Thursday, March 23, 2023

March 23, 2023
The January 6th Report
    I’ve just finished reading The January 6th Report, more formally titled Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
    Following forewords by Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Cheney, there is an Executive Summary.  It lists the findings made by the Committee based on its investigation, then provides a 90-page Overview of the Evidence Developed.  In the next section of the Executive Summary “the Committee makes . . .criminal referrals to the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel.” 
    The last section is a list of witnesses; of those for whom a party affiliation is noted, nearly all were Republicans.  In his foreword, Committee Chairman Thompson pointed out that the plan to overturn the election “faltered at several points because of the courage of officials (nearly all of them Republicans) who refused to go along with it.”  Those two facts are beacons of hope in an otherwise dark night for that Party.
    The material which follows the Summary, described as The Narrative, is a further review of evidence, divided into eight chapters.  Because the chapters are topical rather than chronological, it is difficult to keep track of the sequence of events.  There is a good deal of overlap and repetition and a lack of overall scheme.  However, both the Executive Summary and the Narrative add to the record in numerous ways.
    The Report is massively end noted —there are 762 endnotes to the Executive Summary —  which will provide material for scholars.

Monday, February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023
State of the GOP: origins

Commentary on the fallen state of the Republican Party is unanimous that the decline did not begin with Trump, that he merely amplified tendencies already present.  Accounts vary, though, as to when the slide began, or when a crucial change occurred.  Recent books and columns illustrate this.  David Corn, in American Psychosis,[6] sees a turning point in the hostility to Nelson Rockefeller by Goldwater supporters and John Birchers at the 1964 GOP convention. He refers to “two mobs,” the hecklers at that convention and the rioters on January 6, 2021.  “What happened on Capitol Hill was a continuation of the Republican Party’s decades-long relationship with extremism.”  Dana Milbank, in The Destuctionists,[7]  dates the change to 1994 and the influence of Newt Gingrich, who emphasized attacks on the opposition and moved politics toward tribalism.

In a New York Times column last month,[8] Charles Blow traced it to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008: “Palin exposed a dangerous reality about the Republican base: that it was starving for disruption and spectacle, that it would cheer for anyone who annoyed liberals, that performance was far more important than competence.”  David Von Drehle, in a Washington Post column in December,[9] pointed to 1992: “Many Republicans remember it as the year Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot flew a suicide mission into George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. But the first fatal blow to Bush Sr. was dealt by hard-right pundit Patrick J. Buchanan. His angry populist campaign carried all the way to the convention, where he traded a grudging endorsement of Bush for influence over the opening-night program. Buchanan anchored an evening of hatreds and resentments that presaged the politics of today.”

Another sign of decay was the absence of a Republican Party platform in 2020. There might be several reasons for that.  They might have looked at the 2016 platform and concluded, as I did, that it was an extended statement of why the GOP should not be in charge of government. That’s not likely, but they might, in an unusual burst of understanding, have realized that a majority of voters would so decide.  Again, not likely; self-awareness has not been characteristic of the Party in recent years.   They might have decided that there was no point.  Party platforms often are ignored in practice and, with Trump as President, no statement of principle would have much significance.  They may simply have confessed that the only goal of the election was to hold power, not to govern, so why bother with a statement of principles when you have no intention of recognizing any?  In that sense, the absence of a platform could be regarded as a rare burst of candor.

Some of the specific claims made by Trump were echos.  Republicans had made claims of voting fraud during the 2000 and 2008 elections.  They long have exploited grudges, fears and imagined oppression of ordinary folk while serving business.  Gingrich referred to an America in trouble and to a catalogue of catastrophes; Trump spoke of American carnage.  

Most of the accounts note that elements of the present attitudes on the right have even older roots, including the hunt for communists by Joseph McCarthy and others; a recurring theme is the claim that liberals —you know, socialists (now “globalists”) — are not real Americans.  

It’s been a long slide.

