Monday Reads: The Biden RepublicPosted: August 2, 2021
Good Day Sky Dancers!
It was perhaps wishful thinking that made us think that just electing someone other than Trump would ever give us a semblance of a “normal” America. I’m not even sure I know what our normal is these days. I’m sitting here in a 4th surge plague-ridden New Orleans and realize that just like you can lead that horse to water, you can’t make him drink, that you can also give folks vaccines and the promises of better schools and roads, but you can make them embrace it.
BB has me very interested in artists doing”magical realism.” I realized many of the artists I’ve enjoyed recently actually fall into that category without knowing it. So, between what I hinted at above and my search for a sense of “magical realism” in things, I found that the Weimar Republic was a hotbed of the artform. I daily harken back to that period of a hapless democracy driven by a crazy few into a fascist world-destroying war. So, let me give you some sense of why this rainy morning has brought me back to the Weimar Republic and history repeating.
Many today’s journalists are joined in the sense of cult outrage at the idea that Former President Obama might actually want a 60th birthday bash and believe it has to be a super-spreader event of Trump Rally proportion. This side-car circus may distract from some fascinating journalism in other places. Let’s go to those other places.
First up, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker follows the “Big Lie” money. No surprises here, but this is essentially the funding of continued insurrection. Here’s the headline: “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie. Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs.” Go read the entire article and read the narrative about the Republican crusade to ensure that only old white guys vote.
Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has tracked the flow of dark money in American politics, told me that a “flotilla of front groups” once focussed on advancing such conservative causes as capturing the courts and opposing abortion have now “more or less shifted to work on the voter-suppression thing.” These groups have cast their campaigns as high-minded attempts to maintain “election integrity,” but Whitehouse believes that they are in fact tampering with the guardrails of democracy.
One of the movement’s leaders is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. It has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (alec)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions. Among those deep in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February, 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group tied to Leo, quietly rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project, which subsequently filed briefs at the Supreme Court, and in numerous states, opposing mail-in ballots and other reforms that have made it easier for people to vote.
Another newcomer to the cause is the Election Integrity Project California. And a group called FreedomWorks, which once concentrated on opposing government regulation, is now demanding expanded government regulation of voters, with a project called the National Election Protection Initiative.
These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.
This is well-funded and quite coordinated. We saw a lot of this as state after state magically rolled out the same voter suppression laws. This is the true threat to our current Biden Republic.
Alexander Vindman writes for The Atlantic today on that little matter of Trump’s Ukraine shakedown. Here’s the headline for that: “What I Heard in the White House Basement. I knew the president had clear and straightforward talking points—I’d written them.” Again, this is a long, worthwhile read. This happened in the same room where Obama and Clinton watched the raid on Osama Bin Laden. (This is a preview from his upcoming book.)
By the time I sat down at the table in the basement conference room on July 25, preparing to listen to Trump’s call with President Zelensky, my workdays had become consumed by the Oval Office hold on funds. On July 18, I’d convened what we call a Sub-Policy Coordinating Committee, a get-together of senior policy makers for the whole community of interest on Ukraine, from every agency and department, to work up a recommendation for reversing the hold on the funds. By July 21, that meeting had been upgraded to a Policy Coordination Committee, requiring even more administrative and intellectual effort, which convened again two days later. We even scheduled a higher-level Deputies Committee meeting for the day after the Zelensky call. Chaired by the deputy national security adviser, these meetings bring together all of the president’s Cabinet deputies and require an enormous amount of advance research and coordination.
Many of us were operating on little sleep, working more than the usual NSC 14-hour days. I’d barely seen my wife, Rachel, or my 8-year-old daughter, Eleanor, in weeks.
In the week leading up to the call, I’d discerned a potentially dangerous wrinkle in the Ukraine situation. Actions by the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani suggested a hidden motive for the White House’s sudden interest in Ukraine. Operating far outside normal policy circles, Giuliani had been on a mysterious errand that also seemed to involve the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d participated in a meeting at the White House at which Sondland made a suggestion to some visiting top Ukrainian officials: If President Zelensky pursued certain investigations, he might be rewarded with a visit to the White House. These proposed investigations would be of former Vice President and current Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Sondland’s proposal was clearly improper. Little could have been more valuable to the new, young, untested leader of Ukraine—the country most vulnerable to Russia—than a one-on-one meeting with the president of the United States. A bilateral visit would signal to Russia and the rest of the world a staunch U.S. commitment to having Ukraine’s back as well as U.S. support for Zelensky’s reform and anti-corruption agenda, which was crucial to Ukraine’s prosperity and to closer integration with the European Union. That’s what all of us in the policy community wanted, of course. But making such a supremely valuable piece of U.S. diplomacy dependent on an ally’s carrying out investigations into U.S. citizens—not to mention the president’s political adversary—was unheard of. Before I’d fully picked up on what was going on, that meeting with the Ukrainians had been abruptly broken up by Bolton. But in a subsequent meeting among U.S. officials, at which Sondland reiterated the idea, I told him point-blank that I thought his proposition was wrong and that the NSC would not be party to such an enterprise.
I wanted to believe Sondland was a loose cannon, floating wild ideas of his own, with support from a few misguided colleagues. But he wasn’t a freelancing outlier like Giuliani. He was an appointed government official. His maneuverings had me worried.
So, let’s try something from The Guardian. Sidney Blumenthal writes: “Want to make Jim Jordan sing about the Capitol attack? Ask Jefferson Davis’. This throws us way back to John Brown’s Raid, believe it or not.
