by lying about, well, a whole bunch of stuff.

Boris Johnson, a UK Trumpian figure who unlike Trump came to a bitter end with his own party

Last week Parliament voted 354 to 7 to accept the detailed and damning report, an outcome Johnson telegraphed last week when he resigned as an MP rather than be suspended from the Commons. Johnson’s resignation statement was so over the top, so full of Trumpian bluster and blame shifting – Johnson termed the multi-party investigation a “kangaroo court” – that it caused one female MP to describe it as the “narcissistic howl of a man child.”

Gosh, does that sound like anyone you’ve heard on Fox News lately? Anything to learn here from the new world looking at the old? Apparently not.

One must wonder if Mitch McConnell, now hoping to capture a Senate majority next year with the Trump anchor lashed to his plans, wakes up every day knowing he could have forever cut that anchor free with an impeachment conviction – not once, but twice.

Imagine if Kevin McCarthy, the very temporary owner of the Speaker’s gavel, had lived by his words condemning Trump for the January 6 riot and had done all possible to prevent him from soiling his party and McCarthy’s future.

The enablers could have abandoned a confessed sexual abuser in 2016, and now they have as a leading candidate a cartoon character credibly accused of violating the Espionage Act.

“They have had so many off-ramps and yet they just won’t do it,” says Charlie Sykes, the Never Trump pundit. “Part of it is they engage in this magical thinking. They think that, well, something, something … unicorn and maybe he’ll die and maybe we won’t have to take a stand.”

But magical thinking is just magical thinking. Integrity requires action.

Harriet Harman, the chair of the investigation that led to Boris Johnson’s defenestration by his own party said it best: “Because he was prime minister, Johnson’s dishonesty – if left unchecked – would have contaminated the whole of government, allowing misleading to become commonplace, and thus erode the standards which are essential for the health of our democracy.”

That’s it. That’s the story of the Trumpified Republican Party. It didn’t have to be. And you know who to blame.

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Additional Reading:

A couple of other items worthy of your time …

Hubert Humphrey Was an Isolationist — Until He Went to the Segregated South

“The southbound trip on the Illinois Central, with its terminus in the kingdom of Jim Crow, began the most transformational year in the life of the man who would become an unabashed liberal, Lyndon Johnson’s loyal vice president and the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Richard Nixon. The political leader he would become in later decades — a champion of civil rights, a fighter against anti-Semitism, and an interventionist in world affairs — took form during the 10 months he lived in Baton Rouge and studied at LSU.”

An excerpt from a new book on Humphrey by Samuel G. Freedman.


From the bookshelf: ‘The ghost at the feast’

Here’s a book I can unreservedly recommend – Robert Kagan’s The Ghost at the Feast, a provocative and intelligent look at American foreign policy from 1900 to U.S. involvement in World War II.

“Kagan argues that global leadership was thrust on America from the beginning of the 20th century by the collapse of the British world order, the rise of Germany and Japan, and ultimately World War I. The US had become the world’s leading economic power and dominated the world economy even more than it would following World War II. The new reality was that the US held the balance of power in world politics and was seen as the only country capable of ensuring a peaceful and democratic liberal world order.”

This book is why I love history


The Koch Network’s Anti-Trump Ads Are Atrocious

This piece by Tim Miller explains a good deal about why the Peach Prince of Mar a Lago will be the GOP presidential candidate – again.

“So, here’s my advice for rich, elderly Republican types who have a billion dollars to burn and want to do their part to ensure they don’t live out their golden years in a Trump autocracy. 

“Either: (A) Man up and do what is required to try to beat him in a primary; (B) Use your resources to help Joe Biden, who has a proven strategy for beating Trump; or (C) Give the money to help poor kids who don’t have enough to eat.”

From The Bulwark.


See you soon. Thanks for reading.

And … my new book is available for pre-order. Here from the University of Oklahoma Press or from the Bezos Empire … or coming soon to independent bookstores. All the best.

