2022 Election, Democracy, GOP

America’s Choice …

On Monday night, February 20, 1939, a huge crowd of nearly 30,000 Americans packed into Madison Square Garden in New York City. Another 20,000 milled around outside, The crowd was orderly, at least for a while, but eventually became resistive, particularly after the main speaker began calling them to action.

On the platform uniformed guards stood watch, while “storm troopers” in the crowd “wore overcoats to conceal their uniforms.” Red and black and white flags were displayed everywhere. A large portrait of George Washington was suspended from the ceiling.

Under the guise of “Americanization” American democracy was under attack.

Police – more than 1,500 officers were on hand – expected trouble and had the Garden under tight lock down. One counter demonstrator was beaten and arrested. Event organizers claimed the principle speaker, a uniform wearing rabble rouser named Fritz Kuhn, was the subject of an assassination plot.

Celebrated reporter William S. White described the scene in newspaper accounts that appeared across the country. “In a Nazi demonstration that filled vast Madison Square Garden leaders of the German-American bund stood last night under the sign of the swastika to denounce ‘international Jewry,’ some members of the Roosevelt cabinet, and any American alliance with European democracies.”

Headline from the New York Daily News, February 20, 1939

Reaction was mixed with many defending the rally on free speech grounds even as the pro-Nazi gathering came at a time when Germany had rearmed, annexed Austria, taken over Czechoslovakia and imprisoned thousands of its “undesirable” citizens, particularly Jews. Oregon Republican Senator Rufus C. Holman, stoking class and race division, actually proposed in response to the gathering an end to immigration “until we can assimilate the discordant elements already here.”

Buffalo Evening News, February 21, 1939

Holman, who had been an officer in the Oregon Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s, would later say during a Senate speech: “I have always deplored Hitler’s ambitions as a conqueror. But he broke the control of these internationalists over the common people of Germany. It would be a good idea if the control of the international bankers over the common people of England was broken, and good if it was broken over the wages and savings of the common people of the United States.”

I thought about Rufus Holman, Fritz Kuhn and “the common people of the United States” while reading about the big confab of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Dallas recently. CPAC once was a rather staid, establishment conservative outfit, with its annual meetings offering up servings of standard rightwing red meat for those Americans who still believe Barry Goldwater was a prophet and Gerald Ford a liberal squish.

Once at the fringe of the conservative movement, CPAC is now, as Texas Monthly described it, offering “a violent blueprint for seizing power.” This is now the conservative mainstream, a neo-fascist movement in thrall to violence and in support of coup plotter.

The principle CPAC speaker was, of course, the man who would be president again. “We have to seize this opportunity to deal with the radical left socialist lunatic fascists,” Donald Trump declared to rapturous applause. “We have to hit them very, very hard. It has to be a crippling defeat.” 

With uniformed Proud Boys standing by and Hungarian dictator Viktor Orbán thrilling the radical right multitudes with his anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, pro-Christian nationalist rhetoric, Trump repeated for the ten-thousandth time the Big Lie about his election defeat. He lamented the poor insurrectionists facing jail time for attacking the U.S. Capitol. He pitied his vast legal exposure. The crowd went wild.

Donald Trump and Viktor Orban

“If somebody has doubts whether progressive liberals and communists are the same, just ask us Hungarians,” Orbán earlier told CPAC. “We fought them both, and I can tell you: they are the same.”

Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the non-profit group Right Wing Watch told The Guardian: “Rightwing leaders, and especially the religious right leaders in the US, love Viktor Orbán for the same reasons they love Vladimir Putin. This overt embrace of Christian nationalism, willingness to use strongman tactics and the power of the government to enforce so-called traditional values about family and sexuality.”

The cold civil war in America ratcheted up a big notch with the most prominent conservative conference in the country embracing a thug like Orbán and it went into overdrive when the FBI subsequently served a search warrant on Trump’s Florida compound.

To say we have entered uncharted territory is to understate the peril of the moment. The darkest forces on the fringe right are calling for war and the crowd that yesterday slammed Democrats for wanting to “defund the police” today wants to eliminate the FBI.

Perhaps only one thing seems perfectly clear – the GOP elite, every bit as much at the grassroots, is sticking with the party’s would-be Viktor Orbán.

As Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate: “Having witnessed the bulk of the party harden its commitment to protecting Trump at any cost after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, nobody should be shocked to learn that ranking Republicans – without any information about what was seized, or why – were willing to stake their political careers on the claim that it was a lawless, partisan ‘raid.’ The darkest versions of these claims called for doing away with federal law enforcement altogether.”

