While many of us are focused on the internal threats created by actors within one of the two major parties in our country, developments overseas may create long and short term threats to our national interests. The chaos created by an ex-president ranting about stolen elections and defending insurrections, coupled with Members of Congress that threaten other Members with death, and the general unrest fomented by self-declared revolutionaries, draws attention away from other developments.
In the long term, China provides a real threat to many of our established interests. In the short term, Russia is under increasing internal pressure to improve the quality of life for its citizens, a challenge that President Vladimir Putin may not be able to meet. Thus, he increasingly turns his focus outward. In both cases, a tried and true tactic of autocrats is to quell internal unrest by creating outside enemies that focus citizens’ attention outward.
Looking long term first, China is vying to be the biggest economic, political, and military competitor to the U.S. Chinese legislators recently removed term limits for their presidency, making President Xi Jinping the de-facto President-for-Life. He has now amassed power on the scale of the late Mao Zedong. Indeed, in December 2019 the Chinese Politburo gave him the official title of the “People’s Leader.” That title was only used once before — for Mao. Since assuming power, President Xi has taken a hard line nationalist position on national security and foreign affairs. As part of this strengthened position, Xi has consolidated Chinese control of Macau and Hong Kong. Especially in the case of Hong Kong, this enhanced control led to the loss of most of the freedoms its residents previously took for granted. The Hong Kong of pre-2019 is no more.
All of which leads to the long term threat. China seems to be intent on gaining control of Taiwan, much as it did with Hong Kong. The U.S. walks a fine line in its relationship with Taiwan. In adhering to the “One China Policy” the U.S. recognizes the government in Beijing as the “true” government for China, rather than any government in Taiwan. The Chinese view is that Taiwan is a break-away province of China and must be reunited with the rest of the country. In order to have diplomatic relations with Beijing, there can be no official recognition or official relations with the Taiwanese government. Complicating the issue is that Taiwan considers itself to be the Republic of China — an independent country. The U.S. encourages the re-unification of the two, but only under peaceful, negotiated conditions and has vowed to support Taiwan against any coercion or military actions to force the situation.
The threat is one of war in the Pacific. Over the last few weeks, China has become increasingly bellicose in its statements concerning Taiwan and has sent ships and aircraft in the direction of the island nation — drills according to the Chinese, tests of Taiwanese defenses according to the view of those on the island. As many as 56 aircraft at a time have flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone — airspace controlled by a particular nation to enhance national security but outside its territorial boundaries). The United States and Australia in particular, but including other countries with interests in the Pacific, have warned China about its provocative actions and that they will respond to any Chinese military attack or other coercive measures against Taiwan.
Stay tuned as this crisis will continue to build. It is unlikely in the near term that China will directly attack Taiwan or any other forces in the region, but we can expect China to continue to ratchet up the pressure and to increase the level of provocations. There is always the danger in such conditions for an error or inadvertent action that results in shots fired. More ominously, it is likely that China is taking the long view — as in years. They will continue to enhance their economic and military strength to the point that their threats and provocations will have real teeth. They are probably not there yet, but under Xi, they clearly intend for Taiwan (formerly Formosa) to rejoin mainland China for the first time since 1949.
Russia is a different case. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, an uneasy truce prevails along the border, even as active fighting occasionally occurs in some areas. In recent weeks, Russia moved 80-100,000 troops to the Ukraine border region. U.S. and NATO officials are worried that such movements may be a precursor to an invasion to reassert the Russian control that they lost with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part.
Western sanctions against Russia are having an economic impact, as well as the fact that Russia is experiencing a devastating fourth wave of COVID infections. Things are not good in Russia these days. Additionally, it is believed that President Putin believes the West is in disarray and that this may be his best opportunity to enact his vision of a “Greater Russia.” Mr. Putin never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union and once said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.” He sees that the U.S. is focused on internal dissent and domestic turmoil as well as China and Asia in general. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany is stepping down. The French have elections in a few months. Ukraine appears weak and fractious. The U.S. is absent its ambassadors pretty much throughout the world, including to the E.U. and NATO and is missing high level political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department weakening our diplomatic clout. (Senator Ted Cruz (Tr-TX) primarily, with an assist from Senator Josh Hawley (Tr-MO) are holding the nominations hostage for their own purposes. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for some reason is not playing hard ball and is letting them get away with it. How about keeping the Senate in session day and night right through Thanksgiving until all nominations are approved? But I digress.)
The situation is ripe for Mr. Putin to take action. We may be seeing the early stages of the drama play out in Belarus and Poland. In brief, Belarus is “importing” “refugees” from the Middle East and Africa and sending them to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The Belarus military is reported to be aiding the refugees in trying to enter those nations, and at the moment, particularly in Poland. Poland refuses to take them. Besides a looming humanitarian crisis, the aim of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”) is to create a political crisis and to destabilize the western nations by overwhelming them with poor refugees. President Lukashenko is angry over western sanctions against his country following their imposition in response to a totally corrupt and illegal “election” last fall that allowed him to stay in power. Mr. Lukashenko never would do anything to upset the stability of the region without at least tacit permission from Mr. Putin. Many speculate that it is direct Russian permission and support.
There are two possible reasons to create this crisis. One is to take more attention away from activities along the Ukrainian border. The other is to provide an excuse for Russian western expansion.
Note Kaliningrad. Part of Russia. To get there, Russia needs to cross into Poland, and/or Lithuania. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were once part of the Soviet Union and still have large ethnic Russian populations. As does Ukraine. If Mr. Putin is serious about his Greater Russia, there is no better place to begin his expansion. (I’m sure everyone remembers what happened in the Sudetenland with Germany in 1938.) As those familiar with European wars know, the terrain between Russia’s mainland and the Baltic is mostly flat, open space. In military terms, there is little defense in depth nor are there many geographic features to use to mount a strong defense against armor columns. Indeed, the U.S. keeps a military presence in the Baltic states in order to deter Russian meddling.
Am I predicting another theater-wide war in Europe? No. I do not predict much of anything anymore. It just seems that Mr. Putin may assess that if he is ever going to start building his vision of a restored Russian Empire, the time is now to start somewhere. “Reuniting” Kaliningrad and the Russians in northern Poland and the Baltics with the motherland may be on his mind. A crisis on the border with Ukraine or Belarus may give him the pretext.
The point is that these are dangerous times. There is a lot going on in the world outside of our obsession with an ex-president and his corrupt political party. We must be on guard against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” While we are focused inward, our enemies and competitors will take advantage of it.
These are, indeed, interesting times.
“Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and to get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”
— John Lewis
There is an autocrats play book. History is full of examples of successes and failures. Those that succeed most often follow a step-by-step process that creates an insidious stream of events that lead to a strongman in power. First, condone violence. “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Second, do not accept election results. “Stop the steal!” Then the violence becomes political violence. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Then it becomes political violence to overturn lost elections. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol… because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” In my view, the insurrection on 6 January is only the beginning.
A not so fun fact: Since 1 January 2021 there have been about 70 bomb threats on Capitol Hill. Just another day at the office.
With or without Congress taking action to normalize our elections across all fifty states, there will be more violent political activity. Currently Congress is working to enfranchise all eligible voters, thus overturning the many state voting laws that limit voting and give power to Republican controlled entities to overturn any election that their candidate does not win. With the passage of a national voting law, we will survive the attempted coups and remain a democratic Republic. Without such laws, I fear we will not survive as a democracy.
While voting laws have been the purview of state legislatures, there is ample precedent for national standards. In addition, Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, commonly known as the “elections clause,” and as modified by the 17th and 20th Amendments, gives Congress the power to “at any time by Law make or alter such regulations” passed by individual states.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was passed by the House in 2020 but not by the Senate and has since been reintroduced. It is designed to reinstate provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to over ride a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the core elements of the VRA.
