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Presidential misdeeds and the challenge of accountability – posted 12/26/2020

December 26, 2020 2 comments

The presidency of Donald Trump presents a daunting challenge to anyone who cares about the future of the rule of law. Never has a president so debased his position. Who calls a state Secretary of State and asks him to flip votes? Corruption may be the singular thread that runs through every aspect of this presidency.

Take your pick: pardons for war criminals and venal cronies, using public office for private gain, tax fraud, lying and manufacturing a steady stream of misinformation, putting children in cages, and trying to overturn a democratic election to install yourself as dictator. And that barely scratches the surface. The crimes run deep. The abuse of power has been relentless.

The question emerges: how can the Biden Administration check and constrain this overwhelming pattern of wrongdoing? So many are saying that addressing the Trump Administration’s misconduct would be too divisive and time-consuming. They counsel that the government should look forward rather than back. The concern is that a Biden Administration focused on prosecuting Trump would enrage Trump followers. It could also have a bad look, reducing Biden and making him look like a tinpot dictator himself.

I am struck by the long-term pattern of failure of accountability in American life. Over the last 50 years, the examples are numerous. President Ford’s pardon of Nixon, President George H. W. Bush’s pardons of Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal, and President Obama’s failure to prosecute torturers who defiled the George W. Bush presidency all come to mind.

The thinking has been that accountability was too divisive. The problem though is that the absence of accountability is a license for repetition of the abuse of power. For example, Obama’s unwillingness to pursue those who committed torture greatly increases the likelihood that behavior will recur.

President-elect Biden has nominated Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence. In an Open Letter, torture victims and their advocates have opposed Haines’ nomination because of her troubling record on torture. Whatever her competence, Haines both defended torture and suppressed evidence of it. She supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA Director. Torture is illegal under international law and there is an unmistakeable bad message sent with the Haines’ nomination.

Stepping back to look at the broader sweep of American history, I think the failure of accountability goes back to our country’s origins. The narrative we have told about Native American history is an early example. The savage war fought against Native Americans pushed them back farther and farther west, across the continent. Law had nothing to do with this process although dishonored treaties by the U.S. government happened along the way. It was a “might makes right” history.

How has that been officially acknowledged and where is the accountability? Where is the United States Native American Genocide Memorial Museum? It hasn’t happened. Denial rules.

Similarly with slavery, where is the accountability on a national level? Americans have grown up with a rationalized view of that history and there has been an unwillingness to reconsider how the past events of slavery affect us still. Conventional thinking remains that these events happened long ago and have little bearing on now.

Post-Civil War history disappeared slavery-by-another-name. It is telling that the only memorial for lynching in the United States was created by a private Alabama non-profit law firm, the Equal Justice Initiative. We bury that history and as a result do not take the needed steps required to begin rectification.

I think the same pattern is true with the Vietnam War. Although many know it was a horrible mistake, there has been a collective refusal to admit that war was wrong and criminal. Instead of a self-critical look at our empire and our militarism, we blundered into Iraq where we repeated Vietnam-like mistakes, costing untold lives, American and Iraqi. The empire, recognized around the world, is not recognized by Americans who have been taught a sanitized history.

We are overdue in the United States for taking a hard look at ourselves. While elections may have changed those in power which is some kind of check, they have not promoted self-critical examination. When Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, one reason he provided for the veto was the provision that would require the military to rename bases that were named after figures from the Confederacy.

What better example of the failure of critical thinking than that? Are we still compelled to defend traitors committed to white supremacy who took up arms against the United States? To say that view is backwards does not express how odious it is.

It would be a huge mistake if no efforts are made to acknowledge and reckon with Trump crimes. Not to do so would make it much more likely that, at a later date, we could further devolve into some type of authoritarian state. The damage done by the last four years should not be understated. If Trump had won the election, we would be looking at a fascist consolidation of power. We barely escaped.

I have a couple thoughts on places to begin the accountability process. How the Trump Administration mis-handled the pandemic requires a national commission to study what happened with COVID-19. At the federal level, the commission should study the federal response so that we, as a nation, learn from the experience. We need to be better prepared for next time. Such a commission might be possible as a bi-partisan endeavor.

The second initiative would be centered on the family separation policy. Out of thousands of cases where family reunification was achieved, 545 migrant children are still separated and their families cannot be located. Every effort should be made to reunify these families. It was Trump’s zero tolerance policy that led to the separation of thousands of families. This has been government-sponsored child abuse and there is a moral imperative to do everything to try and make this right.

There are other Trump misdeeds that stand out. I suppose there is subjectivity in sorting these but I will hit on some I think are worst. Possibly state prosecutors will look at taxes. No presidential candidate should ever be able to run who has not disclosed the last 5 or 10 years of his or her income taxes.