Or as David Frum noted in The Atlantic: “In the hours since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s freshest resentments have become the election manifesto of his party, whose leaders are one by one lining up to investigate and punish the Department of Justice for enforcing the law against Donald Trump. Usually, August of an election year is when a party shifts its message from red meat for the true believers to softer themes for the general electorate. Trump is trying to stop that pivot, and after the FBI’s visit, he may succeed.”

We can’t imagine what might happen next for the simple reason we have never been here before. Never before have we had a lawless former president, sponsor of an effort to overturn an election and mired in endless scandal, supported by the most radical elements of one of our major political parties and hoping to reclaim power.

After than big New York event in 1939, the vast majority of Americans rejected the forces of fear and division the rally represented and committed themselves to the preservation of a pluralistic, democratic country, eventually sending sons and daughters to defeat the forces of fascism in a great war that continues to define the modern world.

Today the forces of fascism are again on the march, but they do not march as our would-be dictator claims from the ranks of the party of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Biden. The pressing threat to American democracy comes from the opposite direction, those who would shred the rule of law, while dividing us at every turn with appeals to hatred and violence.

We haven’t seen the bottom with these deplorables because there is no bottom. There is only democracy if we care enough to save it.

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Additional Reading:

For your consideration my carefully curated weekly selections …

Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen

A stunning investigative piece by the Associated Press. The AP obtained thousands of documents related to allegations of child abuse in Arizona and West Virginia, cases where Mormon Church officials had knowledge of the abuse but did nothing.

“Families of survivors who filed the lawsuit said they show it’s part of a system that can easily be misused by church leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement and instead to church attorneys who may bury the problem, leaving victims in harm’s way.”

It’s difficult to read, but one hopes this kind of story leads to reform.


How the FBI knew what to search for at Mar-a-Lago 

Scene of the crime …

Interesting Q-A with an expert on presidential records.

Q. How do the archivists actually know what’s missing? Isn’t that hard to figure out?

A. The archivists probably have a really keen idea of what is and what isn’t missing, based upon things that they’ve gotten out of other offices, like the vice president’s office and things that got deposited from the secretary of state, for example. There are a lot of papers that are referenced and cross-referenced, multiple copies or multiple things going in and out of offices.

Read the entire interview:


The maddening coverage of the Mar-a-Lago search

I’ve been a fan of the Columbia Journalism Review for years. This piece dissects some of the early news coverage of the big story out of Florida and hits hard at some of the shortcomings.

“After facing criticism yesterday, the Post changed its initial headline – ‘Garland vowed to depoliticize Justice. Then the FBI raided Trump’s safe’ – at least once. It now reads: ‘FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago lands Merrick Garland in a political firestorm’; on Google, it displays as: ‘For Garland, FBI search of Trump property makes it hard to avoid political fray.’ The updates constitute an improvement in that they don’t implicitly accuse Garland of politicizing the rule of law. But they’re far from perfect, resting on DC clichés—’political firestorm’; ‘political fray’—that are worn and passive, offering no insight into who might have started the fire or frayed democracy. This might seem pedantic, but headlines, and language more broadly, matter.”

Good reading to understand some of why the “media” is constantly under fire in the Age of Trump.


A sage for all seasons

From The Guardian archives a John Updike appreciation for Henry David Thoreau and Walden.

Henry David Thoreau

“Thoreau was 27 when he took up residence in the cabin by Walden Pond; he had graduated from Harvard 19th in his class, tried teaching, helped his father in the family pencil business, did local odd jobs for a dollar a day, lived with the Emersons for two years as handyman and gardener, left Long Island after a brief spell of tutoring and testing the literary market, and, despite Emerson’s sponsorship and a few poems and essays in the Transcendentalist quarterly The Dial, had made no mark. He emerged from the cabin in 1847 as essentially the Thoreau known to literary history.”

You’ll learn something and may be inspired to read the classic again. Here is the link.


Thanks for reading. Be well.

Democracy, Insurrection

Heed the Signs …

How can an American know that democracy at home is under assault, and may even collapse?

Listen.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, February 3, 2021:

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

“He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored.”

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Idaho Republican Senator James E. Risch, February 10, 2021:

“[Trump] said I need you to get out there and fight for me, well you know, what politician hasn’t said that to his supporters? You know, I need you to get out there and fight for me. Now it’s a really slippery slope to say that you hold a political rally and you give fiery speeches and then somebody goes out and does something you didn’t intend and then they hold you responsible for it. That’s not right.”

Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, February 10, 2021:

“Republicans used to advocate fidelity to the rule of law and the plain text of the Constitution. In 2020, Mr. Trump convinced many to abandon those principles. He falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him because of widespread fraud. While some degree of fraud occurs in every election, there was no evidence of fraud on a scale that could have changed this one. As the Select Committee will demonstrate in hearings later this year, no foreign power corrupted America’s voting machines, and no massive secret fraud changed the election outcome.

“Almost all members of Congress know this – although many lack the courage to say it out loud. Mr. Trump knew it too, from his own campaign officials, from his own appointees at the Justice Department, and from the dozens of lawsuits he lost. Yet, Mr. Trump ignored the rulings of the courts and launched a massive campaign to mislead the public.

“Donald Trump not only sought to destroy the electoral system through false claims of voter fraud and unprecedented public intimidation of state election officials, but he also then attempted to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to his duly elected successor, for the first time in American history.”

January 6, 2021

Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who investigated Richard Nixon’s crimes that came to be known as Watergate:

“In a deception that exceeded even Nixon’s imagination, Trump and a group of lawyers, loyalists and White House aides devised a strategy to bombard the country with false assertions that the 2020 election was rigged and that Trump had really won. They zeroed in on the Jan. 6 session as the opportunity to overturn the election’s result. Leading up to that crucial date, Trump’s lawyers circulated memos with manufactured claims of voter fraud that had counted the dead, underage citizens, prisoners and out-of-state residents.

“On that day, driven by Trump’s rhetoric and his obvious approval, a mob descended on the Capitol and, in a stunning act of collective violence, broke through doors and windows and ransacked the House chamber, where the electoral votes were to be counted. The mob then went in search of Pence – all to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Trump did nothing to restrain them.

“By legal definition this is clearly sedition – conduct, speech or organizing that incites people to rebel against the governing authority of the state. Thus, Trump became the first seditious president in our history.”

Capitol Police Staff Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, June 7, 2022. Gonell was permanently injured in the attack on the Capitol that claimed seven lives.

“To be honest, I just want the truth. I mean, like I said on my testimony back in last year, I had a feeling at the moment when I was fighting those people that this was well-coordinated. And from revelations that we have seen coming out from the investigations and through the court system, it has – and it was coordinated from the top down, from the president down. This was no coincidence of what happened. I believe that since the election, everybody who supported the president – most of them – they had a handle on it in terms of coordinating it, planning it, orchestrating it, including downplaying it after the fact, even though on January 6 they were running for their lives.”

Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan reacting to reports on June 8 that a heavily armed 22-year-old man who had threatened members of the Supreme Court was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder:

“I call on leaders in both parties in Washington to strongly condemn these actions in no uncertain terms. It is vital to our constitutional system that the justices be able to carry out their duties without fear of violence against them and their families.”

Garnell Whitfield Jr. speaking before a congressional committee, June 7, 2022. Whitfield’s 86-year-old mother died in a mass shooting carried out by a white supremacist in Buffalo, New York:

“My mom’s life mattered. Your actions here will tell us if and how much it mattered to you.  

“On that fateful day in Buffalo we realized the danger of allowing hatred in, any form, in our country to fester. It tears at the overall fabric of our democracy. Will we be better at being a multicultural nation?”

Historian Heather Cox Richardson, June 7, 2022:

“The Department of Homeland Security today issued a new bulletin in the National Terrorism Advisory System, stating that the U.S. ‘remains in a heightened threat environment.’ It noted that ‘[t]he continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence.’ Stories that the government is unwilling or unable to secure the southern border and the upcoming Supreme Court decision about abortion rights might lead to violence, it said. 

“Also, it noted: ‘As the United States enters mid-term election season this year, we assess that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase.’”

Pay attention.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

Two Stories Illustrate the Ongoing American Battle Over Education

The first from South Dakota where, as in many “red” states, the educational agenda is be framed by national conservative groups who aim to target teachers and destroy – not too harsh a word – public education.

Excellent reporting here from South Dakota News Watch.

And this from the Wisconsin Examiner. “Over the past few months, some Wisconsin Republican legislators have been scouring school libraries in their districts for potentially ‘inappropriate’ books … GOP lawmakers appear to be setting the stage for debates around what books should be restricted, and whether staff should be held accountable for providing them to students.”

The culture wars are raging.


Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire

This review of historian Caroline Elkins’ latest book is proof positive of why the effort to dumb down history by focusing only on the glories and not also the tragedies is so darn dangerous.

