2024 Election, Idaho Politics, Law and Justice, Trump

The Second Big Lie …

The Trump Era – and, of course, the convicted felon himself – have done potentially irreparable harm to American democracy by perpetuating the greatest lie in our history, namely that a presidential election was fraudulent.

By repeating this lie over and over and over again an idea has been deeply embedded in the minds of millions that no election save the one Donald Trump wins is legitimate. All the court cases, the indictments and convictions for election interference, all the fraud of this big lie has reshaped American politics.

One poll earlier this year found one-third of Americans continue to believe the lie, and apparently there is no dissuading them.

Supporting Trump after his felony conviction is the gist of the second big lie

The January 6, 2021 insurrection at our nation’s Capital was a natural outcome of this enormous lie. People who believed Trump and his fellow lie spreaders, and some who clearly wanted to believe, attempted to halt the peaceful transfer of power, a bedrock concept of American democracy that was never before in doubt, even in the tumultuous days before our Civil War.

Now comes Trump’s second big lie, namely that his recent conviction in a New York state court on 34 felony counts was a rigged process perpetrated by a “weaponized” U.S. Justice Department acting at the direction of the president of the United States.

This lie, as with the other big one, has now been amplified by nearly every Republican member of Congress, many of them with law degrees, providing at least a modicum of evidence that they know better, but still they lie.

Idaho: One State’s Embrace of the Big Lies

Consider the stunning pandering to Trump of former prosecutor now senator James E. Risch.

“As a former prosecutor,” Risch said, “I learned early the importance of our constitutional right to the due process of law. Due process is simply basic fairness … New York’s mock trial did not attempt even an appearance of fairness.”

Or Mike Crapo, a Harvard educated lawyer, who took to social media to proclaim that “a politically motivated prosecutor has ashamedly and unprecedentedly weaponized the legal system against a former United States President.” A “dangerous move,” the senator said, “threatening the security of our entire justice system.”

Or Congressman Mike Simpson, in full MAGA dudgeon and singing from the Trump script, also invoked the term “weaponized.” Trump’s unanimous guilty verdict, Simpson thundered, was the result of an “absurd political trial.”

Or Congressman Russ Fulcher: “Americans are awake; the current president’s unjust sham trial of a political opponent has mobilized an army of freedom-loving Americans to take our country back!” Fulcher actually attempted a twofer with his denunciation of the justice system, for good measure throwing in a reference to “unsecured elections.”

Let’s unpack the views of this Grand Old Party of “law and order,” as it once could call itself, by remembering an old saying that has never seemed more pertinent: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

First, and most strikingly, no Republican, least not the four mentioned here, proclaimed Trump’s innocence. None dealt with the actual charges brought against him, including falsifying business records to hide a hush money payment related to his one night stand with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Through this illegal scheme, prosecutors argued, and a 12 person jury agreed, Trump was determined to keep the tryst with a porn star secret from voters by paying hush money. The timing of these acts matter because at the time they happened the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump bragged of grabbing women’s genitals, had recently been released.

This second big lie, like the first, can’t be bothered by evidence presented or the deliberate judicial process that brought 12 jurors to a unanimous decision. None of this was manufactured. Donald Trump did this to himself.

Then there is the Trumpian charge that Joe Biden engineered all this – “the current president’s unjust sham trial” – simply to get his political opponent. Again the facts are inconvenient.

New York prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, is a state prosecutor not answerable to the Justice Department. Biden didn’t appoint him. New York voters elected him just as Ada County voters elected Risch back in his prosecutor days. Trump might have been prosecuted in federal court for his crimes, but he wasn’t. It was a state-level prosecution based on state law.

And what of the “weaponized” Justice Department of a Democratic administration? Maybe Republicans are referring to the “weaponized” prosecution of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, by the U.S government.

Or perhaps Republicans are thinking of the “weaponized” prosecution on federal corruption charges, again by the Biden Justice Department, of two Democratic – New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. Menendez is being prosecuted for, among other things, accepting payoffs from foreign governments, a charge problematic enough for Democrats that they risk a safe Senate seat as a result. Yet, Biden’s “weaponized” Justice Department is pressing the case against a high profile Democrat.

And what of those 12 New York jurors? It was telling that Trump trial judge, New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, told potential jurors at the outset of jury selection that anyone who didn’t want to be considered for the Trump jury could simply leave. Many did, presumably some of them not eager to run the risk of being harassed, or worse, by Trump and his followers.

The remaining jurors, including all those selected for the trial, were subject to vetting by Trump’s defense team. The dozen selected, at least before the verdict, satisfied those lawyers.

Imagine their responsibility: The first former president indicted and convicted of a felony. That these jurors took their civic duty as a solemn, patriotic responsibility of citizenship deserves not only respect but deference.

Calling the Trump trial an “absurd political trial,” as Simpson did, or a “mock trial,” as Risch has done has one particularly pernicious outcome. It denigrates the American citizens who served on that jury – the people who actually heard the evidence and had the duty to sift through all of it – despite knowing they might well jeopardize their own personal safety by signing on for the responsibility.

And what are these Idaho elected officials saying by playing their own voters for such rubes? How do they credibly dismiss 34 felony convictions? And what of the 54 charges still pending against Trump? Is each and every one a manufactured “absurd political trial” where “mock” justice will play out?

We know – all of us know – why Risch and Crapo and the rest are behaving as they are. They are afraid.

Afraid of Trump.

Afraid of the MAGA mob.

Afraid of a future primary opponent.

Afraid of losing a job.

Afraid, as former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has discovered, that one can be cast out of the party of “law and order” for simply saying that Americans should respect the outcome of a trial.

The second big lie joins the first as Trump’s contribution to America’s future. Recovery from these lies will not be easy or quick, and the next few months will determine whether recovery is even possible.

This November we will not merely elect a president. We will conduct a referendum on whether American institutions, including courts and judges and juries, can again be respected and defended.

Tragically, many Republicans have already voted NO.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items of note …

A Republican Election Clerk vs. Trump Die-Hards in a World of Lies

Remarkable story here about how the lies have impacted a long-time county clerk in a rural county in Nevada.

“This is actually insane,” said Angela Jewell, the deputy clerk. “This is how democracies end. There must be some way to reason with a few of these people.”

Link to full story here.


The MLB just integrated its records. The Pulitzers should follow baseball’s lead

“Now and then since 1974, the Pulitzer Prize Board has offered special citations to figures, mostly in music and the arts. These have included Black artists such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Scott Joplin and Aretha Franklin, who joined white honorees such as George Gershwin, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.

“The work of those Black artists could certainly be joined with future Pulitzer Legacy Prize winners which, over time, would create a coherent historical, literary, cultural, and journalistic record that would fill out the story of America’s greatness.”

Great piece from Poynter.


The death and life of the great British pub

I’m a sucker for this kind of story.

“Dave Murphy was 11 in 1978, the year his parents signed their first lease at the Golden Lion, and moved the family in to rooms on the building’s upper storeys. Their previous home, in Holloway, had backed on to a prison. Now Dave got to tell school friends he lived in a pub. Before remaking himself as a landlord, John Murphy, originally from Cork, had worked for years in London as a bus driver. Mary, from Galway, had been a nurse. ‘You’re nursing the sick. And suddenly you’re nursing the drinkers,’ Mary recalled, of the transition. ‘I don’t think I found it too difficult.'”

From the archives of The Guardian.


Thanks for reading. Always good to hear from you. And all the best.

2024 Election, GOP, Trump

The Appeal of Our Authoritarian …

(NOTE: This column was filed before a New York City jury on Thursday returned guilty verdicts on 34 felony charges against Donald Trump.)

—–

Well, it isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

Some of us, believing that common sense — even common decency — would ultimately prevail, continue to expect the best in the face of the worst. The good old USA has been through a whole lot, they say, and we’ll get through this.