The politicization of law enforcement and the Department of Justice, abuse of the Hatch Act, and mis-use of the pardon power jump out. Dangling the prospect of a pardon in exchange for non-cooperation with federal investigations is the definition of corruption.

Ignoring presidential crimes is the same as saying the President is above the law, a position essentially argued by Nixon and Trump. That position must be repudiated. Presidents are not kings and it is not a viable option for a Biden Administration determined to reassert the rule of law.

More generally, America has been crippled by the propaganda message of our exceptional goodness. That message has never squared with the facts. Now more than ever, we need honesty and a willingness to look at the dark side. Failure of accountability could lead to the next Trump or Trump-equivalent successfully consolidating fascism.

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Why Representative Dawn Johnson’s apology for anti-semitism was so inadequate – posted 12/20/2020

December 20, 2020 5 comments

I do not personally know school board member and newly elected state representative Dawn Johnson of Laconia. I know she is a Republican. Rep. Johnson shocked New Hampshire when she posted a link to a Daily Stormer article. The Daily Stormer is a leading neo-nazi website.

In the post, the word “Jews” appears above a cartoon image of a man wearing a Jewish skullcap. He is holding a sign announcing a rent increase, next to another man with the head of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp photoshopped onto the body. Above Kemp’s photo is the term ”Riggers”, a clear reference to Kemp’s refusal to block certification of Georgia’s electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden. Below both cartoon figures are the words “Bad News”.

Rep. Johnson tried to post the Daily Stormer link on Facebook. Her effort was blocked because Facebook does not allow links to the Daily Stormer since it is a hate site. Rep. Johnson complained on her Facebook page, “When you try to share truth, FB says NOPE we will not allow it. “

After a big adverse reaction, Rep.Johnson apologized for putting up the post and she deleted the post from her Twitter feed. She claimed she was unaware of the source. One peculiarity about Rep. Johnson’s apology: while she apologized, she never made clear what she specifically apologized for and, to date, that has never been clarified. She said she was unaware of the anti-semitic cartoon that got posted.

Rep. Johnson adamantly expressed opposition to the idea she should resign from the school board and her position as state representative. Very defensively, Rep. Johnson lashed out at others on the school board who had called for her to resign. She called others on the board “a disgrace”.

In considering the affair, I have to begin by wondering why Rep. Johnson was linking to the Daily Stormer website at all. For those who have never been there, it is not a subtle website. It is probably the world’s biggest neo-nazi website. It defies credibility that Rep. Johnson did not know what that was. She had complained that Facebook would not let her post her “truth”.

I suppose it is possible that Johnson was mostly focused on arguing the crackpot Trump theory that the election was rigged, given the word “Riggers” in the cartoon, but how could she ignore the depiction of the Jewish person? It was a classic anti-semitic caricature. Was she not looking at what she was posting?

The Daily Stormer takes its name from the German newspaper Der Sturmer which published from 1923 to the end of World War II. Der Sturmer was a propaganda organ of the German Nazis and it was infamous for its virulent anti-semitism. It was published by Julius Streicher who was later hanged at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. Der Sturmer often ran cartoons depicting graphic caricatures of ugly Jews with exaggerated noses.

The paper aimed to dehumanize Jews and It promoted medieval stereotypes of blood libel where Jews were accused of killing Christian children and drinking their blood.

The current Daily Stormer was an early endorser of Donald Trump’s candidacy for President back in 2015. It proclaimed “Heil Trump – the Ultimate Savior”.

Every incident has a context and the incident with Rep. Johnson is no exception. It happened at a time when anti-semitism is on the upswing. The Trump presidency opened Pandora’s box of anti-semitism, racism and misogyny. Anti-semitic incidents in America reached the highest on record in 2019 with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Just this Hanukkah there was another anti-semitic incident in New Hampshire. At Dartmouth College, someone with a pellet gun shot out seven of the nine lights on a public menorah which stands in a central location on campus.

For those who say Jewish people like me and others are making too big a deal out of Rep. Johnson’s post, I would cite history. Living in the shadow of the Holocaust, the historical experience of anti-semitism informs our present reality which is why it is impossible to ignore the type of crude propaganda posted by Rep. Johnson. Letting it slide is not an option. Failure to respond would encourage more of the same as silence would be acceptance.

For perpetrators of the Holocaust, propaganda was necessary to persuade the German masses that Jews were evil. The historian Raul Hilberg has said propaganda was needed by the Germans “to combat doubts and guilt feelings whenever they arose”.

The job, for the political anti-semite, is to persuade people that the Jewish people they know, their neighbors and acquaintances, are not the real Jews. The real Jews, for anti-semites, are a collection of negative stereotypes, the type of stereotypes exemplified in Rep. Johnson’s cartoon.