After a bloody insurrection was quelled, a congressional committee was created to investigate the organization of the insurrection, sources of funding, and the connections of the insurrectionists to members of Congress who were indeed called to testify. And did.
Within hours of the assault Brown and his band were cornered in the engine room of the armory, surrounded by local militia. Then the marines arrived under the command of Col Robert E Lee and Lt Jeb Stuart. At Brown’s public trial, his eloquent statements against slavery and hanging turned him into a martyr. John Wilkes Booth, wearing the uniform of the Richmond Grays and standing in the front ranks of troops before the scaffold on which Brown was hanged on 2 December, admired Brown’s zealotry and composure.
Nearly two weeks later, on 14 December, the Senate created the Select Committee to Inquire into the Late Invasion and Seizure of the Public Property at Harpers Ferry. Senator James M Mason of Virginia, the sponsor of the Fugitive Slave Act, was chairman. He appointed as chief prosecutor Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.
Davis was particularly intent on questioning Senator William H Seward of New York, the likely Republican candidate for president.
“I will show before I am done,” Davis said, “that Seward, by his own declaration, knew of the Harpers Ferry affair. If I succeed in showing that, then he, like John Brown deserves, I think, the gallows, for his participation in it.”
In early May 1858, Hugh Forbes, a down-at-heel soldier of fortune, a Scotsman who fought with Garibaldi in the failed Italian revolution of 1848, a fencing coach and a translator for the New York Tribune, knocked on Seward’s door with a peculiar tale of woe. He had been hired by Brown to be the “general in the revolution against slavery”, had written a manual for guerrilla warfare, but had not been paid. Seward sent him away and forgot about him.
Forbes wandered to the Senate, where he told his story to Henry Wilson, a Republican from Massachusetts. Wilson, who later became Ulysses S Grant’s vice president, was alarmed enough to write to Dr Samuel Gridley Howe, a distinguished Boston physician and reformer, founder of the first institution for the blind, and Massachusetts chairman of the Kansas committee. Wilson relayed that he had heard a “rumor” about John Brown and “that very foolish movement” and that Howe and other donors to the Kansas cause should “get the arms out of his control”.
But Howe, a member of the Secret Six, continued to send Brown money.
The investigating committee called Seward and Wilson. On 2 May 1860, Seward testified that Forbes came to him, was “very incoherent” and told him Brown was “very reckless”. Seward said he offered Forbes no advice or money, and that Forbes “went away”.
Davis pointedly asked Seward if he had any knowledge of Brown’s plan to attack Harpers Ferry.
Seward replied: “I had no more idea of an invasion by John Brown at that place, than I had of one by you or myself.”
Again, this is a long read but fascinating. I took many trips as a Girl Scout and Elementary school kid to John Brown’s cave in Nebraska City. I never actually read this account of the senate investigation with the soon-to-be insurrectionists to our Republic in charge.
If you want some real clickbait on places not to hold your next Birthday Bash, check out this from The Hill and Albert Hunt: “‘Freedom-loving’ conservatives stoked the latest round of infection and death.”
I write columns about politics and government, occasionally indulging as a frustrated sports writer; I don’t write about business or leisure activities except:
- I would avoid any cruise ships embarking from Florida. The state barred these ships from requiring passengers and staff to be vaccinated. That was upheld by a conservative appeals court.
- I’d think twice about locating or expanding a business in Texas. The state prohibits most private concerns from requiring customers to be vaccinated. There are severe punishments for avoidance.
- I’d skip any August vacation plans to Branson, Mo., or Nashville, Tenn. In Taney County, where Branson is located, the Ozark destination spot for country music and other entertainment, fewer than 40 percent of residents are vaccinated following state resistance efforts. Tennessee fired its top public health officials — apparently for encouraging teenagers to get vaccinated; a Nashville area evangelical pastor threatened to evict any parishioners who wear masks.
Hopes that the misery of the pandemic is over are diminishing. There are more than 75,000 new infections daily, six times greater than a month earlier, overwhelmingly from the Delta variant and almost all among the unvaccinated.
Hospital intensive care units face overcrowding, again. If the spread isn’t stopped, new variants — perhaps more lethal — will emerge.
There are a few unvaccinated for religious reasons, and people of color who have historical reasons to distrust public health workers and the CDC.
But chiefly, the vaccination failure is because Coronavirus has been politicized among conservatives, with right-wing politicians, judges, think tanks and activists charging it’s all about personal liberty. This ignores the fact that exercising those personal liberties risks the liberties — and lives — of others.
Accordingly, there is a pressing need for a more forceful public and private response to a looming crisis brought about largely through conservative hypocrisy.
Conservative Republicans used to argue that government should only sparingly dictate practices to private companies; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are ignoring that philosophy. Republicans also used to argue that the government closest to the people governs best; their updated version adds the caveat: ‘unless local governments are run by liberals or minorities and the state government by Republicans.’
There’s the politicized judiciary. in a speech to the Federalist Society late last year — after the election — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito lashed out at the social distancing, mask wearing and other COVID measures: “We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.” Of course, we actually have: rationing for food, gas and other resources during World War II; pervasive wage and price controls from 1971 to 1973.
Ah, America, confuzzled and misinformed.
Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Newsmax that the former president has been holding meetings with his “cabinet” despite not being president.
There’s a video interview with Maggie Haberman if you want to go there.
This is way longer than I assumed it would be but hope you can find some time to read some of these.
What’s on your reading and bloggling list today?