Others, believing their political opponents are always wrong and seething with anger at the changing faces of their country, talk of “derangement syndrome.” They are willing to pass off former President Donald Trump’s vulgar threats to judges, insults to women, “Muslim bans,” “Mexican rapists” and unhinged suggestions that a gulp of bleach could end a deadly pandemic. His boast that a third term, the Constitution notwithstanding, is part of his plan doesn’t faze them.

Our felon-in-chief …

Still others believe our courts will enforce the rule of law against our authoritarian and his lawless acolytes, even as he stood outside his courtroom mouthing the endless lies of a lifelong con man who promises to pardon the men and women convicted of mounting an insurrection to overturn an election he lost. He knows democracy works on the honor system and he has none.

Some contend the old man in the White House is the problem. President Joe Biden is too feeble, too liberal, a destroyer of some idealized vision of America that never was and never will be. It’s all about the economy, they say. But after a prolonged pandemic that our authoritarian mishandled with deadly consequences, the U.S. economy is doing quite well.

As The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell notes: “In reality, the U.S. economy has been growing consistently for nearly two years, even after accounting for inflation. By virtually every benchmark, in fact, we’re exceeding growth expectations. The U.S. economy has been outperforming other advanced economies. We’re also doing better than pre-pandemic forecasts had situated us by now, both in terms of gross domestic product and the number of jobs out there. This generally isn’t true elsewhere in the world.”

But those are facts, not the hard liquor of grievance that powers authoritarian politics.

It’s not as though Trump hasn’t told us he plans to be a dictator — only for a day he confidently proclaims — and such talk is easy for some to dismiss, but only if you don’t listen to the detailed plans for his second term. He’s really not going to destroy the nonpartisan civil service, is he? Those mass deportations and internment camps are just campaign season talk, aren’t they? Withdrawal from NATO: Can he do that? Wholesale pardons? Surely not.

Sure he provides a platform for white nationalist racism and posts a video saying all liberals will die when he’s back in power, but that’s just the way he talks, right? Claims of total immunity? Not to worry. The courts won’t let anything really, really bad happen, will they?

He talks of “human scum” and tells supporters he will deport all the pro-Palestinian protesters while courting Wall Street and Big Oil with promises of more tax cuts and more warming of the climate. But he was good for business, wasn’t he? At least his tax cuts worked for the people who frequent his golf courses.

Trump has outsourced his plans for another term, such as they are, to the Heritage Foundation, which has produced “Project 2025,” an ultra-right-wing manifesto that proposes to be the playbook for an authoritarian American state: Eliminate public education, white Christian Nationalism, further restrict abortion, deport millions and institute a loyalty test for anyone in the federal government. The “project” is our “Mein Kampf” for the 21st century.

Of course, it’s not like he has any real plan to improve anything. But that’s not the point, is it? He makes some of us feel really good by saying outrageous things and giving a middle finger to all the old complications of democracy. He speaks for me, some say, when he speaks of hatred and revenge and attacks a “crooked” legal system that strangely is best exemplified by his Supreme Court, which reeks of the entitlement, arrogance and elitism that his supporters believe he’ll eviscerate.

After promising to destroy 50 years of established law concerning abortion, he now has no straight answer about whether he’d support a national ban or how he feels about contraception. Testimony at his recent trial confirmed he didn’t wear a condom with the porn star, so perhaps we have his views on the subject.

As Marianne Levine wrote in The Washington Post: “In under 48 hours this week, Donald Trump’s social media account promoted a video featuring a term frequently associated with Nazi Germany and later removed it. He suggested he was open to states restricting access to contraceptives and then walked that back. He falsely accused President Biden of being ‘locked & loaded’ to ‘take me out.’ And in between, he was in court as his legal team rested its case in his ongoing criminal trial.”

It isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

“His campaign speeches these days ring with Nazi rhetoric,” The Guardian’s Margaret Sullivan wrote this week, “as he claims that immigrants are ‘poisoning the blood of our country’ and that his political opponents are ‘vermin.’ ”

Trump recently posted a video calling for a “unified Reich.” This language isn’t any longer a mere dog whistle, it is a blaring claxon. And it is working with many of his followers who willingly embrace his brand of American fascism.

George Orwell wrote knowingly of the appeal and danger of authoritarians

To understand the appeal of what has happened one must understand the history of authoritarian movements, as the great British journalist and writer George Orwell understood them in the 1930s and later.

In his famous 1940 review of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto — the aforementioned “Mein Kampf” — Orwell wrote: “The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

The appeal of the authoritarian is visceral and very personal, Orwell said, for “Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of ‘Mein Kampf,’ and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches. … The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs … a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way, it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself.”

Our authoritarian has, of course, repeatedly compared himself to Jesus.

It isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

How Paul Manafort Tried to Make Money With a Project Supposedly Tied to the Chinese Regime

I grant you that it is difficult to keep track of all the con men, grifters, low lifes and convicted felons in Trump World. But never forget Paul Manafort, among the sleaziest bottom feeders in American political history.

Manafort before he was pardoned by Trump

Manafort, convicted of assorted felony crimes during the Trump Administration, was ultimately pardoned by Trump largely, one assumes, for keeping his mouth shut concerning the role he played in handling Trump campaign material, including polling information, over to a known Russian agent. Someday we may know the full story. Today we know Manafort is back in Trump World, as greasy as ever. David Corn has a summary.

“A more recent Manafort business venture—unknown to the public—raises further questions about him and his attempt to return to the Trump fold. According to documents obtained by Mother Jones—including a memo written by Manafort—two years ago, Manafort was trying to orchestrate a $250 million deal to create a streaming service in China in a project that he asserted was blessed by the Chinese government and that was partnering with a Chinese telecommunications firm sanctioned by the US government.”

Read the full story.  

Is this the point where we recall that Trump World spends almost as much time fixated on China as it does the southern border, yet a guy reported to be helping Trump at this summer’s GOP convention is trying to do big dollar deals in … China?


Trump supporters call for riots and violent retribution after verdict

While most of us continue to live our lives with some belief that all the wild talk is just that – wild talk. I submit this is a mistake. This stuff is increasingly serious, increasingly ugly and increasingly dangerous.

“After Trump became the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime, his supporters responded with dozens of violent online posts, according to a Reuters review of comments on three Trump-aligned websites: the former president’s own Truth Social platform, Patriots.Win and the Gateway Pundit.”

And this: “Jacob Ware, a co-author of the book ‘God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America,” said the violent language used by Trump’s followers was testament to the former president’s ‘ironclad ability to mobilize more extreme supporters to action, both at the ballot box and through violence.'”

The story from Reuters. It not like we haven’t been warned.


Mansfield and Dirksen

I was interviewed for another podcast this week, this time for the New Books Network.

Here is a link.


And speaking of podcasts …

I’ve really been enjoying the 99% Invisible podcast episodes are the remarkable Robert Caro book The Power Broker.

The series host Roman Mars is joined by the incredibly funny and articulate writer and comedian Elliott Kalan to dissect the massive book about New Yorker Robert Moses, the man who made or remade New York City from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Caro published The Power Broker in 1974 and won the Pulitzer Prize for his examination of how Moses, with the innocuous sounding title of parks commissioner, amassed vast political power and used it, at times, viciously, to create the Big Apple.

The series is extraordinarily interesting. Here’s a link to the website.


Thanks for reading. Take this political moment very seriously. All the best.

2024 Election, Supreme Court, Trump

The Week That Was …

This is the week that was.

The governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, boasts in a book about herself that two decades ago she took the family dog, reportedly a rambunctious 14-month-old wirehaired pointer named Cricket, to a gravel pit on the family farm and shot the pup. For good measure, Noem also shot and killed a goat she didn’t like. Both animals had clearly annoyed her.

Noem, angling to play second fiddle as vice president to her political idol, Donald J. Trump, drew a few headlines for these confessions.

Considering the pre-release publicity, I’d say the title is pretty accurate

“Politicians and dog experts vilify South Dakota governor after she writes about killing her dog,” said The Associated Press.

“South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stands by decision to kill dog, shared it in new book,” said CBS.