A second bill called the Freedom to Vote Act was an attempt by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to create a compromise bill, stripped of some its more controversial elements, that could gain ten Republican votes to over ride the filibuster of the For the People Act already passed by the House. After a summer’s worth of work and assurances from Senator Manchin that he could find some moderate Republicans in favor of the bill, not one Republican voted for over riding a filibuster to bring it to the floor for discussion. For discussion. They will not even talk about voting rights in the Senate, much less vote to protect those rights.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R?-KY) is counting on Senator Manchin to effectively do his dirty work as Mr. Manchin vociferously proclaims that he will do nothing to eliminate the filibuster for voting rights. An outdated Senate rule is apparently more important than allowing people to vote and to maintain the integrity of election results.
Thus, phase one of the Republicans’ attack on democracy continues without interruption.
This leads me to the second phase of that plan. The demonstrations — occasionally violent but with violence always as an implied threat — over masks, Covid-19 vaccines, and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Initially, I could not fully grasp what the problem might be. Why such vehement over reaction? So much of our common good derives from mandatory actions — seat belts, smoking, drinking and driving, wearing shirts and shoes in restaurants, and other required vaccines, for example — to protect the individual and the community at large. People do not protest those requirements, so why these? Now I am beginning to get it. The issues are merely excuses for most protesters, not core beliefs. To put it in simple terms, they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. The issues themselves are not relevant. They are just mad. Nearly any issue will do, and in fact the issues do change over time and depend on the circumstance. These issues are merely symbols for pushing back on what they see as a dominant federal government that is mandating change. Be it LGBTQ issues, same sex marriage, immigration, an increasingly diverse nation, and on and on. The white, male, Christian dominated society that they believe is the true essence of our American national identity is changing. And they will not go quietly into that new society.
That is the genius of Trumpism. Tap into the rage, the fear and the sense of loss and turn it into power.
As a result, we are now seeing 6 Januarys across the country at school board meetings, county council meetings and other local seats of community engagement. The threats, intimidation and violence against local elected officials and their families are a manifestation of Trumpism and the autocratic methods of using violence as the means to achieve political ends. If they can remove the officials that are the focus of their ire, or better yet, intimidate them into quitting, then they can replace them with people that will do their bidding. Please do not misinterpret my comments to mean that I object to legitimate protest, I do not. I understand that such protests can get heated at times. What I am talking about is a lot more than that. When people show up at local officials homes, burn slogans into their grass, brandish weapons outside their windows, and conduct other such documented “protests,” then we are in an entirely different world.
Perhaps the people using such tactics are a tiny minority of the population, but the impact that they have is real and significant. History tells us that be it Russia in 1917, Germany in 1933, or nearly any country where autocrats now rule, they were in the minority until they seized control. Autocratic parties generally are a minority party when they seize power. That explains the tactics to suppress the vote, to intimidate those that do not support them, and to use violence to refute and change election results.
I have lost faith in our elected officials in Congress. The Democrats continue with “regular order” and debates within the party that create the appearance that they cannot get their act together. When faced with direct threats to our democracy they act like wimps in the face of these challenges choosing to honor arcane rules of the Senate that do not have a basis in law or the Constitution rather than to support and defend the Constitution. Republicans are the party of “no!” I do not believe that they stand for anything. Their only goal is to march in lock step to use Trump and his followers to regain power. They are using those arcane rules — especially in the Senate — to stop anything and everything put forward by President Biden or his party. They do not just vote against it, they filibuster almost everything, making it nearly impossible in the current environment to do anything, even if as many as nine Republican Senators support it (although most times the total number of Republican votes for something is zero).
We already are a minority rule country. For example, Senators from 21 mostly small or rural states representing less than a quarter of the total population of the country, can stop any legislation of which they do not approve. Put another way, Senators from 15 small states represent 38 million people while the Senators from one state (California) represent 40 million citizens.
We now have an ex-president roaming the country continuing to claim that he is the real president. Recent polls suggest that more and more people believe him. One poll shows that 66 percent of Republican voters and 18 percent of Independent voters believe that the election was “stolen” from the ex-president. 53 percent of Republicans in another recent poll believe that the ex-president is the “true president.” That does not bode well for a democracy. Propaganda works. Tell a lie enough times and people start to believe it. Unfortunately, history provides countless examples.
Most threatening, and appalling, is that the Sedition Caucus (those that voted against certifying Joe Biden as the 46th president) in Congress is growing stronger. New candidates recruited to run as Republicans in the 2022 election are nearly universally required to continue to vociferously support the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by the Democrats.
(Timeout. It continues to baffle me that to date, no one can explain why there is no evidence of any widespread fraud, ballot manipulation, Jewish-Italian lasers from space or any other discrepancy in the voting process despite nearly countless challenges in court, state audits, faux audits and every other endeavor known to mankind to find a problem. The usual answer is to blow off the lack of evidence as evidence itself. In other words, the Democrats and the thousands of poll workers of both parties required to do what is alleged were so clever, that they left no trace of evidence behind. Also unanswered is why on the same ballots, only the presidential votes were allegedly tampered with but not the hundreds or thousands of other offices voted on during the same election?)
In a country where vigilantes are legitimized by the Supreme Court, Congressional subpoenas are routinely ignored without consequence, people actively attempt to overthrow the government and overturn elections, and the evidence continues to mount that a sitting president tried to use the power of the federal government to remain in office after losing an election, there is real evidence that our way of life is being directly challenged. We are in big trouble.
Where does it stop?
The first and most important step is for Congress to pass legislation to standardize national elections and to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot and that those ballots mean something. The results cannot be overturned by one party that is not happy with the result. Period. Nothing else matters. It is job one and the Democrats need to make it happen. Now. Do your damn jobs and pass the voting rights legislation.
Do not sit by. Get into some good trouble. Elections matter.
All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable.
— Albert “Albie” Louis Sachs
It has been quite a long time since I have written in this space. The reasons for it are many, but primarily it is because I find the current state of our nation to be so perilous that I seriously wonder if our course can be corrected to avoid the shoals. It is overwhelming. One hardly knows where to start. Seemingly everyday we are bombarded with bad news.
- Despite over 705,000 Americans (that is roughly 1 out of every 468 of us) dying from COVID-19 we still have millions of yahoos that deny the efficacy of vaccines and violently protest having to wear a mask.
- The Supreme Court allowed the implementation of a Texas law that monetizes vigilantism. The ability to spy on your neighbor and earn 10,000 dollars for doing so comes on top of a “gun rights” law that allows anyone to carry a weapon without a license, training, background check or any other common sense limitation.
- State legislatures in several states are banning the teaching of “critical race theory” — a concept that they do not understand. They only want to teach the “positive” aspects of American history and not “embarrass” or “traumatize” students by also including such upsetting facts that the Founding Fathers included many slave owners, there was a Civil War fought over slavery as an institution and the Ku Klux Klan terrorized Black Americans for decades. The term “in Order to form a more perfect Union” (striving for, not already in place) and Lincoln’s “that this nation — under God — shall have a new birth of freedom” (we need to do better and live up to “all men are created equal”) apparently does not mean anything to those pushing the legislation. Probably because they never got a good education, so their legacy is to pass down their ignorance.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on. Our country is doing some really bonkers things. Almost everything pales in comparison to the real threat to our future. Our democracy and the future of our Republic is under attack. Not from a foreign enemy or an outside terrorist threat. It is under attack by one of the two major political parties crucial to the functioning of our democracy. Republicans have become a direct threat to our democratic future. Only one party — Democrats — is interested in governing. The other is hell-bent on upending our traditions and norms in the pursuit of absolute power. This is both exceedingly sad and completely distressing. I don’t write these words carelessly. It is not about policy or “politics as usual” or differences in opinion or differing outlooks on what is good for our future. The majority of Republican elected officials at all levels of government are working day and night to subvert our elections and to solidify their control over the country. I am not sure we have ever faced this development — certainly not since the Civil War.