Biden, Congress, Mansfield

The Antiquated Idea of Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship in American politics has become such a stretch, such a rare occurrence that when it does occasionally break out – the recent bipartisan debt ceiling agreement, for instance – the notion that competing ideologies can compromise in support of the broad national interest becomes a “man bites dog” story.

Here’s National Public Radio White House correspondent Tamara Keith analyzing the deal Democratic president Joe Biden cut with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“This idea of bipartisanship is something that President Biden ran on in 2020,” Keith observed a week ago. “It is certainly something that he is running on again in 2024. It does at times feel a bit antiquated in this time of partisan polarization, like pining for a time when Elvis was still the king. But Biden actually does have a stack of bipartisan accomplishments to point to.”

Elvis has left the building and lo and behold there is a president in the White House who can cut a deal with the same people who have spent years demonizing him as a shambling old fool.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden

In truth, the old guy provided a graduate level course in how to work across the partisan divide. The debt deal required effort, good faith, persistence and a belief that failure was not an option. Having ended a standoff that had it not been resolved might well have tanked the world economy, Biden lavished praise. “Both sides operated in good faith. Both sides kept their word,” Biden said.

And McCarthy, who faced revolt from the fringes of his own party, had to admit that talking directly with Biden had not been all that bad an experience, and as Biden noted “the American people got what they needed.”

Ms. Keith is an excellent reporter, among the best at defining and deconstructing the often devious and destructive partisanship of our nation’s capital. Yet, as good as she is, Tamara Keith, like most political reporters now laboring in the toxic Trump Era, came of age during a generation of political dysfunction – “this time of partisan polarization,” as she correctly describes our times.

Keith was born in 1979, six years after Joe Biden took his seat in the United States Senate

Biden was 30 years old when he took his first oath. The Senate was a different place then. Both parties had conservatives and liberals. The chairs of important committees were really important, much more important than they are today. And a laconic, principled advocate of bipartisanship, Mike Mansfield of Montana, a Democrat, was the Senate majority leader. Mansfield, who left the Senate in 1977 after 16 years as majority leader, defined his era.

Mansfield made his career working across that center aisle in the Senate. He had an almost religious devotion to fairness. You can search the archives and find no more than a handful of times when Mansfield criticized a Republican by name. He literally bent over backwards to treat his colleagues with respect and deference.

Just to put a fine point on his spectacular career, Mike was no Mitch McConnell.

The ”antiquated” approach Joe Biden took to the debt ceiling negotiation was pure Mike Mansfield.

In our dysfunctional era when character in political actors is as old fashioned as a 78 rpm record, Mansfield knew that honesty, both with your side and the opposition, was the coin of political capital. If you can’t trust, you can’t negotiate.

Joe Biden has often acknowledged the mentorship role Mansfield played in his early career, particularly after Biden’s first wife and daughter were killed, and his two sons injured, in a tragic automobile accident shortly after Biden won an upset first election to the Senate in 1972.

By all accounts Biden was devastated by the tragedy and had made up his mind not to assume the Senate seat he had just won in Delaware. Mansfield talked him out of that decision, helped engineer a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee for the inexperienced politician and counseled the grieving father about his obligation to serve.

Biden was there when Mansfield, in one of his many great decisions, selected a North Carolina segregationist, Sam Ervin, who also happened to be a worshiper of the Constitution to chair what became the Watergate Committee. The Montanan knew that a partisan investigation of the potential wrongdoing of a sitting president would not be credible if the investigative committee was packed with high profile partisans. The committee Mansfield appointed contained no Democrat with any real national profile and certainly no aspirations beyond the Senate.

Mansfield knew that the Watergate scandal held the potential to tarnish the Republican Party for a generation, so he preemptively exonerated the party of any corruption, while letting Ervin’s investigation reveal the facts about burglars and hush money and political cover ups.

Biden was in Mansfield’s Senate when the majority leader went every week to breakfast at the White House with Richard Nixon, who never completely trusted anyone. Nixon, savoring the prospect of his long sought diplomatic opening to China, was afraid that Mansfield – a scholar of Asian history – would find a way to show up the White House and undercut his accomplishment.

