Do the escalating right-wing attacks on democracy portend an authoritarian or fascist political outcome for America?

Bob Sheak, February 26, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

This post considers evidence on how extreme the Republican Party and their supporters, still under the influence of Trump, have gone in their efforts to subvert democracy and create the conditions for the party’s ascendance to a position of uncontested power. They have not yet succeeded in toppling democracy or establishing a one-party state, but they are moving in that direction. It is an authoritarian project, infused with rising fascist/Nazi tendencies. At the same time, there are major forces of resistance to them, which are identified in the last section of the post. American democracy has not been so threatened from within since perhaps the Civil War, though there have been far-right racist ideology and practice throughout the country’s history.

 A divided society and its affects on American democracy

There is much written about the fragility of American democracy, with titles such as How Democracies Die (published 2018), authored by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors of government at Harvard University.  They capture the concern about the anti-democratic, radical right forces in the U.S. in the following paragraph.

“American politicians [on the Right] now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices. American states, which were once praised as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies, and even rescind voting rights. And, in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and clear authoritarian tendencies was elected president” (p. 2).

It’s now reasonable to suggest that American democracy is under greater attacks than since the Civil War in 1860-1865. Indeed, authors are writing books about how America is on the verge of a contemporary Civil War. See, for example, Barbara F. Walter’s book, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them (published 2022), and Stephen Marche’s The Next Civil War (published 2022). Walter argues that Americans have too long trusted that “peace will always prevail” [and] “[t]hat our institutions are unshakable, that our nation is exceptional.” However, there are disruptive changes occurring.

“In the past decade, our country has undergone a seismic change in economic and cultural power. Our demographics have shifted. Inequality has grown. Our institutions have weakened, manipulated to serve the interests of some over others. American citizens are increasingly held captive to demagogues, on their screens or in the government.”

Amid these changes, “violent, extremist groups, especially on the radical right, have grown stronger. Since 2008, over 70 percent of extremist-related deaths in the United States have been at the hands of people connected to far-right or white-supremacists’ movements” (p. xix).

The partisan political and cultural divisions appear to be unresolvable. Trump, the Republican Party, their billionaire and corporate funders, supported by a Trump-loyal base of tens of millions, want to transform the institutional framework of society and basically rewrite or ignore the U.S. Constitution in ways that would end Democracy and many individual rights    

They are not only supported by avid Republican Party efforts in Washington but also at the state and local levels, where they hope to create an electoral system that guarantees them victory regardless of the popular vote. In these efforts, they have the support of a partisan Supreme Court and influential right-wing media.

What do they want?

The leaders of this broad reactionary movement want a free enterprise economic system in which corporations and businesses are little regulated, certainly the end of anti-trust laws, and have low taxes.

They want to privatize as many public functions as they can, including the public schools, National Parks, the minerals offshore in the ocean, the prisons, and wherever there are profitable opportunities. They want to further limit government assistance to the poor. They support the interests of pro-gun advocates, of those who want to abolish the legal right to abortion, of evangelicals who want to make their version of Christianity the national religion. Insofar as there are public schools, they want to ban books they find objectionable, eliminate any teaching of the country’s racist history, and move as quickly as they can to replace public schools with for-profit charter schools and vouchers that give parents the option to homeschooling or, if available, sending their children to a charter school.

Diane Ravich has compiled extensive evidence that charter schools, vouchers and other alternatives to public schools rarely succeed in raising test scores, graduation rates, and they tend not to accept disabled students or students who have a poor education record. (Her book: Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.) Unfortunately, the opposition to public schools has had major detrimental effects. Ravich lists them, referring to disrupters, or active opponents of public schools, as “it.”

“It has diminished the status of the teaching profession. It has created national teacher shortages. It has discouraged creative and thoughtful teaching. It has undermined the transmission of knowledge and skill in history, science, literature, foreign languages, and the arts. It has reduced time for physical education, recess, and play and given it to testing and test preparations. It has demoralized students and teachers alike. It has crushed the spirit of learning. It has failed to produce the miracles and benefits that it promised” (p. 11).

International network of right-wing “leaders”

There is also an international dimension to the right-wing assaults on democracy. Journalist Sarah Kendzior writes:

“Trump is part of a complex illicit network including individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and more – some of whom do not have loyalty to any particular country. Their loyalty is to themselves and their money” (Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, p. 8). CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Brenna Williams report that by July 19, Trump as praised authoritarian leaders 15 times, including Kin Jong Un (North Korea), Recep Tayyip Erdogon (Turkey), Xi Jinping (China), and Vladimir Putin (Russia) (https://cnnn-com/2019/07/02/politics/donald-trump-dictators-kim-yong-un-vladimir-putin/index.html).

Also see John Feffer’s new book, The Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response. In addition to the far-right leaders already referred to, Feffer identifies as authoritarian leaders Rodrigo Duterte (Phillipines), Narendra Modi (India), Victor Orban (Hungary), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). Beyond the leaders, there are right-wing political parties, still minority parties, in most European countries.

Authoritarian, fascist, Nazi ambitions

The right-wing amalgam in the U.S. includes authoritarians, fascists and Nazis (or neo- or proto-Nazis), as well as moderates who often become the silent enablers by going along with their more extreme colleagues.

Most mainstream and liberal/leftist newscasters and commentators use the term authoritarian but avoid the terms fascism and Nazism as going to far and outside the realm of rational discourse.

My argument is that they are wrong. The threat of the multifaceted anti-democratic right-wing is growing and has been and continues to be involved in projects aimed at creating a virtual one-party, Christian, white-privileged state and institutional structure, with a “strongman” like Trump as the autocratic leader. (See Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (published 2020).

Under these circumstances, strong terminology is needed to educate and warn citizens of the threat, with the hope that we become informed citizens and will engage in activities that countering the right-wing.   

Authoritarian

A political party and/or movement can be described as authoritarian in the making if there is, as in the United States, a dominating right-wing leader (Trump), a powerful and incipiently dominant right wing political party (the Republican Party), support from many rich and powerful interests (rich and corporate backers), along with wide ranging popular support (Trump’s huge base). At the same time, there would be room in such in authoritarian system for other but marginalized political parties. This can be referred to as a “minimization” strategy, that is, aimed at minimizing the influence of opponents.

Fascism

In a fascist state, there would be the exalted leader, his/her political party, and an institutional apparatus that is designed to eliminate other parties, repress political dissent, and stigmatize, discriminate, and punish those defined as “enemies” (e.g. liberals, leftists, people of color, LBGTQ persons). This is an eliminationist strategy, which when successful creates a one-party state.

Nazism

History Articles says that fascism and Nazism are virtually the same, except that  Nazism differs from Fascism by its acceptance of the need for racial “purity” and for its anti-Semitism (https://heeve.com/modern-history/difference-between-fascism-and-nazism.html). Here’s some of what they point out at History Articles.

“Fascism and Nazism, the two extreme right-wing political ideologies that emerged during the World Wars in Italy and Germany, respectively, had a lot in common. Both were influenced by the rise of nationalism, fear from communism, crisis of the capitalist economic system and dissatisfaction with the outcome of World War I. Both ideologies were also marked by the cult of the leader, use of violence and rejection of both democracy and communism although both borrowed several elements from the Russian communism including the cell system and strict hierarchy….

“There were several important differences between Fascism and Nazism, and rejection of the concept of race and anti-Semitism is what differentiated the fascist ideology from Nazism the most.” 

Paxton’s conception of “fascism”

Robert O. Paxton is an American political scientist and historian specializing in Vichy France, fascism, and Europe during the World War II era. He is Mellon Professor Emeritus of Social Science in the Department of History at Columbia University. In his renown 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton defines fascism in the following terms.

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and be compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethnical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion” (p. 218).

According to Paxton, fascism is a process that is expressed through stages, that is, it is a political project and movement that develops over time, not in one grand political swoop. He identifies five stages: (1) the creation of movements; (2) their rooting in the political system; (3) their seizure of power; (4) the exercise of power; (5) and, finally, the long duration, during which the fascist regime chooses either radicalization or entropy.” He continues: “Though each stage is a prerequisite for the next, nothing requires a fascist movement to complete all of them, or even move in only one direction” (p. 23).

What fascist stage is Trump, the Republicans, and their supporters?

Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, makes the case that “America is now in fascism’s legal phase, or what Paxton refers to as “stage 2” (https://theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/22/america-fascism-legal-phase). There are movements on the Right that want to destroy democracy and there is a political party, the Republican Party or the dominating segment of the Party, that has long held significant power in the political system and is pushing for a far-right, anti-democratic agenda

The Republicans reached the third stage of power temporarily during the years of Trump’s presidency. However, after the 2020 elections, the Republicans are now the minority party in the federal government, though in the U.S. Senate, where there are 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, Republicans can stop Democrat-initiated legislation by employing the filibuster and portray Biden and the Democratic Party has been ineffective.

The filibuster

According to the Senate’s cloture rule, 60 members are required to end debate on most legislation, by-pass the filibuster, and move to a vote. There are alternatives to this rule, one called “reconciliation,” but even then it would require 51 votes to get around the filibuster rule. The Democrats only have 50 Senators, plus the vice-president’s vote under certain circumstances. But at least two Democratic senators are opposed to going around any Republican filibuster. So, Democrats have neither the 60 votes to invoke cloture and end a filibuster or the 50 votes to invoke a rule that only requires a majority vote. As it stands, the U.S. Congress is gridlocked because of Republican obstruction, supported by two Democrats. Republicans hope that by obstructing the Democratic agenda they can de-legitimize the Democrats and increase their chances of winning elections.

Republicans have a political advantage in the states

At the state level as of February 11,2022, Republicans have an advantage. according to Ballotpedia, as “Republicans controlled 54.4% of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 44.3%. Republicans held a majority in 62 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 36 chambers. One chamber (Alaska House) was organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition” (https://ballotpedia.org/State_legislative_elections,_2022). This is troubling because of the continuing influence of Trump and because right-wing legislation can be advanced and passed into law.

More on what the fascist Republican are doing to undermine democracy

Jason Stanley writes:

“The contemporary American fascist movement [embodied in the Republican Party or parts of it] is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movements… As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump.”

The fascist rhetoric and actions occur in a context of historical and institutional racism, a “police militarized to address the wounds of racial inequities by violence, and a recent history of unsuccessful imperial wars have made us susceptible to a narrative of national humiliation by enemies both internal and external.”

Trump has helped to galvanize right-wing forces and shape them “into a cult, with him as leader.” Stanley continues: “We are now well into the repercussions of this latter process – where fascist lies, for example, the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, have begun to restructure institutions, notably electoral infrastructure and law. As this process unfolds, slowly and deliberately, the media’s normalization of these processes…” That means if a far-right party is to become viable in a democracy, it must present a face it can defend as moderate, and cultivate an ambiguous relationship to the extreme views and statements of its most explicit members.”

They cultivate violence

Stanley suggests this: “In the face of the attack on the US capital on 6 January, even the most resolute skeptic must admit that Republican politicians have been at least attempting to cultivate a mass of violent vigilantes to support their causes. In the context of Black-led protests, the right has been able to call for law and order, stronger police reactions, and spread rampant disinformation.”  

Stanley refers to an article by Rachel Kleinfeld, who “documents the rise of the legitimation of political violence in the US. According to the article, the “bedrock idea uniting right-wing communities who condone violence is that white Christian men in the United States are under cultural and demographic threat and require defending – and that it is the Republican Party and Donald Trump, in particular, who will safeguard their way of life.” Such conditions provide an opportunity to justify political violence, involving “a dominant group threatened by the prospect of gender, racial and religious equality turning to a leader who promises a violent response.”

A partisan Supreme Court

The judiciary is part of the Trump/Republican agenda to undermine democracy. Here’s what Stanley writes.

“The Roberts court has for more than a decade consistently enabled an attack on democracy, by hollowing out the Voting Rights Act over time, unleashing unlimited corporate money into elections, and allowing clearly partisan gerrymanders of elections. There is every reason to believe that the court will allow even the semblance of democracy to crumble, as long as laws are passed by gerrymandered Republican statehouses that make anti-democratic practices, including stealing elections, legal.”

The Republican embrace of Trumpian fascism is complete

Bill Blum is a former administrative law judge and death penalty defense attorney, his articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, ranging from The Nation and The Progressive to the Los Angeles Times, the L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine. Blum finds the evidence compelling that Republicans have embraced Trumpian fascism, that the Biden coalition is fraying, and that in the 2022 and 2024 elections “the GOP and Trump have another opportunity to impose their will and vision, deal a death blow to what remains of our diminished democracy,” and, meanwhile, “the takeover is accelerating” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/02/12/republican-embrace-trumpian-fascism-complete-and-now-must-be-defeated).

Blum refers to Trump’s latest “Save America Rally,” held in Montgomery County, Texas, on Jan. 29. There, “the former president went beyond his usual tirades about the ‘big lie’ of the stolen election and Mike Pence’s cowardice, ranting that he would consider pardoning the Capitol insurrectionists if he is reelected in 2024. ‘If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,’ he declared. ‘And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.” Blum points to one of the implications of Trump’s statements on the prospect of pardons, that is, they are “endorsement of political violence and the promotion of alternative realities, both hallmarks of classic and, now Trumpian, fascism.”

“At his Texas rally,” Blum reports, “Trump also called on his supporters to stage massive demonstrations if he winds up getting indicted or sued as a result of investigations led by the Justice Department, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin BraggNew York Attorney General Letitia James, and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis. Without mentioning James, Bragg or Willis—all of whom are Black—by name, Trump vowed, ‘If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt, we are going to have the biggest protests we have ever had.’”

“Following Trump’s remarks, Willis sent a letter to the FBI, asking for a ‘risk assessment’ of the courthouse and government center where she works, and for security assistance.

“The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, responded to Trump’s speech with abject genuflection. On February 4, the RNC voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving on the House select committee investigating the insurrection. In its formal censure resolution, the RNC condemned the pair for ‘joining in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse.’ [The RNC later attempted to clarify that the resolution applied only to non-violent protesters.]

Blum continues: “There are countless other examples of the GOP’s fascist transformation. To cite just a few, there was the party’s decision to pledge loyalty to Trump rather than adopt a new platform for the 2020 elections. There were the ‘coup memos’ written by attorneys associated with the Trump campaign. There were the fake Electoral College certifications prepared by party operatives in several swing states. All occurred amid a constant drumbeat of white grievance and nationalism broadcast by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.”

Blum refers to Robert Paxton’s “five stages of fascism.” He argues that America is now in the early phase of stage 3, in which Republicans are well into the process of acquiring power.” He writes: “The election of Joe Biden offered only a temporary reprieve.”

Are most Trump Republicans fascist?

Rich Barlow addresses this question in an interview with Jonathan Zatlin, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of history at Boston University who teaches a course in Comparative European Fascism. Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Barlow’s article was published on Feb. 11, 2022 (https://bu.edu/2022/are-trump-republicans-fascists?).

Barlow asked Zatlin whether the Republican Party can be described as either fascist or fascist-leaning. Zatlin emphasizes that the conditions in pre-WWII Germany that gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis do not apply to the situation today in the United States. Germany had experienced a defeat in that war, in which millions were killed or traumatized, the economy was in shambles, there was soaring inflation, many soldiers, among others, found it difficult to find paid work, there was rampant poverty, and bureaucrats in government did not value democracy.

At the same time, as already considered, Trump and the Republican Party have engaged enough in fascist (or Nazi) practices to indicate they are in stage two of a process that, if successful, will culminate in either a fascist or authoritarian state and political system. While not using these terms, Zatlin following description reflects their meaning.

“…there’s no question that they’re violent antidemocrats who are also violently racist. And the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the party of violence, antidemocracy, and racism. If there is any kind of similarity with the interwar period [in Germany], it’s that you have conservatives willing to collaborate for political reasons with people who are often violent and racist and antidemocratic.”

Moreover,

“…the last president did try—and it seems Republican parties locally as well as on the state level are trying—to put public officials into office who don’t have democracy as a value, who believe violence is a legitimate part of public discourse, which it obviously isn’t. It’s a form of politics that is deeply disturbing, because it means the Republican Party has allied itself with antidemocratic values, violence, and racism.”

Zatlin says there are lessons to be learned about how not to repeat Germany’s Nazi period.

“You don’t make compromises with them. You have to call these things out. It’s important to call conspiracy theories out and debunk them. It’s a difficult thing to do, but all these things need to be called out. You cannot make alliances with people like this, because these ideas are so corrosive. [They] will swallow you whole. You cannot make idiotic statements like violence is part of democratic discourse.” 

The elections in 2022 and 2024 will determine for perhaps generations whether American democracy continues or not

Only history, perhaps the next elections in 2022 and 2024, will help identify whether the right-wing politicians can win elections on the basis of their anti-democratic agendas.

Thom Hartman sees evidence that fascism will be on the ballot in the mid-term elections of 2022 and that it, along with the 2024 elections, poses the biggest battle ever for the survival of American democracy. These two elections “will almost certainly determine what form of government we’ll have for at least a generation” and whether America will “become freer and more democratic [or] devolve into a 21st century form of Trumpy fascism?”

(https://commondreams.org/views/2022/01/03/make-no-mistake-fascism-is-on-ballot-2022).

There is little doubt that Trump aspires to be an autocrat in a right-wing, one-party state and that has enormous, though still minority, support, with an electoral base in the tens of millions.

What America would become in 2025 Under Trump

Columnist Thomas B. Edsall considers what some experts think about “what America would look like in 2025 under Trump,” and in the event that “the Republican Party wins the White House in 2024 and the House and Senate along the way?” (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/02/opinion/trump-republicans-2025.html).

Edsall refers, as one important example, to how Trump “is an Orban worshiper — that’s Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. On Jan. 3, Trump announced his support for “Orban’s re-election,” declaring: “He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for re-election as Prime Minister!”

Orban had become a darling on the American right

Among others, Edsall quotes from an article in Foreign Affairs by Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, political scientists at Barnard and Georgetown. They argue that Orban has “emerged as a media darling of the American right,” receiving high praise from Tucker Carlson, “arguably the single most influential conservative media personality in the United States.”

The two authors summarize Orban’s anti-democratic record: “Orban consolidated power through tactics that were procedurally legal but, in substance, undercut the rule of law. He stacked the courts with partisans and pressured, captured or shut down independent media.” The prime minister has an “open assault on academic freedom — including banning gender studies and evicting the Central European University from Hungary. Cooley and Nexon find that these actions are analogous to “current right-wing efforts in Republican-controlled states to ban the teaching of critical race theory and target liberal and left-wing academics.”

They continue. Trump and Orban “are both opportunists who’ve figured out the political usefulness of reactionary populism. And Trump will push the United States in a broadly similar direction: toward neopatrimonial governance. During his first term, Trump treated the presidency as his own personal property — something that was his to use to punish enemies, reward loyalists and enhance his family’s wealth. If he wins in 2024, we’re likely to see this on steroids.”

Edsall cites an additional statement from Cooley on Orban’s appeal to the right flank of the Republican Party, that is, to his “ideology — which rests on redefining the meaning of ‘the West” away from liberal principles and toward ethnonational ideals and conservative values — and his strategy for consolidating power is to close or take over media, stack the courts, divide and stigmatize the opposition, reject commitments to constraining liberal ideals and institutions and publicly target the most vulnerable groups in society.”  

Cécile Alduy, a professor at Stanford who studies French politics and the far right, responded to Edsall in an email:

“If in 2024 Trump or a Ron DeSantis wins the presidency and Republicans control both the House and Senate, the general agenda would be a backlash against any anti-discrimination, against inclusive policies implemented by the Biden administration, for an attempt to shift further the Supreme Court pendulum toward anti-abortion, for originalist constitutionalists, for implementing voter suppression policies and for federal funding limitations on some forms of speech (critical race theory, the teaching or research of segregation, antisemitism or racism in the States) as well for as a return to extremely restrictive anti-immigration policies (rebuilding the wall, for curbing down further visa and green cards and for increasing deportations).”

On Dec. 15, DeSantis proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which would give parents the right to sue school systems if they believe their children are being taught “critical race theory,” with a provision granting parents the right to collect attorneys’ fees if they win.

“The enactment of laws encouraging citizens to become private enforcers of anti-liberal policies has become increasingly popular in Republican-controlled states. Glenn Youngkin, the newly elected governor of Virginia, created a tip line that parents can use to report teachers whose classes cover “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.”

Alduy also refers to “a parallel strategy focused on abortion,” and gives the following examples.

“Texas Republicans enacted the Texas Heartbeat Act in May, legislation that not only bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected but also turns private citizens into enforcers of the law by giving them the power to sue abortion providers and any person who knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter.

“Winners of such suits would receive a minimum of $10,000 plus court costs and other fees.

“The use of citizens as informants to enforce intrusions of this sort is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with democratic norms — reminiscent of East Germany, where the Stasi made use of an estimated 189,000 citizen informers.”