On one level, Senator Mitch McConnell (R?-KY), in lock step with his caucus, is willing to destroy the US economy and seriously damage the world’s economy for a short term political gain in the 2022 elections. Despite voting 32 times — and three times under the ex-president with the Democrat’s support — to extend the country’s debt limit, he suddenly decides it’s a Democrat problem rather than a national problem. The debt limit (as anachronistic as it is) allows the government to pay the bills for what was already spent, not future spending. The ex-president ran up an additional 7.8 billion dollar tab on top of the national debt in four years and now the Republicans say it is the Democrat’s problem. Today a temporary truce to extend the issue until December was agreed upon, but this is going to come up again. More to the point, every single Republican in Congress voted against raising the limit knowing the consequences. And for the first time that I know about, they did not just vote against it, they invoked the filibuster, making it almost impossible to overcome. Don’t talk to me about any “moderates” in their caucus.
(Footnote: Contrary to popular myth and propaganda, every single Republican president since 1960, except for Richard Nixon, added to the national debt. Every single Democrat president since 1960, except for Barack Obama, lowered the national debt. In today’s world, as we well know, facts don’t matter anymore.)
All of this takes a back seat to the real battle underway. I am sad to report that, understandably or not given all that individuals and families are dealing with today, most Americans are blissfully unaware that their ability to elect their government representatives is slipping away. States are enacting laws that suppress the vote — especially for the poor and minorities — and rigging the certification of the results if the suppression does not work.
This is all part of a larger plan.
For months after the 2020 election I thought that the loser of that election was a whiny complainer that could not face reality. As more and more information becomes available, I realize just how close we came to his pulling off a coup and that in fact, even as he complains about 2020, it really isn’t about that election anymore. He and his cohorts are laying the ground work to successfully steal the election in 2024. It’s no longer about the past, it is about the future. If the ex-president doesn’t run, or cannot run because he is in jail, then someone like him will use the tactics, techniques and procedures that are being put into place now to make sure that a Republican is named president (whether actually elected or not). Democrats won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. Think about that. Only President George H.W. Bush won the popular vote in 2004 by about 3 million votes. (Remember that President Joe Biden won the popular vote by about 7 million and many express the opinion that the other guy “barely” lost.) The Republicans know that it will only get harder for them to win a national election, therefore, they are working hard to ensure that they can overcome their deficit in, you know, actual votes.+
We do not yet know everything involving the 2020 election shenanigans and the events surrounding the 6 January assault on the Capitol in an attempted coup. It appears that the then president did everything in his power to stay in office. Basically, without going into every detail, he had a three part plan. The big picture plan was:
- Get state officials to change the official vote counts. Famously, the ex-president or his flunkies badgered officials in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and elsewhere to change the votes or to decertify the results in order to allow “alternate” presidential electors to be counted.
- Throw the election certification in Congress to the House of Representatives to resolve — where under the rules of one state one vote he would have prevailed. How to do this was specifically spelled out in the “Eastman memo” which was written by a legal adviser to the president and provided a six step plan on how to declare the 2020 election results as invalid and thereby give the Vice President the opportunity to declare the incumbent the winner. Constitutional scholars deride the legal reasoning in the memo, but the fact remains that despite the perception that they were “winging it”, there was an actual plan. It also appears that Vice President Pence is not quite the hero that many made him out to be on 7 January. In fact, it appears that he looked for a way to satisfy his boss and throw the election his way until it became apparent that there just was no way that he could reasonably do so. But imagine the chaos had he tried, especially as the majority of the Sedition Caucus in the Congress voted to invalidate the results.
- Send hooligans, miscreants, ignoramuses, and staunch supporters to the Capitol to overthrow the government on 6 January. The full story of how this came to be will be uncovered in future months but already roughly 600 people have been arrested with many in jail and others awaiting trial. So far they have all been “soldiers” in the coup. I cannot wait until some of the “colonels” and “generals” (in the Congress and the White House and the campaign) get to do the perp walk. All involved need to be held accountable.
They had a plan. As I wrote in this space often last year, they told us what the plan was. They just failed to execute it because a few state and local officials — of both parties — refused to go along. What to do? Put people in place for the next time that will go along. This is the purpose behind the candidacy of numerous state and local officials throughout the country and the changes to laws in numerous states as to who can certify election results. If all else fails, states such as Arizona, the legislature reserves unto themselves the ability to over-ride the announced results and send the “approved” slate of electors to the Congress — regardless of the popular vote. This is the purpose of all the sham audits now taking place, along with the rallies, statements and other popular messaging. They are indoctrinating voters into the belief that they cannot trust the system, therefore we will decide for you what the results are. They are laying the groundwork to overturn the next election.
Many of us may think “impossible.” It cannot happen here. Too many safeguards are in place. It did not work in 2020 so why would it work in the future? Because of what I explained above, which is only the tip of the iceberg of the efforts underway to ensure that the next election results in the Republican candidate’s victory. Period.
Many comparisons are being made to Hungary, Turkey, and other “western” NATO democratic countries. All of them claim to be democracies, but in fact, their leaders have stacked the deck so heavily in every area of the society that the rules preclude anyone from winning an election that the controlling powers do not want to win. Likewise, the 6 January coup attempt is alternately compared to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 or the Russian Revolution of 1905. Both failures. Both were effectively “dress rehearsals” for later successful government take-overs.
I am more fascinated by a possible comparison to Uruguay in 1973, which in some ways was reflective of events throughout Latin America in the years before and after. I was briefly in the country just before the pandemic and had the opportunity to visit a museum dedicated to the nation’s long legacy of democracy and democratically elected presidents. Knowing the basic history of South American military dictatorships, I asked our guide whether or not such a thing occurred in Uruguay, since it wasn’t mentioned in the museum. The answer was “yes.” But they do not like to talk about it and consider it an anomaly. When I asked why it did happen, the short answer — my interpretation, not a direct quote although some of the same words were used — was that “everyone” was afraid that the “socialists” and “communists” would take over and there would be a dictatorship. The same justification for coups given throughout much of South America in that period. So, a right wing military dictatorship was better than a socialist government, or so they thought.
I think of that every time I hear Senator McConnell, or the former guy, or any number of Republican Senators and Representatives give prepared remarks excoriating the “socialist Democrats” and the “communist Democrats.” Over and over and over. Of course some call Democrats “fascists” and “communists” in the same phrase, but they cannot help it if they are ignorant. More to the point, thanks to their repetitive accusations, millions of people think that the Biden Administration is socialist, or worse, communist and is the equivalent of an autocracy because, after all, aren’t all socialists and communists dictators? Couple that barrage of propaganda with the Big Lie that the election was stolen and it is not hard to understand why our democracy is in trouble. Millions of people believe it. Earlier this year the American Enterprise Institute did a survey where one in three Americans believe that force is justified to “save our way of life.” Roughly two-thirds of Republicans in that same poll believe that the 2020 election had wide spread voter fraud.
If you want to understand what has happened and is happening, I recommend that you read Robert Kagan’s essay “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.” It is sobering to say the least.
There is a way out. Several bills passed by the House and pending in the Senate will give fundamental base lines for voting rights and the conduct of national elections across the 50 states. Again, the entire Republican caucus opposes these laws. Once again, as I have said before, if there is nothing else worth getting rid of the filibuster, this is it. At least for bills relating to basic voting rights.
If we lose our ability to participate in our democracy, we lose our country. There is nothing else more important. Not infrastructure, not budgets, not tax cuts or increases, nothing else can be accomplished unless we have free and fair elections where everyone that can vote is able to do so.
A revolution is underway. Republicans have become a subversive operation in the thrall of one man who strives mightily to be our first autocrat, king, or strongman. Pick your euphemism. He wants to gain unfettered power. Only we, the people, can stop the revolution.
Nothing is impossible for the person that doesn’t have to do it.
— With apologies to A. H. Weiler
There is plenty of blame to go around for the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. It took a lot of work by multiple U.S. administrations to get to the point that we are at today. President Biden is getting the blame today because, it is after all, his watch. He is responsible for what happens during his time as president. However, it is amazing how short the American memory is for politicians, journalists and pundits as they continue to heap scorn on the president for the current “fiasco” and “embarrassment.” Let’s get a few facts straight.