I have to admit I was surprised by how vehemently I responded to this story, and it seems that many others had the same reaction. Witness the Laconia demonstration on December 14 and the many calls for Rep. Johnson to resign her positions.

The response of the state GOP to this episode has been weak. While to his credit Governor Chris Sununu criticized Johnson, most of the rest of the GOP remained silent or said she did nothing wrong and opposed any action about her behavior. This betrays a cluelessness about anti-semitism.

While I generally believe in second chances, Rep. Johnson has said nothing of substance about why anti-semitism is hateful and destructive, Without more, she should resign. The public has a right to expect a higher level of public conduct and responsibility from elected legislators and school board members.

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After the storm – posted 12/20/2020

December 20, 2020 1 comment

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Reckoning with authoritarianism – posted 12/13/2020

December 13, 2020 1 comment

When the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept the lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General and 17 other Republican-led states, I am sure many Democrats and independents felt a sense of relief. The many half-baked Trump-inspired lawsuits meant to overturn the popular will were defeated, often in ignominious fashion.

Still, it is hard not to feel seriously uneasy about where this election has left us as a nation. One party had no problem aggressively opposing the result of a fair election and seeking its reversal. The desire for power trumped any concern for democracy. Trump has been attempting to install himself as a dictator. Hardly any Republicans spoke up in opposition to Trump’s attempted coup.

The Republican Party has transformed from a mainstream conservative political party to an extremist neo-fascist party. The party is contemptuous and dismissive of its political opposition. It has become a haven for white supremacists and fanatic anti-immigrant sentiment. It is largely dismissive of conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science. The party is home for all manner of conspiracy theories.

Insisting this presidential election was stolen by fraud is a widely popular view among Republicans. “Stop the steal” is their chant and is on their signs. Trump claims, without evidence, the 2020 election was “rigged”. Departing into unreality, his supporters say he won “in a landslide”. Trump tweeted that he is the victim of the “greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States”.

Trump has a long history of casting doubt on elections. He did this in 2016 before he won. He said that election was rigged too. Even after he won, he claimed that he lost the popular vote due to fraud.

I would suggest that this is not the behavior of a normal political party in a democracy that accepts results regardless of whether they win or lose. Trump has never committed to a peaceful transfer of power. The Republicans have departed from a democratic framework and are following an authoritarian playbook to achieve power.

Scholars of fascism, Jason Stanley and Ruth Ben-Ghiat, have outlined strategies in the playbook. These strategies have consistently appeared in countries that have degenerated into authoritarianism. They include: the mythic past, propaganda, suppressing and demonizing media, victimhood and polarization through creation of a demonized out group.

The slogan Make America Great Again encapsulates the story of the mythic past. What period is being harkened back to? A glorious American past requires much erasure of atrocities like genocide against Native Americans and slavery. The idea of Make America Great Again is based on the falsehood that we need to restore what we once were. Like all countries, America has a complicated history, with strengths and weaknesses. We do not need a fake mythic past.

Jason Stanley says that fascist movements have been “draining the swamp” for generations. The propaganda about draining the swamp created a convenient cover for corrupt practices. A major priority for Trump has been using his position to maximize profits for his own businesses. The words “public interest” do not exist for Trump. Invariably, he appointed people opposed to the mission of their respective federal agencies. Scandals became normalized while he said he was draining the swamp.

Trump attacks many journalists, often calling them “enemy of the people”. Last September at a rally in Minnesota he went after MSNBC reporter, Ali Velshi, who was hit in the knee by a rubber bullet while reporting on a Minneapolis protest prompted by the police killing of George Floyd. Trump said, “It was the most beautiful thing. It’s called law and order”.

Velshi responded:

“What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?”

Trump has said, “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news…Just remember: what you are seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”.

Trump follows the Joseph Goebbels school and his Big Lie theory. Goebbels said, “ If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. Trump has lived the Goebbels approach and this is true across the board. Whether the subject is climate change or COVID-19, facts that contradict his goals of power and personal profit are denied. No one in American public life has ever had less regard for the truth than Donald Trump.

Somehow even though he is a tycoon living in the lap of luxury with multiple residences he considers himself a victim. In a Georgia rally on December 5 , Trump said, “We’re all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they’re all victims, everyone of you”.

Trump continually whines that he, the tycoon, a man of life-long enormous wealth and privilege, is being treated unfairly. That is a strange mantra from the party of personal responsibility.

The sense of aggrieved victimhood is something he sells his followers. They are supposedly the victim of illegal immigrants, advances by women, people of color and LGBTQ communities. Trump has played particularly to the fear immigration will lead to “the browning of America”.

I worry that Americans are not seeing the authoritarian threat posed by this type of politics. Americans historically have a poor track record with early recognition of fascist dangers. In the 1920’s Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist leader, received an amazingly positive reception in the American press. He was seen as charming and masculine, a kind of celebrity.