It is not a cake walk for the Trumpian Republicans and their supporters. The majority of voters support the Democratic Party, want to preserve and strengthen the public schools, want restrictions on gun rights, want to preserve multiculturalism, want to continue the separation of state and religion, want to end institutional racism, want to advance gender equality, want to raise taxes on the rich and powerful, want to protect Social Security and expand Medicare, and want a efficient infrastructure.

The resistance to the fascist/Nazi right-wing

Indeed, in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received over 81 million votes, the highest in American history.

Pew Research identifies some of the policy preferences of “the Democratic coalition” (https://pewresearch.org/politics/2021/11/09/the-democratic-coalition). Here are the key general findings.

“…the groups that form the Democratic coalition are largely united in support for a robust role of government and a strong economic and social safety net, as well as in their skepticism about corporate power. However, there are notable differences across the coalition around views of U.S. military might and – to some extent – views related to criminal justice and immigration.

“And in several key issue areas – including environmental policy, gun policy, abortion, racial equality and other topics – differences across the coalition are less about the issue itself than in the intensity of support for liberal positions and policies.

“This is also the case when it comes to some aspects of economic policy. Despite sharing the beliefs that economic inequality is a problem in the country, that the economic system favors powerful interests and that government should play a role in addressing inequities, the Democratic-oriented groups differ both in their views about the magnitude of the problems and in their level of support for proposed solutions.

“In several other domains, divides seen in past typologies across the Democratic-oriented groups – particularly over social issues – are now areas where there is generally more agreement among Democrats than in the GOP coalition.”

The Biden administration was successful in significant ways during the first year.

In an article for Newsweek, Inigo Alexander identifies Biden’s 7 biggest achievements (https://newsweek.com/joe-biden-biggest-achievements-first-year-president-1670763).

1) The U.S. Congress passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package,” despite opposition from most Republicans. It was passed by the Senate in August, 2021, and by the House in November. It “drastically increased investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport, national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems.

2) The $1.9 trillion COVID relief deal. “In March, the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package designed to help the country combat the ongoing COVID pandemic.” The package included provisions for “direct payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens, temporarily extended unemployment support by $300 per week, channeled approximately $20 billion into the COVID vaccination program, as well as providing $25 billion in rental support and a further $350 billion into state, tribal and local relief efforts.” There were also provisions to address child poverty and nutritional issues, as well as “almost $30 billion in restaurants and hospitality and raised the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support by 15 percent,” and “an extra $120 billion were invested into K-12 schools across the nation.”

3) The highest appointment of federal judges since Reagan. Biden “appointed 41 federal judges in his opening year at the White House. This is more than double those appointed by his predecessor Donald Trump and is the most a president has appointed in their freshman year since Ronald Reagan in 1981,” 80 percent of whom are women and 53 percent people of color.

The president has also been mindful of issues of representation in his appointments over the last year, as 80 percent of the new federal judges are women and 53 percent are people of color.

4) Halt on Federal Executions. “President Biden is an opponent of the federal penalty and therefore reinstated a national freeze on federal executions, which had been in place for 17 years until former president Donald Trump ended the pause.” In July, 2021, the Biden administration restored “the pre-Trump status quo and imposed a suspension on federal executions while the Department of Justice assesses the existing procedures and policies.”

5) Commitment to Combating Climate Change. Biden and most Democrats are supporters of “the need for a “greater effort to tackle the climate crisis.” Biden’s administration did some good things. Biden had the U.S. re-join the international Paris Climate Accord. In November, Biden “joined an agreement aimed at reversing deforestation as well as presenting a 100-country strong pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.” And in December, “Biden ordered all government agencies to immediately halt the financing of new international carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects, and instead work towards clean energy use.”

6) Support for Transgender Service Members. In his first week as president, “Biden issued an executive order to overturn Trump-era ban on openly transgender members of the U.S. military,” a ban originally ordered by Trump during his first year in power.”

7) Reduced unemployment. By the end of his first year in the White House, “Biden has managed to reduce the rate of national unemployment from 6.3 percent when he took office to 3.9 percent in December.

2022 has been a rough year for Biden, his administration, and congressional Democrats. They have been unable to muster the votes to overcome Republican filibusters in the U.S. Senate against two voting rights’ bills and the Build Back Better bill. In addition, inflation has become a problem, which Republicans blame on too much Democratic spending. The advice of health experts to deal with the ongoing pandemic, get vaccinated, social distance, wear masks, along with mandates that closed businesses and schools, has ended up fueling the anger of many in Trump’s base.

Amid the political turmoil, many analysts believe that Republicans have a good chance of winning the 2022 mid-term elections and taking back control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate. If this should occur, it would be the result of Republican efforts to gerrymander congressional districts in the states in their favor, to suppress the votes of opponents, and to rig the administration of how votes are counted. It would not be the result of the support of the majority of Americans.

In the states

In the states, Diane Ravitch documents the resistance of pro-public-school parents and organizations against charter schools, vouchers and anything that would divert public funds away from the public schools. See Ravitch’s expertly documented book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

And David Pepper’s recommendations in his book, Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines, are informative and offer ideas on how to reclaim democracy at the national, state, and individual levels. On the latter, he writes:

“Share the truth as much as you can. Make sure your networks know what’s really happening, and how they can help. Educate yourself and “keep sending letters to the editors of local papers.” At election time, vote as early as you can and “spend the rest of the election helping make sure other voters vote too. You can do that by helping a candidate, a party, or other organizations who get the vote out.”

Thom Hartmann quotes John Hennen, professor emeritus of history at Kentucky’s Morehead State University, who says, “We must build a democratic resistance that amounts to a counter-fascist coup…” And: “Every American who cares about freedom, self-governance, and the ideal of democracy must now rise to the occasion. The upcoming elections will be political wars with stakes unlike those seen by any living citizens.” “Professor Hennen’s colleague, Brian Clardy, a Murray State University history professor emeritus tells us straight up: ‘The Democrats have to remind people that next year and in 2024, democracy itself will be on trial.’”

Concluding thoughts

The growing attacks from the Right on the country’s political system may yet be unsuccessful. It will take a major effort by the democratic opposition to avoid such an outcome.

Meanwhile, the country is severely divided. Tens of millions of people unquestioningly follow Trump, despite his torrent of lies, his greed, his aspiration to be an autocratic president, his ties to white supremacists and other extremist groups, and his admiration for far-right leaders and organizations around the world.  

The country is also saddled with extraordinary debt, an economic system that generates gross inequalities, millions of armed Trump followers waiting for the word from their leader to take action, accelerating climate crises, environmental degradation, and more. To top it off, Trump again expressed admiration for Putin’s “savvy” in invading the Ukraine and threatening to invade other Eastern European countries, disregarding Putin’s vague threats to use nuclear weapons if he doesn’t get his way. Almost immediately, his views were viewed online by millions of his supporters. New York Times journalists Davey Alba and Stuart A. Thompson report that pro-Putin sentiment spread online, following Trump’s praise of Putin (https://nytimes.com/2022/02/25/technology/russia-supporters.html)

They write: “The day before Russia invaded Ukraine, former President Donald J. Trump called the wartime strategy of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ‘pretty smart.’ His remarks were posted on YouTube, Twitter and the messaging app Telegram, where they were viewed more than 1.3 million times.”

There have never been such challenges. One of the greatest challenges presently is internally driven.

Escalating right-wing attacks on public education: economic, political, and racist implications

Bob Sheak, February 13, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

Public education has been under attack for decades. The attacks are now accelerating. They are rooted in a neoliberal economic policy, long-standing systemic or structural racism, and the stoked fears of many white people about their relative status and the content of education. They interlock. They are yet another assault from the Right on democracy, along with moves to eliminate legal abortion, limit voting and subvert elections, reject the advice of health experts,  deregulate gun laws, and virtually eliminate immigration from South America, the Middle East, and Africa.

There is no doubt that the public education system is already marked by great difficulties. Investigative journalist Laura Meckler states the problem confronting public education as one of “epic proportions” (https://washingtonpost.com/education/2022/01/30/public-education-crisis-enrollment-violence). She identifies the problems as reflecting an anti-public school, racist-infused bias in American government and a long-history of racial discrimination and segregation. She writes:

“For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. There aren’t enough teachers, substitutes or bus drivers. Each phase of the pandemic brings new logistics to manage, and Republicans are planning political campaigns this year aimed squarely at failings of public schools.”

In this post, I’ll focus on identifying (1) who generally are represented in the anti-public-school movement; (2) the meaning of structural racism, and (3) current examples of the strategies and tactics utilized by the anti-public-school movement to undermine public education.

#1 – The opposition to public education

Powerful economic forces

Profits first in a “free market”

The interests of many corporations, shareholders, the rich, are opposed to policies that funnel taxpayer money into programs aimed at benefitting the public. They support privatization of public functions whenever there is a potential profit to be made. For example – and the focus of this post – they look for and support policies and programs that open up opportunities to divert funding away from public education to alternative profit-making educational ventures in the private sector.

Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Distinguished Professor of History and Public Policy, Duke University, delves into the economic roots of the school choice or school privatization movement, which is at the heart of the opposition to public education. She presents the highlights from a longer article she wrote that appeared in the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Sept 27, 2021

MacLean traces the roots of the choice and privatization movements back to neoliberal and libertarian ideas in the mid-1950s and the broad defiance in the white South against the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision (https://ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/how-milton-friedman-aided-and-abetted-segregationists-in-his-quest-to-privatize-public-education).

The opposition “aimed to block the choice of equal, integrated education for Black families.” Famed right-wing economist Milton Friedman, who in the latter 1950s was “soon to become the best-known neoliberal economist in the world, abetted the push for private schooling that states in the U.S. South used to evade the reach of the ruling, which only applied to public schools.” The opposition also included “other libertarians” such as, “Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Robert Lefevre, Isabel Patterson, Felix Morley, Henry Regnery, trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and the William Volker Fund, which helped underwrite the American wing of the Mont Pelerin Society, the nerve center of neoliberalism.”

According to MacLean, “Friedman and his allies saw in the backlash to the desegregation decree an opportunity they could leverage to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources. Whatever their personal beliefs about race and racism, they helped Jim Crow survive in America by providing ostensibly race-neutral arguments for tax subsidies to the private schools sought by white supremacists.”

Author Diane Ravitch documents the involvements of rich and powerful people in her articles and books, including in her just published book titled Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Schools. She refers to the big money groups as “disrupters,” including many billionaires, who “are masters of chaos, which they inflict on other peoples’ children, without a twinge of remorse.” They represent a powerful movement of the higher circles “to privatize America’s public schools, to break teachers’ unions, to tear apart communities, and to attack teacher professionalism” (pp. 5-6).

Specifically, there are a host of corporations, shareholders, the rich, and the think-tanks, big banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, foundations, their lobbyists, faux grassroots groups, the right-wing media that support policies aimed at the privatization of public schools through vouchers and charter schools, that give parents “choices” beyond the public schools, and funnel money into the hands of private investors.

They justify such positions by claiming that it gives parents the freedom to chose what schools to send their children, assuming falsely that there are typically viable educational alternatives outside of the public schools. Ravitch writes that “none of their promises and claims” have come true (p. 5). That is, overall, charter schools and other educational options to public schools have failed to improve educational outcomes. For example, “In Ohio, the state spends $1 billion each year on charter schools, which collectively have a dismal academic record. In 2017, Ohio’s charters have a graduation rate of 45 percent, half of the rate in the state’s traditional public schools and 28 percentage points behind the state’s urban districts. Two thirds of Ohio’s charter schools were given grades of D or F by the state in 2018” (p. 136).

In an article published in The New Republic on February 25, 2021, Ravitch writes “those ‘intent on eliminating public schools ‘built donor networks, cultivated political alliances, and churned out ready-made legislation”

(https://newrepublic.com/article/161481/bipartisan-assault-public-schools-betsy-devos-education).

She continues: “A key element in this network-building was the enlistment of billionaires who were enamored of free-market solutions and who opened their wallets to persuade national and state elected officials to inject competition and private-sector solutions into the public education system.” 

In her commentary on a book by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School (2020), Ravitch writes on how free-market ideologues “have kept up a steady stream of ‘reforms’ whose intent is to advance their assault on the schools.”

She continues: “They have demanded cost-cutting and pointed out that the biggest expense in education is teachers’ salaries. Through right-wing think tanks and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, funded by right-wing billionaires like Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch, they have attacked teachers’ unions, professional colleges of education, and the teaching profession. They favor groups like Teach for America that recruit recent [inexperienced] college graduates who promise to stay in the classroom for two years. ALEC is the favorite tool of the free-marketeers. It counts some 2,000 state legislators among its members and invites them to posh destinations, where they get copies of model legislation to introduce in their states on behalf of vouchers, charter schools, and lower standards for teachers.”

“The attack on the legitimacy of public schools seems to be coming from many directions, but the reality is that the same small group of far-right billionaires is in the wings, calling the shots.”

They blame bad choices rather than social structure or systems

They promote the false notion that failed or under-performing schools are caused by lazy and incompetent teachers, poorly designed curricula, and unruly students. They pay no attention to the actual situations of teachers or students, and refuse to acknowledge that many public schools are under-resourced, reflecting the effects of historical and structural inequalities, with some managing to do well anyway.

King’s message is ignored

There is no place for the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. in this narrative. Lesley Henton interviews Texas A&M’s the Ella C. McFadden Professor in Sociology and Distinguished Professor Joe Feagin on this topic. Feagin reminds us that King often discussed how racial equality cannot be achieved without structural change (https://today.tamu.edu/2022/01/15/what-martin-luther-king-jr-said-about-systemic-racism). Feagin puts it this way: “Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke about institutional and systemic racism, saying that true racial equality cannot be reached without ‘radical’ structural changes in society.” He quotes from King’s essay, “A Testament of Hope,” which was included the his1958 book Stride Toward Freedom.”(The topic of structural racism will be taken up later in this post.)

The grassroots critics

So, some tens of millions of the public end up believing that failing schools are, in Social Darwinist terms, the result of the bad decisions by some parents and students and/or the irresponsible life styles and values rather than of larger political and economic forces. Throw in the wild attacks on so-called “incompetent” teachers and teachers’ unions as serving to round out their antipathy and actions against public education. (See the article by Alyssa Bowen and her colleagues on how “dark money” funds many parent groups that oppose critical race theory at: https://truthout.org/articles/many-parent-groups-opposing-masks-and-crt-are-actually-driven-by-dark-monty, and the article by Jasmine Banks who

reports on August 31, 2021 for The Nation on the role of billionaires Charles Koch and his now deceased brother David Koch in the attacks on public education

(https://thenation.com/article/politics/charles-koch-crt-backlash).

But there are also other reasons for why so many whites support and now engage in attacks on the public schools.

The great replacement theory

Many have demographically-connected concerns that soon whites will become a minority in the United States, actually by about 2045, and this development will result in the loss of their privileged standing in the society. From this angle, the attacks on public education convey a long-existent racist animus that goes back to the founding of the country. (There are many books documenting this reality. One excellent source is the edited book by Nicole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman, and Jake Silverstein, titled “A New Origin Story: The 1619 Project,” published in 2021.)

Boosting identities in the culture wars

There are also political motives. The attack on public education is part of right-wing efforts to reinvigorate the cultural wars, making public education a political wedge issue that shores up support among mostly whites for the Republican Party, for Trump, for state and local right-wing officials.

This is, in part, accomplished by identifying teachers and schools for punishment that use books or discuss topics that have anything to do with the history of racial oppression in the U.S. – or with sexuality or non-traditional gender roles. So, they are mounting efforts to control school boards, ban topics and books they find offensive, and offer parents and anyone else financial rewards for turning in teachers and school librarians who violate such dubious state laws. (Author and columnist Thomas B. Edsall asks experts about how “Republicans Are Once Again Heating Up the Culture Wars, https://nytimes.com/2021/11/10/opinion/republicans-democrats-crt.html.)

The Religious Right

The religious right also is part of the movement attacking public schools and public education. They want the government to divert “education” money to parochial schools, religiously-oriented charter schools, vouchers that can be used by parents for their children to attend such schools, or for parents to home school their children.

Author Anthea Butler documents how white evangelicals have advanced racist policies going back to pre-Civil War days. The title of her 2021 book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. These efforts violate the constitutional requirement that the state and religion remain separate. The implication is that citizens should be free to choose what they believe about religious and theological questions, and the state should support public, not religiously-oriented, education. (On the separation of church and state, see https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/885/establishment-clause-separation-of-church-and-state.)

The efforts of the multifaceted movement attacking public education have served to undermine the viability of large segments of public education.

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#2 – The meaning of structural racism, one of the central propositions of CRT

In an article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Zinzi D. Bailey, Sc.D., M.S.P.H., Justin M. Feldman, Sc.D., and Mary T. Bassett, M.D., M.P.H. examine how “structural racism” works and consider specifically the health inequities that structural racism produces (https://nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMms2025396).

They point out that there is no “official” definition of structural racism, or of the “closely related concepts of systemic and institutional racism – although multiple definitions have been offered.” At the same time, all definitions “make clear that racism is not simply the result of private prejudices held by individuals,8 but is also produced and reproduced by laws, rules, and practices, sanctioned and even implemented by various levels of government, and embedded in the economic system as well as in cultural and societal norms.3,8 Confronting racism, therefore, requires not only changing individual attitudes, but also, more importantly, transforming and dismantling the policies and institutions that undergird the U.S. racial hierarchy.”

The authors identify, as examples, “three interrelated domains” that are a “legacy of African enslavement and subsequent racial policies, systems, and discrimination, namely: “redlining and racialized residential segregation, mass incarceration and police violence, and unequal medical care.” These domains “share certain cardinal features: harms are historically grounded, involve multiple institutions, and rely on racist cultural tropes.” Bailey and her colleagues review evidence on each of the three “domains.” This is precisely the kind of evidence that the Right wants expunged from public education.

For example, in their examination of “redlining and racialized residential segregation, the authors write:

“Redlining required the cooperation of government; the banking, credit, and real estate industries and private developers; as well as homeowners. Together, these parties helped stoke cultural beliefs that Blacks made bad neighbors whose presence would lower real-estate values and increase crime. Bailey and her colleagues go back to the 1930’s to identify the origin of government-approved racial housing segregation. Here is part of what they write about it.

“The 1933 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a program introduced early in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration “to expand homeownership as a part of recovery from the Great Depression.”8 The program facilitated the continuation of residential segregation by creating maps of at least 239 U.S. cities and “literally drew red lines (hence “redlining”) around communities with large Black populations, flagging them as hazardous investment areas whose residents would not receive HOLC loans. Redlining made mortgages less accessible, rendering prospective Black homebuyers vulnerable to predatory terms, thereby increasing lender profits, reducing access to home ownership, and depriving these communities of an asset that is central to intergenerational wealth transfer. Federal mortgages were declined regardless of home loan officers’ racial views; it was not personal.”

The authors emphasize that connection between residential racial segregation and health outcomes, which “remains a powerful predictor of Black disadvantage.3,5,9 

There is a direct legacy of redlining in health and well-being — preterm birth, cancer, tuberculosis, maternal depression, and other mental health issues occur at higher rates among residents of once-redlined areas.3-5 Plausible mechanisms for the continued health impact of redlining deserve further study, taking into account exposure to environmental toxins (teratogens, carcinogens, air pollutants, etc.) and the sustained physical impact of concentrated psychosocial stressors.5,9-11 Better HOLC neighborhood grades are associated with lower levels of airborne carcinogens and higher levels of tree-canopy coverage (which mitigates air pollutants and heat).12 Predominantly White neighborhoods generally have lower air-pollution levels,13 while higher exposures contribute to asthma and low-birth-weight outcomes in Black communities.14

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#3 – Example of the strategies and tactics to undermine public education

The attacks come mainly from Republicans, including elected officials, appointees to state election-related positions, candidates running for office at all levels of government, at boards of election, and from parents’ groups. Trump’s influence is also apparent. And dark money fuels a lot of it.

Most of these efforts, including the furious and growing opposition to CRT, are aimed at whittling away at the viability and independence of public education. However, there is currently a GOP bill in Alabama that calls for a transformative change in the way education is funded.  

A proposal for the wholesale reduction in financial support for public education

Kenny Stancil reports on a pending Alabama bill that would, if passed, “decapitate public education (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/02/03/critics-say-gop-bill-alabama-would-decapitate-public-education).

Progressive critics are warning that Alabama Republican Sen. Del Marsh’s so-called ‘Parents’ Choice Act’ [S.B. 140], which advanced out of committee on Wednesday, would ‘end state support of public education.’” The bill has now advanced from the Senate Education Policy Committee on February 3 to the full state Senate.