It is wrong to call this a defeat of the American military and that it shows that we are weak and incompetent. The Taliban did not defeat the American military. They defeated the Afghan military. As has happened throughout history, an army can be well trained, fully equipped with modern technology and it means nothing if there is no will to fight. In the end the Afghan military did not have the will to resist the Taliban. The reasons for that are many. Saying that they lost the will to fight in no way diminishes their numerous achievements on the battlefields of Afghanistan nor does it diminish the bravery of many Afghan soldiers and units during twenty years of war. In the end, they were betrayed by their own political and military leaders. The Taliban regaining control over the entire country was a political and policy defeat, not a military one, that had been years in the making.
I do not think it was a wasted war. American lives were lost in the cause of destroying terrorists that attacked our country. We did that and more. The U.S. military should be proud of the sacrifices that they made. It was worth it.
To begin a discussion, one has to decide whether or not we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan. Since 2011 and the killing of Osama bin Laden then Vice President, now President, Biden has been calling for the end of American involvement in Afghanistan. The original mission was to overthrow the Taliban, defeat al-Queda and to capture or kill Osama. In 2011 all of that was accomplished. Many argue it was essentially finished within a year of our invasion of Afghanistan and that it could have included Osama’s death if we had not let him get away in Tora Bora. Indeed, the Taliban offered to surrender in 2001 and the U.S. refused. As is often the case, the original mission morphed into a nation building exercise. Again. Again we learned that cultures with no history of democracy or loyalty to a central government will not adapt to American style democracy. President Biden’s decision to withdraw can be debated — I happen to think it was the right choice for reasons that I will explain below — but it is reasonable for others to argue that we should have stayed. Those people that so argue should also recognize that we would have had to return large numbers of American military personnel to the country. The 2,500 that were there when the Biden Administration took office would not have been sufficient to stop the Taliban’s increasing influence and control over the entire country. More troops would have been required. More troops in combat means more casualties. To argue that there had been no casualties for over a year ignores the reasons for that — the fact that the Trump Administration struck a deal with the Taliban. Had we not left as the previous administration agreed to do, undoubtedly there would have been renewed attacks on U.S. personnel.
Once the decision to leave is made — and it should have come as no surprise to anyone — then it is up to the Department of Defense, State Department and other government agencies to execute it to the best of their ability. I happen to think that they are doing a better than average job under very trying circumstances. To date, over 20,000 civilians have been evacuated from Kabul without a single American casualty. As the president said, however, it is a very volatile situation and there is no guarantee that it won’t fall apart at any moment. But despite the chaos of the first day, it has proceeded better than most could have hoped.
The real criticism of the Biden Administration — and a situation that needs a Congressional inquiry — is the total and complete miss on the intelligence estimates of how long the Afghan government and military could continue to function after the U.S. withdrew. Either there is a long litany of lies about conditions in Afghanistan or the Intelligence Community totally missed the boat. As is often the case, it is probably some combination of the two, but the fact remains that public statements did not in any form match the reality on the ground that the Taliban would take down the government controlled areas of the country in just over a week.
It should not have been a surprise. Twenty years on the ground with supposed experts making entire careers analyzing events in the country should have known what was going on. In the simplest terms, open source material indicates that following the 29 February 2020 Trump Peace Accord, known formally as “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan Between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” — just the name of the agreement tells us something — the Taliban began preparing for their take over. Note that the agreement was between the U.S. and the Taliban. The Afghan government had no say or role in the negotiations and got no results from the agreement. The following are the key parts of the agreement which are spelled out in detail in the Accord:
- The U.S. agreed immediately to begin to reduce the number of troops in the country and promised to withdraw all remaining forces within fourteen months (May 2021).
- The U.S. released 5,000 prisoners that were Taliban fighters.
- The Taliban promised to prevent terrorist groups, especially al-Queda, from using Afghanistan to attack the U.S. or its allies.
- The Taliban and the national government of Afghanistan will enter negotiations for a cease fire and a coalition government.
- The Taliban will no longer attack U.S. forces or bases while the U.S. withdraws.
Almost immediately the Taliban began to approach low-level officials, and then gradually more and more senior officials and leaders throughout the country to convince them, through persuasion, threats and especially bribes, to surrender their villages, cities and regions to the Taliban when the time came in return for protection for them and their families. When the leadership quietly slipped away in the night, the rank and file were not going to risk their lives for nothing. In much of Afghan culture their loyalties are to family, village, tribe and not the central government in Kabul. Graft and corruption are so rampant in the country that many of the police and soldiers had not been paid in months. When offered money, and knowing that the central government would not help them, they took it.
Recall the optics of the Trump agreement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Doha Qatar to meet with the Taliban and proudly stood side by side for photo ops. Recall that the ex-president while in office wanted to bring the Taliban negotiators to Camp David on 11 September 2019. Trump adviser Stephen Miller — the virulently anti-immigration nut case — actively undermined the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program for Afghanis that helped us as translators and in other ways because he did not want them in our country. And on and on. It is more than hypocritical of Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media to accuse President Biden of selling out the Afghan people and giving recognition to the Taliban. It was already done. President Biden could have refused to follow the Trump deal, but he made the decision to delay the withdrawal from May 2021 to August 2021 to allow more time for a better deal to be reached. It wasn’t. Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan national government were interested in any type of serious agreement with each other. I suspect that the Afghan government did not really expect the U.S. to leave completely, or else they already had their escape plans in place. None-the-less, the Biden Administration is in charge and it is their responsibility. But let’s not forget how we got to this point. These events set the stage for what we now see happening.
There were elite, well trained and disciplined Afghan special forces. They were ready to defend Kabul. When the president and most of the cabinet, along with other senior government officials, flew out of the country without warning, they melted away like all the others. They cannot fight to save the national government if there is no national government to defend.
It was, in essence, at the end, a nearly bloodless coup. Money talks and a lot of Afghanis walked. I think President Biden is correct to say that he will not send young American women and men to fight and die in a country where their own military will not defend themselves. It is over. The decision is made. It is time to make the best of a bad situation.
What makes it bad is that many American civilians remain in the country and it becomes a greater moral dilemma because we owe a debt to tens of thousands of Afghanis and their families who helped us over the course of twenty years believing that things would end differently. This is the mess. The timing comes under this administration, but this same circumstance would have ensued whenever the end came. Once people believe that all is lost, the stampede is on. As soon as the U.S. began withdrawing its embassy personnel, aid workers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others, the Afghanis would know that it was over and panic would ensue. Could it have been timed out better? Yes. Could the chaos have been avoided? No. It is inevitable at some point.
The question now is what to do. The U.S. goal is to complete the evacuation by 31 August. Many critics believe that is too early, ignoring the president’s statements that the date is a goal, not a hard and fast requirement. Developments over the next few days will determine what happens. People are looking for hard and fast answers. That is reasonable but not realistic. The commanders on the ground are going to have to make some quick and difficult decisions. It is a very fluid situation. So far, for the most part the Taliban have stuck by their agreement to let the evacuation continue. There is no way to definitively say that this will last forever. I believe the Taliban leadership wants it to go smoothly and quickly because they want us gone. The sooner the better. They do not want to risk our return. That does not mean that some hothead on the front lines or a group of hotheads might not take matters into their own hands. The situation could blow up quickly with very little instigation. This is especially true if the U.S. begins going outside of the airport perimeter, or even outside of Kabul, to bring evacuees in.
There is a lot of blame to go around. Our collective amnesia of events in other administrations should not cloud our thinking about the current situation. In the end, the Biden Administration will demonstrate that they have the ability and know-how to pull off a Dunkirk style evacuation. Or not. Until then, the critics should hold their fire until the results are known.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
— Maya Angelou
For quite some time, I have been trying to figure out why nearly all of the elected officials in the Republican Party are okay with a budding autocrat, are okay with defiling their oath to the Constitution, are okay with an insurrection at the Capitol, and are okay with disenfranchising millions of Americans. I thought that surely there must be more than a handful of them that are true to their American roots, laws, institutions, and fundamental beliefs. I could not put all of the pieces together as to why they were undermining America — but I knew that it had to be about more than just politics, fear of being “primaryed” or some cult-like belief in an ex-president. It started to click with me this week due to a number of independent, but related analyses that I came upon.