And my personal favorite in USA Today: “‘That was rough:’ Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr. criticize Kristi Noem for killing her dog.”

The two MAGA A-listers amplified:

“Kristi Noem, I think, is maybe a little too based,” Bannon added. “Shooting the puppy in the gravel.”

“Too based,” I’m informed, is slang for someone who maybe, just maybe, is a little too willing to speak their truth.

“That was not ideal,” Donald Trump Jr. responded. And both men laughed.

“Not ideal,” Trump Jr. said. “I read that and I’m like: ‘Who put that in the book?’ I was like ‘Your ghost writer must really not like you if they’re gonna include that one. That was rough.’ ”

But, if you are a puppy-shooting, right-wing governor, you never, ever admit a mistake. Blame the “fake news” Right?

No, really, right?

For Noem, the week that was continued into a second week. The headlines tumbled out. Including a new round of “what the hell was she thinking” when there were reports that she claimed she once met with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. She didn’t. She lied.

Noem’s vice presidential chances seem as dead as a dog in a, well, you can finish the sentence.

Fun fact: Noem’s book has its official release May 8, but Amazon has already discounted the $30 cover price 37%. If you are interested in a copy of the book I would advise waiting, it will get cheaper, rather like the story it tells.

This was the week that was.

For the first time in American history, which, if my math is correct, is quite a long time, a former president continued to stand trial involving felony charges that he allegedly falsified business records in order to distribute hush money to make sure his affair with a porn star didn’t interfere with his 2016 presidential campaign. Just months before the alleged affair occurred, Trump’s wife, Melania, had given birth to their son, Barron. But don’t get bogged down in details.

The best comment on that trial so far — this will be famous — came from Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who clearly is having trouble with the position of the defendant in this case.

“You don’t pay someone $130,000 not to have sex with you,” said Romney, a former LDS bishop.

Oh, the humanity.

Oh, the absurdity.

Trump on trial … and we are on trial, too

And since the defendant simply can’t keep his Big Mac hole shut, the judge in the so-called “hush money case” fined the former president $9,000 for violating an order that prohibits attacks on people involved in the case, you know, people like witnesses, for example.

So, taking stock: The first former president to be indicted — I forget how many counts there are in four separate cases — becomes the first former president to be fined for trying to threaten and intimidate witnesses in his porn star payoff case. Got it? And you thought “The Godfather” movies were really great.

Meanwhile the defendant attacked the judge — again.

This was the week that was, or perhaps the week after the week that was.

For the second time involving a case featuring the former president of the United States, the Supreme Court, to which the former guy appointed three of nine members, struggled mightily to avoid confronting the actual Trump case they were asked to consider.

You’ll recall a while back that the six Trumpy justices on the nation’s highest tribunal backflipped their way to a decision that a single state, in this case Colorado, even in the face of the clear language of the Constitution, simply could not prevent an insurrection-inciting former president from running and potentially winning the White House again. It was deemed essentially too messy by the justices to confront the real issue, the 14th Amendment language prohibiting an insurrectionist from holding high office. We had a Civil War around some of these issues, but the Supreme Court is meh.

That case, if you love historical footnotes, featured many references to Salmon P. – the “P” stands for Portland – Chase, a former senator, Treasury Secretary and Supreme Court chief justice. Chase, like all who make it to the highest tribunal, was a supremely ambitious man. He wanted to be president so badly he campaigned for the Free Soil ticket and sought the presidential nomination of the Republican Party and finally the Democratic Party. He never made it. A salmon swimming upstream.

Chase’s name came up in the Trump disqualification case because of a case he decided while sitting as a circuit judge. Chase’s ruling in 1869, as legal analyst James D. Zirin noted, “refused to vacate a criminal conviction because the trial judge had fought for the Confederacy.” Zirin pointed out that the ruling was hardly a grand precedent, particularly for a Supreme Court presented with a former president who actually instigated an real insurrection on January 6, 2021.

But dealing with the clear facts of January 6 was just too on point for our Supreme Court, so the justices invented an approach to effectively ignore a key provision to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.

Oh, and there is this: The wife of one of the justices actively participated in the planning of that January 6 coup, but that justice — Clarence Thomas — opined on the case nevertheless, upholding the rights of the insurrectionist. You don’t have to be right, apparently, but you do have to have power.

These politicians in robes are fixing to do the same thing with a second Trump case on the question of whether a former president has immunity from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while president. The smart money is on a ruling of no absolute immunity, but a ruling containing just enough delay so as to remove the prospect of any legal consideration of an insurrectionist running for president before the November election.

No man is above the law, but if you know the right people …

Remember when conservative politicians used to rage against “activist” judges who made things up to arrive at a desired political outcome? Yup. I remember that, too.

This was the week that was.

Let’s end on high note. Time magazine is out with a big story about the former president’s plans once he’s back in the White House. The author of the piece, Eric Cortellessa, who did two lengthy interviews with the former president, said Trump would, among other things, “gut the U.S. civil service, deploy the National Guard to American cities as he sees fit, close the White House pandemic-preparedness office and staff his Administration with acolytes who back his false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.”

There is more, lots more: concentration camps for migrants, a prosecution of Joe Biden, a federal takeover of education (so much for local control), an abandonment of NATO, and tariffs to make your inflation worries seem like so much background noise.

You really should read the whole article if only to see in one place how deranged and deluded the Grand Old Party of Lincoln has become under its indicted leader-king.

Time included the full transcripts and a piece fact-checking Trump’s assertions,” historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote. “The transcripts reflect the former president’s scattershot language that makes little logical sense but conveys impressions by repeating key phrases and advancing a narrative of grievance. The fact-checking reveals that narrative is based largely on fantasy.”

That was our week.

More attention, generally speaking, was paid to a poor 14-month-old puppy shot dead in a South Dakota gravel pit by a once rising star of the MAGA world than to a mad would-be king in a New York courtroom. But somehow it all fits together.

Shooting a dog apparently is the “red line” no right-wing politician should cross. Flaying the Constitution, on the other hand, is the party platform.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items of interest …

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at 200

The birthday of the fabulous Ninth.

The composer who still fascinates

“The composer insisted upon conducting the symphony from a conductor’s stand. The official conductor at the concert, Michael Umlauf, had instructed the musicians – a Viennese orchestra and choir – to ignore Beethoven, who was completely deaf and who theoretically could not be relied upon to keep time.

“The performance was interrupted several times by rapturous applause from the approximately 2,000 attendees, but Beethoven could not hear the reaction. According to eyewitnesses, the composer “threw himself back and forth like a madman” and fell several bars behind in his “conducting.'”

Read the entire piece.


Political Hell-Raiser Coming in Paperback

My good friends at the University of Oklahoma Press are planning on issuing my book on the legendary (and still controversial) Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana in a paperback edition later this summer.

I could not be happier.

The book, my first, was nominated for the Western Writers of America Spur Award, and tells the story of Wheeler’s life from his Quaker roots in Massachusetts to the rough and tumble mining town of Butte, Montana where he settled. Wheeler won a Senate seat in 1922 and served until 1947, 24-years of big battles and bigger controversy, including fights with Franklin Roosevelt over packing the Supreme Court and American foreign policy prior to World War II.

Wheeler was a Democrat, but his political and personal friendships ranged over the ideological spectrum – Louis Brandeis, Norman Thomas, Robert LaFollette and Harry Truman.

Never dull, Wheeler was always in trouble.

Here’s the link to the most recent OU Press catalogue. Lots of good stuff here.


The Wolves of K Street review: how lobbying swallowed Washington

A new book on the fourth branch of DC government – lobbying.

Brody Mullins, a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter and Pulitzer prize winner, and his brother, Luke Mullins, a contributor at Politico, deliver a graduate seminar on how lobbying emerged and became a behemoth, an adjunct of government itself, taking its collective name from the street north of the White House where many of its biggest earners sit.

“Smoothly written, meticulously researched, The Wolves of K Street informs and mesmerizes.”

From The Guardian.