In the early 1930’s Hitler too had a surprisingly positive American reception. Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and radio priest Charles Coughlin all gave Nazi Germany glowing reviews. It was not until much later that Americans widely recognized the fascist threat.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat has written that the authoritarian playbook has no chapter on failure. Trump still is not accepting his defeat. Avoiding his own criminal prosecution and maintaining his personality cult are strong motives to stay on as president.

The Texas case shows how far Trump and a wide range of Republicans are willing to go. A pro-Trump state did not like voting results in four battleground states that voted for Biden so apparently Biden votes should not count, And that from the party of state’s rights.

If the election had been closer, it is possible Trump’s anti-democratic efforts might have worked.

Anyone who thinks we are out of the woods as far as the advance of authoritarianism in America is not paying close attention. Whether it is Trump again or another smarter fascist wannabe, this brand of politics is likely to be back in 2024. Nobody in the Republican Party is seriously pushing back against it in a public way.

Americans of our generation do not have personal experience with dictatorship. Our democratic guardrails barely held this time. To advance as a multiracial democracy, Americans must call out and stop all authoritarian demagogues. If we do not reckon with authoritarianism, the American democratic experiment could very well end.

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Deena Cherry Baird April 17,1925 – December 11, 2010

December 8, 2020 4 comments

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Lisa Montgomery should not be executed – posted 12/6/2020

December 6, 2020 Leave a comment

Lisa Montgomery, a federal prisoner, is now slated to be executed on January 12, 2021. She is the only woman on federal death row. She would be the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years.

Montgomery’s case presents a picture of contrasting narratives. There is the story of the atrocious crime she committed and then there is the story of the horribly abused and traumatized life she lived prior to her crime. How you see this case depends on what facts you choose to look at. In choosing to execute Montgomery, the federal government is ignoring and minimizing both the trauma she experienced and her mental illness.

On December 17, 2004, the authorities arrested Montgomery for the murder by strangulation of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. Stinnett was pregnant at the time and Montgomery used a kitchen knife to carve her abdomen and cut out the baby whom she planned to claim as her own. There is no denying the gruesomeness of the crime.

However, Montgomery was psychotic at the time. She had been subjected to a coerced sterilization by her stepbrother whom she had married at her mother’s instigation. After she murdered Stinnett she actually took the baby home and pretended the baby was her child. On October 22, 2007, a jury convicted her and Montgomery received the death sentence.

It is impossible to understand this horrific crime without understanding the circumstances of Montgomery’s life. Montgomery’s mother, Judy Shaughnessy, drank throughout her pregnancy and Lisa was born with organic brain damage. Her father deserted the family and failed to be much of a parental presence.

What followed is a long history of extreme abuse and neglect. Shaughnessy was cruel and violent to Lisa and her sisters. Lisa survived child abuse, domestic violence, incest, multiple rapes and child sex trafficking.

As a little girl, Lisa’s mother beat her and her sisters with brooms, belts, cords and hangers. She taped Lisa’s mouth shut with duct tape when she did not want to hear Lisa speaking. Her mother killed the family dog in front of Lisa and her sisters to punish them. She smashed the dog’s head in with a shovel until it died.

Lisa’s older sister, Diane, who was four years older than Lisa, has written about their mother. When Diane was a small child, her mother would force her to strip naked and lock her out of the house. She ordered Diane to wait outside in the freezing cold. When Diane was eight, one of her mother’s male friends began raping her. Social workers removed Diane but for reasons that make no sense, left Lisa there.

In this period, the mother married a man named Jack Kleiner. He punched, kicked and choked his children, including Lisa. He started sexually molesting Lisa around age 11. He raped her regularly for years. He told Lisa he would kill her whole family if she told anyone.

When Lisa turned 15, her mother started to invite men to the house to have sex with Lisa in exchange for money and services. Her mother told her she had to “pay” for her room and the new indoor plumbing by submitting to the sexual torture of gang rape. The men raped her orally, vaginally and anally one after the other.

No one intervened to help Lisa during her many years of being brutally abused even though many knew what was happening to her. School administrators, teachers, police, social services, judges and family members did nothing. She had told her cousin, Donald Kidwell, a police officer, about the gang rapes that her mother instigated. She cried and shook while describing the abuse. Kidwell now says:

“I live with regret for not speaking up about what happened to Lisa. I wonder if I had if all this could have been prevented.”

Lisa has been diagnosed with multiple mental and neurological disorders including bipolar disorder and temporal lobe epilepsy. The sexual torture caused a dissociative disorder and complex PTSD. Despite a regimen of anti-psychotic medications, Lisa still panics and often breaks out in hives if she is in a room alone with a man.