Richard Nixon with Montana senator and majority leader Mike Mansfield

Mansfield didn’t do that, of course, and after Nixon opened the door to China, Mansfield went with his Senate Republican counterpart, Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, on a good will mission to Beijing sanctioned by Nixon.

Like Mansfield Biden seems to know when to stay quiet. During the tense debt ceiling negotiations, he wasn’t, in contrast to McCarthy, on television every day. He judged the rhythm of the talks, read the room, kept his word and cut a deal. The president said his negotiating team and McCarthy’s “were straightforward with one another, completely honest with one another, respectful of one another.”

That was once the way politics could work.

The partisan fight over the debt ceiling, a fight over whether to pay the bills already rung up on the national credit card, is as fundamentally silly as it was dangerous. The deal Biden and McCarthy made solved no spending or revenue problem. It did avoid economic calamity, a reality one prays we have learned once again, and finally.

At the same time the compromise solution serves to underscore the stark truth that if this messy, contentious democracy is ever to deal effectively with its seemingly intractable problems – immigration, climate change, the debt – it will only happen with politicians who are straightforward with each other, completely honest and respectful. Those characteristics aren’t antiquated. We’ve just gotten used to pretending they don’t really matter.

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Additional Reading:

Some weekend reading suggestions …

LIV Won. It’s Still a PR Disaster for Saudi Arabia

It was a week of huge news – a former president indicted under the Espionage Act, Boris Johnson quits as a UK member of Parliament, massive fires in Canada … and professional sports proves again to be about nothing but rich guys getting richer.

From Politico: “Weirdly, it could have been a good news cycle for the kingdom: The U.S. Secretary of State was literally in Riyadh to chat up a government that Washington once promised to shun. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had just won plaudits for bringing Ukraine’s heroic president to an OPEC meeting. In a country that hadn’t gotten a lot of media love, it was a rare bounce.

“And then they had to go and buy the PGA.”

And this story from The Atlantic with the take that the PGA may just have hit this massive completely unhinged tee shot way, way out of bounds.

“The most basic principle of antitrust law is that companies with large market share can’t make agreements to avoid competing against each other. It is very difficult to characterize the PGA-LIV merger in any other way.”


The Journalist Who Photographed the Burning Monk

Ray Boomhower, a friend of mine who is the editor of the Indiana history journal, is out soon with a new book that is sure to be a terrific read. Ray’s subject is legendary Associated Press reporter Malcolm Browne, one of the star journalists covering the early days of America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam.

Malcolm Browne (left) is seen with AP photographer Horst Faas in the Saigon office, April 3, 1964

Browne’s iconic – and horrific – photo of a Buddhist monk burning himself to death in the middle of a Saigon street remains an indelible image from a war many of us still struggle to comprehend. The photo still shocks …

“Browne’s film soon made its way from the AP bureau in Saigon to Manila with the aid of a ‘pigeon’ —a regular passenger on a commercial flight willing to act as a courier to avoid censorship by South Vietnamese government officials. The photos were sent via the AP WirePhoto cable from Manila to San Francisco, and from there to the news agency’s headquarters in New York. There, the images were distributed to AP member newspapers around the world.

“The reaction was immediate. While millions of words had been written about the Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam, Browne’s pictures possessed what the correspondent later termed ‘an incomparable impact.'”

Read Ray’s essay about the famous photo.


I Crashed Henry Kissinger’s 100th-Birthday Party

The former secretary of state recently celebrated his big birthday with a party at the New York Public Library.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Guyer wasn’t invited, but went anyway.

“I was there to crash the 100th-birthday party of Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of State to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford who historians and journalists say is responsible for countless atrocities. He prolonged and expanded the Vietnam War with the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, killing hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of innocent people. He helped empower genocidal militaries in Pakistan and Indonesia. He enabled juntas that overthrew democracies in Chile and Argentina. He’s often called a war criminal, and the long-running social-media joke is that he’s still alive while so many better humans are dead.”