6. American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy (2022).
7. The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022)
8. “The Burn-It-All-Down Republican Caucus,” Jan. 4, 2023
9. “The GOP is stuck in a doom loop begun 30 years ago,” December 2, 2022

Sunday, January 8, 2023

January 7, 2023
Decline, and the way back

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are a culture in decline.  There are elements of decline, such as the corruption of the language (look at the daily crosswords) which have no connection to politics, but important problems relate to policies, biases and behavior on the right.

A president attempts to retain power illegally, relying on lies about fraud, a mob attacks the Capitol and 147 Congressional Republicans vote to reject legitimate electoral results.  Politicians and others on the right play on fears and resentments, making them worse, encouraging tribalism.  The Republicans are so much in thrall to their right wing that it takes fifteen ballots and numerous concessions to elect a Speaker of the House.

The economy has rewarded business, not working people, as shown by charts published by the EPI.[1]   One reveals that, beginning in the early 1980s,  wages have lagged behind productivity.  Another shows that “fatter profit margins have played a historically outsized role in driving price inflation.”  A third reveals that  the federal minimum wage today is worth 27% less than in 2009, 40% less than in 1968.  (Not surprisingly, another is captioned: “Without government programs, millions more would be in poverty.”)   Republicans, serving business and only pretending to aid ordinary folks, will do nothing to change this pattern.

A serious contribution by the right to societal illness is its opposition to gun control.  There were more than six hundred mass shootings last year. A chart published in The New York Times illustrates an especially appalling development: “Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children.”[2]  A measure of the flood of guns is the number detected by TSA at airports; it reached a new high in 2022.  As of December 16, TSA had intercepted 6,301 firearms — more than 88% were loaded — up from 5,972 the previous year.[3]   Another measure is the number of states, now 25, which allow carrying a gun without a license.[4]  The right’s love of guns turns its tendency toward separatism into a looming menace.  Republicans will not do anything to solve that problem; indeed, they are determined to make it worse  An article in The New York Times last May illustrated their orientation: “ more than 100 television ads from Republican candidates and supportive groups have used guns as talking points or visual motifs this year. . . .as candidates praise the Second Amendment, vow to block gun-control legislation or simply identify themselves as ‘pro-gun.’ ”  

These trends cannot be allowed to continue, and the GOP will not reverse them.  Democrats must regain control of Congress, but to do so, they must find a way to persuade voters that they are on their side, that they are not the privileged elites of right-wing propaganda, that government is not the enemy.


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Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29, 2022

    Christmas is a time to reflect on many things, including where we are as a society and what Christianity means to us, which are not unrelated.  Whie watching a Christmas Eve church service (streaming on my computer), it occurred to me how tragic it is that Christianity’s message of love and forgiveness is so often lost in the misuse of the faith for political ends, where it has become a force for division, aggression and domination. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

December 12, 2022
Parallel downward paths; one may be near the end.

The plunge into darkness by Donald Trump and the Republican Party dominate the political picture.  The Party has been unraveling for many years, but its attachment to Trump accelerated its decline through endorsement of his methods and lack of principles.  One effect was his encouraging the worst Republicans to be still worse. Now he is weakened politically and the Party must decide whether to abandon him, in the sense of opposing his renomination, but also whether to repudiate the positions and attitudes which came to dominate Republican politics during his presidency.  The former is looking increasingly likely, the latter much less so.       

The move toward rejection of Trump the candidate accelerated after his meeting with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, due to their anti-Semitic views and West’s praise of Hitler.  Mitt Romney’s reaction to that meeting  was brutally frank: “I think it has been clear that there’s no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation.”[66]    Some of the critics drew a line between Trump’s behavior and the Party; Senator Cassidy put it this way: “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”[67]   RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel did not criticize Trump, but declared: “There is no place for Kanye, Fuentes, or their views inside the Republican Party.”[68]   They may be right that the Party, as an institution, does not tolerate such bias, but holding the GOP up as a model of political virtue is a stretch.