Dr. Katharine Porterfield, an expert on torture and trauma, testified that the impact of Lisa’s sexual abuse was “massive” and that her disorder was one of the most severe cases of dissociation she had ever seen.

In spite of this history, prosecutors dismissed the evidence of Montgomery’s sexual exploitation and torture as the “abuse excuse”. They faulted her mothering skills and, overlooking her obvious poverty, told the jury she lived in a “filthy home”. Her own lawyers failed to explain to the jury why repeated rape, torture and child sexual trafficking mattered.

Montgomery has accepted full responsibility for her crime and does express remorse.

Really the only thing at Issue in this case is the imposition of the death penalty as opposed to life in prison.

How do you decide the culpability of someone who was psychotic and was victimized for years? What about the fact the state never protected Montgomery against rape and unspeakable cruelty? Or the fact that as a young person she never received any care for her mental illness.

To impose the death penalty under these circumstances is not justice – it is ignorant and cruel. It ignores too much.

Forty current and former prosecutors have weighed in and have asked President Trump to grant Lisa Montgomery clemency. A coalition of United Nations human rights experts has also requested clemency for Montgomery saying she received inadequate legal assistance and pointing out that her abuse history and mental health were not adequately considered during her trial.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration appears to be in some kind of a race to execute federal prisoners before the end of Trump’s term in January. Montgomery is one of five federal prisoners Trump and Attorney General William Barr plan to kill before January 20. The Trump Administration has already executed eight people in the last five months.

The Trump Administration has expanded the allowed methods to carry out execution of federal prisoners. In addition to lethal injection, they are bringing back death by firing squad, electrocution and poison gas. Prior to this year, the federal government had not executed anyone since 2003. The last time there was an execution during a lame-duck presidency was 1889 during the outgoing administration of Grover Cleveland.

Sadly, as exemplified by the Lisa Montgomery case, we have departed from the idea that executions should be reserved for “the worst of the worst”. At a time when pardons are much discussed, I have seen little comment on the President’s clemency power under the Constitution. He has that power. As Lisa’s sister Diane has said, sparing her sister’s life “can break the chain of evil actions”.

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Voter suppression and the hidden story of the Wilmington coup d’etat – posted 11/29/2020

November 29, 2020 Leave a comment

As the Trump campaign desperately flails for an avenue to use to reverse the presidential election results, they returned to a tried and true approach: throw out Black peoples’ votes. The Trump campaign has complained about Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Philadelphia votes, all places with very high concentrations of minority voters.

The various Trump lawsuits all play on the idea that predominantly Black votes are corrupt and that their votes should be excluded. That is the argument Rudy Giuliani, the President’s lawyer, has been making.

The Trump campaign has lost virtually all their lawsuits because evidence of fraud is completely lacking. They simply want to count votes in areas where their voters live and not count votes in areas where Biden voters predominate.

In considering the Trump arguments, it is easy to overlook history and how the Trump claims fit into a white supremacist narrative. Since the start of the United States, a central strategy of white supremacy was prevention and later suppression of the Black vote. The Trump campaign is the latest incarnation in a long-running playbook.

Carol Anderson, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University put it this way:

“It’s as vile now as it was during Reconstruction, when Democrats believed that Republicans were illegitimate and that Black voters had no right to be voting and they did all of those terrorist activities to block African Americans from voting.”

The extent of the violence in our history to prevent voting is little appreciated now. It has been covered up even though there is some awareness of voter suppression in devices like poll taxes and literacy tests. What is not appreciated is the use of violence since Reconstruction to suppress African American voting.

I would cite the example of Wilmington North Carolina in 1898. These events have been called a coup d’etat, a slaughter, a pogrom, and a race riot. The historian, David. W. Blight, called the Wilmington coup “first place in the 19th century gallery of horrors”. The events have remained largely unknown.

At the end of the 19th century, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina. 11,000 of its 20,000 residents were African American. The city was integrated and Blacks had made some political gains. In Wilmington there was a Black magistrate, Black policemen and firemen. More generally in North Carolina, Blacks had allied with white populists and had gained control of the state legislature.

Wilmington contrasted with most of the rest of the South. With its multi-racial government, it was one of the most free spots in the South for African Americans and for poor whites.

The city did not escape the notice of white supremacists. The white supremacists feared the Black voting strength in North Carolina. By 1896, there were 126,000 Black men on the voter rolls.

Things came to a head in 1898. The Democrats, a totally racist party of that time, campaigned on the theme that if their party was not returned to power, there would be an epidemic of attacks by Black men on white women. In a widely read editorial in the state-wide Democratic Party paper, Rebecca Latimer Felton wrote:

“If it requires lynching to protect women’s dearest possession from ravening drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand negroes a week.”