And … more on money and politics

I was delighted to be interviewed recently for an NPR podcast series called “Landslide.” The whole series, produced by Ben Bradford, is well worth your time if you care to delve into the long history of how the conservative American right began to transform in the 1970s into the party that gave us Donald Trump.

The segment I participated in deals with political money. You can listen here.


More soon. Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

2024 Election, GOP, Trump, Ukraine

RIP: The Party of the Gipper …

It never occurred to me, at least before Donald Trump rode down his escalator, that the Republican Party would, all in my lifetime, embrace the sunny optimism and national security mantra of the actor-cum-President Ronald Reagan and then turn on a dime and completely bury Reagan and the GOP he built.

Authoritarian cults are mighty powerful draws, apparently.

In a new book, Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism, John Kenneth White, a professor of politics at Catholic University, attempts to explain what has happened to the party of the Gipper. His brutal assessment is made all the more damning by its stark truth.

An important new book from the University Press of Kansas

“After consecutive losses in 2018, 2020, and 2022, Republicans should be entering a period of reflection and reconciliation,” White writes. “But Donald Trump will not permit either to occur. Instead of redefining conservativism for a twenty-first century audience composed of multicultural and multiradical voters, Republicans are fixated on stoking their angry base of older white Baby Boomers who once defined the nation’s past but not its future. Instead of reckoning with the Trump presidency and the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Republicans are determined to erase the latter from their collective memories. Rather than rejecting election deniers, Republicans elevated them to positions of power.”

There is something within the DNA of the Republican Party, as White concludes after detailing the history both before and since Reagan, “that makes it prone to conspiracy theories, election deniers, and top down presidential leadership that is fraught with danger.”

Fraught with danger, indeed, particularly given the widespread willingness of Trump backers and their elected representatives to ignore the mountain of damaging facts about the former president — what one writer calls Trump’s “kaleidoscopic corruption” — while embracing the nonsense that stokes that angry baby boomer base.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is the latest A-list example to go full in on the nonsense. Sununu, son of former conservative governor and one-time White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, appeared recently on ABC’s Sunday morning TV show.

As interviewer George Stephanopoulos questioned the once harsh Trump critic, he finally put to Sununu the only question that really matters for every Republican officeholder, not to mention voter.

“So just to sum up,” Stephanopoulos said to Sununu, “you would support (Trump) for president even if he is convicted in classified documents. You would support him for president even though you believe he contributed to an insurrection. You would support him for president even though you believe he’s lying about the last election. You would support him for president even if he’s convicted in the Manhattan case. I just want to say, the answer to that is yes, correct?”

Sununu’s response: “Yes, me and 51% of America.”

Setting aside the fact that Trump has never polled higher than 48% in the average of all national polls, in other words set aside that the governor is lying about Trump’s level of support, Sununu says nothing matters other than electing a Republican president. Nothing matters: not the lies, not the law, not the Trump promise of retribution for his opponents. Nothing matters but political power.

It’s also worth remembering that Sununu, as Peter Wehner noted in The Atlantic, has in the recent past — while trying to help Nikki Haley in GOP primaries — referred to Trump as a “loser,” an “asshole” and “not a real Republican.” Sununu, before debasing himself on ABC, said the country needs to move past the Trump’s “nonsense and drama.” Speaking of the legal morass Trump faces, Sununu said last year, “This is serious. If even half of this stuff is true, he’s in real trouble.”

The real trouble here is the obscene obsequiousness of politicians such as Sununu, the enablers and apologist for what passes for a political party led by the most flawed man to ever sit in the Oval Office.

Pick an issue — book bans, diminishing education, abandoning international leadership — the party of Reagan is dead, buried like Trump’s ex-wife on the back nine of a golf course where the GOP nominee goes to cheat.

Reagan spins in his grave as Trump demands congressional Republicans refuse critical military aid to Ukraine, the same country he attempted to coerce into manufacturing political dirt on President Joe Biden, a brazenly un-American scheme that earned Trump his first impeachment.

The country Reagan deemed “an evil empire” is now run by a truly evil man arguably worse than any Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. Yet many in the GOP embrace Vladimir Putin, mouth his propaganda and take his money. The white Christian nationalists who now define the party’s policy agenda, such as it is, are beholden not to a Reagan or a George W. Bush or even a Dwight Eisenhower philosophy. Instead they praise Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orbán, and the new right-wing crackpot, Javier Milei, who is running Argentina over a cliff.

A majority of House Republicans opposed additional aid to Ukraine, effectively siding with Putin

The party that fought ten thousand elections with a call to outlaw abortion finally became the dog that caught the car and from Arizona to Idaho to Alabama, the fruits of that “victory,” delivered by an ideologically politicized U.S. Supreme Court, has created a maternal health crisis.

Arizona’s current total ban abortion law dates to the Civil War era, before Arizona was a state and long before women could vote, and Republicans there have refused to entertain any change.

In Idaho, many OB/GYN docs have left for fear the state’s extraordinary restrictions on abortion not only imperil the lives of patients with pregnancy complications but hold a real risk of sending doctors to jail. The overwhelmingly Republican Legislature in Idaho recently adjourned after ignoring any fix that might have slowed the physician exodus, while protecting women’s health.

Meantime, stoking fear and grievance with the Trumpian base, governors from Republican states spend millions of their taxpayer’s dollars to send state police and National Guard personnel to the southern border in what is nothing more than a performative act made for cable television.

Republicans had a chance earlier this year with bipartisan border security legislation to do something that would actually address border concerns, but at Trump’s behest they opted for performance over substance.

This is not a serious political party, which makes it truly dangerous. Real political parties have real policy proposals based, of course, on an ideology, but also rooted in facts and realism. You want to “fix the border”? Tell us how you would do it. You support Ukraine? Show us the plan.

Real political parties don’t let people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz or George Santos assume outsized influence. Real political parties consign the quarrelsome clowns to the deepest back bench and ignore them. Republicans now elect them speaker of the House. Or run them for president.

Near the end of his book, White quotes conservative jurist Michael Luttig: “The Republican Party has made its decision that the war against America’s Democracy and the Rule of Law it instigated on January 6 will go on, prosecuted to its catastrophic end.”

That is where the one-time party of Reagan stands in the early 21st century. It’s a scandal. It’s dangerous. Only voters can fix it.

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Additional Reading:

A few other newsy items worthy of your attention …

The potential boondoggle of Greater Idaho

Make no mistake there are reasons for rural Americans to feel abandoned and unheard on a host of important issues. But also make no mistake their elected leaders, generally speaking, have zero real answers for the tough issues rural America faces. So, the default is to stoke the grievance. Case in point the pointless effort to create “a Greater Idaho.”

Rebecca Tallent pokes holes all over the idea in this piece from The Idaho Capital Sun.

“Greater Idaho’s organizers claim there will be a $170 million per year benefit to Idaho, but without major industry and declining existing industries, how does this make sense?

“This means current revenue dollars would need to be stretched even more thinly to support roads, provide health and human services, license certain professions, education for both K-12 and higher education, land management, regulating alcohol and other products, and many other aspects of government. Idaho’s Legislature currently has trouble doing this for the state’s existing land mass, what if Idaho almost doubled its size?”

As Tallent points out in just one example there is a university and three community colleges in eastern Oregon. Idaho can hardly afford to support its existing higher education system. How could it absorb even more institutions?

Link here:


The Greatest Book a Politician Ever Wrote

Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and senator, died recently at 87, still perhaps the most popular politician the state has ever produced. Michael Grunwald has a fond remembrance of a good leader, the fascinating book he wrote about working in dozens of different jobs and how Graham practiced a better kind of politics.

The late Florida governor and senator in one of his many, many jobs

“You don’t have to be fascinated by people to be effective in the political arena, but it helps” Grunwald writes. “I happen to believe, and I’m not alone, that Al Gore could have won Florida and changed history in 2000 if he had chosen Graham as his running mate. I also believe, and on this I may be alone, that if Graham hadn’t suffered some heart issues in 2003, he might have beaten John Kerry for the Democratic nomination and ousted George W. Bush. He was a centrist swing-state Intelligence Committee chair who opposed the war in Iraq on the grounds that it was crippling the war on terror.”