“Her detailing of [the violent] reality [of the British Empire] involves a deconstruction not only of the self-delusion, seductive mythology and doublespeak of the largest empire in human history, but also the deliberate official destruction of large parts of its historical record.”

From The Guardian.


“We’re Living in an Era of Extraordinary Corporate Power”

An interview with Katie Curran O’Malley, a candidate for attorney general in Maryland, who is vowing to focus on the growing anti-competitive nature of American business.

From Washington Monthly.


The Kystriksveien: Earth’s most beautiful road trip?

A travel piece from the BBC.

A part of Norway’s spectacular coastal road

“Seeming to wrap itself around the country like a protective shield from the freezing Arctic, Norway’s coastline appears to have shattered under the strain, riven as it is with islands and fjords cutting deep fissures inland. Along such a coast, it seems impossible that a road should exist here at all. In short, it seems like a miracle.”

The road is a “triumph of human ingenuity and perseverance.”


On that lovely note I’ll say thanks … and do what you can to speak out and defend our democracy. All the best.

Democracy, Trump

The Coming Reckoning . . .

Brace yourself.

In the next few months, perhaps even weeks, a former president of the United States is going to be indicted, charged with serious crimes that almost certainly will shake the fragile foundations of American democracy.

To date speculation about charges against Donald J. Trump, the 45th American president, have been largely taking place among legal and Constitutional scholars who watch every development as it unfolds amid the long threads of Trump’s legal exposure. But now the reality of what is likely to happen is increasingly in plain view. The man’s own words – Trump never hides what he’s really thinking or worried about – betray the peril he faces.

Former US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a “Save America” rally in Conroe, Texas on January 29, 2022. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

Trump is committing a type of obstruction in public. During a typically rambling, grievance laced performance in Texas recently, the former president was clear about two things. He read these lines straight off the teleprompter.

“If these radical, vicious racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had … in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”

And this: “If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly,” Trump said, and then underscoring his intentions “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Will Bunch, a practiced Trump watcher who writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, called it one of the “most incendiary and most dangerous speeches in America’s 246-year history.” He is not wrong.

In a few words, Trump was signaling again that those not cooperating with investigations into his incitement of an insurrectionist mob on January 6, people like former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, should hang tough. He’ll pardon them when he’s back in power. And that promise has particular influence. Trump’s done it before.

Even more astounding – and more dangerous – Trump is broadcasting to his most committed followers that any effort to hold him to account will be met by protests, and likely violence. There is simply no parallel in American history for a former president to behave in such a reckless, lawless fashion. This is not normal.

As Harry Litman, a former top Justice Department official and now a law professor, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Under Justice Department prosecution standards, just the publicly available evidence is sufficient to bring an indictment against Trump for the federal crime of obstruction or impeding an official proceeding – in this case, Congress’ certification of a presidential election.”

Prosecutors in Georgia examining Trump’s efforts to intimidate that state’s election officials into “finding” the votes he needed to defeat Joe Biden immediately asked the FBI to assess the risks prosecutors face after Trump’s threat.  

Litman goes on: “The guideline for federal prosecutors specify that prosecutors ‘should’ generally commence prosecution if two circumstances exist: first, the person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense – i.e. the prosecutor has determined that the defendant really is guilty and the prosecution is righteous – and second, the admissible evidence will ‘probably be sufficient’ to convict.”

We also know from extensive reporting, including on the record interviews, that Trump was actively involved in not only the events of January 6, but efforts before the Capitol attack to change the outcome of the election. And that word “change” is important because Trump and his defenders have peddled the fiction that he was just buying time to “investigate” alleged election irregularities. The trouble for Trump is there are no irregularities. Sixty unsuccessful lawsuits drive that point home conclusively.

Still, he sought to “change” the outcome. Trump tried to find a rationale to seize voting machines in several states, even going so far as to flirt with the idea of using the U.S. military to do the deed. He failed only because subordinates refused to follow through.

Former attorney general William Barr, long-time a Trump enabler, acknowledged to ABC’s Jonathan Karl that he eventually reached even his breaking point and quit. “My attitude was:” Barr told Karl for his book Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show. “It was put-up or shut-up time. If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”

Former attorney general William Barr calls Trump allegations of election fraud “bullshit”

Meanwhile, New York state officials are continuing a separate and long-running investigation into the Trump family’s business activities. Who knows what else is yet to come?

Brace yourself.