The editorial drew a sharp rebuke from Alexander Manly, the Black editor of Wilmington’s daily paper. Manly responded that white women had freely chosen their romances with Black men. He also castigated Southern white men for raping Black women with impunity. Manly’s response circulated widely and infuriated Southern whites who demanded that he be lynched.

The Red Shirts, North Carolina’s Klan, organized a blockade to catch Manly so they could lynch him. Being very light skinned, Manly was able to escape the blockade and get out of North Carolina, unscathed. The Red Shirts did torch and burn down his newspaper’s printing press.

Simultaneously, there was a white riot. It has also been called a coup d’etat because the riot led to an overthrow of the elected government. White citizens went on a vicious rampage, roaming the streets of Wilmington. At a rally the night before the election, Alfred Waddell, a former Confederate cavalry officer, addressed a Red Shirt rally.

“You are Anglo-Saxons. You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. If you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”

It did take guns. The Red Shirts terrorized Black citizens, chasing many into swamps and pine forests. An estimated 60 Black men were murdered. Another 2,100 Black people permanently left the area after the riot. The Democrats stuffed ballot boxes while making it almost impossible for Black people to vote without risking their lives.

The coup leaders forced Wilmington town officials to resign. Waddell became the new mayor. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders, assaults and crimes committed by the Red Shirts and their Democratic Party allies.

Disenfranchisement was the goal. By 1902, there were only 6,100 Black voters left on the voter rolls in North Carolina. As noted, that was down from 126,000 Black voters in 1896. In 1899, the North Carolina state legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution which completely limited the right of any African American to vote in the state. As Blight has written, for white supremacists Black voters became a contagion to be wiped out.

It is ironic that Trump would say the 2020 election was “rigged” when it is his Republican Party that is now attempting to disenfranchise Black voters. 120 years ago, it was the Democrats who played that role.

The theme of voter suppression is a constant in American history. It is telling that we cannot accept unpleasant facts about that history. An honest reckoning would acknowledge the Wilmington coup d’etat and would see the Trump campaign’s disenfranchisement efforts as a continuation of white supremacist history.

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In his final days in office, Trump is proving to be even more dangerous than Nixon was – posted 11/22/2020

November 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Back in 2018, I wrote about the Watergate parallels that connect President Trump and President Nixon. Even in Trump’s final days in office, eerie parallels hold. I would argue though that Trump is proving to be more dangerous than Nixon ever was.

At his end as President, Nixon faced articles of impeachment (a fate Trump has already survived). Nixon was utterly incapacitated by the fear that he would be forced out of the presidency. As described by Woodward and Bernstein in their book, “The Final Days”, Nixon was isolated at the end. He drank heavily and he was unable to sleep.

Like Trump, he spent his final days as president brooding about his deteriorating circumstances. He famously wandered the halls of the White House at night, weeping and giving speeches to the portraits on the wall. Meanwhile, his chief of staff, General Alexander Haig, ran things. Haig worried that Nixon might commit suicide. Haig worked with Nixon’s doctors to limit his access to pills and tranquilizers. Nixon told Haig,

“You fellows, in your business, you have a way of handling problems like this. Somebody leaves a pistol in the drawer. I don’t have a pistol.”

His aides believed Nixon might order tanks and armored personnel carriers to surround the White House to block his removal if things reached that point and he was ordered removed from office by Congress or the Supreme Court. There were active discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment because the President was appearing incapacitated to White House staff.

There was also concern that Nixon might not be willing to leave the White House. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger worried that troops might be needed to physically remove Nixon. Sound familiar?

Before Nixon’s end, it is worth recalling his schemes. Most infamously, Nixon had an enemies’ list. The list initially had twenty names and it included people like the actor Paul Newman, Congressman John Conyers and the CBS broadcaster Daniel Schorr. The list expanded to about 200 prominent Democrats. It even included New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.

Nixon henchman Charles Colson turned the list over to White House counsel John Dean on September 9, 1971. The document described “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political opponents”.

Nixon’s goal was to discredit and silence his political adversaries. Like with Trump, revenge mattered to Nixon. He wanted payback on those who opposed him. Nixon wanted to use the IRS to audit and investigate the names on his list.

Nixon was not successful in this endeavor as he could not get the cooperation of the IRS Commissioner, Johnnie Walters. Walters refused to weaponize the IRS against Nixon’s enemies.

In a recorded conversation in the Oval Office, Nixon laid out his view of the job qualifications for the IRS Commissioner:

“I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends. Now it’s as simple as that. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job.”

After Walters rebuffed Nixon, on September 15, 1972 in another recorded White House conversation with John Dean, Nixon said, “Well, he’s going to be out. He’s finished.”

The mis-use of IRS tax audits made it into the articles of impeachment filed against Nixon. Trump has used his long-time lie that he is under a tax audit to avoid disclosure of his own taxes.