Worth your time.


Five years after the Mueller report into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election on behalf of Trump: 4 essential reads

You still see a lot of nonsense related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, most recently from a disgruntled NPR editor who blasted his (former) employer for various (mostly untrue) allegations that the network hyped the Russian story. You know who, of course, still refers to the entire episode as “a hoax,” but it wasn’t a hoax.

I rely on The Conversation, a great news site that features deeply sourced and thoughtful coverage from genuine experts – historians, economists, social scientists, etc. – on all kinds of issues. I was struck by this recent piece.

“Over the past five years, the Conversation U.S. has published the work of several scholars who followed the Mueller investigation and what it revealed about Trump. Here, we spotlight four examples of these scholars’ work.”

Read it for yourself.

And don’t forget the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference. As Roll Call reported in 2020:

“The Senate Intelligence Committee … released the final report on its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, finding numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow posed a ‘grave’ counterintelligence threat.

“’We found irrefutable evidence of Russian meddling,’ Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, directly refuting President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that Russian interference was a ‘hoax’ perpetrated by Democrats.”

Here’s a link to the key findings of that Senate report that seems to have all but disappeared from our collective memory. A key finding, never fully fleshed out, was that Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign aide in 2016 and a lobbyist for Russian friendly Ukrainians – Manafort is reportedly back helping Trump prepare for the Republican convention – was in regular contact with known Russian agents during the 2016 campaign and “shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy” with his contacts.

Manafort, you may recall, was convicted of bank and tax fraud (he had a secret foreign bank account) and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Trump pardoned Manafort after the 2020 election.

Which kind of brings us full circle, doesn’t it.

Marco Rubio has become one of the Trumpiest defenders of the man whose campaign, at a minimum, maintained numerous contacts with Russian agents in 2016 – Rubio actually led the investigation into this mess – and that same man is now on trial for another attempt to influence the 2016 election, a sleazy scheme to pay off a porn star to bury a sex scandal that might well have ended his campaign.

Rest in Peace … the Gipper.


Thanks for reading. All the best.

2024 Election, GOP

Careers of Ridicule and Dread …

One of the truly astounding features of the last half-dozen years of American politics is how willingly so many Republican politicians have debased themselves in service to the man who now owns the GOP lock, stock and criminal liability.

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a fascinating — and ultimately deeply disturbing — piece this week about this phenomenon by focusing on Sen. Rob Portman, a generally well respected, often serious and very conservative politician from Ohio who retired at the close of 2022.

Goldberg interviewed Portman in front of a live audience not quite two years ago on the same day a Trump White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. You may recall — or, if you’re inclined, you may have dismissed — Hutchison’s chilling testimony.

Cassidy Hutchinson testifies before the January 6 committee in 2022

As a young aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Hutchinson, displaying remarkable courage and calm, told the House committee of former President Donald Trump watching impassively as the mob, attacking the Capitol, chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” She testified that Trump thought his vice president deserved that fate because Pence refused to violate the Constitution in order to keep Trump in office even though he had lost both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

Did Portman, hearing such first-hand testimony, regret that he had voted to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial in 2021, Goldberg wanted to know? That trial was, of course, a turning point in American history where the Republican Party might have, with impeccable and urgent reason, banned an insurrectionist from ever holding office again.

Portman never really answered Goldberg’s question but instead became indignant that a journalist had the audacity to ask such a question.

Former GOP Senator Rob Portman who blamed Trump for January 6, but voted against his impeachment

“It would be unfair to blame Portman disproportionately for the devastating reality that Donald Trump, who is currently free on bail but could be a convicted felon by November, is once again a candidate for president,” Goldberg wrote. “The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, denounced Trump for his actions on January 6, and yet still voted to acquit him. Trump’s continued political viability is as much McConnell’s fault as anyone’s.”

But here’s the thing: Portman knew he was debasing himself in front of the reality of Trump’s lies and incitement of violence, yet he debased himself willingly. Portman, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House, knows about the value of character in politics, but he chose to ignore Trump’s lack of character.

At one level, this degree to suspension of belief is a great case study in human psychology. How does a person, experienced and smart, capable of critical thinking and understanding basic right and wrong, decide to ignore what looms right in front of him?

Portman, like Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and several others, withdrew his endorsement of Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape became public in 2016 — Trump boasted of grabbing women by the genitals, a certain “high” point in American political history — but Portman (and Crapo) eventually came back around and willingly supported a sexual abuser for president.

Nothing, it seems, absolutely nothing is beyond the pale when it comes to Republican officeholders debasing themselves in order to stay, even temporarily, on the right side of Trump.

Nothing. Not the praise of dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, not the unprecedented indictments, not the former president’s outrageous attacks on judges, prosecutors and their families, not the increasingly blatant incitement of violence against his opponents, not the promise to pardon those convicted for assaulting police officers on January 6, not the civil conviction for sexual assault, not the family takeover of the Republican National Committee in order to pay his legal bills — nothing, absolutely nothing constitutes a red line for the Debasement Caucus.

So what is to be said about timid men like Crapo, Portman and so many others? Many, like career politician Crapo, are clinging to power so they dare not follow normal political instincts and abandon their authoritarian leader. Normal would be, of course, to distance oneself from a many-time-indicted, violence-spouting insurrectionist.

Other Republicans hide behind the fiction that somehow President Joe Biden presents a greater danger to the country than a man attacking judges and threatening to set free criminals who assault cops, a greater danger than a man who makes excuses for Putin and threatens to destroy a finally recovering U.S. economy by imposing sweeping tariffs that really will hit every American pocketbook.

The hyperpartisan nonsense that a steady, experienced political veteran is a greater danger to Americans than a twice-impeached grifter who will soon be the first former president to ever face a criminal trial is routinely spouted by Republicans like Idaho Senator James Risch and South Dakota Senator John Thune. But this line of argument is so blatantly flimsy as to further debase those who peddle it.

Republicans are obviously entitled to their policy differences with Biden. But to consider him a greater threat than Trump is to inhabit a la-la land of partisan fantasy.

Others who stand with Trump in the face of a mountain of evidence as to his venality are surely just afraid — afraid — of having the MAGA mob unleashed on them or their families. It’s a logical fear. But fear that doing the right thing will be uncomfortable or career-ending is simple cowardice. But when you have no red line, or the line continually moves, cowardice and the acquiesces that comes with it becomes a way of life.

Meanwhile, some Wall Street CEOs who thought Trump was done after January 6 and somehow found the courage then to distance themselves are back in the fold and writing big checks to pay his lawyers and fuel his campaign. There is no red line when it comes to the wealthiest among us putting their fortunes ahead of the country’s democracy.

All this is reminiscent of the death stages of Weimar Germany when, as recounted in Eric Vuillard’s brilliant book, The Order of the Day, 24 of Germany’s top corporate chieftains assembled in Berlin in February 1933 to bless and finance the election of a man they all disdained, but believed would be useful to them, their futures and fortunes.

The man who won that election was a sociopath, a virulent racist and the instigator of a failed coup. But he promised a return to order and stability and to conduct a war against democratic institutions. He would Make Germany Great Again, and then would destroy it.

“We never fall twice into the same abyss,” Vuillard wrote of these enablers of another time, “but we always fall the same way, in a mixture of ridicule and dread.”

As The Atlantic’s Goldberg notes, just 10 Republican senators could have reclaimed their party and ended their own nightmare by convicting Trump for his actions on January 6. That they did not will be their legacy — and ours. Theirs indeed are careers of ridicule and dread.

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Additional Reading:

In Vermont, ‘Town Meeting’ is democracy embodied. What can the rest of the country learn from it?

I’ve been living in Oregon for some time now, but I remain a bit amazed that both of the state’s United States senators hold public town hall meeting every year in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. You read that right – every year. Not many speeches, just questions and answers on everything under the sun.