When the indictments come, when the charges are filed, the former president has already indicated what he will do. He’ll rally his troops, including the various militia groups that provided the organizational and physical muscle for January 6. He will insist that he is above any accountability, that the American judicial process is “rigged” against him and that his most armed, angry and grievance driven supporters – his brown shirts – must save the country.

The most committed Trumpists are clearly aware of what is unfolding. It is hardly a secret. The vast majority of Americans however, content to feast on insignificance like Tom Brady’s retirement or the host of Jeopardy, seem unaware of the danger ahead. The big lies about the election, Trump’s bluster and an endless pandemic have numbed us and exhausted us. Jeffrey Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, says it well.

“I actually think the American public is dramatically underplaying how significant and dangerous this is,” Engel told the New York Times recently, “because we cannot process the basic truth of what we are learning about President Trump’s efforts – which is we’ve never had a president before who fundamentally placed his own personal interests above the nation’s.”

Trump has secured absolutely the leadership of the Republican Party. His most violent prone true believers are locked and loaded. The Vichy-like enablers who have refused at every step to denounce and isolate the cancer at the heart of their party won’t save us. They have had many, many chances. They lack the courage to defend democracy, let alone the rule of law.

Brace yourself.

The real Constitutional crisis is coming. To look on the bright side we will never before have seen what is going to happen. It is wholly unique. The dark side of this uniqueness is more difficult to comprehend.

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Additional Reading:

You may find these items of interest…

Liz Cheney, the GOP’s Unshakeable Gadfly

Fellow Wyoming Republicans have declared she is out of their party and the national party has moved to censure her, but the not-so-gentlewoman from the Cowboy State continues to display real grit and enormous political courage. Books will be written about Ms. Cheney. Whatever you think of her policy positions, she is a profile in courage.

From Washington Monthly: “Like many gadflies who have come before her, Cheney has a knack for calling out the failings of her peers. At times, she seems to relish her newfound role. In a recent interview, she said of [Republican leader Kevin] McCarthy, ‘I wish that he were a brave and honorable man.'”

Read the full piece:


The Marine Who Turned Against U.S. Empire

A good deal of buzz about Jonathan Katz’s new book – Gangsters of Capitalism – a biography, and more, of a mostly forgotten Marine Corps general with the near perfect name – Smedley Butler.

The new book by Jonathan M. Katz

Gangsters of Capitalism is not only a biography of Butler. The long-dead Marine also serves as Katz’s Virgil, leading him on a journey around the world and through the inferno of empire’s afterlife. Katz himself learned about Butler as a reporter for the Associated Press in Haiti. Based in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince during the earthquake in 2010, Katz reported on the disaster, which killed at least 100,000 people; he escaped from the house that served as the AP bureau not long before it collapsed. Haiti’s poverty—the starkest in the hemisphere—unquestionably compounded the natural disaster of the earthquake into a human tragedy. (Chile had a higher magnitude quake the same year, and the deaths numbered in the hundreds.)”

Good read here:


The Texas Electric Grid Failure Was a Warm-up

By the time you read this Texas may be in the middle of another failure of its electric grid. A severe winter storm is forecast for the state. When that happened last year, Senator Ted Cruz went to Cancun (briefly), while lots

of Texans shivered in the dark. It almost certainly will happen again.

“Nobody yet knew just how widespread the blackouts would become—that they would spread across almost the entire state, leave an unprecedented 11 million Texans freezing in the dark for as long as three days, and result in as many as seven hundred deaths. But neither could the governor, legislators, and regulators who are supposed to oversee the state’s electric grid claim to be surprised. They had been warned repeatedly, by experts and by previous calamities—including a major blackout in 2011—that the grid was uniquely vulnerable to cold weather.”

From Texas Monthly.


Dear Mr Joyce: an essay by Edna O’Brien

I celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses by the great Irish writer James Joyce by taking down my copy and looking at it. I’ve never gotten far reading it. I’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, enjoy this essay about Joyce, and maybe sip a cocktail in the old boy’s honor. I’m told his favorite (Michael Collins, too) was brandy and orange liqueur.

“In his youth [Joyce] was suspicious, contemptuous, unaccommodating. He saw his countrymen as being made up of yahoos, adulterous priests and sly deceitful women. He classed it as ‘the venereal condition of the Irish.’ Like the wild geese he had a mind to go elsewhere. He wanted to be continentalised. He liked the vineyards. He had a dream of Paris, and a craze for languages. In literature his heroes were Cardinal Newman and Henrik Ibsen.”

Enjoy. From The Guardian:


Be well. Be generous. All the best and thanks for reading.