This is my attempt to put it all together in a coherent way without getting too lost in the weeds. To me, it is critical that those of us that have not been privy to the real motivations behind the shenanigans of the last year understand it. Otherwise, I fear that we will lose our Republic and democracy.
I assert up front that the ex-president is not the be all, end all of the Republican Party that many think that he is. He finds the Republican Party to be a useful tool for his own aggrandizement and the Party finds him to be a useful tool to achieve their agenda and to reach their goal of “saving” the United States. (More on that in a moment.) It is a union of convenience that is mutually beneficial, but only as long as they both see that the means are moving them to the desired ends.
The picture became clearer to me after reading The Big Money Behind the Big Lie in The New Yorker Magazine by Jane Mayer. The well researched and documented article caught national attention because it details the sources of millions of dollars that are helping to keep the Big Lie alive and is being used by numerous right wing organizations to push state legislatures across the country to pass election laws that disenfranchise millions of non-white voters. Worse, many of those laws give partisan office holders or state legislatures the ability to override the will of the people if the vote doesn’t go the way that they want it.
The sources behind the money are scary enough, but what caught my eye was why they were doing it, and suddenly some of the pieces started to fall into place. It is complicated, and in my view, un-American, but that is not how they see it and they have the money, the ability, and most importantly, the will to shape our country to their view of the future if they are not stopped by a national elections law.
Ironically, today, 6 August is the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 designed to reinforce and make real the provisions of the 15th Amendment. Thanks to current efforts in the wake of the Supreme Court severely crippling that Act in the 2013 case Shelby County v Holder, the historical bipartisan approach to voting rights is no more. The path to our current situation is long, but more direct than it may seem.
The supporters of the ex-president point to the 2000 Supreme Court decision in Bush v Gore, the case that in practice gave the 2000 election result in Florida to the Republican candidate resulting in President George W. Bush becoming our 43rd President. (The “hanging chads” election.) As I am neither a Constitutional nor legal scholar, my shorthand as interpreted by the ex-president’s supporters is that in his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, said that the state legislature can be the final arbiter of the rules governing an election. This is the first step in the Big Lie and the subsequent attempts to cancel Electoral College votes and thereby send the election results back to the state legislatures to resolve. Their approach is further aided by the murky Electoral Count Act of 1887 which was designed to clarify the mess created in the presidential election of 1876 where Rutherford B. Hayes is said to have stolen the presidency after a back room deal to end Reconstruction. Unfortunately it is full of exploitable provisions.
All that is to say that there are ways to challenge the results of a presidential election, there can be objections to particular Electoral College results, and state legislatures can get involved in the process. Fortunately, this time around, cooler heads and steadier hands prevailed and the 2020 election was not corrupted. But that is not the end of the story.
For many people, the Big Lie is true. To them, it is true in this sense. Their “America” is a white Christian nation. White Christians overwhelming voted for the 45th president. As Ms. Mayer points out in her article, anyone else is not American, therefore they should not be allowed to vote. Thus, the election was “rigged”, “stolen” or whatever else they want to believe. This argument is given a voice by Tucker Carlson of Fox News (and others) when he claims that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate of voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. That’s not democracy. It’s cheating.” (More on Mr. Carlson as the spokesperson for this way of thinking and pushing the movement in a moment.)
What could be the worst outcome for people with these beliefs? A black president. With his election, President Obama embodied the America that those pushing the Big Lie cannot abide. As he voiced support for policies celebrating diversity in every area of society (gay marriage, transgender rights, increasing numbers of minorities in positions of power, etc.) those that espouse the belief that there is only one America and it is white were apoplectic (try a google search of the filth directed at the Obamas). In their view, this can never happen again.
So. How to “fix” this problem? Create an autocracy. With a white male Christian as “president.” If not Trump, then someone like him. (See Florida and Texas for governors trying to out Trump, Trump.)
How to get there? Actually rig the elections. Stack the deck. Make it nearly impossible for anyone except the designated autocrat to win the election. Gerrymander districts, suppress the voters you don’t want to vote, give state legislatures the power to pick their own Electors, in other words, make it nearly impossible for anyone but a “true” American to win the presidency or to gain a majority in the Congress.
Sound far-fetched? Not in the United States? Take a look around. It was a very near thing this time. The tactics, techniques and procedures have been refined under fire. It will work better the next time, if given the chance.
Just like Trump tells us what he is going to do before it happens, so do his supporters across the land (they try, but fortunately don’t always succeed). It is happening in plain sight. As Maya Angelou said above, “believe them.”
One more data point for your consideration. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News “personality” is in Hungary this week, broadcasting from Budapest. This is another piece of the autocracy puzzle. Mr. Carlson is the leading cheerleader in the U.S. for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Those advocating for an autocratic America see Hungary as the model. They claim to be a democracy, but Mr. Orban has usurped all of the levers of power in the country, from the legislature, to the courts, to the press. Elections are held, but under the rules gradually implemented since he took power in 2010, it is impossible for any but his own party members to be elected.
Mr. Orban is also anti-immigration and anti-Muslim. He argues that he is the last bastion in the West for preserving the culture, language and traditions of the “original inhabitants.” Sound familiar? Mr. Carlson went so far in his broadcast last night as to opine that Hungarians are freer in their nation than Americans are in ours. It gets worse from there, but you get the idea.
Normally, I would not give Mr. Tucker the time of day. I think that he is a cancer on the American soul. But as the famous Sun Tzu saying goes, “Know thy enemies and know thyself: in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.” We need to know the hate that Mr. Carlson sells in order to understand where millions of Americans are coming from. Mr. Tucker is upfront as are many of the Big Lie supporters. They say it out loud. An autocracy that preserves American “values” is better than American democracy.
The advocates of election “reform” and disenfranchising Americans are moving ahead at full speed. Without immediate action on the Voting Rights Bills in the Congress, the game may be lost. It’s all there. The wannabe autocrats know what they are doing and are laser focused. The response needs to be equal to the challenge.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them (Members of Congress) and the people in this room. Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
— Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone
The House Select Committee to investigate the 6 January attack on the Capitol met for the first time yesterday. I was able to watch nearly all of the emotionally charged, vivid, heart-breaking and exasperating testimony on TV. Officer Fanone was one of two Metropolitan Police Officers (MPD) from Washington DC who joined two officers from the Capitol Police Department to relate what happened during the domestic terrorists’ attack to overturn the results of the most secure election in our history. In the quote, Officer Fanone reflected the disappointment and resentment he and his colleagues feel as the majority of elected Republicans in Congress profess that the attempted coup was no big deal.
The testimony was chilling and brought home once again how close we came to losing our Republic. Had those officers failed in their duty, the past six months would have a completely different narrative. People think it was “no big deal” because the officers won. Had the terrorists won, many law makers would have been kidnapped, injured, or killed. We would live in a different world. They saved our democracy. And yet, senior elected officials willingly and knowingly disgrace those officers’ personal sacrifices.
In fact, and to their everlasting disgrace, prior to the testimony Republican leaders from the House of Representatives held a press conference and tried to blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the attack. Further debasing themselves and demonstrating the depth of their moral depravity, during the hearing six other elected Republican members of Congress tried to hold a sham press conference in front of the building housing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to demand justice for the terrorists that conducted the attack. As of yesterday, 591 people have been arrested for various crimes related to the attack. However, to many elected Republicans those people are, in the words of those in front of the DOJ, “political prisoners” that are subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Despite the fact that the attack on the Capitol may be one of the most documented crimes of its size in history — people just can’t resist taking selfies and posting them on social media — their seditious supporters claim that evidence of their innocence is being withheld.