Over his years in the Senate Ron Wyden has, at least count, conducted 1072 of these meetings. I’ve been to many. They are some of the best, most civil examples of person-to-person democracy anywhere.

And then there is Vermont.

“Across the United States, people are disgusted with politics. Many feel powerless and alienated from their representatives at every level — and especially from those in Washington. The tone long ago became nasty, and many feel forced to pick a side and view those on the other side as adversaries.

“But in pockets of New England, democracy is done a bit differently. People can still participate directly and in person. One day each year, townsfolk gather to hash out local issues. They talk, listen, debate, vote. And in places like Elmore, once it’s all over, they sit down together for a potluck lunch.’

Great story from the Associated Press.


To Break the Story, You Must Break the Status Quo

“Part of the job of a great journalist, a great storyteller, is to examine the stories that underlie the story that you’re assigned, maybe to make them visible, and sometimes to break us free of them. Break the story.”

Rebecca Solnit on why journalists need to cause trouble. Link here.


Come on, North Idaho

Journalist Leah Sottile has written extensively about white supremacy groups in the Pacific Northwest. She had an excellent recent Substack post on recent events in Coeur d’Alene, a beautiful place with a history.

“I think we can safely say that things like what happened to those University of Utah basketball players will keep happening until something significant changes in the region. Communities around Idaho have been ‘fighting their asses off,’ as Betsy Gaines Quammen put it to me, when far-right figures try to take over their school boards and county governments. It’s about conservative communities drawing a line in the sand, and rejecting bigotry and hate.”

She’s not wrong.


Thanks for check in. And keep reading – lots of things.

2024 Election, Mansfield, Trump, U.S. Senate

The Senate’s Great Cynic …

It’s not for nothing that the best biography of Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator who recently announced the end of his long run as Senate Republican leader, is titled The Cynic.

There may have been more destructive personalities in the Senate’s long history — John C. Calhoun prior to the Civil War or Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s — but it’s hard to think of a single American legislator who has contributed more than McConnell to the despair so many voters feel about their government.

Cynic to the end, McConnell went out with the same disdain of sincerity and good faith that marked the arc of his long political life. That life took him, as The Cynic author Alec MacGillis tells us in his biography, from being a moderate Republican supporting abortion rights and public employee unions to the GOP leader who viciously — and correctly — lashed former President Donald Trump to the crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, and then pivoted cynically to endorse the man the entire world knows he detests.

John C. Calhoun, senator, Cabinet member, vice president … a rival for historically evil influence

McConnell once said of Trump: “His behavior during and after the chaos (of January 6) was … unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.”

McConnell’s Senate speech after Jan. 6 detailed the very definition of insurrection, he even called what happened an insurrection. “Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

In response, Trump used racist language to disparage McConnell’s Taiwan-born wife, Elaine Chao, went years without speaking to McConnell and regularly referred to him as an “old broken down crow,” “a piece of shit” and a “dumb son of a bitch.”

McConnell knows better than almost anyone what a reprehensible, incompetent, Constitution-crashing boob the former president is. His wife resigned from Trump’s Cabinet in protest after Jan. 6. Yet none of that matters to McConnell or, in Trump’s telling, his “China loving wife.”

The Associated Press called the Trump endorsement “a remarkable turnaround” by McConnell. But that’s not the correct term. Everyone knew the level of crassness McConnell would eventually employ. Everyone knows a cynic doesn’t change. Power, partisanship and personal self-interest are the cynic’s only motivations.

“I love the Senate. It has been my life,” McConnell said as he announced that he will step down from leadership at the end of the year. “There may be more distinguished members of this body throughout our history, but I doubt there are any with more admiration for it.”

What’s the saying? You always hurt the one you love.

McConnell’s professed admiration for the Senate as an institution is in reality just window dressing for his cynical use of raw partisan power to corrode — even destroy — the fabric of an institution that by its very nature demands compromise, consensus and comity.

McConnell’s one historic accomplishment, securing his place in the history books, has been to weld in place for a generation or more a hard rightwing Supreme Court populated with activist judges who, as Republicans have so long accused Democrats of doing, use their positions to make partisan political decisions. The Supreme Court has become so extremely political that its recent decision ruling that Colorado could not unilaterally remove Trump from that state’s presidential ballot was followed by days of analysis about what the McConnell Court really had said with its ruling.

One thing Mitch’s judges did not touch in that Colorado ruling is the real point of the 14th Amendment case brought against Trump by Colorado voters — namely, did he foment an insurrection? You may have missed it in the coverage of the McConnell Court’s ruling, but a Colorado court actually considered the insurrection question, heard from witnesses, examined what happened on Jan. 6 and concluded — yes, Trump is an insurrectionist.

McConnell’s contribution to American political life also includes, lest we forget, the single most cynical act involving a Supreme Court nominee in the nation’s history. That would be McConnell’s blocking of Barack Obama’s nomination in 2016 of a moderate and highly respected jurist, Merrick Garland, who was denied a hearing on his merits in McConnell’s beloved Senate.

The upshot of that truly historic and indefensible use of partisan power surely means that no future Democratic president will ever be successful in confirming a Supreme Court nominee in a Republican-controlled Senate. And after leaving Garland to twist in the hot winds of the Senate for months before the 2016 presidential election, McConnell, cynicism be praised, rammed through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 in near record time and days before another presidential election.

It takes a special kind of personality to square these circles and attempting to do so while holding a straight face is another part of the McConnell legacy.

Trump and Mitch in their co-dependent days …

“If you would have told me 40 years later that I would stand before you as the longest serving Senate leader in history — I would have thought you’d lost your mind,” McConnell said recently. He takes great pride in that longevity record, but even that accomplishment is tinged by cynicism.

A more impressive record than the raw years McConnell held party leadership is the record for most years as a majority leader and that distinction is still held by Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, who was a Senate leader for 20 consecutive years and majority leader for 16 straight years.

McConnell, despite his warm remembrances of Mansfield’s years of principled leadership — he praised the Montanan last year in a lengthy tribute — is really the un-Mansfield. The Montanan was universally respected while McConnell isn’t.

The lack of comment from fellow Republicans when he announced McConnell was stepping down was remarkable and entirely unlike what happened when Mansfield retired in 1977. Then-Republican leader Hugh Scott choked up, saying of Mansfield, “I have never known a finer man.”

The quiet, egoless Mansfield insisted on protecting the Senate as an institution even as members of his own party — Southern Democrats during the Civil Rights era — labored to bring the Senate into disrepute. Mansfield never resorted to tricks or raw power to manipulate senators. He practiced restraint, selfless bipartisanship, absolute candor and completely rejected the politics of attack and insult.

By contrast, with his cynical endorsement of Trump, McConnell couldn’t help but take a gratuitous swipe at the current president, a man he knows well and served with in the Senate. It was the kind of partisan slap that Mansfield never used or likely considered, even when the president was Richard Nixon whose conspiracy to cover up his political crimes Mansfield helped expose.

Mansfield modeled the civil and decent behavior he hoped others would embrace. The Senate of today is an often ugly reminder that many current senators have accepted McConnell’s approach of partisanship first, last and always.

The Mansfield Senate became what the Senate must be in order to succeed — more restrained, more respected, more serious and vastly more accomplished than the institution McConnell remade in his own cynical image.

Invoking Mansfield’s approach to political leadership — he was the “more distinguished” senator as McConnell must know he will be considered — is more than a nostalgic reminder of a time past. Mansfield’s greatness reminds us that some things — the Constitution, basic decency, honesty and respect for restraint — are vastly more important than the fleeting political advantage of this week or this term or this presidency.

McConnell will go down in history for sure, but it won’t be for his length of service or his cynical manipulation of the Supreme Court nomination process. He’ll be remembered for cementing Senate dysfunction, breaking American politics and then enabling a budding authoritarian to again grasp for the chance to destroy American democracy.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items I found of interest …

How a lack of local reporting affects the Supreme Court

A fascinating and also infuriating story about basic facts that eluded the Supreme Court in several recent cases.