About Nixon’s enemies list, his successor as president Gerald Ford quipped, “Who can’t keep his enemies in his head has got too many enemies”.

There can be little doubt Trump has an enemies list and that list is long. It is not clear if that list has been written down. Someday, history will probably tell us. Trump has demanded absolute blind loyalty. There have been so many firings over the last four years, I would need pages to list all the names.

The list is not just the famous like James Comey, John Bolton, Andrew McCabe, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman or Christopher Krebs. It includes the names of many government officials who have been replaced or slated for replacement by pro-Trump loyalists. Part of Trump corruption is removing civil servants deemed disloyal and replacing them with hacks and political cronies.

One difference with Nixon, Trump has been far more successful in retaining the support of Republican leaders even after losing. Nixon faced significant defection on the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

In August 1974, Senator Barry Goldwater and other GOP leaders met with Nixon and told him that if he did not resign, he would be impeached. Nixon had lost support in his party even though he still commanded the support of a hardcore of loyalists.

Today’s Republican Party, with few exceptions, has remained slavishly devoted to the Trump cult. This is true even in the aftermath of a decisively lost election. The Republican Party remains a study in amoral cowardice. Putting party above country, the party has passively collaborated with Trump’s attempt to overturn the popular vote and democracy.

While Nixon degenerated with alcohol abuse and self-pity, Trump has not gone that route. When not golfing, Trump has worked feverishly to figure out a way to hang onto power even in the face of a well-run election with no voter fraud.

Unlike Nixon, Trump has maintained a stronger hold on his party’s base. Many Republican politicians live in fear that whatever happens with the election, Trump will stay on as a kingmaker, purging those whom he feels were insufficiently loyal. Trump’s power over Republicans remains the fear he can have them primaried if they do not pass his flunkey test.

I do not see a gracious concession speech in Trump’s future. He is too committed to his narrative of winning even though he lost. The next six weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration will be a good indicator of how low and demagogic Trump will be willing to go. Nixon at least in the end accepted his fate. So far that cannot be said about Trump.

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The decline of science and reason – posted 11/15/2020

November 15, 2020 Leave a comment

One peculiarity of our time has been the explosive growth of belief in conspiracy theories. Science denial has become a staple of the Trump era. Clear thinking is out. We have become like the Enlightenment-in-reverse.

A conspiracy theory is a falsely derived belief that the ultimate cause of an event results from the plotting of multiple omnipresent and omnipotent actors working together in pursuit of an often malevolent, unlawful and secret goal.

The number of conspiracy theories actively at play in our lives now is staggering. These theories have moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Evidence and science have taken a back seat.

We can begin with the 2020 presidential election. There was a heated contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Joe Biden won. But Trump and many Republicans say the race was stolen. Trump tweets about deleted and flipped votes. The Trump campaign complains about dead voters and massive voting machine fraud. He and his allies have orchestrated a “Stop the Steal” campaign across the internet.

The fact that there is no evidence of fraud – none – does not seem to bother him or the Republican Party. They continue with bogus lawsuits.

Trump had previously said the 2016 election was rigged even though he won. Again, proof did not matter. Trump had already manufactured the phony birther argument against Obama.

In the 2020 election, Biden won by over five million votes and he has a comfortable electoral college advantage but still Republicans indulge the fantasy that Trump won. They say illegal votes were counted without any specificity about what votes were illegal. Possibly this is intended to sow doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency much as birtherism was used against Obama.

The darker thread is the idea promoted by authoritarians that you cannot have trust in democratic institutions. This is a way to discourage belief in the vaiidity of voting. It is hard not to wonder if one future agenda of authoritarians on the political right is promotion of dictatorship based on inability to win a popular election. Voter suppression and control of the courts have not gotten them to a majoritarian result.

Of course, the fantasy that the presidential election was stolen is nothing compared to the Q’Anon delusion of a Democratic Party of satanic pedophiles operating out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC. Q’Anon has to remain the gold standard for collective insanity but it does show the degree of distrust of government that so many believe it.

A USA Today poll found half of Trump supporters believe in Q’Anon. One Q’Anon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, got elected to Congress.

I am reminded of the Voltaire quote:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

The pandemic is another current example of science denial. Trump acts like COVID-19 is a plot against him. He has said that the CDC had exaggerated the COVID threat to weaponize it and use against him politically. Right before the election he claimed that the media would only talk about COVID and that they would stop on November 4, the day after the election. Trump fans online claim that the pandemic spread was a result of a conspiracy between the Democratic Party and the Chinese government.

Without evidence, Trump assumed the Pfizer vaccine was delayed to hinder his re-election chances. For many months he has falsely said the end of the pandemic was “right around the corner” while hawking quack cures like hydroxychloroquine.