Virtually all who attended the party refused to talk about why they turned out to honor the man. Kind of amazing when you think about it.


Be engaged. And be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

Church, CIA, FBI, Idaho Politics

The Last Honest Man …

On the Sunday before Idaho’s four term United States senator Frank Church lost re-election more than 40 years ago – the date was November 2, 1980 – it was clear that Church, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, early opponent of the Vietnam War, champion of the Wilderness Act and investigator of the vast abuses of the nation’s intelligence community might well lose to a glib darling of the New Right.

The Twin Falls Times-News reported on that long ago Sunday – the reporter on the story was a guy named Marty Trillhaase, now the editorial page editor of The Lewiston Tribune – that the campaign between Democrat Church and Republican Steve Symms amounted to “Idaho’s civil war,” not a fight between north and south but “left versus right.”  

The front page of the South Idaho Press, November 5, 1980

The hard right won that war and Frank Church lost in one of the closest Senate elections in Idaho history. Decades on its easy to see that the lies and distortions heaped on Church in 1980, much of it coming from a network of conservative ideologues determined to bend the Republican Party in new and destructive ways, was a preview of the politics we live with today.

To the extent Church is remembered in his native state today – he died of cancer in 1984 at the young age of 59 – it is for the majestic Idaho wilderness area that appropriately carries his name. Most who know the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states call it simply “the Frank.” It’s a fitting legacy for a man who understood that not every place, including the land along the spectacular Middle Fork of the Salmon River, need be cut and dug and despoiled. Church risked his political skin to convince his constituents of that truism. 

Some may be old enough to remember that Church was among the very first to oppose the country’s ultimately disastrous escalation of a jungle war in southeast Asia. Before it became acceptable to decry the deadly sacrifice of more than 50,000 Americans, Church knew the rationale for making a Vietnamese fight an American fight was fatally flawed. He told Lyndon Johnson, the president of his own party, that the president was wrong. Cranks and Birch Society crackpots tried to recall Church in the 1960s. He was re-elected anyway in 1968 and ultimately helped force an end to that tragic war. This, too, is a fitting legacy.

Back in the days when politicians answered their mail, met their constituents, and sat for interviews, Frank Church had a brilliant staff of people around him who served him and the state with great professionalism and considerable pride. He inspired loyalty and insisted on competence. Not a great retail politician, that was wife Bethine’s great forte, Church became the chairman of the most prestigious committee in the Senate, but he could still find his way to the Burley Rotary Club. He knew how to press the flesh in Grangeville and campaign in Greencreek.

Bethine and Frank Church

Church was fundamentally a bookish, shy, brainy man, not the normal pedigree of a modern politician. He read widely and wrote eloquently. He had a sense of humor and a sense of history. In an age when such attributes count for much less than a snarky Tweet, being welll-informed, intelligent and curious is a fitting Church legacy, as well.

Without question Frank Church was – and remains – the most accomplished federal legislator Idaho has ever produced, head and big shoulders above any of the inconsequential seat warmers there today. No one else comes close to Church’s legislative record, yet the state that elected him four times over three decades has taken such a precipitous turn to the hard right that the monuments and memorials to his accomplishments are few and far between. The far right, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the coordinated national attacks on him in 1980, systematically denigrated Frank Church to such a degree as to tarnish the image of a man who deserves much better.

Church’s important legacy and place in Idaho and American history has, thankfully, been resurrected by an important new book that places Idaho’s greatest senator at the center of the history of his own times – and ours.

Prize-winning reporter and historian James Risen arrives at this particularly fraught moment in American history with The Last Honest Man, a compelling and persuasive assessment of Church’s career that ends up focusing on what Risen argues is Church’s great legacy – his massive, and massively consequential investigation of the American intelligence community.

James Jesus Angleton, the long-time CIA counterintelligence chief and Church nemesis, who
ironically was also from Boise, Idaho

Many have now forgotten the substance of Church’s investigation, or perversely embrace the partisan mythology – thanks to Dick Cheney, among others – around the “Church Committee.” The reality is both relatively simple and still profoundly shocking.