“Last year the court ruled for a wedding website designer, Lorie Smith, who felt that including LGBTQ language on a website would violate her religious beliefs, even though the only evidence her lawyers produced that anyone had asked her to do so was a letter from a man named Stewart saying that he wanted her to design a website for his wedding to a guy named Mike. It turned out that Stewart was not gay, had been married to a woman for fifteen years, and did not write the letter. Also, Stewart turns out to be a website designer himself, so even if he had been gay and planning to get married, he wouldn’t need outside help.”

The Court deals in the “law,” not in the “facts” and therein is a problem. You might ask, how could they get things so very wrong … you could ask that.

From the Columbia Journalism Review.


How to End Republican Exploitation of Rural America

It is an article of political faith that Democrats have lost most of “rural” America.

“With the rural/urban political divide as stark as it is today, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. In fact, for much of our history, rural and urban Americans did not vote all that differently in the aggregate; Republican presidential candidates would usually outpoll Democratic candidates by just a couple of points in rural areas. Beginning with the 2000 election, however, rural and urban votes began drifting apart, and that separation is now a chasm.”

The authors of a new book White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy argue that, while it’s mostly true Democrats have abandoned rural America, Republicans have, too, offering no real policy of approach to dealing with the real problems of real people. Therein lies an opportunity.

From Washington Monthly.


Humanity’s remaining timeline? It looks more like five years than 50: meet the neo-luddites warning of an AI apocalypse

Since everything is going so well how about a little doomsday reporting on artificial intelligence? This piece about about “the luddites” pushing back on AI. Put me down as “interested.”

“Are we doomed? Or is there hope? Will this generation of protesters be remembered in 200 years’ time for their interventions – or will there simply be no one to do the remembering by then? The new luddites I speak to come at these questions with varying degrees of optimism or catastrophising.”

From The Guardian.


Well, spring training is in full flower and March Madness is upon us. Can we make it to opening day? Sure … play ball.

Thanks for following. And share with a friend if you are inclined. All the best.

2024 Election, GOP

No longer a ‘vice,’ GOP’s extremism is a norm …

When then-Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater took the stage at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1964 to accept the Republican nomination for president, he uttered one of the most famous — or infamous — lines in American political history.

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Goldwater told a raucous GOP convention crowd. “And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Hearing those words, one shocked observer blurted out that the candidate really was going to “run as Barry Goldwater.”

Barry Goldwater in 1964

Yet Goldwater’s entire career — he served in the Senate for 30 years before and after his presidential campaign — was, at least by the standards of the modern Republican Party, more conventionally conservative than not. His enduring line about extremism was as much a rhetorical device to rally the conservative base — sound familiar? — as an ideological proclamation.

Goldwater needed the radicals in his party in that long-ago campaign. Despite being a devoted anti-communist, opposing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and preaching low taxes and small government, Goldwater was stepping up to lead a party going even farther right. At the same time, Goldwater was decidedly not a cultural warrior, issuing warnings late in his career against the emerging “New Right,” and particularly the role of conservative preachers.

“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that, if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C or D,” Goldwater said in 1981. “I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.”

Goldwater also warned against packaging cultural issues, including abortion, as core conservative values. Goldwater and his wife supported Planned Parenthood, for example. Goldwater, seeing how far his party had gone in service to radical right, said in the twilight of his career that he would oppose pro-life organizations like the Moral Majority and “fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’ ”

One suspects Goldwater, the old Cold War conservative, would be appalled by the accelerating rightward trajectory of his party in 2024. It’s inconceivable Goldwater would identify with the GOP factions in the House and Senate who willingly aid and abet Vladimir Putin’s aggression against a democratic Ukraine. The cozy winks Donald Trump has repeatedly given Putin and his murderous regime would be something Goldwater would frankly be “sick and tired of.”

Goldwater’s 1964 campaign against Lyndon Johnson was dogged by the reality that the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan openly embraced arguably the most conservative Republican candidate since Calvin Coolidge. Goldwater tried to distance himself from that level of extremism with mixed results, while other Republican leaders bluntly rejected the Birchers.

“Let me emphasize this with as much vigor as I can — that the John Birch Society is NOT a part of the Republican Party,” Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois said in 1965. “It never was and I don’t suppose it even pretends to be.”

Dirksen was, of course, wrong.

Today, the radicals who helped diminish Goldwater’s national appeal largely run things at the GOP grassroots. The husband of the authoritarian chairperson of the Idaho Republican Party, Dorothy Moon, sits on the Birch Society’s national board. And Moon’s own politics are farther out on the political spectrum than Robert Welch, the founder of the Bircher movement, ever hoped to be.

Welch, the candymaker turned far-right radical, as his biographer Edward H. Miller has written, “was not consumed by issues of sex and religion.” But the modern party certainly is consumed by both. In legislature after legislature where Republicans are dominant, mean and punitive legislation aimed at reproductive rights, birth control and the LGBTQ population abound.

Robert Welch, head of the John Birch Society, at the publishing site of the Society’s magazine American Opinion.

This new Republican mainstream, heavily in debt to historical Bircher extremism, doesn’t care to keep Putin, a former intelligence operative for a Communist regime, from overtaking Ukraine. But they are just fine with wacky state legislators proscribing what you read, who you can love and how and whether you can have a family. Gun restrictions are unthinkable but invading your bedroom and your doctor’s office is party policy.

For example, your individual circumstances might dictate that you need in vitro fertilization (IVF) to hope to have a baby. Good luck. The party of extremism is pretty sure you shouldn’t have that option. A new way to measure radicalism is to assess whether your state’s legislators are passing laws that are forcing physicians to leave because they fear prosecution for merely practicing their profession. Idaho has lost 22% of its OB/GYN docs since the state put draconian abortion restrictions in place. More departures seem certain.

As historian Matthew Dallek — he wrote a new history of the Birch Society — said last year: “For decades, conservative leaders tried to consign the Birchers and their intellectual heirs to the fringes of their coalition, but today’s Republicans are awash in Birch ideas. These include rampant conspiracy theories (notably about vaccines and election denialism), a penchant for isolationism, and a belief that federal law enforcement agencies are ‘the enemy of liberty,’ in the words of Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.”

As Elaina Plott Calabro noted recently in The Atlantic, a dozen years ago the Conservative Political Action Conference refused to allocate space for a Birch Society booth at its annual cattle call. The Bircher brand was just too toxic then. This year, CPAC rolled out the red carpet to the Birchers, happily embracing the latest conspiracy theories and anti-globalist message.

Where Welch campaigned against fluoride in drinking water as a Commie plot, today the cranks oppose measles vaccines and claim a new era of American isolation.

CPAC, where Ronald Reagan once preached the gospel of balanced budgets and a strong national defense, this year welcomed not only new generation Birchers but, as NBC reported, individuals openly espousing racist, anti-Semitic and anti-democratic views, while claiming that the next Jan. 6 will succeed.

“In one of the most viral moments from this year’s conference, conservative personality Jack Posobiec called for the end of democracy and a more explicitly Christian-focused government,” NBC’s Ben Goggin reported. “While Posobiec later said his statements were partly satire, many CPAC attendees embraced his and others’ invocations of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.”

An earlier generation of Republican leaders saw the Birchers and others on the far-, far-right fringe as a genuine danger to the larger conservative movement. They had the courage — and the democratic instincts — to speak out and fight back. Today the fringe is the party.

And if you don’t believe them when they say they are coming for your democracy, you aren’t listening carefully.

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Additional Reading:

Sandra Day O’Connor is an Arizona icon, but too ‘undistinguished’ to warrant statue, GOP says

I saw this, read this and then slapped my forehead.

“[Arizona Rep. Alexander] Kolodin said that O’Connor, who was the first female majority leader in the nation while she served in the Arizona Senate, was a good lawmaker but an awful Supreme Court justice. He specifically took offense with O’Connor’s rulings on abortion and affirmative action.”