If it is possible, the most despicable actions took place on a main stream media platform known for its unrelenting support of the disgraced ex-president. A certain “personality” mocked the police officers by handing out acting awards for their “performance” in relating the horrific beatings and abuse that they suffered on 6 January. Other “news” organizations with no regard for the truth “revealed” that the officers were actually actors playing a role. Yet another literally laughed at Officer Fanone’s statement that he suffered psychological trauma from his experience.
This is what our country has become. All in the name of a cult of personality for one man.
Unfortunately, I think it is deeper than that. It is a sickness in our country and the cult leader was, and is, able to exploit it for his own purposes. Likewise, the bulk of elected Republican officials are going along with it not because of any policies or principles, but because it suits their purposes to gain and retain power. They are fine with autocracy.
The tool for their power grab is race.
Without sounding too superficial or simplistic, the evidence is there. Roughly 99% of the terrorists attacking the Capitol were white and most were men. The Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters were all known to have a part in fomenting the insurrection, and all are white supremacist groups. The focus of the new “election security” laws, faux audits, and “stop the steal” efforts are places like, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Phoenix, Houston and other large cities with large numbers of voters that are people of color. During the presidential debate the ex-president told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” School Boards across the country are fighting back against state legislatures that are limiting the elements of history that can be taught in schools. Using “Critical Race Theory” — a term they do not understand — as a code word for diversity, celebrating other cultures, appreciating the contributions of all Americans, teaching the ugly along with the beautiful, and as a catchall for any topic or fact about race relations in the United States that may make a white person feel “uncomfortable.” They would prefer that schools whitewash history. Literally.
Here is an example of the fact that many Republican law makers don’t even pretend to hide it anymore. Texas House Bill 241 calls for an audit of the November 2020 vote for all counties with a population over 415,000 people. There are 13 such counties, of which 10 voted for now President Biden. The bill’s sponsor says that his constituents are concerned about fraud in that election — even as earlier in the year Texas election officials fell all over themselves congratulating themselves on how smooth and secure the elections in Texas had been that fall.
Here is the punchline. When asked why not audit all of the counties in the state, the bill’s sponsor State Representative Steve Toth said, “What’s the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.”
The cult is destroying our country. It is a cancer. Cancer cannot be rooted out until it is identified, analyzed, and thoroughly destroyed and removed. The House Select Committee has important work to do and they must use due diligence to follow the facts wherever they lead. To the officers that testified yesterday, who stood on the front line and faced fascism in the flesh, they have no doubt that the facts will lead to positions of power. Power politicians may not have been on the front line abusing the police, but there were undoubtedly some or many behind the insurrection. As Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police put it yesterday when asked what he wanted the committee to do, he used the analogy that when somebody hires a hitman to conduct a murder, the hitman goes to jail and so does the person that hired the hit. “There was a hit carried out on January 6, and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
We need to know who arranged, aided and abetted the hit, and hold them accountable, in order to bring our country back from the edge of darkness.
“If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.”
— Donald J. Trump in a 15 July 2021 statement.
It is nice to know that the ex-president would not use the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) to lead a coup, but his statement above begs the question as to who his first choice might be.
The pronouncement is a reaction to an excerpt from the book I Alone Can Fix It by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post. In the book, General Milley is reported to have been deeply concerned that the ex-president would attempt a coup after he lost the election. The CJCS spoke of the ex-president following the “gospel of the Fuhrer” and creating a possible “Reichstag moment” in the wake of the ex-president’s Big Lie about the election. (Regular readers of this blog will recall that my 11 December 2020 post expressed the same concerns. Although I did not know of the CJCS worries at that time, it was obviously a wide-spread fear.)
I must say that in the days since the 6 January insurrection, my apprehensions about the future of our democracy have only grown deeper. I think that we are in a real crisis.
It is easy for me to ignore the incoherent rantings of a demented ex-president who spends his time scamming his followers and relieving them of their hard earned dollars. What I cannot ignore is the concerted, coordinated effort of elected Republican leaders at all levels of government to continue to push the Big Lie, spread concern over the safety of the Coronavirus vaccine, and work to divide our country for their own personal ego, power and monetary gain.
Our democracy was attacked on 6 January 2021 with the aim of overthrowing an election and extending the reign of a budding autocrat in a clear violation of our Constitution. As the criminal investigation continues, it is ever more clear that the goal of the majority of the rioters that entered the Capitol building was to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Without the protection of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police (DC), sprinkled with a heavy dose of luck, law makers would have been severely injured or killed, and, in my view, the loser candidate would have invoked the Insurrection Act and sent the active duty military into the streets. That was certainly General Milley’s concern and he had a front row seat to the inner workings of the administration.
If there is any doubt about that, consider another passage of I Alone Can Fix It where the authors report that the ex-president’s only regret is that he did not send troops into American cities during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer. Not the National Guard. Active duty military forces. He was willing to use the American military against American citizens in order to silence their protests because he feared he looked weak. His only regret. Not the hundreds of thousands of people that died from the mishandling of the pandemic, not the refusal of people to take the vaccine because they think it is some kind of badge of loyalty to him, not the insurrection he fomented to bring down our democracy. Only that he did not use American military might in the streets of American cities.
Now Republicans of various stripes (perhaps down the middle of their backs?) are working hard to change the narrative surrounding the insurrection. In typical Orwellian fashion, Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan commission to investigate the events surrounding 6 January which included everything the Republicans wanted — including a co-equal chairmanship, bipartisan agreement on subpoenas, and on, and on. As a result, the Speaker of the House moved forward with a House Select Committee to investigate. Immediately came the howls of “partisanship” “politics” and other accusations that would be laughable if not so serious. They blocked a bipartisan effort! But now it is partisan. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Tr-CA) appointed five members to the Committee, of which two were clearly installed to disrupt and distract from the serious proceeding. When the Speaker took the highly unusual step of blocking those two individuals, Mr. McCarthy withdrew all of his nominees. He now intends to have his own, Republican only, inquiry into the insurrection. The intent of that move will be to create a circus to divert attention from what really happened. The current Republican mantra is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the real cause of the attack. (Remember, logic and fact-based reality no longer apply to anything 90% of Republican officials say these days, which I find subversive and un-American because they know better. Mr. McCarthy thinks that he will be Speaker of the House after the 2022 elections and he will do anything to achieve that goal. God Bless America if he becomes Speaker because we will certainly need it.)
While Mr. McCarthy’s investigative committee will be partisan, at least two Republicans will be on the official Select Committee. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) was on the original appointee list (Speaker Pelosi gave her one of the Democrat’s slots) and today we learned that the Speaker appointed Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-ILL) to the committee. It will be bi-partisan. Politically, there is little to nothing that I agree on with those two Representatives, but I admire their courage and willingness to put the Constitution and our country above raw politics.
While I am 100 percent in favor of the Select Committee doing a thorough investigation, I have little hope that they will be able to accomplish all that we might expect had the original bi-partisan commission been able to do its work. I deeply suspect that members of Congress and/or their staff members were involved to varying degrees in the events of that day. Although the committee will have subpoena power, a lesson learned from the previous administration is that individuals can ignore Congressional subpoenas with impunity. The Congress has no real method to force people to testify other than by going to the courts. In recent years, we learned that even if individuals eventually get ordered by the courts to testify, it could be two or three years of court fights before they are so ordered. Even then there is nothing to compel them to talk. We may even find that the Biden Department of Justice protects some of the high ranking officials of the previous administration because they do not want to set a precedent of undermining Executive Privilege. I believe that our country needs to fully understand what happened and hold those responsible accountable. In the current political climate, we may never fully know who did what.
Meanwhile, the Big Lie continues to spread. There may be no bigger threat to our democracy. The 2020 election was the safest, most secure in our nation’s history. Yet, millions of people think that the election was “stolen” and that President Biden is not the legitimate leader of our country. Once people lose faith in the election process, and thus think that any election that does not turn out as they would like is fraudulent, they will take action as they did in January to “restore” what they think was stolen.