The CIA engineered assassination attempts against foreign leaders, even enlisting the Mafia to try and kill Fidel Castro. Every president from Eisenhower to Nixon was culpable in these clearly un-American and illegal activities. We know this because of Frank Church.

The National Security Agency opened the mail of thousands of Americans and wiretapped countless others. We know this because of Frank Church.

The FBI spied on anti-war activists, wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and tried to blackmail him. We know this because of Frank Church.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger plotted to overthrow the sovereign foreign government of Chile, and to this day both have blood on their hands for the deaths of Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, in a military coup d’état, as well as murders of the head of Chile’s armed forces and a senior Chilean diplomat who was brazenly assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC. We know this because of Frank Church.

Church’s diligent and profoundly important work to make actions taken in our names by the American intelligence community resulted in major reforms and a continuing commitment to congressional oversight that simply did not exist before Church’s investigation.

Church, like all great men, had his flaws. At times he came off as haughty or too sure of himself.

Risen repeatedly accuses him of being overly “ambitious,” an accurate but hardly surprising trait for a politician elected to the Senate at age 32, and then re-elected three times as a liberal Democrat in a very conservative state. Church hungered for the presidency and considering most who have made it to that spot in recent times it’s easy to believe he was more than qualified and likely would have been successful.

Risen owes much to an outstanding earlier Church biography – Fighting the Odds – by Washington State University historian LeRoy Ashby and long-time Idaho journalist Rod Gramer, but he also substantially adds to the historical record with many interviews and new evidence of Church’s significance. Taken together the books reveal an incredibly important and accomplished American central to the history of the 20th Century.

As legal scholar Russell A. Miller noted of Church’s work in his study of the American intelligence community: “Of greater consequence than the resulting intelligence oversight and reform, the Church Committee stands as a historic monument to faith in constitutional governance. As a congressional body investigating the most secret realm on the presidential empire, the Church Committee represented a stubborn commitment to the Founding Fathers’ vision of limited government as secured by checks and balances, even in the face of America’s most vexing national trials.”

And that is the real legacy of Frank Church.

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Additional Reading:

A couple of other weekend reads you may find of interest …

Lost story by ‘poet of the tabloid murder’ James M Cain discovered in Library of Congress

A story every researcher dreams of.

“A New York editor and literary detective is celebrating the discovery and release of an unpublished short story by James M Cain, one of the greats of American noir, a “poet of the tabloid murder” whose works made famous on film include The Postman Always Rings TwiceDouble Indemnity and Mildred Pierce.”

Read the entire story in The Guardian.


Four Messages in the Big Sentence for Oath Keeper Stewart Rhodes

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes

It turns out conspiring to overturn an election can get you in some very serious trouble.

Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, write in The Bulwark.

“District Court Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, the Yale-educated leader of the militant Oath Keepers, to 18 years in prison for the rarely indicted crime of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes’s top lieutenant, Kelly Meggs, got 12 years behind bars.”

Read the full piece and wonder what the Man from Mar a Lago is thinking these days.


Jim Jordan, John Durham, and Their Ridiculous Investigations

After reflecting on the work of the Church Committee all those years ago the farce investigations playing out in the U.S. House of Representatives look even more ridiculous.

And these jokers said they were going to conduct a “modern day Church Committee” investigation. Right …

“Jordan’s bumptious, raucous, slapdash hearings are a far cry from the classic Senate hearings of 1975 conducted by the select committee chaired by Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat. The panel plumbed covert operations by the intelligence community, including the shockers that the US Army was spying on Americans and the CIA had tried to assassinate foreign officials, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The FBI infiltrated ‘subversive’ organizations, from civil rights to environmental to antiwar, to discredit them. When not planning assassinations, the CIA recruited journalists to sprinkle their stories with propaganda. The NSA targeted committee members and, with the help of telecommunication companies, tapped their phones.”

Here’s Margaret Carlson in The Washington Monthly.


Have a good Memorial Day weekend … and remember why we celebrate this holiday. All the best.