The U.S. is going through a very dangerous time. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected decisively, but Trump and his GOP cult followers are trying to overthrow the election results. They are, in fact, attempting a coup.
Masha Gessen at The New Yorker, November 5: By Declaring Victory, Donald Trump Is Attempting an Autocratic Breakthrough.
The President of the United States has called the election a fraud. He has declared victory without basis, tweeting on Wednesday, “We have claimed” Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and perhaps Michigan—all states that were still counting votes. Donald Trump, who has been engaged in an autocratic attempt for the last four years, is now trying to stage an autocratic breakthrough.
I have borrowed the term “autocratic attempt” from the work of Bálint Magyar, a Hungarian sociologist who set out to develop analytical tools for understanding the turn away from democracy in many Eastern and Central European countries. I have found Magyar’s ideas surprisingly illuminating when applied to the United States.
Magyar divides the autocrat’s journey into three stages: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation. The attempt is a period when autocracy is still preventable, or reversible, by electoral means. When it is no longer possible to reverse autocracy peacefully, the autocratic breakthrough has occurred, because the very structures of government have been transformed and can no longer protect themselves. These changes usually include packing the constitutional court (the Supreme Court, in the case of the U.S.) with judges loyal to the autocrat; packing and weakening the courts in general; appointing a chief prosecutor (the Attorney General) who is loyal to the autocrat and will enforce the law selectively on his behalf; changing the rules on the appointment of civil servants; weakening local governments; unilaterally changing electoral rules (to accommodate gerrymandering, for instance); and changing the Constitution to expand the powers of the executive.
For all the apparent flailing and incompetence of the Trump Administration, his autocratic attempt checks most of the boxes. He has appointed three Supreme Court Justices and a record number of federal judges. The Justice Department, under William Barr, acts like Trump’s pocket law-enforcement agency and personal law firm. Trump’s army of “acting” officials, some of them carrying out their duties in violation of relevant federal regulations, have made mincemeat of the rules and norms of federal appointments. Trump has preëmptively declared the election rigged; has incited voter intimidation and encouraged voter suppression; has mobilized his armed supporters to prevent votes from being counted; and has explicitly stated that he is changing the rules of the election. “We want all voting to stop,” he said on Wednesday morning, and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court.
Please go read the rest at The New Yorker.
Ezra Klein makes a similar argument at Vox: Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight.
The Trump administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly rests on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”
If that fails, and it will, Mark Levin, one of the nation’s most popular conservative radio hosts, is explicitly calling on Republican legislatures to reject the election results and seat Donald Trump as president anyway. After Twitter tagged the tweet as contested, Trump’s press secretary weighed in furiously on Levin’s behalf.
That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. Millions will believe Trump, will see the election as stolen. The Trump family’s Twitter feeds, and those of associated outlets and allies, are filled with allegations of fraud and lies about the process (reporter Isaac Saul has been doing yeoman’s work tracking these arguments, and his thread is worth reading). It’s the construction of a confusing, but immersive, alternative reality in which the election has been stolen from Trump and weak-kneed Republicans are letting the thieves escape.
This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.
“Democracy works only when losers recognize that they have lost,” writes political scientist Henry Farrell. That will not happen here.
It won’t happen, because the GOP is going along with Trump’s attempt.
Here’s the grim kicker: The conditions that made Trump and this Republican Party possible are set to worsen. Republicans retained control of enough statehouses to drive the next redistricting effort, too, and their 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court will unleash their map-drawers more fully. The elections analyst G. Elliott Morris estimates that the gap between the popular vote margin and the tipping point state in the Electoral College will be 4 to 5 percentage points, and that the GOP’s control of the redistricting process could push it to 6 to 7 points next time.
To say that America’s institutions did not wholly fail in the Trump era is not the same thing as saying they succeeded. They did not, and in particular, the Republican Party did not. It has failed dangerously, spectacularly. It has made clear that would-be autocrats have a path to power in the United States, and if they can walk far enough down that path, an entire political party will support them, and protect them. And it has been insulated from public fury by a political system that values land over people, and that lets partisan actors set election rules and draw district lines — and despite losing the presidency, the GOP still holds the power to tilt that system further in its direction in the coming years.
What happens when the next would-be autocrat tries this strategy — and what if they are smoother, more strategic, more capable than this one?
How is Trump’s autocratic attempt going so far? He has fired the Secretary of Defense and replaced him with a partisan loyalist.
In an exclusive interview with Military Times that dropped shortly after his abrupt firing, Mr Esper took exception with critics who have called him a “yes man”, the source of the derogatory nickname “Yesper” used by the president.
“Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back… Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?” Mr Esper said.
“At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights… I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that —why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
The interview was conducted on 4 November, before Mr Esper’s replacement would have been known.