The core component of the bill creates an Education Savings Account (ESA), which “in its fully realized form” gives every child about $6,300 a year which their parent or parents can use “to pay for educational whatever—public school, home school, private school, tutoring, online classes, whatever.” The passage of the Parents’ Choice Act “would siphon off at least $420 million from the state’s Education Trust Fund to pay for the ESAs” – each year, rising with inflation.

Retired teacher Peter Greene posted on his Curmudgucation blog the legislation would throw to the wayside “the egalitarian ideals that have animated public education…in favor of a libertarian fantasy destined to exacerbate inequality.”

The “first ESAs would be available at the start of the 2022-23 school year. It would allow any students who are currently enrolled in public school or in a home school to sign up for an ESA. Applications would be made available May 1 according to the bill.” In 2023-24 the eligible student pool grows to include “students in private schools whose family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level.”  Then in 2024-25, all students become eligible.

Alabama Education Association (AEA) executive director Amy Marlowe called the bill a “mind-blowing” effort to ram through a bill that would transfer public resources to private hands before ‘every line… is properly reviewed and scrutinized.’” She went on to say in a statement shared with the Alabama Political Reporter the following.

“There is a complete lack of transparency regarding this egregious bill by rushing it through committee this week… A bill of this magnitude that would result in more than $420 million cut from the Education Trust Fund rushed through committee without the opportunity for at least a week of scrutiny by the public and the media makes you wonder why Sen. Marsh is in such a hurry to move this bill. By moving this legislation so soon, it does not give time for education leaders and the community to provide their input.”

There is fear that the legislation, if eventually passed, would exacerbate inequality and turn over educational decisions to often uninformed parents. Green is quoted by Stancil, who stresses that the bill would end the state’s involvement with and support of its children.” Here are some of Greene’s concerns.

“We’ve given you a check, and we hereby wash our hands of the whole education thing.” The ultimate form of voucher is not about empowering parents. It’s not even about making vendors a bunch of money. It’s about getting the state out of the education business, about cutting parents and children loose. It’s about ending the collective commitment to and responsibility for educating the next generations.

“Don’t [dismantle education] with this notion of helping people when in fact, it will absolutely decapitate public education.”

As far as the legislation is written, there will be no state oversight or safeguards on how the money is to be spent. There are no supports for families that don’t have the time or resources to search for the right venders or to assure parents about the reliability of vendors. There are other concerns. “What if a parent’s money runs out? What if parents find their choices severely limited because the various edu-vendors won’t accept their child? What if one of their vendors closes shop mid-year, leaving the child stranded? What if the vendor turns out to be a big scam because the state hasn’t properly vetted the eligible vendors? What happens if parents find that the Marketplace is not for them, but in the meantime the local public school has collapsed from the money gutted from it?” 

AEA’s Marlowe argues that “instead of this venture to divert funding from public education, Sen. Marsh’s focus should be on the growing number of educator shortages within Alabama schools and the need for substantial pay raises for current educators who are already going beyond their normal call of duty.”

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Aggressive chipping away to undermine the integrity and independence of public education

ONE – banning critical race theory

Jacy Fortin presents a brief history of critical race theory in an article on November 8, 2021, for the New York Times (https://nytimes.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory). The theory was developed during the 1980s but it has only recently become a “hot-button political issue.” Before 2021, most Americans had never heard the phrase. But now the term is making news everywhere, despite how little substantively is known about it. 

“It makes national and international headlines and is a target for talking heads. Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States [Republican] senators have branded it ‘activist indoctrination.’”

Why is the uproar occurring now? Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School, is the person credited with coining the term. Her answer to this question is that some Republicans have made it controversial by claiming it represents “a subversive set of ideas” by a “well-resourced, highly mobilized coalition of forces.” She points out that “critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with institutions and systems,” while critics interpret it as casting “racism as a personal characteristic, involving [only] people who practice overt discrimination.”

Fortin also quotes Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii who was an early developer of critical race theory. Matsuda said, “The problem is not bad people. “The problem is a system that reproduces bad outcomes. It is both humane and inclusive to say, ‘We have done things that have hurt all of us, and we need to find a way out.’”

Critical race theorists acknowledge “the stark racial disparities that have persisted

in the United States despite decades of civil rights reforms, and they raise structural questions about how racist hierarchies are enforced, even among people with good intentions.”

As Professor Crenshaw puts it, “C.R.T. is more a verb than a noun.”

“‘It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced,’ she said, ‘the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”

Why is this coming up now?

“Last year, after protests over the police killing of George Floyd prompted new conversations about structural racism in the United States, President Donald J. Trump issued a memo to federal agencies that warned against critical race theory, labeling it as ‘divisive,’ followed by an executive order barring any training [in government agencies] that suggested the United States was fundamentally racist.”

Trump’s concern with C.R.T. “seemed to have originated with an interview he saw on Fox News, when Christopher F. Rufo, a conservative scholar now at the Manhattan Institute, [who] told Tucker Carlson about the ‘cult indoctrination’ of critical race theory.” Use of the term and the controversy around it then skyrocketed.

“The Biden administration rescinded Mr. Trump’s order, but by then it had already been made into a wedge issue. Republican-dominated state legislatures have tried to implement similar bans with support from conservative groups, many of whom have chosen public schools as a battleground.”

“According to Professor Crenshaw, opponents of C.R.T. are using a decades-old tactic: insisting that acknowledging racism is itself racist.”

“‘The rhetoric allows for racial equity laws, demands and movements to be framed as aggression and discrimination against white people,’ she said. That, she added, is at odds with what critical race theorists have been saying for four decades.”

In the current debate, the critics of C.R.T. argue that the “theory” accuses all white Americans of being racist and is being used to divide the country. But, as already noted, critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with understanding the racial disparities that have persisted in institutions and systems.

The debate has turned school boards into battlegrounds as some Republicans say the theory is invading classrooms. Education leaders counter, including the National School Boards Association, say that C.R.T. is not being taught in K-12 schools. However, if it is not, it should be.

Evidence on the poorly informed opposition to CRT

Sociologist Rashawn Ray delves into the question of why states are banning critical race theory (https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory). He open an article with this fact: “Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” 1,300 times in less than four months [during the spring of 2021].

He offers his view on what accounts for this upswing, arguing that “critical race theory (CRT) has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.” Some of the opposition to CRT is based on the unfounded “fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims.” It is such fears that “have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms.” But, contrary to this “fear,” “CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people.”

Ray continues.

“Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists.” And: “Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past. They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today.”

Nonetheless, Ray points out, “many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally. It speaks to how normative racial ideology is to American identity that some people just cannot separate the two. There are also people who may recognize America’s racist past but have bought into the false narrative that the U.S. is now an equitable democracy. They are simply unwilling to remove the blind spot obscuring the fact that America is still not great for everyone.”

Ray did an assessment of anti-CRT state legislation to “better understand how widespread these efforts are to ban critical race theory from U.S. classrooms. Here’s some of what they found. (He includes an appendix that provides detailed information.)

“Nine states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, and North Dakota) have passed legislation. Arizona’s legislation was overturned in November by the Arizona Supreme Court.

None of the state bills that have passed even actually mention the words “critical race theory” explicitly, with the exception of Idaho and North Dakota.

“The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.

“State actors in Montana and South Dakota have denounced teaching concepts associated with CRT. The state school boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Alabama introduced new guidelines barring CRT-related discussions. Local school boards in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia also criticized CRT.

“Nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.”

The implications are foreboding.

“Laws forbidding any teacher or lesson from mentioning race/racism, and even gender/sexism, would put a chilling effect on what educators are willing to discuss in the classroom and provide cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States.”

Ray concludes: “Ultimately, we cannot employ colorblind ideology in a society that is far from colorblind. Everyone sees it, whether they acknowledge it consciously or not. As I [Ray] wrote in a previous Brookings article on whether the U.S. is a racist country, systemic racism can explain racial disparities in police killings, COVID-19, and the devaluing of homes in Black neighborhoods. If we love America, we should want it to be the best it can be. Rather than run from the issue of racism in America, we should confront it head on. Our kids and country will be better for it.”

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The backlash against C.R.T. may show that Republicans are losing ground

Columnist Jamelle Bouie adds to the coverage of the attacks on “critical race theory” and also refers to evidence that Republicans are losing ground in the controversy in an article published in the  New York Times on Feb 4, 2022 (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/04/opinion/crt-backlash-du-bois.html).

Bouie refers to the evidence of such attacks from an analysis by Education Week, which evidenced how, since January 2021, “Republican lawmakers in 37 states have introduced dozens of bills to restrict teaching on the subject of race and racism under the guise of opposition to ‘critical race theory.’” He continues: “In 14 states, restrictions have either passed into law or been imposed through either executive action or on the authority of a state education commission. One such law, passed in Texas, prohibits teaching that ‘slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.’”

The evidence of this “frenzy,” which includes state lawmakers, is that “any attempt to teach an accurate history of racism in the United States is placed under hostile scrutiny. Educators accused of indoctrinating students with ‘critical race theory’ have reported threats and physical harassment, and some schools — in Alabama, for example — are now defending their Black History Month programs from similar accusations of subversion.”

Bouie’s major point, though, is positive. He thinks that the “urgency” with which the anti-CRT groups are acting is “an admission, however tacit, that something has changed, and conservatives are on the losing end of that transformation. Where once they were an establishment…now they are on the defensive.” He adds:

“Put simply, the people and institutions behind the bans on critical race theory’ are fighting a rear-guard action, and they know it.”

We’ll have a better idea of whether Bouie’s analysis is correct when we have the results of the 2022 and 2024 elections.

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Two – Banning “divisive” topics from being discussed in the public-school classroom and banning what right-wingers view as objectionable books.

Sarah Schwartz and Eesha Pendharkar compile a growing list of the topics that Republican officials and activists want banned from the classroom. They published their evidence on Education Weekly on February 2, 2022 (https://edweek.org/policy-politics/heres-the-long-list-of-topics-republicans-want-banned-from-the-classroom/2022/02).

The bans began accelerating in early 2021, “as a conservative effort to prohibit teachers from talking about diversity and inequality in so-called ‘divisive’ ways or taking sides on ‘controversial’ issues has now expanded to include proposed restrictions on teaching that the United States is a racist country, that certain economic or political systems are racist, or that multiple gender identities exist.” The documentation of these right-wing efforts is based on “an Education Week analysis of 61 new bills and other state-level actions.”

They continue: “At least 10 state have proposed bills that would require administrators to list every book, reading, and activity that teachers use in their lessons, a process that educators argue would be cumbersome and expensive. Some of these bills also require districts to give parents prior right of review for new curriculum adoptions or library additions.” Moreover, “These laws and orders, combined with local actions to restrict certain types of instruction, now impact more than one out of every three children in the country, according to a recent study from UCLA.”

Many of the bills “propose withholding funding from school districts that don’t comply with these regulations.” Some, though, would go further and allow parents to sue individual educators who provide banned material to students, potentially collecting thousands of dollars.

In interviews with Education Week, state representatives said these new bills are designed to prevent teachers from telling children what to think, encouraging them to see divisions, or asking them to adopt perspectives that are different from those of their parents on issues like policing, Black Lives Matter, gender identity, and human sexuality.”

Schwartz and Pendharkar report further that “[i]n some cases, these bills would allow parents to challenge school districts and individual educators directly in court and collect damages.” For example, “A bill in Oklahoma would require individual educators to personally pay up to $10,000 in damages if parents find them to be teaching ‘critical race theory.’”

A proposed bill in Missouri, would allow parents to “collect up to $5,000 from a school district per violation, if the district doesn’t provide lists of all materials used and honor parents’ requests to review materials or opt out their children.”

Heather Fleming, the founder of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership, “worries that this bill and others like it could have a chilling effect on teachers if signed into law. The proposed legislation suggests that teachers are spreading messages in public schools that families should object to.” It also gives preference to the views of white parents over others. Fleming, who is black, continues: “They’re packaging some of these laws as ‘parents’ bill of rights.’ What parents? Because my daughter is entitled to see her culture and her heroes, people who look like her, in the curriculum, too.’”

Schwartz and Pendharkar report that many schools already have procedures that give parents information about what is being taught and what books are in the library.  “Most school libraries also have a procedure in place for parents who want certain materials reconsidered, she said. The ALA recommends that libraries put such a policy in place, she added, and provides a toolkit that can help them craft one.”

Regarding in-class reading, “teachers usually share the outlines of a course, but they’re less likely to post a list of every worksheet a student might do or every in-class reading they might assign, said Marc Turner, the president-elect of the South Carolina Council for the Social Studies, and a high school teacher. But, he added, there’s a reason why this isn’t common practice.

“Most teachers aren’t just using a textbook, [but] instead pulling from a lot of different sources to craft their lessons. And these plans often change day to day and week to week, especially during the pandemic when school schedules are so often disrupted.”

The downside: “A requirement that teachers post all of the materials they use could encourage district leaders to standardize teachers’ lessons out of caution, potentially sacrificing the opportunities for critical thinking that students gain when they can compare the perspective of multiple sources, Turner said.”

Such restrictions also ignore “the professional training and judgment of librarians and educators, who have detailed protocols for selecting resources,” and give any parent the right to make decisions for school libraries that serve entire, diverse communities,” and not only the biased or uninformed grievances of some parents, some of whom may be motivated only by the potential “reward” money.

In an article published in The New York Times, journalists Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter also report on how book ban efforts related to racial and gender issues are spreading across the U.S. (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/30/books-ban-us-school.html). They cite evidence from a preliminary report last fall by the American Library Association: “it had received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books.” Harris and Alter quote Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, “It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians.”

Book issues “have long been a staple of school board meetings,” they write, “but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out.” Now, “Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are…pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.”

The issue has been politicized, according to “Britten Follett, the chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of books to K-12 schools. He told Harris and Alter, “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other.

As the book- and topic-banning movement gains momentum, the end result is that the librarian, teacher or educator is under additional, often unfounded and arbitrary pressure, conversation and learning in the classroom is severely limited, and the right-wing is given another issue on which to challenge – and undermine – a critically important societal institution. On the latter point, Harris and Alter give examples of political leaders on the right who have seized on the controversies over books. For example, “The newly elected governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, rallied his supporters by framing book bans as an issue of parental control.”

Despite the book and topic banning efforts of the Right, no criminal charges against librarians and educators have succeeded in court, “as law enforcement officials in Florida, Wyoming and elsewhere have found no basis for criminal investigations. And courts have generally [so far] taken the position that libraries should not remove books from circulation.”

When all is said and done, however, “the threat of having to defend against charges is enough to get many educators to censor themselves by not stocking the books to begin with. Even just the public spectacle of an accusation can be enough.”

On the site Find Law, Richard Dahl considers what the law has to say about the rise in book banning efforts (https://findlaw.com/legalblogs/law-and-life/book-banning-efforts-are-on-the-rise-what-does-the-law-say). The article was published on January 6, 2022. He writes: “What began as a debate last year over the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ expanded to include a broader examination of school curricula and the library books available to students.” Dahl gives some examples.

“In Texas, Republican state Rep. Matt Krause asked state school districts to report whether they have any of 850 books that he compiled on a list, including the number of copies, where they are located, and how much the school district paid for them. He also asked that the school districts go further and identify any other books on their shelves that contain ‘material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.’”

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Three – Rewarding parents or others for identifying teachers who teach lessons contradicting a student’s religion or anything else

The assault by lawmakers on teachers keeps on expanding their attacks, as reported by Chris Walker for Truthout on February 3, 2022 (https://truthout.org/articles/lawmaker-wants-teachers-punished-for-lessons-contradicting-students-religion). Walker refers to how Oklahoma Sen. Rob Standridge (R) is proposing a new bill, Senate Bill 1470, “that could levy fines on teachers whose lessons promote positions that are in opposition to a student’s religious beliefs.” Walker goes on.

“The bill would allow parents and guardians of students in Oklahoma’s public schools to file complaints against teachers whose lessons are ‘in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.’ Because the language of the legislation is incredibly vague, it essentially allows parents to file complaints if they disagree with a lesson’s content for any reason.”

The bill would give teachers and schools the chance to respond to parental complaints, but if a teacher chooses not to adjust the curriculum according to the complaint, they could be fined $10,000 for every objectionable lesson they teach. And the fines are to be paid out of the teacher’s “personal resources. “If that teacher receives outside help to pay the fine — say, from a crowdfunding campaign, or from a family member or friend — it would violate the terms of the statute, resulting in the teacher automatically being fired from their position. The teacher would also be barred from teaching in the state for the next five years.”

Walker refers to how author and journalist Hemant Mehta responds to the Oklahoma bill.

“A biology teacher who explains evolution could be ratted out by a Creationist who’s failing science class. A health teacher who educates students about different forms of birth control won’t be in that classroom for very long if an abstinence-promoting teenager is on the roster. A history teacher who correctly describes the Founding Fathers as a mix of religious and non-religious individuals could be a target of conservative evangelicals.”

Under a previous bill introduced by Standridge in late 2021, public school libraries in Oklahoma would be banned from carrying any books that a parent might complain about and “schools would be fined $10,000 per day if they failed to act after a complaint was made. The school librarian would also be fired and prohibited from working in a public-school setting for the next two years.”

Concluding thoughts

Right-wing forces in government, politics, and the higher circles of big business, want to weaken all aspects of public education and support policies that would reduce or divert public education funds away from public education to private educational ventures. For example, author Derek W. Black, the Ernest F. Hollings Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of South Carolina, writes this about the money being spent in his 2020 book titled School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.

“The amount of money they [opponents/critics of public education] are pumping into political campaigns and lobbying efforts to ‘fundamentally transform’ American education is unheard of – hundreds of millions of dollars from the Koch brothers’ political network alone. From governors’ races and statewide referenda to school board races and local policies, they have made decreased public education funding and increasing charters and vouchers their top issues” (p. 19)

The Republican Party is significantly dependent on Trump’s mass following, so Trump and his base have significant, if not determinative, influence on the Party and the policy stands they advance.

Many parts of the Base are anxious about the potential lose of relative status as the demographics of the country favor the growth of non-white people. They have also become a force against public education, as they aggressively agitate for parental rights over teacher’s professional training and experience, including the elimination of classroom discussions of any disturbing aspects of “race” and “gender” topics, as well as the parental rights to decide which books are suitable to have in school libraries or classrooms.

It’s not all grim. Consider two points.

First, the concern that we should strive to have good public schools goes back the founders of the country. Derek W. Black’s research finds that public education was embedded in the ideal image of the nation our founders hoped to create. “Before the United States had a constitution, our founders believed the nation needed a public education system” (p. 54). Why?

“From the first days, the nation’s theory of governance depended on educated citizens. The founders feared that democracy without education would devolve into mob rule, open doors to unscrupulous politicians, and encourage hucksters to take advantage of citizens even as they stood in line to vote” (p. 12).

John Adams served as the nation’s first vice president and second president. But as early as 1765, he had “begun making the case for public education and tying it to independence – a decade prior to the Declaration of Independence” (p. 55). Adams also wrote: “The preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of the rich men in the country” (p. 55).

This idea of the desirability of public education is deeply rooted in the U.S. history and culture. Black recounts the subsequent history of public education’s ups and downs through his book. We are now in a decidedly downward phase that may or may not be stoppable.

Second, there is “resistance” against the attacks on public education and for a viable, equitable, and equal public school system. Education expert Diane Ravitch (cited earlier) identifies who makes up the resistance and what its’ central ideas and goals are in her book, Slaying Goliath: Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Schools.

She answers the question of who belongs to the resistance as follows.

“Members of the Resistance have some genuine connection to education as teachers, administrators, students, parents or grandparents of students, graduates of public schools, scholars, religious leaders who believe in the separation of church and state, citizens who recognize that public schools are an essential foundation stone of a democracy society” (p. 52).

There are also teachers who are willing to join unions, strike for better salaries and working conditions. Legal scholar and teacher Derek W. Black gives an example in his book, School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, of the rising militancy of some teachers. Here’s a bit of what Black writes.

“In the spring of 2018, teachers across the nation wages a full-scale revolt, shutting down public schools and marching to state capitals in the reddest of red states. From West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, teachers went on strike over the condition of public education. Stagnant and depressed teacher salaries were the initial focal point, but as the protests spread, it became clear that teachers were marching for far more than their own salaries. They were marching for school supplies, school services, class sizes, and more. They were marching for states to reverse the massive budget cuts of the past decade and stop funneling more resources into charters and vouchers. Families and students were right beside them, both in body and spirit. Deep in the heart of red country, three out of four voters said they saw quality gaps between schools, and wanted states to close them, Nationally, only 6 percent said teachers’ salaries are too high, and 73 percent said they would support their teachers if they went on strike” (pp. 23-24)

Their central ideas

Ravitch refers to “several central ideas of the resistance. First, it opposes the privatization of schools. Second, it opposes the misuse and overuse of standardized testing. Third, it respects the teaching profession and believes that teachers and other school staff should have appropriate professional compensation. Fourth, it wants public schools to have the resources for the children they enroll. Fifth, it wants public schools to cultivate the job of learning and teaching. Sixth, it places the needs of children and the value of knowledge above the whims and theories of politicians and philanthropists. Last, it understands that students’ lives are influenced by conditions outside the control of the schools, including their access to good housing, medical care, nutrition, and safe neighborhoods” (p. 52).