In another Orwellian twist, the only way to change the proliferating election laws resulting from the Big Lie is to vote out those people that are implementing them, but the laws are designed to keep them in power. There will be challenges in the courts, but meanwhile elections continue under the new laws. Even should voters succeed in dumping the old gang, the laws are written such that legislatures or other partisan officials can overturn the will of the people if they decide they don’t like the results. So first they are trying to suppress the vote to stay in charge, but should that fail, measures are in place to overturn the elections.
These are turbulent times. What is happening is not “politics as usual.” It doesn’t have anything to do with politics. It is a direct assault on our way of governing. Most people are not really paying attention to what is going on around our country with changes to election laws, fake audits of the 2020 election, and active measures to undermine the vote. Misinformation, disinformation and pure unadulterated lies are being used to curtail our right to vote and to end the peaceful transfer of power.
Perhaps the assault on the Capitol was more like the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch than the 1933 Reichstag Fire. We must remain ever vigilant to keep history from repeating itself.
You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Trumpian Zone! — with apologies to Rod Serling
It seems as if we are in one of the spookiest and weirdest episodes of the Twilight Zone. It is almost as if we are experiencing an out-of-body experience as our democracy is under attack to a degree that we have not seen since the Civil War. We are in a place where facts don’t matter and the Constitution is ignored. Apparently, laws do not apply to those in pursuit of autocratic goals. We are in the zone where the federal and state governments exist only to serve one man — a zone most of us would never have imagined to be possible. Hyperbole? No. In fact, I think most Americans do not understand how precarious our democracy is and that it is under a full frontal assault. An ongoing coup attempt is underway, instigated by the then president about a year ago with claims that he could only lose if the election was rigged and that has grown and continued to the present day. Sadly, one of the two major political parties in our country is a full-on participant in the attempt to destroy our democracy — either acquiescing to the effort or actively enabling it.
These are the facts, not opinions. Over time, more and more revelations have uncovered the full extent of the ex-president’s efforts to overturn the election to remain as president illegally, or to be a dictator, depending on one’s view of an individual seizing power for his own purposes.
Here are some of the efforts that we know about so far:
- In December 2020 Michael Flynn, the disgraced one time National Security Adviser and a retired Lt. General in the United States Army, goes on the cable network Newsmax to argue that the president could deploy the military to confiscate voting machines and then rerun the election. The next day, the president invites him to the Oval Office to discuss Mr. Flynn’s plan and to review the possibility of deploying the military to impose martial law.
- The president pressured officials in key states to “find” more votes and encouraged lawmakers in state legislatures to overturn the election results in their states and replace the Electors voting for Mr. Biden with a slate that would vote for him instead.
- The president and his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pressured the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find enough votes to give him the victory and hinted that Mr. Raffensperger could be criminally prosecuted if he did not — a phone call now under investigation for violating the law. Additionally, he forced the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta to resign because he was not working hard enough to uncover “fraud” and to negate the Georgia election results.
- The president directed his Chief of Staff and other aides to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate bogus and hare-brained ideas claiming election fraud including one that “proved” Italian military satellites sent signals to voting machines in the U.S. to change votes for Mr. Biden. (Remember, we are now in the Trumpian Zone.)
- The president planned on appointing a senior DOJ staffer, sympathetic to his efforts to overturn the election, as Acting Attorney General when the existing Acting would not do his bidding. (That plan died when the bulk of the senior professional staff at DOJ threatened to resign if it happened.)
- Emails released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform show that the president and other White House officials not only pushed DOJ to investigate bogus election fraud cases, they also sent the Acting Solicitor General a draft Supreme Court filing to dispute election results in six states. They pushed DOJ officials to seize voting machines in key states. (A different effort than the Flynn Plan to use the military.)
- The then president organized a “Save America March” in Washington D.C. on 6 January 2021 to protest the election results. The rally was purposely scheduled for the same day that Congress was to certify the Electoral College vote and timed to give the rally goers the opportunity to get to the Capital before the vote. He gave a roughly one hour speech where he exhorted the crowd to “fight like hell” to “take back our country” and repeating over and over that the election was stolen. He mentioned Vice President Mike Pence numerous times incorrectly claiming that the Vice President had the power to stop the Electoral College process. He then sent them on their way.
All of those efforts, and more, were thwarted by dedicated professionals in federal, state and local governments. The system worked! So, now, that means that the system must be changed so that next time, efforts by the ex-president, or someone like him, cannot be stopped. Since the beginning of the year, Republicans throughout all levels of government are hard at work to change the narrative (“nothing bad happened”) while insisting that the system still needs to be “fixed.” Many continue to openly push the Big Lie and to scheme to bring back the former guy.
It would seem that a 9/11 type commission should be empowered to investigate what happened leading up to the 6 January insurrection and to recommend ways to prevent it from happening again. Nothing could be more bipartisan — even non-partisan — than that.
Oh, I forgot.
175 House Republicans and thirty-five Republican Senators (aka the Sedition Caucus) voted against a commission to investigate the attack on 6 January. For that matter, twenty-one House Republicans voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the police officers that protected them from the insurgents. Some Congressional Republicans continue to push the absurd assertion that it was just a regular day at the Capital and that those rioting inside the building were just “normal” tourists. This comes on top of the 121 House Republicans and six Senate Republicans that voted to overturn the 2020 election by decertifying the results of the Electoral College.
The Big Lie continues to be pushed hard and the never ending explanations for the attack on the Capital now include the preposterous proposition that it was the FBI that instigated and directed the insurrection.
The Grand Old Party is not so grand anymore. Most of its members no longer care about supporting the Constitution or about looking out for the country’s interests. They only owe their allegiance to one man and appear to be signaling to him that it is okay for the ex-president to assault our democracy once again.
Republican legislatures are working over-time around the country to disenfranchise as many voters as possible. Worse than that, they are not just working to suppress the vote, but they have enacted measures to make sure that if their suppression efforts fail, they can ignore the will of the voters and choose winners and losers on their own.
The former guy still will not acknowledge that he lost and is enamored of the idea that he will be “reinstated” in August. The fake audit in Arizona is trying to prove that tens of thousands of ballots in Maricopa County (Phoenix) were shipped in from China by “analyzing” the ballots for bamboo shoots in the paper. (We’re still in the Zone.)
At the same time, it was just revealed that during the last administration DOJ subpoenaed the personal computer and phone records for reporters for CNN, The Washington Post, New York Times and for two members of the House Intelligence Committee. Representatives Adam Schiff (CA) and Eric Swalwell (CA) and their aides’ and families’ records were secretly obtained from Apple. DOJ put a gag order on all of those subpoenas. Those monitored did not find out about it until last month. At the same time that they were under the subpoenas, the then president was publicly calling for them to be arrested and put in jail.
In an attempt to right some of these ongoing wrongs, Democrats bought into Senator Joe Manchin’s (WV) effort to compromise on a bill to protect voting rights. His proposal includes many provisions desired by Republicans. None-the-less, before the proposal could even be analyzed, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that no Republican would vote for it.
Which leads me to ask, given the concerted effort to overturn our democracy and an expressed Republican goal of opposing President Biden’s agenda “100 percent”, why do Democrats continue to try bipartisan solutions to our nation’s problems when the Republicans just shut them down at every turn? By the way, of all of the state legislature attacks on voting rights, none of the new laws are bipartisan.
I have opined in this space before, in conjunction with the horrible effort to combat the pandemic and his general incompetence in office, that the ex-president could only screw it up as badly as he did by trying to screw it up. Thus, perhaps, he was actually a Putin agent. As he coerces and pushes his supporters to continue to devoutly follow the Big Lie and to tear our country apart, I come back around to that idea. Mr. Putin must be thrilled with what he sees happening in the U.S. He said as much during the run up to his summit with President Biden, including calling the 6 January insurrectionists “patriots” that are being persecuted by the U.S. government.