Dismissing Trump is complicated by Republican attacks on those attempting to call him to account, including the January 6 Committee, the DOJ and state prosecutors.  It is an exercise in opposing Trump with one hand while defending him with the other.

Full repudiation became somewhat more likely when Trump moved to the next-to-last position in his bizarre attempt to regain the presidency: proposing that we abandon the Constitution.  (The last position would be armed insurrection, already hinted at by many of his supporters and rehearsed on January 6).  Here is Trump’s proposal, referring, of course, to the imaginary election fraud in 2020: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”[69]   That radically irresponsible proposal drew immediate criticism, so Trump attempted to back out, babbling in his usual fashion:

 The Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to “terminate” the Constitution. This is simply more DISINFORMATION & LIES, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, and all of their other HOAXES & SCAMS. What I said was that when there is ‘MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION,’ as has been irrefutably proven in the 2020 Presidential Election, steps must be immediately taken to RIGHT THE WRONG. Only FOOLS would disagree with that and accept STOLEN ELECTIONS. MAGA![70]

Of course he said more than that, but never mind.  Again an attempt was made to separate Trump from the GOP; Senator Romney: “Well, the Republican Party is the Constitution party. So when he calls to suspend the Constitution, he goes from being MAGA to being RINO.”[71]   At some point, leading Republicans must take as hard a look at their Party as at Trump.


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Saturday, November 26, 2022

November 26, 2022
Is Trump fading?  (Episode 2)

He has announced that he is running again.  The threshold question is why.  He has lost two popular elections, likely would lose again, and can’t count on the peculiarities of the electoral college to rescue him a second time.  Even he must know that the stolen-election gambit won’t work.  His fragile ego would be damaged by another loss, so why risk it?  Two reasons occur to me.

The first is the hope that re-election, or even candidacy, would insulate him from his legal exposure, including potential  indictments.  The former might well have that result, but the latter is likely to be, at best, only partially effective.  However, Trump could use his candidacy to claim that the suits and prosecutions are politically motivated, that evil liberals are out to get him, that fairness requires dismissal..

The second reason is that, even though he might lose again, from now until election day, or at least until he loses the nomination, he can hold rallies, be the center of attention and bask in the adulation of his fans.  That seems to be his greatest need.   (If he fails to be nominated, he might run as an independent or third-party candidate for the same reasons).

What are his chances of being nominated?   There are signs that his support is declining.  An early November poll which asked “Do you consider yourself to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?” found 62% choosing the Party, 30% going for Trump.  In August 2021, the corresponding numbers were 50% Party, 40% Trump; in January 2021, it was 46% each; in January 2019, 51% Trump, 38% Party.[53]  

The much-hyped red wave failed to materialize in this month’s elections, and many are blaming Trump, whose favored candidates did not fare well.  Some of his prominent allies have abandoned him or waffled.  Rep. Mo Brooks declared recently that it would be a mistake for Republicans to  nominate  Trump again, adding “Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans.”[54]   Much of Trump’s support was transactional, so it is no surprise that his weakness has led to second thoughts.  

He has lost the support of the Murdoch media empire,[55]  and some donors have backed away.   Losing the support of evangelicals would be especially damaging, and there is some indication that may be happening.

We may be rid of him eventually, but that’s not enough; the Party needs to change.


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Monday, October 31, 2022

October 31, 2022
Boredom, then a bombshell

The final broadcast session of the January 6 Committee on October 13 was not a hearing —  there were no live witnesses —  but, as specified by Chairman Thompson, they held “a formal committee business meeting so that, in addition to presenting evidence, we can potentially hold a committee vote on further investigative action based upon that evidence.”.  It was designed as a summary of the information presented during the hearings as a basis for the surprise (to me, at least) vote at the close to subpoena Donald Trump to testify.

Commentary about the meeting has been generally favorable, but I thought that it was poorly organized and repetitious.  There were some new facts, but mostly the Committee offered a recapitulation of evidence presented at prior hearings.  Presenting it in segments by several Committee members created overlap and confusion, some of the references were obscure, and it all went on for so long that it took some determination to stay until the end.