Instead of relying on science we have close Trump allies like Steve Bannon suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be beheaded. Trump pedals the junk science of Dr. Scott Atlas with his theory of herd immunity which has resulted in an absolute disregard for human life with skyrocketing deaths.

Tens of thousands have needlessly died. If the government had had the simple scientific message of masking and social distancing, many thousands of lives would have been saved. Masks should be no more controversial than toilet paper as a public health item.

Know-nothingism is the new normal. On the environment, under Trump, climate change denial has ruled. Trump has called it a “hoax”, a “scam invented by the Chinese” and “a bunch of bunk”. Even though there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists about the reality of the climate emergency, Trump has said,

“I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

The Trump Administration has failed to make the link between the more powerful hurricanes, catastrophic firestorms and rapid ice melt and climate change.

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century undermined the authority of monarchy and the Catholic Church. Reason and the scientific method became increasingly hegemonic. Part of the Enlightenment was the promotion of individual liberty and religious tolerance.

For all our technological innovations, we now live in a world where knowledge is becoming delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. We have been dumbed-down. We are not proving to be worthy successors to our Enlightenment heritage.

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Increasing hunger is an unspoken pandemic reality – posted 11/8/2020

November 8, 2020 2 comments

With all eyes having been fixed on the titanic battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, less attention has gone to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. That is tragic because, of late, the pandemic has been spiking. Even if we pay it less attention, the pandemic does not quit.

One pandemic-related problem that deserves far more attention is food insecurity. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of American households struggling to put enough food on the table. According to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey data collected in October, 10.9% of all adults in America reported that their households sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the last seven days.

That number represents a big increase over the pre-pandemic rate. The Agriculture Department had previously conducted a survey in 2019 that found 3.7% of adults reported that their households had not had enough to eat at some point over the full twelve months of 2019.

There has been some attention paid to the loss of employer-connected health insurance for millions during the pandemic. The issue of possible repeal of Obamacare by the U.S. Supreme Court was prominently publicized during the Amy Coney Barrett hearings.The economic fallout for food, housing and employment should get much more coverage.

In the context of the pandemic, I have seen almost nothing in the media about the Trump Administration’s attack on the Food Stamp program (also known as SNAP). You would think the threat of increasing hunger in a pandemic would prompt positive steps such as raising food stamp benefits. That has not happened even with the virus again surging at a rate of over 100,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths everyday. Daily infection tallies are setting records.

The Trump Administration’s failure on the food front was highlighted by a recent federal court decision in October. In the case Bread for the City v Department of Agriculture, Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the Federal Court in Washington DC blocked a rule change that would have eliminated food stamps for almost 700,000 recipients. Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and the City of New York had sued to block the rule change.

The Trump Administration had targeted one group of food stamp recipients: non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents. This group is currently limited to receiving benefits for three months in a 36 month period unless they are working or are enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours in a month.

Under present rules states had flexibility to waive work mandates. Congress had suspended these mandates in the Food Stamp program as part of coronavirus relief. When Judge Howell asked the Department of Agriculture lawyers how many Americans would have been denied benefits if the rule change was in effect during the pandemic, she wrote they were “icily silent”.

In her stinging ruling, Judge Howell wrote:

“The final rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”

Judge Howell found the rule change was “arbitrary and capricious” and she felt the agency did not adequately explain how the rule comported with federal statutes. She did not think the change made any sense.

According to government statistics, there were 2.9 million of these recipients in 2018 and nearly 74% of them were not employed. States have had the ability to waive the work requirements for areas where unemployment was at least 10% or if there is an insufficient number of jobs as defined by the Department of Labor. The new rule would have removed that flexibility.

I would note the harshness of a rule that already limits eligibility to only three out of 36 months.

The rule change is one of three outstanding efforts that the Trump Administration has made to revise and shrink the food stamp program. They want to change categorical eligibility rules that could cut off an additional three million people. A further rule change would alter how allowance for utility expenses are calculated. The agency is still working on these rule changes.

The Urban Institute released a study that indicated the combined impact of these rules would cut 3.7 million people from food stamps in an average month. The changes would also reduce benefits for millions more and would result in 982,000 students losing automatic access to free or reduced-price school meals.

In the middle of a raging pandemic, with massive unemployment, a looming eviction and foreclosure crisis and almost incalculable financial hardship, you have to wonder about the rationality of government officials promoting large cuts in the food stamp program.

You could call it class war on the poor or just meanness. This is also happening at a time when grocery prices have shot up and many more people are relying on food banks.

Since the end of the virus is definitely not around the corner and because economic hardship is an ongoing fact of life for millions, shrinking the safety net now is a Marie Antoinette move. With food prices rising, a new coronavirus relief package should feature an across the board 15% increase in food stamp benefits. In the 21st century we need to make hunger un-American.

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