In closing, let us be grateful for those who work in the public schools to educate our children and to provide other important services.

The Trump-Republican assaults on voting: authoritarian implications

Bob Sheak, January 28, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

The U.S. election system is now under an unprecedented and growing threat from right-wing forces associated with Trump, the Republican Party, and their supporters. If these forces continue to be successful in these fiendish efforts, America will lose its democracy and be replaced by an autocratic-led authoritarian political system, with fascist elements. This ominous view is shared by many on the liberal/left. Here are a few examples.

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Thom Hartmann, prolific author and host of a nationally syndicated radio show, writes: “Today in the United States there is a concerted and well-organized campaign to prevent people from voting while making it more and more convenient for others.” He quotes Thomas Paine: “The right to voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. Take away that right is to reduce a man to slavery” (The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote and How to Get It Back on page, p. 2).

Author and New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall refers to what he is learning from experts on the American political situation: “Political analysts, scholars and close observers of government are explicitly raising the possibility that the polarized American electoral system has come to the point at which a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible” (https://nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/republicans-democracy-minority-rule.html).

Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center, writes:

“A belligerent and narcissistic authoritarian has gained a powerful hold over a large portion of America. As many as 60 percent of Republican voters continue to believe his lies. Many remain intensely loyal. The Republican party is close to becoming a cult whose central animating idea is that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.” Reich adds: “Trump has had help, of course. Fox News hosts and Facebook groups have promoted and amplified his ravings for their own purposes. Republicans in Congress and in the states have played along” (https://robertreich.org/post/672010546164449280).

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona, addresses the threat to democracy in an interview released on Truthout (https://truthout.org/articles/noam-chomsky-gops-soft-coup-is-still-underway-one-year-after-capitol-assault). In the interview with C.J. Polychroniou, Chomsky refers to the growing fragility of American democracy.

“Implications for the future are all too clear. The Republican organization — it’s hard to regard them any longer as an authentic political party — is now carefully laying the groundwork for success next time, whatever the electoral outcome may be. It’s all completely in the open, not only not concealed but in fact heralded with pride by its leaders. And regularly reported, so that no one who is interested enough to pay attention to the American political scene can miss it.”

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I have written posts in the past that call attention to the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party, how it is devoted to winning elections by any means and, in the meantime, obstructing Democratic legislative initiatives. Trump is the head of the Party. His power is rooted in his electoral base and his pro-corporate, pro-wealthy economic policies. You can see my posts at “vitalissues-bobsheak.”

The purposes of this post

This post attempts to update the evidence, focusing on voting, and how Trump, the Republican Party, and Trump’s huge and loyal electoral base represent an ever-increasing and dire threat to U.S. democracy.

Regarding Trump, there are numerous books and investigative articles documenting the checkered political and financial career of the former president, his thousands of lies and connections to Fox News and other right-wing media, how he and his family profited from his presidency, his continuous problems with the I.R.S, his hollowing out and corruption of executive branch agencies, his refusal to concede that he lost the 2020 presidential election, his ability to stoke the flames of his obedient electoral base, including his encouragements of violence, and his autocratic aspirations.

At the federal level, Republicans intensify partisanship with the goal of obstructing Democratic legislative initiatives. Their ultimate goal appears to be to create a virtual one-party political system based on minority rule and an agenda that satisfies the economic interests of the rich and powerful, pays attention to Trump’s obsessions, while playing to the cultural/social interests of Trump’s huge and multifaceted electoral base.

Recently, and of particular relevance to this post, Republicans in the Senate and two rogue Democrats were able to stop the passage of two voting rights bills. The bills, the content of which I’ll later summarize, were championed by Democrats as strengthening voter rights, while the Republicans in the Senate claimed that the bills would promote fraud and take away the authority of states to determine who should vote and how votes should be counted. In effect, Democrats want to expand opportunities for Americans to vote, while Republicans want to reduce them. At this point, Republicans are winning.

In the states and local jurisdictions, particularly in the 26 “red” states, Republicans and their supporters are increasingly involved in voter suppression, gerrymandering, the harassment and replacement of election officials, and creating the conditions where a popular vote can be overridden by a state legislature.

Evidence of the advances of the Republican anti-democratic movement

One– Trump, the undisputed leader

All levels of the Republican Party accept or remain obediently discreet about Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him by what Trump has called a “rigged” election. Trump’s dominance is rooted in the loyalty of his base and Trump’s ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from the base and from his corporate and wealthy backers.

In polls, Trump leads the Republican pack

Max Greenwood reports on January 24, 2022, on a recent poll dealing with how Trump fairs in the Republican field with respect to 2024 presidential choices (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/591115-poll-trump-leads-2024-republican-field-with-desantis-in-distant-second). Here is the key finding. In a hypothetical eight-person GOP presidential primary, Trump holds a clear edge, garnering 57 percent support among Republican voters. DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are nearly deadlocked at 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively. No other would-be candidate tested in the poll registers double-digit support.”

Trump continues to propound the widely debunked “Big Lie, as he did at a recent rally in Arizona

In an article for the New York Times, Linda Qiu reports that during a rally in Arizona on Saturday, January 15, “former President Donald J. Trump repeated his lie that the 2020 election was stolen and made other false claims about the pandemic and the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year” (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/16/us/politics/fact-check-trump-arizona-rally.html).

In statements relevant to the 2020 presidential election, Trump falsely said at the rally,

“So we lost, they say, by 10,000 and yet they flagged more than — listen to these numbers — 57,000 highly suspicious ballots for further investigation, one. 23,344 mail-in ballots were counted despite the person no longer living at that address — little, little problem. Five thousand people appear to have voted in more than one county.”

Qiu also refers to some of the evidence refuting Trump”s claim. The official and repeated investigative findings concur that “Trump lost the state of Arizona – where the recent rally was held – by about 10,500 votes and his claim of tens of thousands of fraudulent votes is baseless. These figures are incredibly based on a report by Cyber Ninjas, a company Republicans hired to examine voting in the state. An audit by the company ‘showed that in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Mr. Biden had 99 additional votes and Mr. Trump had 261 fewer votes.’”

Millions still believe or go along with whatever Trump says

In his weekly New York Times column on January 19, 2022, Thomas B. Edsall (referred to earlier) looks at polls and seeks answers from experts on why millions of Americans think Trump cannot tell a lie (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/19/opinion/trump-big-lie.html). Edsall is particularly interested in why Republican officials and voters are so compliant in going along with Trump’s trashing of the 2020 presidential election, despite the fact that at the same time many Republicans were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and to state and local elected offices across the country. Edsall sums up his own view as follows: “The capitulation to and appeasement of Trump by Republican leaders is actually setting up even worse possibilities than what we’ve lived through so far.”

Here are the views of two of Edsall’s expert contacts.

Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University and a senior fellow at Brookings, noted in an email that ‘fear of electoral retribution from Trump — and from Republican voters — drives Senate G.O.P. reluctance to break with Trump.’ The former president, she continued, has succeeded in reshaping the G.O.P. as ‘his’ party. This electoral dynamic applies in spades to Republicans’ unwillingness to challenge Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection — or like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to back down from their initial criticisms. It seems as if fealty to Trump’s alternative version of the events of Jan. 6 is the litmus test for Republicans.” Binder adds: “For all of Trump’s nativist immigration, trade, and ‘America First’ views, he was lock step with Republicans on cutting taxes and regulations and stacking the courts with young conservatives. In that light, certainly while Trump was in office, Senate Republicans held their noses on any anti-democratic behavior and stuck with Trump to secure the policies they craved.”

Along similar lines, Bruce Cain, a political scientist at Stanford, observes that Republican elected officials make their calculations based on the goal of political survival: What perhaps looks like collective derangement to many outside the party ranks is really just raw political calculation. The best strategy for regaining Congressional control is to keep Trump and his supporters inside the party tent, and the only way to do that is to go along with his myths in order to get along with him. This approach, Cain continued, “is the path of least political resistance. Trump in 2016 demonstrated that he could win the presidency” while rejecting calls to reach out to minorities, by targeting a constituency that is “predominantly white and 80 percent conservative.” Because of its homogeneity, Cain continued, “the Republican Party is much more unified than the Democrats at the moment.”

Two – Trump, the aspiring autocrat

Journalist Shane Goldmacher gives us an example (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/03/us/politics/trump-endorses-viktor-orban-hungary.html). He reports, “Former President Donald J. Trump endorsed Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, on Monday [January 3], formally pledging his ‘complete support’ to a far-right foreign leader who has touted turning Hungary into an ‘illiberal democracy.’”

Orban was an early supporter of Trump, endorsing him in the summer of 2016.

“After he won, Mr. Trump granted Mr. Orban a meeting in the Oval Office in 2019. The Hungarian leader had been denied such an audience since 1998.” And: “After that meeting, Mr. Trump said Mr. Orban was ‘probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK.’”

Goldmacher gives us an idea of what Orban’s illiberal democracy entails.

“Mr. Orban and his party have steadily consolidated power in Hungary by weakening the country’s independent and democratic institutions — rewriting election laws to favor his Fidesz party, changing school textbooks, curbing press freedoms, overhauling the country’s Constitution and changing the composition of the judiciary.”

In their book, Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, Political scientists William G. Howell and Terry M. Moe refer to how Trump has “spoken admiringly of autocrats – particularly Russia’s Vladimir Putin, but also Xi Jinping (China), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Viktor Orban (Hungary), Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Poland), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), and Mohammad bin Salman (Saudi Arabia)” (p. 110).

Three – Trump’s next coup has already begun

Atlantic magazine journalist Barton Gellman has written a widely acclaimed, in-depth article titled “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun” (https://theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/01/january-6-insurrection-trump-coup-2024-election/620843). His opening paragraph conveys his central thesis.

“Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.”

Republican operatives and their supporters are already acting to win elections through “an apparatus of election theft.” Trump and his party have convinced “a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.” Some thousands of them converged in Washington D.C. on January 6 to hear Trump and others claim that the election was rigged, that Trump won by millions of votes, and that they should “be strong” and march to the Capitol and stop the certification of electors for Joe Biden.

Gellman interviewed a couple of participants who were at the riot to understand how they now explained [a year after the January 6 riot] what happened. Despite the video and first-hand evidence that captured the violence, the property damage, and the injuries to 151 officers from the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department and deaths, the rioters now endorse one or more of the following notions. One, they argue that rally was peaceful. Two, “if there was violence…the patriots were not to blame.” Three, agents provocateurs, say, the FBI, incited the violence. They also make up their own numbers on the 2020 election results. Gellman sums it up: “Each rebuttal is met with fresh round of delusions.”

Gellman refers to research by Robert A. Pape, an expert on political violence, and “a virtual group of seven research professionals, supported by two dozen University of Chicago undergraduates, who have “gathered court documents, public records, and news reports to compile a group profile of the insurgents.” Their most significant finding is that “insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline.” The would-be insurrectionists were worried that whites will soon become a minority in the country and then become second-class citizens. It’s referred to as “the Great Replacement Theory.”

Pape and his research team ran two national opinion surveys, in March and June of 2021. The June poll found that “just over 8 percent agreed that Biden is illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House. That corresponds to 21 million American adults, whom Pape calls “committed insurrectionists.” Pape and his team also found that about “two-thirds of them agreed that ‘African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.’” One of Gellman’s respondents claimed his career in fire fighting had been negatively affected by affirmative action that, he said, discriminates against whites.

So, there is a large, violent-ready and armed group in Trump’s loyal base. There are other developments based on Republican control of “statehouses, state election authorities, courthouses, Congress, and the Republican Party apparatus” that have improved Trump’s position since January 6. Their main objective has been to change the conditions in state election systems so that electors are picked in swing states by Republican legislators, nullifying any unfavorable popular vote.

To achieve this end, they are working to remove state election officials who refused to support Trump in the decertification maneuvers. Gellman writes: “In at least 15 more states [in addition to Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona] Republicans have advanced new laws to shift authority over elections from governors and career officials in the executive branch to the legislature. Under the Orwellian banner of ‘election integrity,’ even more have rewritten laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Death threats and harassment from Trump supporters have meanwhile driven nonpartisan voting administrators to contemplate retirement.”

The efforts to thwart democratic institutions also include a legal strategy called the “independent state legislature” doctrine, “which holds that statehouses have ‘plenary,’ or exclusive, control of the rules for choosing presidential electors. Taken to its logical conclusion, it could provide a legal basis for any state legislature to throw out an election result it dislikes and appoint its preferred electors instead” and, if challenged, take it to the partisan Supreme Court for support.

Gellman concludes his analysis with this foreboding warning. “The midterms [in 2022], marked by gerrymandering, will more than likely tighten the GOP’s grip on the legislatures in swing states. The Supreme Court may be ready to give those legislatures near-absolute control over the choice of presidential electors.

“And if Republicans take back the House and Senate, as oddsmakers seem to believe they will, the GOP will be firmly in charge of counting the electoral votes.

Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance.”

Four- Republicans defeat Democrats’ voting reform bills

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have lost, at least for the time being, in their efforts to pass two voting bills aimed at making it less difficult for Americans to vote. The bills are named the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both bills were previously approved in the U.S. House of Representatives. Provisions from both bills were combined for the current votes. The House Democrats, with a small majority, passed the updated legislation on a party-line basis.

However, Senate Democrats were unable to override a Republican filibuster, requiring 60 votes for a bill to pass. They were thwarted in their hope to pass the bill through a reconciliation process that needs only a simple majority of 51 votes. Two Democrats out of 50 voted joined all 50 Republicans to defeat the legislation. The final vote on January 19, 2022, was 52 against and 48 in favor.

(See Norm Ornstein’s article, “The Five Myths about the Filibuster, https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths-about-the-filibuster, and Caroline Fredrickson’s “The Case Against the Filibuster, https://brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/case-against-filibuster.)

Jane C. Timm has described on January 13, 2022, the highlights of the combined bill, The Freedom to Vote Act, in an article for NBC News (https://nbcnews.com/politics/elections/what-s-democrats-latest-voting-legislation-what-would-bills-do-n1287301). Timm identifies five categories of Democratic concerns that are addressed in the bill that has been designed to increase access, fairness, safety for state election officials, campaign finance reform, and an updating of voting rights law. The Republicans want none of this. Here is what the Democratic bills would have provided.

#1 – National standards for voting access.

“The Freedom to Vote Act would create a set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box across the country” and “neutralize the restrictions to the ballot box that many states have advanced in the last year and are considering advancing this year, while also establishing standards that would make U.S. elections look more similar from state to state.”

It would require states “to offer a minimum number of days of early voting and the ability to vote by mail for any reason. With respect to voter ID, the bill “would allow a wider range of identifying documents — and electronic copies — than some states with strict voter ID laws now permit.” It would make Election Day a national holiday, “require states to keep voting lines to 30 minutes or less,” “create or increase penalties for intimidating and deceiving voters to counteract misinformation and disinformation about elections, which have run rampant since 2020,” “restore federal voting rights to people with felony convictions after they have been released from prison,” and permit voter registration at state motor vehicle agencies.

#2 – Redistricting reform

“The Freedom to Vote Act would also outlaw partisan gerrymandering in congressional maps and require neutral redistricting standards for all states and mandate transparency in the process. That would be likely to fuel legal challenges in states that have already enacted new legislative maps for this year’s elections and force states that haven’t yet drawn their maps to adopt the new standards.”

#3 – Protecting election workers and records, and giving legal recourse

“The Freedom to Vote Act would make it a federal crime to intentionally harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce election officials, poll workers and election volunteers for doing their jobs. 

“The bill would also reaffirm voters’ ability to sue in federal court if they believe their votes or the right of those votes to be fairly counted have been infringed upon, which advocates say they believe would give voters recourse against election subversion. Advocates hope the measure would instruct federal courts to continue enforcing voting access.

“Election records and paper ballots would be subject to new requirements and regulations to keep election materials from being used in partisan ballot reviews like the one in Maricopa County, Arizona, after the 2020 election. Those machines were later decertified by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs because of the work of inexperienced third-party contractors. Official audits, however, would be required after elections to boost public trust and transparency.”

#4 – Campaign finance reform

“To curb the effect of anonymous money in elections, the bill would require the disclosure of major donors by entities that spend more than $10,000 in an election reporting cycle while also subjecting super PACs to new rules to keep their operations separate from campaigns.”

“The bill would also create a small-dollar donor matching program for House candidates who opt in, seemingly an effort to empower smaller donors.

“The Federal Election Commission, which has been stymied by partisan gridlock, would be reworked to be less dependent on a majority of the commission to approve new investigations and to instead allow the commission’s general counsel to investigate and issue subpoenas.”

#5 – Update the Voting Rights Act

“A separate and much narrower bill would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A House version of the legislation, named for John Lewis, the civil rights leader who served in Congress for more than 30 years and died in 2020, passed the House in August. Murkowski and other senators updated the bill in the Senate in November.

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was landmark legislation that barred discriminatory election laws and gave the Justice Department the authority to challenge new state laws in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination before they were implemented, through a process known as preclearance.

“In 2013, the Supreme Court said in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states were subject to preclearance was unconstitutional; the bill would update the formula, subjecting states with at least 15 voting rights violations over 25 years — or 10 if one of them was committed by the state itself — to the process. A state could remove itself from the preclearance process if it avoided violations for a decade.

“At the time of the Shelby decision, all or part of 15 states were subject to preclearance. Wendy Weiser, an expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that seven states — Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and Cook County, Illinois, would qualify for preclearance, with a long list of voting rights violations among them. Alabama and Florida are “on the cusp” of qualifying, she added.

“The bill would also make it easier for advocates to successfully sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, bolstering the law’s protections for groups of voters who are disproportionately harmed by voting rules; the Supreme Court limited the use of Section 2 in a ruling last year.

“The bill would also add a Native American Voting Rights Act, which includes a number of provisions to make it easier for voters on tribal lands. The bill would require states to offer polling sites and voter registration on tribal lands.”

Five – At the state level – the selective suppression of the vote and the subversion of state-level election systems is well underway – “laboratories of autocracy”

The U.S. Democracy Center’s provides some year-end evidence for 2021 on
“the democracy crisis in the making” (https://statsuniteddemocracy.org/resources/decupdate).

The Center finds that, as of December 15, 2021, “there have been at least 262 bills introduced in 41 states that would interfere with election administration — and 32 of these bills have become law across 17 states.” These laws would variously “allow states to politicize, criminalize, and interfere with elections.” The subversion of voting and elections will by all accounts continue in 2022.

Given the evidence, they anticipate that the Republican’s anti-democratic strategies will continue through 2022 and “will consist of four key pillars: (i) changing the rules to make it easier to undermine the will of the voters; (ii) changing the people who defend our democratic system by sidelining, replacing, or attacking professional election officials; (iii) promoting controversial constitutional theories about our elections to justify partisan takeovers; and (iv) eroding public confidence and trust in elections.” This is the antithesis of what the Democratic Party advocates.

#1 – Changing the rules– “In the last six months of this year, state legislatures have continued pursuing their efforts to micromanage election administration, criminalize human error, and seize control of election administration.” They identify 17 states in a graph that are engaged in at least some such activities. If they are successful, elections could be made unworkable, voting results would be far more difficult to finalize, and “in the worst-case scenario, allow state legislatures to substitute their preferred candidates for those chosen by the voters.”

Here’s one of their examples.

“…in Pennsylvania, a wide-ranging measure to rewrite the state’s election law, which included election subversion provisions, was vetoed by the governor in late June. Undeterred, the legislature launched a sweeping, ad hoc, and standardless audit of the 2020 election, which, among other things, attempted to subpoena the private information of more than nine million registered voters for analysis by a firm with no experience in election law or data analytics. The legislature then initiated an effort to bypass the governor’s veto via a constitutional amendment. Most alarmingly, a version of the proposed constitutional amendment, currently working its way through the legislature, would allow the legislature to unilaterally scuttle any election regulations issued by the state’s chief elections officer (as well as other executive branch agencies) and would also create a permanent audit system subject to the legislature’s rules.

#2 – Changing the People: “Our democracy depends on the hard work and commitment of hundreds of thousands of people, from the precinct-level election judges who open polling places at dawn, to the county boards that canvass and report results, to secretaries of state who certify elections. They form a chain that makes our democratic elections work, and this year, we have seen concerted efforts to weaken every link in the chain.”