The most significant new information indicated that Trump knew and, on a few occasions, admitted or let slip that he had lost.
    Alyssa Farah,  White House Director of Strategic Communications: “I remember maybe a week after the election was called, I popped into the Oval just to like give the President the headlines and see how he was doing. And he was looking at the TV and he said, can you believe I lost to this effing guy?
    Three comments by Cassidy Hutchinson:
    On December 11, 2020, in a meeting with Trump and Meadows: “the President said I think — so he had said something to the effect of, I don't want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don't want people to know that we lost.”
    On the 18th of December, 2020, “I said [to Mark Meadows] look, does the President really think he lost? And he said, you know, a lot of times he'll tell me that he lost, but he wants to keep fighting it. He thinks that there might be enough to overturn the election, but you know, he — he pretty much has acknowledged that he — that he's lost.”    
    In a meeting after Trump’s January 2, 2021 call to Secretary Raffensperger: “I said, Mark, you can't possibly think we're going to pull this off. Like, that call was crazy. And he looks at me and just started shaking his head. He was like, no, Cass, you know, he knows it's over. He knows he lost, but we're going to keep trying. There's some good options out there still. We're going to keep trying.”

The Committee has issued its subpoena.[53]  It was accompanied by a letter, signed by the Committee Chair and Vice Chair, which is an odd combination of deference and accusation.  The former is in the polite salutation: “Dear President Trump.”    The rest of the letter reads like an indictment.     Here is a sampling:

As demonstrated in our hearings, we have assembled overwhelming evidence, including from dozens of your former appointees and staff, that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transition of power. This multi-part effort included, but was not limited to:

    • Purposely and maliciously disseminating false allegations of fraud related to the 2020 presidential election in order to aid your effort to overturn the election and for purposes of soliciting contributions;
    • Attempting to corrupt the Department of Justice, including by soliciting and enlisting Department officials to make false statements and aid your effort to overturn the presidential election;
    • Without any evidentiary basis, illegally pressuring state officials and legislators to change the results of the election in their states:
    • Orchestrating and overseeing an effort to obtain and transmit false electoral certificates to Congress and the National Archives;
    • Despite knowing specifically that it was illegal, corruptly pressuring your own Vice President to unilaterally refuse to count electoral votes during Congress's joint session on January 6th; . .

After summing up with a reference to “your central role in the multi-part effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power,” the letter ends with what must be taken as another courtesy, as it certainly was not a realistic hope: “The Select Committee looks forward to your cooperation with this subpoena.”      

The subpoena calls for Trump’s appearance on November 14, and demands production by November 4 of a wide range of documents pertaining to the election, the events of January 6, contacts with Committee witnesses and “fundraising efforts based on claims of election fraud or a stolen election.”

Leaving the oddity of the letter aside, issuing a subpoena to Trump seems to me to have been a questionable move.  It is unlikely that he will appear or produce documents, and already he has taken the opportunity, in a letter to Chairman Thompson, to denounce the Committee and play the martyr.  Here is the muddled opening of  his letter:  

The same group of Radical Left Democrats who utilized their Majority position in Congress to create the fiction of Russia, Russia, Russia, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, the $48 Million Mueller Report (which ended in No Collusion!), Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, the atrocious and illegal Spying on my Campaign, and so much more, are the people who created this Committee of highly partisan political Hacks and Thugs whose sole function is to destroy the lives of many hard-working American Patriots, whose records in life have been unblemished until this point of attempted ruination. . . . [54]

If Trump were to appear, he would make the same sort of speech; giving him a platform might undermine what the Committee has accomplished.  On the other hand, Trump might make boasts that amount to confessions; he isn’t know for subtlety or caution.  On balance, though, I think that the Committee should not have issued the subpoena.  The case against Trump is clear enough.


Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day