Trump also fired the three officials who were in charge of our nuclear weapons. NPR:
The Trump administration abruptly dumped the leaders of three agencies that oversee the nuclear weapons stockpile, electricity and natural gas regulation, and overseas aid during the past two days, drawing a rebuke from a prominent Republican senator for one of the decisions.
The sudden departures included:
- Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the first woman to oversee the agency in charge of the nuclear stockpile. She was required to resign on Friday.
- Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She was replaced by acting Administrator John Barsa, who had run out of time for his more senior role under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
- Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He was replaced as chairman, though he will remain at FERC, an independent agency, as a commissioner.
The firings were overshadowed by the prolonged drama of the presidential election.
Trump is expected to fire CIA director Gina Haspel and FBI director Christopher Wray, according to Axios.
He has named another yes man as general counsel at the NSA. The Washington Post: White House official and former GOP political operative Michael Ellis named as NSA general counsel.
The Pentagon general counsel has named a White House official and former GOP political operative to be the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s largest and most technically advanced spy agency, U.S. officials said.
There’s much more at the link.
Bill Barr is also on the case. The New York Times: Barr Hands Prosecutors the Authority to Investigate Voter Fraud Claims.
Attorney General William P. Barr, wading into President Trump’s unfounded accusations of widespread election irregularities, told federal prosecutors on Monday that they were allowed to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Mr. Barr’s authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.
Mr. Barr said he had authorized “specific instances” of investigative steps in some cases. He made clear in a carefully worded memo that prosecutors had the authority to investigate, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”
Mr. Barr’s directive ignored the Justice Department’s longstanding policies intended to keep law enforcement from affecting the outcome of an election. And it followed a move weeks before the election in which the department lifted a prohibition on voter fraud investigations before an election.
The head of the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes election crimes resigned Monday hours after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors authorizing them to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent a memo to colleagues that suggested his resignation was linked to Barr’s memo, which was issued as the president’s legal team mount baseless legal challenges to the election results, alleging widespread voter fraud cost him the race.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter said, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.
“I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”
Finally, Trump is preventing the Biden transition team from beginning their work. The Washington Post: White House, escalating tensions, orders agencies to rebuff Biden transition team.
The Trump White House on Monday instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action.
While media outlets on Saturday projected Biden as the winner, President Trump has not conceded the election.
“We have been told: Ignore the media, wait for it to be official from the government,” said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.
The GSA, the government’s real estate arm, remained for a third day the proxy in the battle. Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee who has lasted a full term in an administration where turnover has been the norm, is refusing to sign paperwork that releases Biden’s $6.3 million share of nearly $10 million in transition resources and gives his team access to agency officials and information.
So that’s where things stand right now, as we battle an out-of-control pandemic with no help from the federal government and the Supreme Court hears arguments that may end the Affordable Care Act and strip 20,000,000 people of health insurance.
Hang in there Sky Dancers! Take care of yourselves in this dangerous time.
Today fallout continues from Trump’s pardons of accused and/or convicted war criminals. Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over an internal review board investigation of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy Seal who was convicted of posing for a trophy photo of a dead ISIS fighter. Gallagher was also accused of stabbing to death the teenager in the photo was acquitted.
In today’s New York Times, two former Navy secretaries Richard J. Danzig and write: Trump and the Military Do Not Share the Same Values.
“Get back to business!” With this tweet, President Trump directed his secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, to stop the naval officers charged with oversight of the SEALs from disciplining one of their own. That order was confirmed on Monday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and over the weekend, Mr. Spencer was fired.
There are three problems with Mr. Trump’s action. The first is that it is very much the Navy’s business — and every military’s business — to maintain, as the military so often recites and Mr. Spencer put it in his final letter to the president, “good order and discipline.” In conducting their “business,” our military services are not and must not be commanded in support of political ends, as Mr. Trump was apparently doing here.
How the president chooses to value order and discipline in his White House, and if at all, is of real concern to all Americans. But the military is not an extension of his White House. Some may argue that all actions by a president may have some political component, yet instead of constraining that component, this action by this president celebrates and encourages it.
The second problem intensifies the first. Contamination from the president’s approach is amplified when his judgment is largely shaped by television commentators and his decision announced by tweet. The military has well-established procedures for assuring good order and discipline. They begin by eliciting a judgment by peers. No one is as well positioned to balance the exigencies of combat and the demands of law and ethics as a panel of fellow sailors, Marines, airmen or soldiers….
Finally, there is the judgment itself. An American service member shared a photograph of himself with a corpse along with the message: “I have got a cool story for you when I get back. I have got my knife skills on.” Our president’s endorsement of the perpetrator will be taken as a representation of our values. Our own troops, many of them teenagers, will be misled by the president’s sense, or lack of sense, of honor.
Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: How Richard Spencer’s firing illustrates some of Trump’s most corrupt impulses.
One key reason Donald Trump’s presidency has been so damaging is that he has a way of corrupting all the people and institutions he comes in contact with, infecting them with his virus. No one remains untouched.