Their investigation of precinct-level candidates for election judge and inspector in two Pennsylvania counties identified “a cluster of election deniers who had won their races.” In Michigan, “in eight of the eleven largest counties…county Republican parties have systematically replaced their appointees to county canvassing boards with election deniers who embrace conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election.” Back to Pennsylvania, the “state legislature threatened to impeach the members of two county election commissions who voted to count timely received mail-in or absentee ballots that lacked a date handwritten by the voter.” Among other examples, they cite “a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, ‘one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job, and nearly one in five listed threats to their lives as a job-related concern.”

#3 – Promoting Controversial Constitutional Theories:

They refer to how in recent years, “a small group of conservative legal scholars have begun promoting what they call the ‘independent state legislature doctrine.’ (Also mentioned by Gellman.) According to the scholars, state legislatures have the sole and unilateral authority to set election rules under the U.S. Constitution. Under this controversial theory, their authority is immune from court review and action from a governor or attorney general.”

Influenced by this “novel theory, legislators in several states are increasingly bold in arguing that they can change election outcomes.” Thus, in Wisconsin, “one of the state’s sitting U.S. Senators, Sen. Ron Johnson, proposed in an interview with a Milwaukee newspaper that “the legislature seize control of elections.”

#4 – Undermining Confidence: “More than a year after the 2020 election, while a majority of Americans trust the 2020 election results, a substantial portion of the American population still believes that the election was stolen. Seventy-three percent of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden was not the rightful winner of the election. And looking forward to 2022, while 80 percent of Democrats believe next year’s midterm election will be fair, only 42 percent of Republicans feel it will be fair. Worse yet, 39 percent of people who think that the 2020 election was stolen believe that violence may be justified to ‘save our country.’”

Their concern is that when a major portion of the electorate loses faith in how we run our elections, it “is more likely to support, or even encourage, nakedly overturning the will of the people.” As it stands now, “we have a democracy crisis in the making.”

Six – Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power If Trump Loses in 2024,

David H. Freedman authors an article on December 20, 2021, titled “Millions of Angry, Armed Americans Stand Ready to Seize Power If Trump Loses in 2024,”

(https://newsweek.com/2021/12/31/millions-angry-armed-americans-stand-ready-seize-power-if-trump-loses-2024-1660953.html)

Freedman describes the perspective of one avid Trump supporter. Mike “Wompus” Nieznany is a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who walks with a cane from the combat wounds he received during his service. That disability doesn’t keep Nieznany from making a living selling custom motorcycle luggage racks from his home in Gainesville, Georgia.” Neither did it slow him down when it came time to visit Washington, D.C.—heavily armed and ready to do his part in overthrowing the U.S. government.

Millions of fellow would-be insurrectionists will be there, too, Nieznany says, “a ticking time-bomb” targeting the Capitol. “There are lots of fully armed people wondering what’s happening to this country,” he says. “Are we going to let Biden keep destroying it? Or do we need to get rid of him? We’re only going to take so much before we fight back.” The 2024 election, he adds, may well be the trigger.

Freedman points out that Nieznany is no loner. His political comments on the social-media site Quora received 44,000 views in the first two weeks of November (2020) and more than 4 million overall. He is one of many rank-and-file Republicans who own guns and in recent months have talked openly of the need to take down—by force if necessary—a federal government they see as illegitimate, overreaching and corrosive to American freedom. Freedman elaborates his point.

“The phenomenon goes well beyond the growth of militias, which have been a feature of American life at least since the Ku Klux Klan rose to power after the Civil War. Groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, which took part in the January 6th riot at the Capitol and may have played organizational roles, have grown in membership. Law enforcement has long tracked and often infiltrated these groups. What Nieznany represents is something else entirely: a much larger and more diffuse movement of more-or-less ordinary people, stoked by misinformation, knitted together by social media and well-armed. In 2020, 17 million Americans bought 40 million guns and in 2021 were on track to add another 20 million. If historical trends hold, the buyers will be overwhelmingly white, Republican and southern or rural.”

Seven – What Rights Blue States May Lose If the GOP Consolidates its Power

If the Republicans succeed in undermining the U.S. election system, what are the likely consequences for Democrats in what are now blue states? Ed Kilgore considers this question in a New York Magazine article on January 1, 2022 https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/rights-blue-states-may-lose-gop-returns-power.html). He identifies

It is likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and abortion policy will be returned to the states. This has long been a primary goal for an anti-abortion movement that has formed a strong partnership with the Republican Party and is a significant part of Trump’s base. But Kilgore posits that “the ultimate objective — enshrined in the GOP platform since 1980 — is a federally established ‘fetal personhood’ right that bans any state from allowing abortion.” Already many Republican-dominated states are instituting abortion bans without exceptions for rape and incest. This could be expanded  by “a federal statute imposing personhood rights on [all] the states.”

Voting rights will be further restricted in the name of “election integrity” laws that keep any state from expanding voting rights. “This could [for example] include banning state laws expanding access to the ballot via liberalized early voting (particularly by mail), ex-felon re-enfranchisement, and simplified or automatic voter registration.”

Public school curricula and national education standards will be subverted by “parental rights laws.” Kilgore points out that “rank-and-file Republicans still utilizing public schools have become so hostile to teachers unions and ‘the education bureaucracy’ that a partywide ‘parental rights” movement has mobilized both those who want public funds to go directly to parents to use for private and home schools and those who want to control what (and how) public schools teach.”

Inevitably,” Kilgore writes, “if they are in a position to do so, it is very likely that Republicans in Congress and a future conservative administration will take parental rights national with legislation to keep states and localities from monopolizing public funds or from teaching material conservatives find objectionable (most obviously, on the subject of racism, but also on such conservative religious targets as sex education and evolution). GOP administrations for years have promoted federal school-voucher programs as a way to undermine public school funding; a broader attack on teachers unions and ‘bureaucrats’ is inevitable.”

And, perhaps of greatest existential significance, there will be bans on state and local efforts to stop climate change. On this point, Kilgore writes:

“Federal anti-climate-change activism was on full display during the Trump administration, particularly in its wide-ranging war in the federal courts on California’s anti-pollution policies. Given the emergence of climate change as both an existential crisis for much of the GOP’s business base and a cultural issue for MAGA activists, you can count on future wars on blue-state climate initiatives from Washington when Republicans are fully in control.”

Concluding thoughts

The Trump/Republican drive to consolidate political power at all levels of government is well documented. The question then is what can be done to effectively contest such efforts?

Richard L. Hasen, the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, offers an analysis of what might save American democracy (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/07/opinion/trump-democracy-voting-jan-6.html).

In the end, he says, the Democratic Party must look for and facilitate the creation of coalitions with any Republicans, businesses, civic groups, judges, and whoever is willing to join the struggle against election subversion, along with reaching out to citizens who have become indifferent, who are uninformed, or who are cynical about any progress. This means supporting efforts by pro-democracy groups to educate, organize, get people out to vote, supporting good political candidates, becoming a candidate, volunteering to work at the polls, petitioning, writing letters, becoming informed. But in the final analysis, Hasen writes, “mass, peaceful organizing and protests may be necessary in 2024 and 2025.” “If, he says, “the officially announced vote totals do not reflect the results of a fair election process, that should lead to nationwide peaceful protests and even general strikes.” He adds:

“One could pessimistically say that the fact that we even need to have this conversation about fair elections and rule of law in the United States in the 21st century is depressing and shocking. One could simply retreat into complacency. Or one could see the threats this country faces as a reason to buck up and prepare for the battle for the soul of American democracy that may well lay ahead. If Republicans have embraced authoritarianism or have refused to confront it, and Democrats in Congress cannot or will not save us, we must save ourselves.”

If it comes to this, as well it might, then it may be too late for social movements and progressive unions to make enough of a difference. If democratically organized coalitions prove to be insufficient to stem the anti-democratic, authoritarian drives of the Republicans and Trump’s massive base, then the country is in for a long period of anti-democratic rule.

The cornerstone of extremist political power will rest on the federal government, a vast and corrupted federal bureaucracy, an extraordinary surveillance capability, the military, a supportive and expanded right-wing media disinformation apparatus, a partisan federal judiciary and Supreme Court. And, amidst it all, the majority of voters will be disenfranchised or see their votes nullified. We also should remember that Trump in the White House means he would have the authority to start a nuclear war with little or no consultation. See William J. Perry’s book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump.

But such potential eventualities are not written in stone. For the foreseeable future, despite the growing obstacles, millions of people will find ways to vote against them. Many will find ways to go on organizing and educating. The right-wing attachment to neoliberal economic policies and the inequality that it creates will seed unrest in many parts of the society. Their commitment to a fossil-fuel-based energy system and unregulated economic growth will lead to ever-more disastrous and costly climate and environmental disasters. Pandemics and other health crises will be disregarded. Under such conditions, the question is whether those in power will double-down and watch the society fall into a cycle of despair and ungovernability or be forced to reinstate democratic reforms under the pressure of massive unrest and economic and environmental chaos.

Trump and the implications of January 6 for American democracy

Bob Sheak, January 11, 2022

Introduction

The majority of Democrats, as well as an overall majority of all Americans are remembering the anniversary of January 6, 2021, as an insurrection by a motley and violent mob of Trump supporters, all of whom were in Washington, D.C., to carry out their leader’s appeals to stop the peaceful and traditionally routine transfer of presidential power, as exemplified by the efforts of the right-wing Trump forces to sabotage the election of Joe Biden. Yes, according to the Britannica dictionary, the January 6 uprising did constitute an insurrection:

“insurrection, an organized and usually violent act of revolt or rebellion against an established government or governing authority of a nation-state or other political entity by a group of its citizens or subjects; also, any act of engaging in such a revolt. An insurrection may facilitate or bring about a revolution, which is a radical change in the form of government or political system of a state, and it may be initiated or provoked by an act of sedition, which is an incitement to revolt or rebellion.”

“In the United States, insurrection against the authority of the federal government is a crime under 18 U.S. Code §2383, which provides that:

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Incitement

Trump claimed for months preceding and continuously after the 2020 election that the election had been rigged against him and insisted falsely and perhaps seditiously that he had won the election by millions of votes. It came to be known as the “Big Lie.” He did this despite numerous re-counts and court judgements that found no significant voting fraud in any state election. Zachary B. Wolf analyzes the origin of the term “Big Lie” and how it has been used by Trump (https://cnn.com/2021/05/19/politics/donald-trump-big-lie-explainer/index.html).

For example, Wolf describes how Trump came to adopt the term. Here’s some of what he writes.

“Trump falsely claimed after the 2016 election, which he won, that millions of people had illegally voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Leading up to the 2020 election, Trump again routinely asserted that voting in the US would be rigged against him, and afterward, when he denied his loss, critics began using the term ‘the Big Lie’ to describe his rejection of the factual world.

“Trump, master propagandist, has since seized the term from his critics and now routinely uses it to claim it is he who is the victim of untruths and conspiracies. ‘The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!’ he said in a statement issued by his PAC on May 3.

Since then, Trump’s use of it to claim his own persecution has arguably eclipsed its use to warn about his lies as a form of propaganda.”

Disregarding the overwhelming evidence, his huge electoral and ideological base continues to lap up whatever came out of his mouth and/or what was broadcast on the right-wing media that echoed the “Big Lie.”

There is no disputing that those who came to Trump’s “Save America” rally at the Ellipse within the National Mall just south of the White House were ready to do Trump’s bidding. (I’ll elaborate on these points later in this post.) They believed that the election had been stolen and they were waiting to be told what they should do, that is, walk to the capitol building and “stop the steal.” The Capitol is about 2 miles from the Ellipse.

Upon reaching the Capitol – some had already been there – a huge throng of 2,000 or so Trump supporters violently invaded the building, while thousands of others watched supportively. The violent invaders were not tourists peacefully entering and roaming through the halls of the Capitol building. They were not greeted by the capitol police as friendly visitors. No, they rampaged through the building, or watched while others attacked and injured the police and damaged property, with the purpose of stopping the certification of Biden’s presidential victory.

Be clear about this. They would not have been there without Trump’s encouragement and a coordinated plan by Trump and his supporters to call them to a rally in D.C. None of this would have occurred without Trump. There would have been no massing of thousands of people, no crowd to enflame, no violent invasion of the Capitol building, no injuries to capitol police, no terrorizing of elected officials, their staffs, janitors, and other workers.

There were others involved

Logan Jaffe and his colleagues at ProPublica provide further documentation of how some “capitol rioters” were also engaged in planning for the Jan. 6 “stop the steal” rally (https://propublica.org/article/capitol-rioters-planned-for-weeks-in-plain-sight-the-police-werent-ready). They write:

“…the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

“‘We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,’ leaders of the Stop the Steal movement wrote on Dec. 23. They called their Wednesday demonstration the Wild Protest, a name taken from a tweet by Trump that encouraged his supporters to take their grievances to the streets of Washington. ‘Will be wild,’ the president tweeted.

“Ali Alexander, the founder of the movement, encouraged people to bring tents and sleeping bags and avoid wearing masks for the event. ‘If D.C. escalates… so do we,’ Alexander wrote on Parler last week — one of scores of social media posts welcoming violence that were reviewed by ProPublica in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s attack on the capitol.”

Bottom of Form

Another example: “On Dec. 12, a poster on the website MyMilitia.com urged violence if senators made official the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

“If this does not change, then I advocate, Revolution and adherence to the rules of war,” wrote someone identifying themselves as I3DI. “I say, take the hill or die trying.”

What Trump said at the rally: Incitement?

At the rally, a number of speakers ginned up the crown before Trump spoke.

Wikipedia cites sources documenting that “at the rally, Donald Trump Jr.Rudy Giuliani, and several Republican members of Congress addressed the crowd, repeating unfounded claims of electoral fraud affecting the 2020 election outcome” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2021_United_States_Capitol_attack). Then in an hour-long speech, President Trump told the crowd to march to the Capitol, “assuring his audience he would be with them, to demand that Congress ‘only count the electors who have been lawfully slated…’”

Robert Reich, an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator, summarizes what Trump told the crowd what they should do (https://robertreich.org/post/672010546164449280).

“Trump repeated his falsehoods about how the election was stolen. ‘We will never give up,’ he said. ‘We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.’”

Trump also told the crowd, “We’re going to have to fight much harder…. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong…. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

 “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

“Then he dispatched the crowd to the Capitol as the electoral count was about to start. The attack on the Capitol came immediately after.”

Energized by the speeches at the rally, and reinforced by the lies that Trump supporters had been told over the previous months about the election, thousands then marched to the Capitol.

Trump left the rally and watched the attempted insurrection from his private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office for hours

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin report on what Trump did in the nearly five hours after his provocative speech at the Ellipse, where he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, and, as the Capitol was under attack, and up to the time he sent out his final tweet “telling his followers to remember the day forever” (https://nytimes.com/2021/02/13/us/politics/trump-capitol-riot.html).

After leaving the rally, the president arrived back at the White House about 1:19 p.m., just “as the crowd was making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue and beginning to swarm around the Capitol” and as television “news footage showed the mob” moving closer to the doors of the building. “At some point,” Haberman and Martin write, “Mr. Trump went to the Oval Office and watched news coverage of a situation that was growing increasingly tense.”

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham says Trump was “gleefully watching” the January 6 riot on TV and “hitting rewind,” according to a report by Oma Seddiq for Business Insider (https://www.businessinsider.com/stephanie-grisham-trump-was-gleefully-watching-the-january-6-riot-2022-1). Seddoq reports on what Grisham told CNN,

“All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, ‘look at all of the people fighting for me,’ hitting rewind, watching it again.”  

Seddiq adds: “Grisham’s comments echo reporting in multiple news outlets and books last year [2021] that said Trump had watched the riot unfold on television and resisted taking swift action to call on his supporters to stop the violence. She also quotesa CNN news story in which reporter journalist Carol Leonnig refers to Trump “watching it and almost giddy.”

Haberman and Martin report that Trump put out his first tweet to the mob at 4:17 p.m.. about 3 hours into the riot. He “posted a video on Twitter of him speaking directly to the camera in the Rose Garden. ‘I know your pain,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us, it was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now.’”

“He added, ‘We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.’”

His final tweet at 6:01 referred again to the Big Lie and gave a compliment to the rioters.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

The evidence doesn’t support the “Big Lie”

Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde report for Politifact that at least 86 judges — from state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court — have rejected at least one post-election lawsuit filed by Trump or his supporters, according to a review of court filings by the Washington Post, published Dec. 12. Around that time, more than 50 cases had failed or been tossed out of court (https://politifact.com/factchecks/2021/jan/08/joe-biden-right-more-60-election-lawsuits). It subsequently rose to 60 failed suits.

The Post analysis also found that 38 judges appointed by Republicans were among the 86 judges who had rejected lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-appointed justices, subsequently rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to election results in four states.

Who participated in the January 6 assault on the Capitol?

As noted earlier, they were not just tourists wanting to learn more about American history, admire statues of American presidents, or see the places where the country’s laws are made. But also, contrary to some liberal and leftist analysts, the majority of those who showed up for the rally were not there because of reasons of economic insecurity, wage stagnation, rising income or wealth inequality. They were under Trump’s spell and believed that the election had been stolen from him.

They responded to his call to come to D.C., believing that Biden and the Democrats posed a threat to the kind of government and country they wanted. They did not want a government that would take away their “freedoms,” such as, taking away their white status privileges, opening the borders to hordes of allegedly dangerous immigrants, supporting civil rights and justice for Black Americans. And Trump, their hero, would not let any of this happen if he were rightfully made president.

Scotty Tong and Serena McMahon report on the extensive survey research of Robert Pape, who directs the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, research that identifies demographic characteristics of the Jan. 6 mob (https://wbur.org/hereandnow/2022/01/03/jan-6-rioters-white-older).

Pape and his team analyzed the characteristics of more than 700 people arrested for breaking through the barricades on January 6. They found, unsurprisingly, that “people interviewed by officials said they went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to support former President Donald Trump that he, not Biden, was the legitimate president. They came from a broad range of places, but not mainly in raw numbers from violent fringe groups, or from impoverished or unemployed circumstances, or from those with connections to the military, or from rural areas and Republican congressional districts, although they were all there and some played particularly violent roles.

Rather, Pape’s evidence revealed

  • “…as of Dec. 2021, Pape says 87% of Capitol rioters he’s analyzed were not members of violent groups like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys.

“We’re used to thinking of extremists as on the fringe,” he says. “… What we see over and over in their demographics and in their motives really is a disturbing picture: That this is coming from part of the mainstream.”

  • More than half of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were white-collar workers such as business owners, architects, doctors and lawyers.
  • Out of the hundreds of people arrested for breaking into the Capitol, he says only 7% were unemployed at the time — nearly the national unemployment average.
  • Normally, 40% of right-wing extremists have prior military service, whereas Jan. 6 Capitol rioters sat at about 15%, he says.
  • More than half of the more than 700 people arrested hail from counties where Biden won…. Rioters flooded in from places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Chicago, he says, or from the immediate suburbs surrounding those cities, where they were essentially the political minority.

The most significant finding, inferred from the data, is that most of them were motivated, at least in part, by the fear that their white privilege and culture were in danger of being lost to a multicultural, liberal/left Democratic government. Tong and McMahon put it as follows.

“Looking back at the statistics Pape has compiled about the people involved on Jan. 6, the most notable is how many insurrectionists came from counties that lost their white, non-Hispanic population…. That loss has been amplified by a right-wing conspiracy — voiced by mainstream political leaders and media figures — known as the great replacement of white people by minorities and even the Democratic Party in order to win future elections. The conspiracy is no longer a fringe narrative but rather touted and embraced by key players in the mainstream.”

The intelligence agencies failed to recognize the threats leading up to January 6, 2021

William Arkin argues that the lack of adequate security at the Capitol on January 6, stemmed from the secret service and intel agencies mistakenly overlooking or minimizing the indications that there would be “civil disobedience” (https://democracynow.org/2022/01/06/us_capitol_insurrection_coup_attempt_january).

Arkin has a notable career as a national security analyst. Here is a partial summary from “wordpress.” “William M. Arkin has been working in the field of national security for almost 50 years, as an Army intelligence analyst, activist, author, journalist, academic and consultant. He has authored or coauthored more than a dozen books, two of them (Top Secret America and Nuclear Battlefields) national best sellers. He is the recipient of numerous journalism awards and his articles have appeared on the front pages of The Washington PostThe New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has written numerous cover stories for Newsweek magazine. And he has been on NBC News countless times as analyst. He has appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS News 60 Minutes, ABC’s 20/20, Dateline and in multiple long-form Frontline and History Channel programs” (https://williamarkin.workpress.com/about).

Here is some of what he said in his interview on Democracy Now on the failure of intelligence agencies to identify the threat leading up to January 6.