How did I miss the exit sign that said we were on the road to Crazy Town?
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the opportunity to remember and honor our fellow citizens who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life. It is important at all times, but in my mind especially so now, to stop and think of this holiday as more than a long weekend or the unofficial start of summer. It can be a time for reflection on our history and to understand that it often takes lives and treasure to keep us all safe. The date was originally known as Decoration Day, and came into existence following the Civil War to honor those that died in that conflict. It officially became a federal holiday in 1971.
Unfortunately, as many of us have only recently come to know, 31 May is also the date for the beginning of the Tulsa Race Riot, as it was called originally, or the Tulsa Race Massacre as it is now known. (Historians believe that it was designated as a “riot” because insurance companies would not then have to pay for damages.) This year is the 100th anniversary of this horrible event. I was born in Tulsa Oklahoma, although I only lived there for a few months afterwards, but I became aware of the massacre only in recent years.
The beginnings of the incident are typical of the Jim Crow era in our country. In sum, a Black male teenager was accused of accosting a White female teenager in an elevator in the Drexel Building, one of the larger buildings in that part of town. It is believed that the Black man either tripped and fell against the White woman or accidentally stepped on her foot. She screamed and observers reported the “attack” to the police. The next day the young man was arrested and a lurid headline and story in the 31 May 1921 edition of the Tulsa Tribune inflamed the situation. (Note that the young woman never made a formal complaint about the incident and actually put into writing that nothing happened.) A white mob formed at the courthouse and the sheriff and his deputies had every belief that the young man would be lynched, so they barricaded themselves into the top floor of the courthouse to protect him. At the same time, approximately 75 African-American veterans arrived to protect the young Black man. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but a shot was fired and the situation quickly escalated.
According to an Oklahoma state Race Riot Commission formed in 2001 (later the name was changed to the Race Massacre Commission) municipal, county and state officials did nothing to defuse the situation. The young man in question disappeared — probably smuggled out of town by the sheriff and is believed to have gone to Kansas City.
On the night of 31 May to 1 June the white mob, many deputized and armed by local authorities, attacked the Black part of town known as Greenwood. Greenwood was also known as the “Black Wall Street” as it was probably the most prosperous Black enclave in the U.S. at the time. When the carnage stopped, about 300 Black Tulsans were killed, 800 injured, 6,000 Black Tulsans were arrested and interned in the Convention Hall and at the Fairgrounds, 35 city blocks of Greenwood were looted and then burned to the ground, and 10,000 Blacks were left homeless. It was one of the worst such incidents in our country, and there are still people alive that experienced it.
Until recently, every effort was made to cover it up and to pretend that it never happened. Official records disappeared and even archived newspapers covering the incident in Oklahoma had holes where stories of the massacre had been cut out. It was a lost memory, or so people in Oklahoma hoped, until the 1990’s when activists pushed the state legislature and in 2001 the Commission was formed. Schools in Oklahoma now discuss the massacre.
But will they continue to do so?
As part of the “see no evil so we did no evil” approach to history that state legislatures are taking around the country, this month Oklahoma passed a law that prohibits the teaching of “critical race theory.” (Although they were careful not to use those words in the law, the sponsors stated that was the impetus to the law.) Most people misunderstand what that theory entails. In short, it is a long-standing theory that tries to provide a framework for understanding how laws and social norms can perpetuate inequality in our country. Mostly white legislators and governors are using the term as a short hand phrase to include most discussions about racism and to attack diversity and inclusion training because it makes our country “look bad” and thus the law is needed as “a defensive measure against psychological warfare from those that hate America.”
Specifically, the Oklahoma law passed this month, and others like it in other states, dictates that public school classes should not include anything where “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” Well, that just about leaves out everything that may be of importance in discussing all of the facts about the history of our country. Any individual? Does that mean that one student complaining stops an entire class from studying a controversial topic? It is clearly aimed at protecting White Americans and completely ignores what may cause Black Americans or Native Americans “discomfort” or “anguish.”
Many school teachers and administrators are now scrambling to figure out what the law means, how to implement it, where the boundaries might be, and what the consequences are for crossing those boundaries. Most are in agreement that it will cause changes to, and in some cases totally eliminate, an array of classes. And who are the Thought Police that are going to enforce this law? So long academic freedom, hello Big Brother.
So under this law, how do schools in Oklahoma teach their students about the Tulsa Race Massacre? Surely the topic will cause some students discomfort, guilt or anguish. Does that mean that it isn’t taught?
If you wonder why the Black Lives Matter movement exists, perhaps one should take a look at what has happened to the Black community in the U.S. and the continued efforts to minimize or eliminate their experiences.
Talk about cancel culture!
Today, any hope of bipartisanship in the era of Trumpism died in the Senate. Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the bill that creates a bipartisan 1/6 Commission (H.R. 3233) to “report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021 domestic terrorist attack on the United States Capitol Complex.” This deadly attempt to overthrow the 2020 election shook our democracy to the core and resulted in the loss of five people and injuries to 140 police officers. The procedural vote to move on to debate and consideration of amendments went down in a 54-35 vote. 60 votes were needed to break a threatened filibuster. Six Senators from the group formerly known as the Republican Party voted with Democrats to move forward.
I would say that those that voted against creating the Commission should be profoundly ashamed of themselves, but like so much over the last few years — say it with me now — They. Don’t. Care. They have no shame. They have no moral compass. Just blind allegiance to their cult leader.
An investigation will take place in the Congress, as existing committees can subpoena witnesses and investigate what happened. The president can convene a Presidential Commission to investigate the attack. Most probably, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) under her own power will convene a Select Committee, including Republicans, to consolidate the investigations in Congress. The point of the Commission that Republicans blocked today was to make it bipartisan — even non-partisan — with the power and resources, under a proscribed timeline (that requires its work to finish by 31 December of this year), to give the country an unbiased look at what happened and how to prevent it from recurring. It was modeled closely on the 9/11 Commission that investigated the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The breach of the Capitol was a domestic terrorist attack by white supremacists and other dangerous groups — and the majority of the minority party said that they aren’t interested.
On 14 May of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (HLS) issued a second National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin that will be in effect until 13 August. It warns that Domestic Violent Extremists (DVE) may try to exploit the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to engage in “grievance-based violence.” The same grievances that created the conditions for the 6 January attack and that an ex-president and his lackeys such Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor-Greene (Q-GA), and others, continue to shout about at every opportunity. The Big Lie may be the most successful propaganda campaign in U.S. history, and probably in the top ten in history. All of this stokes violence and all of this is perfectly okay with most Republicans in Congress.
The Commission had everything in it — I repeat, everything — that Senate and House Republicans insisted must be included in order for them to support it. Surprise! They got it. Then the word came down from the mob boss at Mar-a-Lago that nothing shall be done. And so it is that nothing shall be done.
Please! Never again tell me that Congressional Republicans support law enforcement. They voted to defund the Capitol Police. They voted to stop a commission that would investigate the violent attacks on them on 6 January. They do not care one bit about Blue Lives when it matters.
Here is a larger take-away for the Democrats. Do not waste time on any bipartisan efforts. Just do what needs to be done. Hopefully, Democrats have read the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz. Do not let the Republicans be the Lucy to your Charlie Brown where despite continued assurances that this time I will absolutely not pull the football away, Charlie Brown tries to kick it and falls flat on his back when she does. Every time. This is where we are now. The Republicans got everything that they wanted in the bill creating the Commission. Yet, they would not vote for it. Why should the Democrats ever consider that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will do anything that the Democrats propose? Or even that their word means anything at all? If there is even a hint that the Democrats or the Biden Administration will consider the passage of any legislation a “win,” they will work to block it. Senator McConnell already publicly stated that he is “100%” focused on blocking anything the Administration puts forward.
The failure of most Congressional Republicans to support the Commission is shameful and a black mark on our history that will be a part of their legacy. It is up to the remaining, and increasingly only, party that cares about democracy to take action. As the Rolling Stones song says, “…don’t get fooled again.”
We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again