As the sudden firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer shows, that includes the military. Spencer’s story also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Ukraine scandal, in the way people with their own agendas played on Trump’s most repugnant impulses to manipulate him.
Spencer’s firing has its roots in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who became a Fox News hero. Gallagher’s long and complicated case began when members of his own unit accused him of a series of war crimes, including firing on civilians and murdering a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter receiving medical treatment from his unit.
Gallagher allegedly stabbed the wounded fighter multiple times, then took a picture with his corpse and texted it to friends, with the caption “Got him with my hunting knife.” He was also charged with covering up his crime by threatening to kill members of his platoon if they reported it. They did anyway….
Trump pardoned him, along with two other service members who had also been accused of war crimes.
Those pardons generated enormous controversy both inside and outside the military, but they were not surprising. From the time he began running for president, Trump has shown nothing but contempt for ideas like military order and discipline, respect for human rights and standards of wartime conduct. He has advocated torturing detainees, suggested that a way to fight terrorism would be to murder the families of suspected terrorists and mused about committing genocide. Accused war criminals are his kind of people.
There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll go read the rest.
Spencer stepped down at the request of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday amid an ongoing controversy over Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, whose case attracted President Trump’s attention.
Esper told reporters Monday that he fired Spencer after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor.” He accused Spencer of secretly proposing a deal to the White House that would allow Gallagher to retire and retain his Trident pin, which denotes his status as a SEAL, a move Esper said was “completely contrary” to what the two had discussed.
In an interview Monday, Spencer told CBS News he spoke with White House counsel Pat Cipollone on November 15 and proposed an arrangement in which Gallagher would be allowed to retire as a SEAL if the president agreed not to intervene in the case and “let the Navy do its administrative work.” Spencer said Cipollone called back the same day to decline the offer, saying the president would be involved.
“In order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution, I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case,” Spencer said.
Spencer acknowledged not telling Esper about the proposal.
“I will take the bad on me, for not letting him know I did that,” Spencer said. “But as far as I was concerned, at that point, the president understood the deal. Arguably, he doesn’t have to deal with anyone. He said, ‘I’m going to be involved.’ He sent a signed letter to me, an order with his signature on it, saying, ‘Promote Edward Gallagher to E7,'” the rank of chief petty officer.
Esper acknowledged Monday that when confronted about his secret negotiations with the White House, Spencer “was completely forthright in admitting what had been going on.”
Read more at the link.
The Independent spoke to veterans about the situation: US veterans say Trump views military ‘as tool for massacres’ after reinstating accused war criminal to Navy.
Numerous veterans spoke out about the move to The Independent after Secretary of Defence Mark Esper confirmed he was ordered by the president to retain Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s status in the elite service, as well as his Trident pin, a prestigious special warfare insignia.
“Ever since Donald Trump became president he’s been tearing the military apart, putting troops in the difficult position of needing to choose between obedience to his unhinged orders, and staying true to our code of honour,” said Alexander McCoy, a former Marine and political director of the veteran group Common Defence. “By pardoning war criminals because Fox News told him to, Trump showed he sees our military as a tool for massacres, not as the professional, honourable force we aspire to be.” [….]
The president’s demands could cause “significant long-term damage to the Naval Special Warfare community,” according to James Waters, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander and White House staff member in the Bush administration, who told The Independent: “The only people who weigh in on whether a Navy SEAL deserves to keep his Trident are people who have their Trident.”
“Every SEAL knows he must ‘earn your Trident every day’ – even after officially qualifying – and the same standard should apply here,” Mr Waters said. “Unless you’ve been through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and served in the Teams and know the specific facts related to a person’s performance, you’re not qualified to weigh in.” [….]
“There’s a reason we have the Geneva Convention. There’s a reason we have the Universal Code of Military Justice. There’s a reason we have the morale and ethics that we learn in training,” said Josh Manning, a former Army intelligence officer. “For Trump to just step in and undermine centuries worth of morale and discipline undercuts the very military that he’s trying to command.” [….]
Charlotte Clymer, an Army Veteran and press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, said Mr Trump appeared to be “hell-bent on exploiting” the military justice system for his own purposes.
“My colleagues and I, those still serving and not, are openly horrified by the way this coward has explicitly condoned war crimes, seemingly to pander to people who don’t understand how this undermines our moral authority,” she told The Independent. “I’ve talked to other service members and veterans, and none of us are sure how this could get worse.”
They’re suggesting that Trump wants to take us back to Vietnam years when we had shameful incidents like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
In a final outrage, Trump now says he wants to use the pardoned war criminals in his 2020 campaign. Daily Beast: Trump Tells Allies He Wants Absolved War Criminals to Campaign for Him.
If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his re-election campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.
Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.
“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.
So next year he wants to celebrate men who chose to execute civilians and detainees?
What stories are you following today?