“On January 4, five days after the request, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller approved the use of the D.C. National Guard in support of law enforcement in protection of the Capitol for the upcoming Joint Session of Congress, two days away. But a closer look at what Miller approved reveals how much the National Guard is a false issue, hiding the much larger question of the failure of the intelligence community to anticipate what would happen.” Arkin provides evidence that the inadequate security force at the Capitol on January 6 reflected an intelligence failure.” For example:

“In the afternoon of January 4, “a multi-agency teleconference was… hosted by the D.C. Police, and included the FBI, the Secret Service, the Park Police, Supreme Court Police, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services.” Arkin continues: ‘They discussed the first of three Daily Intelligence Reports from the Capitol Police. The report said that the probability of acts of civil disobedience was on a continuum from ‘Remote’ to ‘Improbable.’”

The Damage

#1 – As reflected in the property damage

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. has compiled relevant evidence, published on January 6, 2022 (https://justice.gov/usao-dc/one-year-jan-6-attack-capitol). Here’s what they report.

“Thursday, Jan. 6 2022, marks one year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the process of affirming the presidential election results. The government continues to investigate losses that resulted from the breach of the Capitol, including damage to the Capitol building and grounds, both inside and outside the building. According to a May 2021 estimate by the Architect of the Capitol, the attack caused approximately $1.5 million worth of damage to the U.S. Capitol building.

“Under the continued leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the attack continues to move forward at an unprecedented speed and scale. The Department of Justice’s resolve to hold accountable those who committed crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, has not, and will not, wane.”

Journalists Jie Jenny Zou and Erin B. Logan report, “the Cost of cleanup and repairs: $1.5 million to more than $30 million” (https://latimes.com/politics/story/2022-01-05/by-the-numbers-jan-6-anniversary).

#2 – As reflected in the charges brought by the government against rioters

“Based on the public court documents, below is a snapshot of the investigation as of Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. Complete versions of most of the public court documents used to compile these statistics are available on the Capitol Breach Investigation Resource Page at https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/capitol-breach-cases.”

“Arrests made: More than 725 defendants have been arrested in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia. (This includes those charged in both District and Superior Court).”

“Criminal charges:

  •  225 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, including over 75 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.
  • Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted Jan. 6 at the Capitol including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department. 
  • Approximately 640 defendants have been charged with entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds.
  • Over 75 defendants have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
  • More than 45 defendants have been charged with destruction of government property, and over 30 defendants have been charged with theft of government property.
  • At least 275 defendants have been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.
  • Approximately 40 defendants have been charged with conspiracy, either: (a) conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding, (b) conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement during a civil disorder, (c) conspiracy to injure an officer, or (d) some combination of the three. 

Pleas:

  • Approximately 165 individuals have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction, many of whom will face incarceration at sentencing.
  • Approximately 145 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Twenty have pleaded guilty to felonies.
  • Six of those who have pleaded guilty to felonies have pleaded to charges related to assaults on law enforcement. Four face statutory maximums of 20 years or more in prison as well as potential financial penalties. Two face statutory maximums of eight years in prison as well as potential financial penalties.

Sentencings:

  • Approximately 70 federal defendants have had their cases adjudicated and received sentences for their criminal activity on Jan. 6. Thirty-one have been sentenced to periods of incarceration. Eighteen have been sentenced to a period of home detention, and the other defendants have been sentenced to probation with no term of incarceration.
    Public Assistance:
  • Citizens from around the country have provided invaluable assistance in identifying individuals in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. The FBI continues to seek the public’s help in identifying more than 350 individuals believed to have committed violent acts on the Capitol grounds, including over 250 who assaulted police officers.
  • Additionally, the FBI currently has 16 videos of suspects wanted for violent assaults on federal officers and one video of two suspects wanted for assaults on members of the media on January 6th and is seeking the public’s help to identify them. For images and video of the attackers, please visit https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/capitol-violence. Anyone with tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or visit tips.fbi.gov.

One concern about the Biden government’s approach to holding people accountable for the January 6, 2021, is that the Department of Justice has yet to bring charges against Trump or his inner circle who planned the rally on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 5, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to such criticisms. According to a report on that day by Washington Post journalistsMatt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Garland “vowed to hold all those responsible for the Jan. 6 riot accountable — whether they were at the Capitol or committed other crimes surrounding the day’s events — saying investigators are methodically building more complicated and serious cases and would prosecute people ‘at any level.’ The journalists’ quote him.

“‘The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,’ Garland said Wednesday [Jan. 5], speaking in the Justice Department’s Great Hall in an address that was broadcast live online and by cable news channels. ‘The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.’”

Additionally, according to a report on PBS by Mary Clair Jalonick (AP), “the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection is subpoenaing six people who the panel says were involved in the organization and planning of rallies that aimed to overturn Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election (https://pbs.org/newshour/politics/jan-6-insurrection-panel-subpoenas-6-people-who-helped-plan-trump-rallies). Those issued subpoenas, include, “Robert ‘Bobby’ Peede Jr. and Max Miller, who the committee says met with Trump in his private dining room on Jan. 4; Brian Jack, Trump’s political director at the time; and rally organizers Bryan Lewis, Ed Martin and Kimberly Fletcher.”

#3- As reflected in the physical and mental injuries to the Capitol police

Recent research by New York Times journalists Susan Dominus and Luke Broadwater finds that many of the officers have suffered long-term physical and/or emotional problems as a result of what they experienced, and hundreds have retired or left the force (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/04/magazine/jan-6-capitol-police-officers.html). They report:

“In the year since the siege on the Capitol, about 135 officers on a force of about 1,800 have quit or retired, an increase of 69 percent over the year before. (One officer quit after enduring a string of tragedies: He suffered a stroke shortly after the assault on the Capitol and then contracted the coronavirus twice because of what he viewed as the department’s lax enforcement of mask-wearing protocols.)

“More may soon join them: Papathanasiou, the union chairman, warns that more than 500 additional officers will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

Officers we interviewed about their decision to leave said the failures of Jan. 6 were the most egregious of a series of management crises and errors. If Jan. 6 was a national tragedy, it was also one that the officers who served at the Capitol that day experienced cruelly and intimately in their own bodies, compounding the psychic fallout that has been especially profound in people who believed that their daily work reflected the country’s highest ideals: to protect members of Congress, regardless of party, in order to protect democracy itself.”

“During the turmoil, the growing body of evidence finds that Trump spent over three hours doing nothing to stop the mayhem, which was inspired by his rhetoric and which could have been ended by him… During this time, many people implored him to tell his would-be insurrectionists to cease their violent occupation of the Capitol and leave the building peacefully.”

What is it that gives Trump so much influence over his Base?

He is rich. He is not worth the $10 billion he claimed in his 2015-2016 presidential campaign. David Cay Johnston cites estimates by Bloomberg and Forbes, which run competing indexes of billionaires, put his worth at a few billion….” (The Big Cheat, p. 20). Still, quite rich.

Political scientist Anthony R. Dimaggio posits in his book, Rising Fascism in America, that “many of his supporters saw a model for what Americans aspire to in achieving ‘the good life” – decadent penthouses, regular trips to the golf course, private jets, weekend retreats at Mar-a-Lago. As pre-election polling demonstrated, one of the biggest reasons Republican voters supported his candidacy was because they saw him as a successful businessman.” For them, “Trump represented the possibilities of the American dream, particularly the notion that anything is possible” (p. 67). And that he alone could make the economy work for them as well as for the rich.”

To his supporters, it doesn’t matter how Trump got to be rich – Indeed, Trump has accumulated that few billion or so as a result of his checkered career in real estate, in hosting a popular television program, in an ultimately failed and fraudulent university, and, while president, the beneficiary of a substantial stream of investments and renting of his properties by corrupt politicians and other rich folks from around the world who hoped to win Trump’s favor. On the latter point, author and journalist Casey Michel writes in his book, American Kleptocracy, “…Trump was the first global leader to emerge from one of the key pro-kleptocracy industries – American luxury real estate….” (p. 15). And, more specifically:

“…it’s clear that Trump’s properties in the U.S. alone may have laundered billions of dollars even before he ascended to the White House. According to the most comprehensive available, Trump’s American properties sold over 1,300 units – over one-fifth of Trump’s total available condos – to buyers matching money laundering profiles: anonymously, to shell companies and cash buyers, often purchased in bulk and without ever revealing the identities of the ultimate beneficiaries…. The final bill of these suspect purchases ran to a dumbfounding $1.5 billion – and that’s before adjusting for inflation” (p. 221).

The money continued to flow into Trump properties after he became president. Michel writes: “One study from USA Today, published in the summer of 2017, discovered that… ‘the majority of his company’s real estate sales [went] to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities” (p. 239).

Susan B. Glasser reminds us of Trump’s besmirched  record, writing on December 1, 2020, in the New Yorker magazine (online) that “Donald Trump has survived impeachment, twenty-six sexual-misconduct accusations, and thousands of lawsuits” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). In their book, The Trump Revealed, Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher write: “Over three decades, Trump and his companies filed more than 1,900 lawsuits and were named as defendants in 1,450 others, according to a USA Today analysis (p. 300). David Cay Johnston reports that Trump has been a con artist his entire life. In his book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think (2018), Johnston writes:

“In The Art of the Deal he [Trump] brags about deceptions that enriched him. He has boasted about not paying banks that loaned him billions of dollars. He conned thousands of people desperate to learn what Trump said were the secrets of his success into paying up to $35,000 to attend Trump University. In a promotional video, Trump said his university would provide a better education than the finest business schools with a faculty he personally picked. Lawsuits forced Trump’s testimony and documents that showed that there were no secrets he shared with the ‘students.’ The faculty never met Trump. These professors turned out to be fast-food managers and others with no experience in real estates, the focus of the ‘university.’ Because of the lawsuits, Trump paid back $25 million to the people he conned so the scam would not follow him into the White House” (p. 10).

In his new book, The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family (2021; referred to earlier), Johnston digs into the evidence of how Trump and his family profited during Trump’s presidency. The thrust of Johnston’s book is captured in the following excerpts.

“Throughout his presidency, Trump was dogged by questions about whether he was a tax cheat. In 2018, the New York Times published an exhaustive inside look at how the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, and his siblings engaged along with their father, Fred, in schemes to evade income, gift, and estate taxes, while at the same time jacking up the rent on rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments in Brooklyn and Queens” (p. 12).

“Trump’s older sons have boasted about all the money the Trump Organization has been taking in for years from Russians. Trump spoke admiringly of the Saudis, who paid tens of millions of dollars from Trump’s apartments. Many Russians of dubious character also bought Trump apartments, as Reuters and others have documented….” (p. 49).

While president, Trump told the public that, while president, his sons would be the trustees and run the Trump Organization, with its “more than 500 corporations, partnerships, trusts, and other entities. He said that Don Jr. and Eric were free to tell him whatever they wanted or, though he didn’t mention this, whatever he demanded to know.” The arrangement seems to violate the two emolument clauses in the U.S. Constitution.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the “Domestic Emoluments Clause, “limits the president’s income to what Congress determines before he assumes office.” Article 1, Section 9, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, “provides that ‘no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [in the U.S. government], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state” (p. 65).

He is an effective con man. Anthony R. Dimaggio (cited earlier) writes that“Trump demonstrates traits that suggest intelligence of an unconventional sort,” and puts it as follows.

“He is cunning, manipulative, and highly strategic in his political maneuvering. He served as President of the United States for four years, and [for example] managed to retain the support of nearly half the population, despite doing nearly nothing in response to Covid-19 – the worst pandemic in a century – outside of further intensifying the crisis by claiming that those  taking it seriously were perpetuating a “hoax,’ and falsely promising the virus would quickly disappear, despite his refusal to offer a national plan for dealing with the crisis once it emerged, despite his support for a premature reopening if the country that resulted in millions of additional infections, despite his disastrous herd immunity ‘strategy,’ and his stigmatization of mask-wearing, which normalized contempt for social distancing and contributed to needless mass suffering and death” (p. 48).

Nonetheless, in the last three months of his presidency, “Trump maintained an approval rating among Republicans ranging from 82 to 90 percent,” higher than the ratings at the same point in the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes. Indeed, as Dimaggio again points out, “Trump was a charismatic public speaker and manipulator who disarmed critics with a façade of clumsiness and stupidity that masked the deeper reality of a shrewd manipulator and a savvy, viciously effective political operator” (p. 49).

He has built a massive following on lies and celebrity.  Trump rose to national prominence, with the help of mainstream and right-wing media, funding from the rich and powerful, sycophantic Republicans, and, to repeat, with the skills of a masterful con man. Withal, in the final analysis, his power rests on what has become his BASE.

His mass appeal first came from his claims that Obama, the first black president,  was an illegitimate president because he was not born in the U.S. The “birther” lie. This fed into the white supremacist views of many of his followers. He also garnered a popular following as a result of his NBC television programs, The Apprentice and the Celebrity Apprentice. Johnston writes in The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family,

“They [the NBC programs] earned Trump the cash he needed to pose as a multibillionaire, and more importantly, they made him famous in what he called the ‘real America’ of small towns, farmland, and cities where no one wore suits or designer dresses” (pp. 2-3).

As pointed out earlier, Trump’s political base stretches beyond lower-income households and is occupationally diverse, tilted towar middle- and higher-income groups, and coalesced around white supremacist beliefs and a variety of other right-wing interests in gun deregulation, highly restrictive immigration policy, opposition to abortion and even contraception, white supremacy, Christian nationalism, a nationalistic foreign policy, the allure of a “strong man,” and many who now oppose any government mandates amid the ongoing pandemic.

In addition, there are wide swaths of the corporate community who like his adoption of neoliberal economic policies, including keeping taxes low, minimizing government regulation, dismissing the minimum wage, the absence of an anti-trust policy, while favoring fossil fuel energy policies, big military budgets, disregarding or downplaying the climate crisis, allowing pharmaceutical corporations to set the prices for COVID-19 related vaccines and prescribed drugs generally.

On the last point, Jessica Corbett finds that major corporations have broken their post-election promises not to fund “seditionists” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/01/04/major-corporations-have-broken-promises-and-funded-seditionists-jan-6-reports-reveal). She reports on two recent studies by watchdog groups that “called out companies and trade groups that continued to financially support the 147 congressional Republicans who voted last year to overturn the 2020 presidential election results even after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

(You can see the names of the 147 Republicans and what some of them said in justifying their opposition to the certification process on Jan. 6 in Appendix A of Mark Bowden and Matthew Teaque’s book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It.)

One of the watchdog groups to which Corbett refers it Accountable. US, which “released an interactive report entitled In Bad Company, [focusing] on 20 Fortune 500 companies and 10 industry groups that have contributed over $3.3 million to the eight senators and 139 representatives collectively dubbed the ‘Sedition Caucus’ since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol last year.”

Companies profiled by the group “range from fossil fuel and pharmaceutical giants such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, Merck, and Pfizer, to the shipping companies FedEx and UPS, to six major military contractors: Boeing, General Dynamics, L3Harris Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies.”

Corbett also refers to a report by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) – authored by Angela Li and Areeba Shah. Crew details how corporate donors have “broken promises and funded seditionists” in the aftermath of the Capitol attack.” Key findings from CREW include the following.

“Since the insurrection, 717 corporations and industry groups have donated over $18 million to 143 of the 147 members of Congress who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.”

“Li and Shah found that despite pledging to stop or halt donations to the Sedition Caucus, reviewed companies ‘have contributed a total of $4,785,000 to insurrectionist political groups, including $2,381,250 directly’ to lawmakers’ campaigns and political action committees (PACs).

“Boeing ($346,500), Koch Industries ($308,000), American Crystal Sugar ($285,000), General Dynamics ($233,500), and Valero Energy ($207,500) are the top corporate donors to those who objected to the election and their party committees.”

Trump’s supporters keep pouring money into his pocket

Time magazine journalists Brian Bennett and Chris Wilson document how Trump has “turned January 6 [2021] into a windfall with his big lie (https://time.com/6133251/donald-trump-january-six-anniversary). The article was published on January 6, 2022, the anniversary of the capitol assault. Here’s some of what they report.

“For months, fundraising emails from Trump that claim that the 2020 election was ‘rigged and stolen’ have pointed readers to a bright red button that reads DONATE TO SAVE AMERICA. Trump’s political machine raked in at least $50 million in the six months that followed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, an unusually high figure for a defeated former President during his first year out of office and nearly eight times what Trump raised in outside funding while seeking the GOP nomination in 2015.”

Trump’s influence over his Base, has given him the opportunity to dominate the Republican Party

Republicans in elected office or candidates who have hopes of winning elections must not ever criticize Trump, his policies, or take issue with the Big Lie. They must please Trump or suffer his revenge. In this regard, Trump’s power has grown since the attempted coup of January 6, 2021. Bennett and Wilson (cited in previous section) give the following examples.

“As Trump and his allies have used Jan. 6 to raise money and woo voters, they have also leveraged it to weed out GOP members critical of Trump’s actions that day. After U.S. Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan voted to impeach Trump for trying to overturn the election result and staying silent for hours while his supporters violently laid siege to the Capitol, Trump called him a “RINO” (“Republican in name only”) and endorsed a primary challenger. Trump also endorsed a challenger against Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State, who voted in favor of his second impeachment and said Trump encouraged “would-be assassins” with his remarks at a rally before the attack. (Trump was acquitted by the Senate in the impeachment trial – [by a Republican minority vote])”

“Lawmakers’ reactions to the attack have become a personal loyalty test: at least six Republicans who have criticized the rioters have been targeted for primary challenges by candidates loyal to Trump. Members of Congress who supported the House investigation into the attempted insurrection have been featured in critical ads by pro-Trump groups. ‘Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak,’ Trump said in May of the ‘wayward Republicans’ who voted for the congressional probe to move forward. Trump’s office did not respond to requests for comment.”

“After Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, voted on Oct. 21 in favor of holding former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with the House investigation into Jan. 6, Drain the DC Swamp again went on a spending spree. On Dec. 13, the group dropped at least $14,000 for five different ads on Facebook and Instagram calling Mace ‘anti-Trump’ and ‘a disgrace.’ The ads appeared more than 450,000 times, reaching an audience largely over the age of 55, per the Facebook Ad Library.”

In line with these data, Igor Derysh gives examples of the extremist candidates running in some upcoming 2022 Republican primaries (https://truthout.org/articles/gops-2022-candidates-could-push-the-party-even-further-into-extremism).

Where does the country stand now?

The society appears to be irreconcilably divided, reflecting competing and deeply-historically rooted conceptions of U.S. history as well as a host of current and conflicting cultural values and economic interests.

Reasons to be hopeful

#1 – The majority of Americans don’t believe the big lie

Fortunately, the majority of American have rejected the lies streaming out of the Trump and his co-conspirators. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reports on a recent Associated Press-NORC poll showing [that] “Some 57 percent say former president Donald Trump deserves ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’ of the blame; that number grows to 70 percent when we include respondents who think Trump was moderately to blame.” And: “Even 4 in 10 Republicans say he bears at least a moderate amount of responsibility. It’s still mind-blowing that 60 percent of Republicans say Trump bears little or no responsibility; that number, however, is 11 points lower than it was a year ago” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/05/polling-jan-6-trump-blame).

 Dan Balz, Scott Clement, and Emily Guskin, also find similar results in other recent polls (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/01/post-poll-january-6). They refer to findings from a Washington-Post-University Poll. Here are some examples.

“Overall, 60 percent of Americans say Trump bears either a ‘great deal’ or a ‘good amount’ of responsibility for the insurrection, but 72 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Trump voters say he bears ‘just some’ responsibility or ‘none at all.’”

“…the Post-UMD survey finds that 68 percent of Americans say there is no solid evidence of widespread [voter] fraud [in the 2020 presidential election] but 30 percent say there is.

“Big majorities of Democrats (88 percent) and independents (74 percent) say there is no evidence of such irregularities, but 62 percent of Republicans say there is such evidence. That is almost identical to the percentage of Republicans who agreed with Trump’s claims of voter fraud a week after that Capitol attack, based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll at the time.”

#2 – There are 24 States that have improved access to voting in 2021

(https://democracydocket.com/news/these-24-states-improved-access-to-voting-this-year). This source, The Democracy Docket, reports that the 24 states “took steps to make voting easier, enacting reforms like universal mail voting, expanding access for people with disabilities and banning prison gerrymandering.” The 24 states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware,  Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont Virginia, and Washington.

#3 – There are reasonable reforms being proposed, but it all depends on large Democratic turnouts in 2022

Critics of Trump, from moderates to leftists, argue that, more than anything, there must be education and political mobilization of Democratic voters and their supporters – and encouraged to vote for candidates who stand for meaningful change. When appropriate, some say reach out to Republicans who also see the need for reform and find ways to work with them, though there are few Republicans will to buck Trump. In the final analysis, it all revolves around whether voters will be willing and able to cast their ballots and have them fairly counted in the 2022 and 2024 elections, despite Republican efforts to suppress the votes and to control how votes are counted in swing states, such as, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Nevada. Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague document in great detail how Republicans have worked to change voting rules to favor their party. See their book, The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and The People Who Stopped It.