Sandra Day O’Connor at the time of her Senate confirmation hearing in 1981

Full story … and, of course, Mr. Kolodin, a lawyer, has been sanctioned by the Arizona state bar for his election denying lawsuits “that made implausible and evidence-free claims of massive election fraud.”

Just the guy you want passing historical judgment on Justice O’Connor.

Wow. Just wow.


How old is too old? Well, American voters have been here before

My friend Darrell Ehrlick edits The Daily Montanan. He has thoughts.

“There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the choices for president. And there are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with both Biden and Trump — they both have vulnerabilities. And while seeing Trump on the ballot for a third time in a row is exasperating in the era of very short attention spans, such appearances are hardly rare in the history of American presidential elections.

“And if you look closely at presidential elections, the ‘old man’ argument doesn’t hold up so well.”

Read the entire piece.


Why Anatomy of a Fall should win the best picture Oscar

Best film I’ve seen in a quite a while.

“Praise is due for a film that takes the familiar – unhappy marriages, courtroom procedurals, the ethically compromised thrill of true crime – and produces something that feels new and lingers long in the mind.

A review from The Guardian.


I’ll leave it there for this week. Keep the faith, stoke the fire (of democracy) and vote like your country depended upon it – it does. Thanks.

2024 Election, Churchill, Democracy

Don’t Break It, Fix It …

A sizeable number of Americans have given up on democracy. And in their surrender they have remade the Republican Party – and the country.

Many have tried to explain the motivation of fellow Americans who continue to support a man facing 91 indictments, including a case centering on whether he stole classified documents as he left the White House and after he incited an insurrection. Many wonder why so many Americans profess loyalty to a candidate who has been found liable in a civil action for committing sexual assault and then twice more convicted and fined $88 million for repeatedly defaming the woman he assaulted?

It is impossible not to conclude that the vast evidence of criminality, confirmed by separate prosecutors and judges and juries in numerous jurisdictions just doesn’t matter to the MAGA crowd. What’s a little crime when you have a country to plunge further in chaos?

“Our system needs to be broken,” a Donald Trump voter in New Hampshire recently told Politico’s Michael Kruse in an insightful look into the mind of an angry, hurting, confused American, “and he is the man to do it.”

Can’t argue with that logic. Except you must.

Because “our system” doesn’t need to be broken. It needs to be repaired; urgently and carefully.

To believe that Donald Trump possesses the magic elixir to “Make America Great Again” is to descend to a tooth fairy level of gullibility. There is no fix to “our system” short of Americans voting to support democracy over the chaos and the personal villainy of a man convicted of sexual assault who also happens to be a Constitution shredding charlatan.

You can fret and worry about America and not believe it needs to be broken. Let’s review – briefly – what ails the America most of us continue to love in spite of its obvious flaws.

No, she is not a Pentagon double agent …

Disinformation on a grand scale is causing some Americans – and not an insignificant number apparently – to believe conspiracies lurking in dark corners of the Internet. One of the latest and most laughable holds that popular singer Taylor Swift, as the New York Times put it, is some kind of “a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and [Kansas City Chiefs boyfriend Travis] Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever.”

Falling for such blatant garbage when there is so much else worth concentrating on is what’s wrong with “our system.” Being hoodwinked by elected con men and Fox News is what’s wrong with America.

Bad faith actors in political positions are what’s wrong with America. There is a reasonable, bipartisan deal to be had to put in place much needed immigration reforms, but the very people who have long insisted on changes are on the verge of killing any deal. The leader of the GOP is hoping to use American concerns about immigration to his advantage, so a legislative deal becomes out of the question. That is what is wrong with “our system.”

A political culture of distraction and deflection is what’s wrong with “our system.”

Vast income inequality is what’s wrong with “our system.” When an Elon Musk can demand a $56 billion pay day (a Delaware judge just voided that obscenity) to run an electric car company that is what is wrong with “our system.” As Reuter’s reported, an executive pay research firm “estimated in 2022 that Musk’s [compensation] package was around six times larger than the combined pay of the 200 highest-paid executives in 2021.”

What is also wrong is that women still make on average 85% of what men make. It’s wrong that American health care costs so much more than any other “developed” country. It’s wrong that many younger Americans simply can’t afford to buy a home of their own. It’s wrong we have so much gun violence. It’s wrong that were are not really dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. It’s wrong that there are too many drugs and too much homelessness. It’s wrong that some radical conservatives want to abandon a democratic Ukraine and embrace authoritarians in Hungry and Russia.

None of these wrongs will be righted by breaking our democratic system. They just won’t.

The way to get after our shortcomings is to double down on a politics of decency, compromise, common sense and good faith. You double down on real, hard to accomplish solutions advanced by serious people working to make the country genuinely better. You double down on democracy. You do not strengthen democracy by breaking it. You just don’t.

To say you must destroy what remains of the American system in order to save it is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.

Democracy requires work. It requires commitment. It requires patience, as difficult as that can be. In this big, complicated and very diverse country there are no quick fixes. There just aren’t. And the millions of Americans who think another go round with Trump is going to fix “our system” are more delusional than the man himself.

If he had real answers to our real problems he’d be sharing them. He’s got nothing beyond the instincts of an orange bull in a very small shop filled with the fragile elements of democracy. He’s running to stay out of jail and keep his dwindling fortune. He’s running in order to pardon himself and others who committed crimes at his behest. He could care less about democracy, the little guy or anyone’s future beyond his own.

Fifty-nine years ago this week the world said goodbye to Winston Churchill, arguably the 20th Century’s indispensable man, who had died at 90. Churchill, warts and all, was a democrat. He believed in democracy with all its messy and difficult processes, the two steps forward and one back. During the darkest days of World War II he never gave up on democracy.

As Sir Winston famously said he was a creature of the House of Commons … in other words: democracy

One of the great ironies of Churchill’s story is that he courageously and correctly led Great Britain – and the freedom loving world – through that awful war and once the Nazis were beaten to surrender he lost re-election. Still, Churchill never gave up on democracy. It would not have occurred to him to say we have the break “our system.”

What he did say was profound and powerful and worth remembering as too many around us embrace the politics of chaos and division.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe,” Churchill said in 1947. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …”

Forget the fearmongers and those giving up on democracy. They are the ultimate losers. We can and must do better than to think we can fix the country by breaking it.  

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Additional Reading:

‘Into the arms of strangers’: child refugees of Nazi Germany remember

Worth reading in light of our battles over immigration and the often desperate people who look to the United States for a better, safer life.

“Hella Pick, a former Guardian foreign correspondent and diplomatic editor, and Lord Alf Dubs, the Labour peer and former MP, visited Berlin this week to mark the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport, which rescued them as child refugees.

“About 10,000 children, mostly Jewish and the majority from Germany, Austria and Czechslovakia, were brought to live with foster families in the UK to save them from the Nazis.”

From The Guardian.


Precipice of fear: the freerider who took skiing to its limits

Also from The Guardian.

“Like big-wave surfing, extreme skiing has always carried an existential charge: its dangers are not incidental or extraneous, and death is not a rare accident that only occurs when things go terribly wrong. Doug Coombs, an American whose style was once compared to “a droplet of water trickling down a rough plaster wall”, plunged to his death in the French resort of La Grave in 2006. Shane McConkey, a Canadian who was pivotal to the development of wider skis in the 1990s, lost his life in 2009 in an attempt to combine skiing with Base jumping in Italy. Swedish pro skier Matilda Rapaport died in Chile in 2016 while filming for an extreme sports video game, the title of which was, simply, Steep.”

The imbedded video is, well, pretty scary. Read the full story.


Mansfield and Dirksen and the US Capitol Historical Society

I had a wonderful time this week thanks to the US Capitol Historical Society that hosted my talk about the Senate’s leadership in the 1960s.

The full program is now available on YouTube. I hope you’ll check it out.


Thanks for following. Do all you can to defend democracy. It is fragile and needs our help. All the best.

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

—–

“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.

—–0—–

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 …