What reforms? Many urge the need to end the filibuster in the Senate. Replace the Electoral College with a system that chooses presidential candidates on the basis of the popular vote. Get money out of politics at the federal level by supporting public funding of political campaigns or at least have laws that require the public disclosure of political contributions. Pass the voting right bills stalled in the Senate. Encourage people to run for elected office at all levels of the political system.

The following views of the New York Times editorial board reflects the reformist approach (https://nytimes.come/2020/01/01/opinion/january-6-attack-committee.html). Here’s what the Board recommends.

(1) “Republican leaders could help by being honest with their voters and combating the extremists in their midst. Throughout American history, party leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Chase Smith to John McCain, have stood up for the union and democracy first, to their everlasting credit.”

(2) Democrats in the U.S. Senate must end the filibuster at least for voting rights legislation.

(3) “Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.”

(4) Above all, “we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.”

Is it too late?

Journalist Thomas B. Edsall addresses this question by consulting authoritative sources and communicating with experts

(https://nytimes.com/2021/12/15/opinion/republicans-democracy-minority-rule.html).

He opens his column with these words: “Political analysts, scholars and close observers of government are explicitly raising the possibility that the polarized American electoral system has come to the point at which a return to traditional democratic norms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” He then cites authoritative sources that have voiced this concern.

“The endangered state of American politics is the dominant theme of eight articles published by the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, with titles like ‘Polarization and tipping points’ and ‘Inter-individual cooperation mediated by partisanship complicates Madison’s cure for ‘mischiefs of faction.’”

He continues: “The academy is not alone. On Dec. 6, The Atlantic released ‘Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,’ by Barton Gellman, and ‘Are We Doomed? To head off the next insurrection, we’ll need to practice envisioning the worst,’ by George Packer.” And: “On Dec. 10, The Washington Post published “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown.”

In the article he quotes five experts. For example, Edsall quotes Zack Beauchamp, a senior correspondent at Vox: “‘We are experiencing failures on both the elite and mass public level,’ he wrote, as Republican elites “have chosen to normalize the violence committed by their extreme right flank on Jan. 6.”

“The activist anti-democratic Trump wing of the Republican Party, committed to avoiding at nearly any cost a political system dominated by an Election Day majority of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and social and cultural liberals, has adopted an aggressive strategy to preserve the political power of white people, especially heteronormative white Christians.”

The experts also replied to a series of questions posed by Edsall. They refer to a potential vicious cycle moving the political system to a place where “extremist representatives become party leaders and are in a position to “punish moderates in their party by backing more extreme candidates in primaries.” The movement toward extremism can at the same time be facilitated by other parts of the political process, “interest groups, right-wing media, donors.”

Edsall concludes his article by citing an Aug. 3-Sept. 7 CNN survey of 2,119 people that “demonstrates the differing ways Democrats and Republicans are responding to the emerging threats to democracy.” He continues:

“Far higher percentages of Republicans, many of them preoccupied by racial and tribal anxiety, believe “American democracy is under attack” (75 percent agree, 22 percent disagree) than Democrats (46 percent agree, 48 percent disagree).

“Republicans are also somewhat more likely to believe (57-43) than Democrats (49-51) “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election in the United States because their party did not win.”

“This level of anxiety is in and of itself dangerous, all the more so when it masks the true aim of America’s contemporary right-wing movement, the restoration and preservation of white hegemony. It is not beyond imagining that Republicans could be prepared, fueled by a mix of fear and provocation, to push the nation over the brink.”

Concluding thoughts

American democracy hangs on a thread. Trump has significant influence, if not control, over the Republican Party. He has energized Republican operatives and grassroots groups everywhere to engage in efforts to diminish or marginalize their Democratic opponents. The Democrats in the Senate are currently unable to obtain the votes to overcome Republican obstruction. Legislation that would advance voter’s rights and social infrastructure bills, already passed by the House of Representatives, are stalled because two Democratic Senators have, so far, refused to give their support to overcome the filibuster.

If the Senate Democrats fail in these endeavors, and if the economy is not doing well and the pandemic continues, there is a chance that many centrist, independent, and moderate Democratic voters will not vote or even vote for Republican candidates. In such an eventuality, Republicans would win back control of one or both houses of the Congress as well as governorships and other state and local elected positions in 2022, and lay the groundwork for a return of Trump to the White House in 2024.

Richard L. Hasen is the author of several books about elections and democracy. In 2020, he proposed a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to defend and expand voting rights. On January 7, 2022, he published an article in the New York Times titled “No One Is Coming to Save Us From the ‘Dagger at the Throat of America’” (https://nytimes.com/2022/01/07/opinion/trump-democracy-voting-jan-6.html). It’s fitting to end this post with what he concludes in the article.

If the officially announced vote totals [in 2022 and 2024] do not reflect the results of a fair election process, that should lead to nationwide peaceful protests and even general strikes.

One could pessimistically say that the fact that we even need to have this conversation about fair elections and rule of law in the United States in the 21st century is depressing and shocking. One could simply retreat into complacency. Or one could see the threats this country faces as a reason to buck up and prepare for the battle for the soul of American democracy that may well lay ahead. If Republicans have embraced authoritarianism or have refused to confront it, and Democrats in Congress cannot or will not save us, we must save ourselves.”

The right wing’s assault on reproductive rights gains disturbing momentum

Bob Sheak, Dec 23, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In a matter of months from now, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court seems ready to further restrict legal access to abortion or bring an end to such access.

Legal expert Marjorie Cohn points out, “For the first time in U.S. history, the Supreme Court is poised to take away a fundamental right from more than half of the people in the country. The Court’s December 1 oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization [a Mississippi case] confirmed what progressives have feared since former President Donald Trump added three radical right-wingers to the court: The six conservatives on the high court are about to gut the fundamental right to abortion” (https://truthout.org/articles/for-the-first-time-supreme-court-is-poised-to-retract-a-fundamental-right).

Such a decision will have the greatest impact in “red” states where far-right Republicans control the capitols and statehouses. This anticipated court decision is only the most recent attack on the reproductive rights of women. Since the landmark court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, right-wing forces have supported and passed into law a bevy of restrictions designed to limit the right of female teenagers and women to abortion.

Elizabeth Nash refers to documentation of the last point, writing that “a staggering 1,300 restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court protected abortion rights in 1973 in its Roe v. Wade decision…. It’s an astounding number, although many of these laws were blocked in court, most of them are in effect today” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

 In another article, Nash reports on a tally on abortion restrictions through the first 10 months of 2021 (https://guttmacher.org/article/2021/10/first-time-ever-us-states-enacted-more-100-abortion-restrictions-single-year).

“States have enacted 106 abortion restrictions so far in 2021, a year that has been marked by unprecedented threats to U.S. abortion rights and access. Not only is 106 the highest number of restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, but also this year is the first time that Guttmacher’s count of enacted restrictions has hit triple digits. Earlier this year, the number of restrictions had already surpassed the previous record of 89 restrictions set in 2011

Dana Greene Foster offers similar evidence and writes:

“Conservative statehouses have passed countless regulations, keeping abortion legal but rendering it all be inaccessible for many Americans who don’t have the resources to travel great distances to less restrictive states. Forty-three states ban abortions for most women after a certain point in their pregnancy. A third of states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation. And in 2019, at least 17 states introduced legislation that would ban abortion at six weeks into pregnancy or even earlier” (The Turnaway Study, p. 2).

The Outcome?

How all this will play out depends in the final analysis on who controls the levers of power in government, that is, on politics and elections. Currently, the GOP, a largely pro-life party, is working in the states to suppress the vote of opponents, intensifying the gerrymandered arrangements in congressional districts, and changing the electoral rules to enable state legislatures to decide which votes to count or not. David Pepper, among others, documents these unabashed anti-democratic projects in his book, Laboratories of Democracy. The Republicans also benefit from a huge electoral base of support that has been galvanized, not created, by Trump, though it appears slavishly willing to follow his leads.  

Abortion is one of the “cultural” issues that invigorates the radical-right base of Trump and the Republican Party, along with other right-wing constituencies, including those who hold an absolutist position on gun rights, Christian nationalists, white supremacists, build-the-wall anti-immigration proponents, “big lie” fanatics, fascists of various stripes, anti-vaxers, and the tens of millions who have been swayed on such issues by right-wing media disinformation and lies.

Some variation within the Political Parties

At the same time, research from the Pew Research Center indicates that positions on abortion do not track perfectly with political party identification. Jeff Diament of the Center reports that “three-in-ten or more Democrats and Republicans don’t agree with their party on abortion” (https://pewresearch.org/fact-tanks/2020/06/18/three-in-ten-or-more-democrats-and-republicans-dont-agree-with-their-party-on-abortion). However, there is a stark partisan divide. Here’s what the Pew research uncovered.

“Most Republicans and their leaners say abortion should be illegal (62%) in all or most cases, with a larger share saying it should be illegal in most cases (45%) than in all cases (17%). Republicans who live in the Northeast and those who identify as moderate or liberal are less likely than other Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all cases.

“Democrats, for their part, are more unified in support of legal abortion than Republicans are against it, with 82% of Democrats saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time. But Democrats are roughly split on whether it should be legal in all cases (40%) or most cases (42%). Democrats who live in the South, those who are ages 65 and older, and those who identify as conservative or moderate are less likely than other Democrats to say abortion should be legal in all cases.”

The harms of overturning Roe

Withal, if the Supreme Court votes to severely curtail or ban abortion, there will be massive and detrimental effects. Becky Sullivan reports for National Public Radio that 12 states would thenautomatically ban or curtail abortion, including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Additionally, there are nine states which still have abortion bans on the books that were enacted before Roe was decided in 1973 and that would immediately take effect if the Court bans the law.

The potential consequences are immense, according to Sullivan. Abortions in these 21 states would then “be illegal or next to impossible to access,”  affecting “a combined population of more than 135 million people — a major change from today’s environment, where all 50 states have at least one operating abortion clinic” (https://npr.org/2021/12/02/1061015753/abortion-roe-v-wade-trigger-laws-mississippi-jacksons-womens-health-organization).

The organization of this post

To put the abortion access issue into context, I next review background information, including a summary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, evidence on who gets abortions, and evidence on the often-harmful effects of not having access to legal abortions. Following that, I identify the evidence on the escalating assault on abortion access. And finally, in concluding thoughts, I refer to ideas on how abortion access may be kept a lawful option for women (and teenagers), at least in some states.

Background

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Here’s a summary from Wikipedia of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision to legalize abortion as a constitutional right (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade).

“Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973),[1] was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. It struck down many U.S. federal and state abortion laws,[2][3] and fueled an already ongoing national debate in the United States about whether and to what extent abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, what methods the Supreme Court should use in constitutional adjudication, and what the role of religious and moral views in the political sphere should be. Roe v. Wade reshaped American politics, dividing much of the United States into abortion rights and anti-abortion movements, while activating grassroots movements on both sides.

“The decision involved the case of Norma McCorvey—known in her lawsuit under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’—who in 1969 became pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted an abortion, but she lived in Texas, where abortion was illegal except when necessary to save the mother’s life. She was referred to lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who filed a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. federal court against her local district attorneyHenry Wade, alleging that Texas’s abortion laws were unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas heard the case and ruled in her favor. Texas then appealed this ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In January 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision ruling that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a ‘right to privacy’ that protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. But it also ruled that this right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and protecting prenatal life.[4][5] The Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the three trimesters of pregnancy: during the first trimester, governments could not prohibit abortions at all; during the second trimester, governments could require reasonable health regulations; during the third trimester, abortions could be prohibited entirely so long as the laws contained exceptions for cases when they were necessary to save the life or health of the mother.[5] The Court classified the right to choose to have an abortion as ‘fundamental’, which required courts to evaluate challenged abortion laws under the ‘strict scrutiny’ standard, the highest level of judicial review in the United States.[6]

“Roe was criticized by some in the legal community,[7] and some have called the decision a form of judicial activism.[8] The Supreme Court revisited and modified Roe‘s legal rulings in its 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey.[9] In Casey, the Court reaffirmed Roe‘s holding that a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is constitutionally protected, but abandoned Roe‘s trimester framework in favor of a standard based on fetal viability and overruled Roe‘s requirement that government regulations on abortion be reviewed under the strict scrutiny standard.[4][10]

Who gets abortions?

Margot Sanger-KatzClaire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui address this question (https://nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/14/upshot/who-gets-abortions-in-america.html). Here’s how they introduce their report.

“The portrait of abortion in the United States has changed with society. Today, abortions among teenagers are far less frequent, and abortion patients are most likely to already be mothers. Although there’s a lot of debate over gestational cutoffs, nearly half of abortions happen in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and nearly all in the first trimester.

“The typical patient, in addition to having children, is poor; is unmarried and in her late 20s; has some college education; and is very early in pregnancy. But in the reproductive lives of women (and transgender and nonbinary people who can become pregnant) across America, abortion is not uncommon. The latest estimate, from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group that supports abortion rights, found that 25 percent of women will have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years.

“‘There isn’t one monolith demographic who get abortions,’ said Ushma Upadhyay of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘The same people who become pregnant and give birth are the same people who have abortions at different points in their lives.’”

The harmful effects of not having access to abortion

I turn again to Elizabeth Nash, who presents a concise overview of the evidence (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

“A significant body of scientific literature shows that the adverse consequences of withholding abortion care are serious and long-lasting. Forcing someone who wants an abortion to continue a pregnancy requires them, against their wishes, to accept the great risks of pregnancy- and labor-related complications, which include preeclampsia, infections and death. And these risks fall much heavier on some communities than others. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, with dramatic but preventable racial inequities caused by systemic racism and provider bias. Black and Indigenous women’s maternal mortality rates are two to three times higher than the rate for white women and four to five times higher among older age groups.”

Nash continues:

“The risks of serious consequences do not end with a safe delivery. The Turnaway Study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that denying wanted abortion care can have adverse effects on women’s health, safety and economic well-being. For example, among women who had been violently attacked by an intimate partner, being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term tended to delay separation from that partner, leading to ongoing violence. In addition, compared with women who got the abortion they sought, those who did not obtain a wanted abortion had four times greater odds of subsequently living in poverty. They also had three times greater odds of being unemployed and were less likely to be able to have the financial resources for basic needs such as food and housing.”

She additionally makes the point that restrictive policies have the greatest impacts in “hostile states [that] are clustered together, such as [in] the South, the Great Plains and the Midwest,” as well as on “people who are already struggling to get by or who are marginalized from timely, affordable, high-quality health care—such as those with low incomes, people of color, young people, LGBTQ individuals and people in many rural communities. Any further rollback of abortion rights would once again affect these populations disproportionately.”

The escalating assault against the legal access to abortions

#1 – Trump’s impact

On appointments to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary

Elizabeth Nash again sums it up well (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

“The Supreme Court that former president Donald Trump shaped, possibly for decades to come, by appointing conservatives handpicked by abortion rights opponents, is thus poised to deliver a potentially severe blow. Conservative state policy makers clearly feel emboldened by the 6–3 majority of justices opposed to abortion rights and a federal judiciary transformed by Trump’s more than 200 appointments

Playing to the anti-abortion movement

Trump had the chance to bellow support for an anti-abortion position at a March for Life rally in January 2020. Caroline Kelly reports on the event for CNN (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/24/politics/trump-march-for-life/index.html). She writes”

“President Donald Trump on Friday reiterated his support for tighter abortion restrictions, pledging at the annual March for Life rally in Washington that ‘unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.’”

Kelly continues:

“Trump, making history as the first President to attend the event since it began nearly a half-century ago, looked to strengthen his ties to a key coalition of his political base, which he’ll need as he seeks reelection this year. He used his remarks to not only express support for the movement but to paint those supportive of looser abortion laws as radicals, often employing language that mischaracterized the views of most Democrats.


“‘Together we are the voice for the voiceless. When it comes to Democrats — and you know this — you’ve seen what’s happened. Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades and you can even say for centuries,’ Trump said. ‘Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now support taxpayer-funded abortion all the way up until the moment of birth.’”

Curtailing government support for contraception services

Anna North reports on actions taken by Trump to overturn relevant provisions of Obama’s Affordable Care Act dealing with contraception (https://publicintegrity.org/politics/system-failure/the-trump-administrations-war-on-birth-control).

The ACA was supposed to work to ensure “widespread access to a variety of contraceptive methods, including the most reliable, like IUDs and contraceptive implants.” North continues: “And for a while, it looked like it was working. Thanks in part to the mandate that employers offer insurance covering contraception, the use of these methods rose around the U.S., more than quadrupling between 2002 and 2017. Meanwhile, the median out-of-pocket cost for birth control among insured patients fell to $0 after the ACA was passed, with 91.5 percent of IUD recipients getting the device at no charge.”

But then, in Trump’s first year in office, “federal agencies weakened the ACA’s contraceptive mandate, allowing employers to deny birth control coverage if they had a religious or moral objection. Though the rollback was quickly tied up in the courts, dozens of employers signed separate settlements with the administration allowing them to refuse to cover birth control.

“Meanwhile, the Trump administration took aim at other federal programs designed to promote reproductive health and access to birth control, including Title X, which funds services like contraceptive counseling and cervical cancer screenings for low-income Americans. The result was that, when COVID-19 hit, the country’s safety net was already weakened, with shuttered clinics and reduced hours making it harder to provide the low-cost care that Americans — many of them facing layoffs and loss of health insurance — needed more than ever.

“Then, in the midst of the pandemic, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to birth control access: The justices upheld the administration’s rollback of the ACA contraceptive mandate in July, a ruling that could mean the loss of contraceptive coverage for 126,000 American workers.”

Trump’s anti-abortion position has global effects

Michele Goodwin reminds us in her book, Policing the Womb, that within days of entering the White House in 2017, Trump “reinstated the notorious global gag rule.” She continues: “This law disqualifies foreign NGOs from receiving U.S. family planning aid if they engage in any abortion-related activity. Essentially, to qualify for U.S. aid, NGOs that serve desperate, poor women abroad are prohibited from mentioning the word ‘abortion’ even in cases of rape and incest – hence the ‘gag rule.’ Mr. Trump has proposed a similar law affecting women and medical clinics in the United States” (p. 220).

#2 – The anti-abortion movement

With respect to the grassroots anti-abortion movement, Mary Ziegler and Robert L. Tsai point out, “Much like the civil-rights activists of the past, abortion foes have pursued a long-term strategy that stretches far outside the courts. It depends on grassroots political change as well as legal challenges, and on the tidal push-and-pull of between politics and the law at the highest levels” (https://politico.com/news/magazine/2021/06/13/anti-abortion-progressive-roe-v-wade-supreme-court-492506).

The movement has had encouragement from Republican politicians at all levels of government, an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court decades of restrictive state laws. The movement has been encouraged by some parts of the Catholic Church, at times even segments of the medical community. Mary Ziegler offers an authoritative account of such influences in her book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present.

#3 – The role of the rich and powerful in advancing an anti-abortion agenda

The rich and powerful have played a role in fostering opposition to abortion.

Alex Kotch reports for the Center for Media and Democracy on October 4th, 2021, on the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (https://exposedbycmd.org/2021/10/04/alec-leaders-boast-about-anti-abortion-anti-trans-bills).

Kotch writes that ALEC is “a pay-to-play network of conservative state lawmakers and business lobbyists that writes model legislation…” which is distributed to state legislators around the country. Videos obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) document that at the “40th anniversary meeting of the Council for National Policy (CNP) in May, ALEC leaders boasted about their extensive efforts to advance state legislation to severely restrict access to abortion and limit the rights of trans students, as well as voter suppression bills.”

“CNP is a secretive network of far-right Christian political figures and donors that works behind the scenes to influence Washington.” Kotch points out that Mississippi Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn and Utah State Senate President J. Stuart Adams…discussed their anti-abortion efforts. Adams is the current national chairman of ALEC, and Gunn was the most recent chairman. Adams and Gunn are both former ALEC chairs of their states.”

At the CNP gathering, “Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert (R), also an ALEC member, encouraged people to support the pay-to-play organization and described how the group has supported spin-off networks to directly deal with policies that ALEC purports not to work on.” Kotch quotes Rapert.

“‘There’s a lot of great peer legislative organizations, and as you know we formed an entity that is specifically addressing the election integrity issues, the pro-life issues, as well as the other, you might say, hot-button issues,’ said Rapert.

“We created the National Association of Christian Lawmakers [NACL], which is basically ALEC from a Biblical worldview,” he continued. “And so it allows us to deal with those issues that [Nelson] said is not the direct mission [of ALEC].”

“The group adopted a ‘Model State Heartbeat Act’ in July that bans abortion at the time of a detectable ‘fetal heartbeat,’ or roughly six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual cycle.” However, Kotch notes, “The term is ‘medically inaccurate,’ however, because at that stage, an embryo does not have a developed heart, and the ‘beat’ is actually electrical impulses. The sound one hears is generated by the ultrasound machine. The bill also uses the term ‘unborn child’ to refer to an ‘embryo’ beginning at fertilization.”

#4 – The Supreme Court postpones a ruling on an extreme Texas anti-abortion law

Roni Caryn Rabin reports in the New York Times, that the Texas law bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, disregarding “the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to the procedure, making the state the most restrictive in the nation in terms of access to abortion services” (https://nytimes.com/2021/12/09/health/texas-abortion-law-facts.html).

Following action by the Republican-controlled legislature, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the new abortion restriction into law on May 19, 2021. The Texas law, the Texas Heartbeat Act, S.B. 8, bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. This cut off rule is 18 weeks less than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.

After months of suits and counter-suits on the law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5 to 4 decision, on December 8, 2021, that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new Texas abortion ban can proceed, but the Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to remain in effect during that challenge. A final decision by the Court will not be made for months.

Kevin Breuninger and Dan Mangan comment on the Texas law for CNBC (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/10/supreme-court-issues-opinion-on-texas-abortion-law-challenges.html). They point out that the law “has effectively put a stop to most abortions in that state by empowering private citizens to sue, for at least $10,000, anyone who ‘aids or abets’ an abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually around six weeks or so into gestation.” At the same time, women who obtain abortions cannot be sued. The law allows abortions in cases where there are medical emergencies, “but none for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.” It “explicitly excludes state officials from enforcing the law, which was designed to avoid having those officials named as defendants in challenges to the ban before it was ever used against a provider” (avoiding lengthy law suits that would delay implementation of the ban).

“The Supreme Court’s majority opinion Friday was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Donald Trump. Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, in a partial dissent joined by the liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, said the Texas law “has had the effect of denying the exercise of what we have held is a right protected under the Federal Constitution.”

While the law remains in place, Texan women seeking an abortion will have “to travel an average 20 times farther to reach the nearest abortion provider” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Texas, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, offers an analysis of the abortion ban law, including the following statements (https://aclutx.org/en/press-releases/supreme-court-refuses-block-texas-abortion-ban-greenlights-bounty-hunting-scheme).

“SB 8 bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy — before many people even know they’re pregnant — and creates a bounty-hunting scheme that encourages the general public to bring costly and harassing lawsuits against anyone who they believe has violated the ban. Anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider, a health center worker, or any person who helps someone access an abortion after six weeks in Texas will be rewarded with at least $10,000, to be paid by the person sued.  Lawsuits may be filed against a broad range of people, including: a physician who provides an abortion; a person who drives their friend to obtain an abortion; abortion funds providing financial assistance to patients; health center staff; and even a member of the clergy who assists an abortion patient” 

J. David Goodman points out that the Texas law “effectively deputizes ordinary citizens – including those from outside Texas – allowing them to sue those who violate the law. It awards them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful. Patients cannot be sued, but doctors, staff and even a patient’s Uber driver could become a defendant” (https://nytimes.com/2021/12/09/us/texas-abortion-law-unconstitutional.html).

This aspect of the law of the law has been challenged by state district court judge in Texas who ruled on Thursday, Dec. 9, that “the unique enforcement scheme of a restrictive abortion law violated the State Constitution by allowing any private citizen to sue abortion providers or others accused of breaking the law.” The judge, David Peoples, wrote a 48-page opinion arguing that it is unconstitutional to “grant

standing to those who were not injured, denied due process and represented an ‘unlawful delegation of enforcement power to a private person.’” It remains to be seen whether this argument will influence the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, that is, once they finally consider the case. 

In the meantime, the law remains in effect and will make legal abortions virtually impossible to obtain in Texas. Adriana Piñon, policy counsel and senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas responded to the abortion ban as follows: 

“A dark cloud hangs over the U.S. Constitution and the state of Texas today as the Supreme Court once again allowed extremist lawmakers to continue imposing their ideologies onto Texans’ private health care decisions. We are particularly devastated by the implications of this ruling for Black Texans, who account for a shocking 31% of maternal deaths, and the broader fight for reproductive justice in our Black and Brown communities. Despite this heartbreaking ruling, we will continue to fight this unconstitutional law through our work in the courts, at the state and federal legislatures, and most importantly, in our local communities.” 

#5 – A note on Ohio’s reactionary anti-abortion law 

Mychael Schnell documents this point, noting that Ohio lawmakers introduced an abortion bill on November 3, 2021, that goes further than even the Texas law (https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/579944-ohio-lawmakers-introduce-abortion-bill-that-goes-further-than-texas-law).

It “calls for a total ban on abortions in the state, reaching farther than the Texas ‘heartbeat’ law that is currently under examination by the Supreme Court.” There are no exclusions for rape or incest. The bill, the 2363 Act, “seeks to ban all abortions in Ohio and, like the Texas law, empowers ‘any person’ to bring civil action against an individual who performs and abortion or ‘knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.’ Furthermore, Schnell points out, “Individuals who filed such lawsuits will be permitted to ask for $10,000 or more, according to Cleveland.com.”

Ohio Rep. Jena Powell (R) introduced the bill positing that it is about protecting life. She said,  

“The sanctity of human life, born and preborn, must be preserved in Ohio. The 2363 Act is about protecting our fundamental, constitutional right to be born and live. Abortion kills children, scars families, and harms women. We can and must do better.”

There was opposition from Democratic representatives, but they are in the minority, with only 35 representatives out of 100 in the Ohio State House. Schnell reports:

“Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D) slammed the bill, calling it ‘an egregious assault on women, a dangerous attack on healthcare rights and an embarrassment for our state,’ adding that ‘Ohio Republicans want to control women, but we won’t be silent.’” According to Sykes,

“Criminalizing care will disproportionately impact women of color, nonbinary people and those already at a disadvantage in our health and criminal justice system. …Once again, Republicans are showing that the everyday needs of Ohioans are less important than scoring political points, likes and retweets.”

According to Schnell, “Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin, the vice president of government affairs and public advocacy at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said ‘lawmakers and anti-abortion vigilantes have no business making personal medical decisions for their neighbors.

“Ohio has once again proved it is one of the most extreme states for abortion access. This bill goes further than Texas Senate Bill 8, the most extreme abortion ban in the country, and would ban all abortions. It allows anyone — including anti-abortion protesters who have no connection to the patient — to act as paid bounty hunters and take doctors, health centers, and anyone who helps another person access abortion to court and get no less than $10,000. Banning abortion would be catastrophic to communities across Ohio,” she added in a statement.”

#6 – The Supreme Court agrees to hear a Mississippi law severely curtailing if not banning legal abortions

Elizabeth Nash points out that the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments on a Mississippi law—currently blocked from going into effect—that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The news alarmed legal experts and supporters of abortion rights alike, with good reason” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972). Nash continues:

“If eventually supported by the Supreme Court, it would overthrow a ‘central tenet of Roe and subsequent Supreme Court decisions has been that states cannot ban abortion before viability, generally pegged at about 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy. By taking a case that so clearly violates almost 50 years of precedent, the court signaled its willingness to upend long-established constitutional protections for access to abortion. As the legal experts at the Center for Reproductive Rights put it, ‘The court cannot uphold this law in Mississippi without overturning Roe’s core holding.’ And in fact, Mississippi followed up in July [2021] with a brief asking the justices to explicitly overturn that historic decision.”

Fighting back

Exposing the flimsy position advanced by the Court’s majority

Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the advisory board of Veterans for Peace, addresses the issue in an Dec. 3, 2021, article on Truthout

(https://truthout.org/articles/for-the-first-time-supreme-court-is-poised-to-retract-a-fundamental-right).

On the cusp of outlawing the right of a woman to choose abortion

Cohn points out that, in the Mississippi case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court “the Supreme Court is poised to take away a fundamental right from more than half of the people in the country.

“… Justices” Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch appear ready to do just that. And while Chief Justice John Roberts may not be prepared to squarely overturn Roe and Casey, he signaled his readiness to uphold the Mississippi law that outlaws abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, essentially gutting the right of women to choose abortion.”

The substance of the Mississippi case

Cohn continues: “Mississippi passed the Gestational Age Act in 2018. It outlaws nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. The law contains exceptions for medical emergencies and cases of ‘severe fetal abnormality,’ but makes no exception for rape or incest. A federal district court and the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals blocked Mississippi from enforcing the law because it squarely conflicts with Roe and Casey. Mississippi petitioned the Supreme Court for review, and it agreed to hear the case.”

“Although not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court in Roe and Casey grounded the right to abortion in the liberty section of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which,” which Cohn points out, “says states shall not ‘deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’” She elaborates: “In 1973, Roe v. Wade held that abortion was a ‘fundamental right’ for a woman’s ‘life and future’ and states could not ban abortion until the fetus is viable (able to survive outside the womb), which is around 23 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the ‘essential holding’ of Roe in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and said states could only enact restrictions on abortion that do not impose an ‘undue burden’ on the right to a pre-viability abortion.”

“If this court renounces the liberty interest recognized in Roe [v. Wade] and reaffirmed in [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey, it would be an unprecedented contraction of individual rights and a stark departure from principles of stare decisis [duty to follow precedent],” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the Supreme Court.

The façade of neutrality

“The six conservative members of the Supreme Court cloaked their intentions to curtail the right to abortion in neutral-sounding language. But their rationalizations for ending or limiting the right of women to control their own bodies were ‘disingenuous,’” Cohn observes. Cohn considers the rationalizations of the justices for their decision to hear the Mississippi case and how they were disputed in the hearing, as follows.

——————-

“[Justice] Kavanaugh said the Court shouldn’t “pick sides” but instead remain “scrupulously neutral on the question of abortion, neither pro-choice nor pro-life.” He asked Prelogar why the Supreme Court shouldn’t leave the decision on whether and when to allow abortion to Congress, the state legislatures and state supreme courts.” She responded:

“Because the court correctly recognized that this is a fundamental right of women, and the nature of fundamental rights is that it’s not left up to state legislatures to decide whether to honor them or not.”

“Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, agrees, saying that the ‘protection of fundamental rights should not be left to legislatures,’ and that ‘[f]or almost a century the Supreme Court has held that personal ‘liberty’ is safeguarded by the Constitution, leading in time to the constitutional right to privacy and reproductive autonomy.”

“Julie Rikelman, attorney for Jackson Women’s Health Organization (the only remaining clinic that provides abortions in Mississippi), told the Supreme Court, ‘Casey and Roe were correct. For a state to take control of a woman’s body and demand that she go through pregnancy and childbirth with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that brings is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.’”

“He [Kavanaugh] justified his apparent intent to overrule Roe and Casey by listing cases in which the Supreme Court had overruled its prior decisions. They involved racial segregation, voting rights, criminal legal rights, the rights of same-sex couples, etc. Most of the cases resulted in the court ‘recognizing and overturning state control over issues that we said belong to individuals,’ Sonia Sotomayor retorted.”

“[Justice] Barrett callously stated that outlawing abortion wouldn’t harm women because they could simply carry a pregnancy to term and then put the baby up for adoption. She cited ‘safe haven laws’ in which people can anonymously leave their newborn in a safe place. Jackson Women’s Health attorney Rikelman replied, ‘We don’t just focus on the burdens of parenting, and neither did Roe and Casey. Instead, pregnancy itself is unique. It imposes unique physical demands and risks on women and, in fact, has impact on all of their lives, on their ability to care for other children, other family members, on their ability to work.” Rikelman also noted that, ‘It’s 75 times more dangerous to give birth in Mississippi than it is to have a pre-viability abortion.’”

“When [Justice] Gorsuch questioned the workability of the undue burden standard, Rikelman said that ‘the undue burden test is not at issue in this case. That is the test that applies to regulations, not prohibitions. And the state has conceded that this is a prohibition.’”

“Gorsuch asked about applying the undue burden standard before viability. Rikelman replied that undue burden without viability is tantamount to overturning Roe and Casey ‘because the viability line is the central holding of those cases.’”

“[Chief Justice] Roberts tried to couch his position as pro-choice, saying that women in Mississippi could still choose to have an abortion until the 15th week of pregnancy. ‘If you think that the issue is one of choice, that women should have a choice to terminate their pregnancy, that supposes that there is a point at which they’ve had the fair choice, opportunity to choose, and why would 15 weeks be an inappropriate line?’ Roberts asked. ‘Because viability, it seems to me, doesn’t have anything to do with choice. But, if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?’”

“Plaintiff attorney Rickelman responded, ‘Without viability, there will be no stopping point.’ Solicitor General Prelogar warned that ‘immediately states with six-week bans, eight-week bans, 10-week bans, and so on, would seek to enforce those with no continued guidance of what the scope of the liberty interest is going forward.’”

“Roe and Casey are ‘part of the fabric of women’s existence in this country,’ [Justice] Elena Kagan declared. Rikelman said that one in four women have had an abortion.

“‘The right of a woman to choose, the right to control her own body, has been clearly set since Casey and never challenged,’ [Justice] Sotomayor said. ‘You want us to reject that line of viability and adopt something different.’ She noted that 15 justices from differing political backgrounds have affirmed the viability cutoff since 1992.

“It’s 75 times more dangerous to give birth in Mississippi than it is to have a pre-viability abortion.”

“Sotomayor nailed it when she asked Mississippi lawyer Stewart, ‘How is your interest anything but a religious view?’ — referring to the debate over when life begins. [Justice] Alito didn’t pull any punches when he asked Rikelman, ‘The fetus has an interest in having a life, and that doesn’t change, does it, from the point before viability to the point after viability?’ Rikelman said that the viability cutoff ‘makes sense because it focuses on the fetus’s ability to survive separately, which is an appropriate legal line because it’s objectively verifiable and doesn’t delve into philosophical questions about when life begins.’”

“[Justice] Thomas seemed most interested in expanding the criminal liability of women for fetal endangerment to the period before viability.

“[Justice] Stephen Breyer quoted from Casey: ‘To overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to re-examine a watershed decision would subvert the court’s legitimacy beyond any serious question.’ Sotomayor concurred, inquiring,

“Will this institution survive the stench this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?.… If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will the court survive?”

“On September 1, the right-wingers signaled their intention to gut Roe and Casey by allowing Texas’s Senate Bill 8 (which outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy) to go into effect with no briefing, argument or consideration by the lower courts. Only Roberts, mindful of the legitimacy of the Roberts court, voted to halt the Texas law at the preliminary stage. SB 8 remains in effect and it has prevented most abortion-seeking people in Texas from securing abortions.

“If Roe and Casey are overturned, abortion would become illegal or severely restricted in about half the states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Poor people and people of color, who cannot afford to travel to a state where abortion is legal, would be most strongly affected.

“‘There was a big movement for legalizing abortion before the [Roe] decision. I think people forget that,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told The Guardian. ‘We talk about back-alley abortion but [women] were dying.’ Hospitals closed ‘septic abortion’ wards, where many poor and working-class people had died from infection and injury after desperate efforts to end pregnancies.

“If the Supreme Court retracts the right to abortion,” Cohn argues, “other rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution are also in jeopardy, including the rights to contraception, homosexual conduct and same-sex marriage.

“The Supreme Court will issue its decision by the end of June 2022, a little over four months before the midterm elections. A ruling that guts Roe and Casey will likely motivate voters, 75 percent of whom told a Washington Post/ABC News poll that abortion decisions should be ‘left to the woman and her doctor’ and not ‘regulated by law.’”

———————

The Court’s partisanship further revealed

Ruth Marcus writes in the Washington Post that the U.S. Constitution is not “neutral’ on abortion, rather it is a right, a position challenged by the Mississippi and Texas laws (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/07/supreme-court-abortion-rights-constitution).

Marcus points to a partisan inconsistency is the court’s rulings. On one hand,

“They’re happy to second-guess the decisions of elected officials and public health experts about how best to safeguard their communities in the midst of a pandemic when religious institutions claim their rights are being violated. They don’t flinch at saying that the core First Amendment protection for political speech places strict limits on Congress’s ability to limit corporate spending on elections or enact other campaign finance rules.” On the other hand, on the issue of abortion, the “conservative” members of the Court say there is no right or protection for those who want an abortion because it is not mentioned in the Constitution.”

“There are any number of rights,” Marcus notes, “that the court has long found fall within the bounds of constitutional protection even though they are not specifically mentioned in the text. The right to travel. The right of parents to educate their children as they choose. The right to contraception. The right to private sexual conduct. The right to marry a person of another race. The right to marry a person of the same gender.”

All of these rights are justified by “the intentionally broad phrases of the 14th Amendment’s protections against the deprivation of ‘liberty’ without due process of law.”  Marcus adds: “‘The full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific’ guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution,’ Justice John Harlan, no liberal, explained in a 1961 dissent, from an early case involving access to contraception.”

Women lose control over their bodies

The upshot of Marcus’ concerns about the Court’s likely decision to restrict or overturn Roe in coming months based on the presumption that the Constitution is “neutral,” is “another way of saying that women enjoy no protection, no liberty to decide what to do with their own bodies — or, more precisely, only so much protection as the state where they live chose to grant them.” And in 21 or more states, access to abortions would then be greatly restricted or banned. Such an outcome would not be “neutral,” but a decision that favors “conservative” religious beliefs that the alleged interests of the embryo/fetus take precedence over the reproductive decisions of women.”  

Equal Protection is ignored – wealthy women can always obtain an abortion

In a column for the Columbus Dispatch on November 8, 2021, Richard L. Wittenberg makes the following points on how the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution legitimates state protection to the access of abortion (https://dispatch.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2021/11/08/roe-v-wade-should-not-be-overturned/8528456002).

Wittenberg cites the amendment:

 “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

He points out, “The outlawing of abortion rights, which overturning Roe v. Wade would mean, would disproportionately affect the health and lives of women of modest means. Simply stated, such a decision would not be ‘…the equal protection of the laws.’” And adds that access to the abortion option is a public health issue, writing: “Legal abortions are very safe. As Erica Sackin, Director of Communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation stated, ‘Abortion is health care, and it is one of the safest medical procedures there is.’”

Examples of those who are fighting back against the right-wing assault on women’s right to have access to legal abortions and what more must be done

Elizabeth Nash presents cogent examples of what must be done (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

She writes in her June 23, 2021 article for Scientific American that “there are lots of ways to fight back.” She makes the following points.

  • “States supportive of abortion, primarily in the West and the Northeast, must step up to protect and expand abortion rights and access—both for the sake of their own residents and for others who might need to travel across state lines to seek services.”
  • There are currently bills in Congress that, if ever passed, would strengthen access to the abortion option, including “the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would essentially repeal many state-level restrictions and gestational bans.”
  • “Another bill that needs support is the EACH Act; it would repeal the harmful Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in a few rare circumstances, and allow abortion coverage under Medicaid.”
  • “There are also tireless advocates and volunteers, including managers of abortion funds in many states, who already assist abortion patients in paying for and accessing care. No doubt these vital efforts will increase dramatically if more states move to ban all or most abortions.
  • “As federal protections for abortion are being challenged, people may go other routes to get an abortion. Abortion-inducing medication, whether under the management of a clinician in person or via telehealth or self-managed, is a safe and effective method, and many have been able to get such pills through the mail during the COVID pandemic. But here, too, barriers loom large. More state legislatures are looking to join the 19 that already ban abortion via telehealth. And just this year states started to enact bans on sending abortion-inducing pills through the mail.”
  • “Abortion is health care, plain and simple. There were more than 860,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017, and at current rates almost one in four women will have an abortion by age 45. Supporters of abortion rights have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Most of all, we must stay in this fight until every person who needs an abortion is able to get safe, affordable and timely care.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes the need to expand the Supreme Court to Counter ‘Powerful Threat to Our Democracy’

Andrea Germanos reports on December 15, 2021 for Common Dreams on Sen. Warren of Massachusetts’ view that it is “time for everyone to recognize that we can have a functioning democracy or we can have the current extremist-dominated court, but we can’t have both” (https://commondreams.org/news/2-21/12/15/warren-says-expand-supreme-court-counter-powerful-threat-our-democracy). Germanos further reports on what Warren said in making her proposal.

“Making her case for why Congress should exercise its constitutional authority to change the size of the court, Warren said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ‘hijacked’ the court, referring to his 2016 ‘theft’ of the seat President Barack Obama sought to fill with Merrick Garland and his 2020 move ‘breaking his own ‘rule’ barring votes on justices in an election year’ when he rammed through right-wing Justice Amy ConeyBarrett’s confirmation.”

“‘This Republican court-packing has undermined the legitimacy of every action the current court takes,’ she said, and the court itself ‘leans into extremism and partisanship.’” Furthermore, Warren states: “Conservative justices’ recent decisions and their apparent appetite to overturn decades of precedent underscore one important truth. This court’s lawlessness is a powerful threat to our democracy and our country.”

Warren’s proposal, co-sponsored with Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass), is titled Judiciary Act of 2021S.1141, “which would add four seats, creating a 13-justice Supreme Court.” Germanos continues: “The Senate bill has one other co-sponsor—Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota—while a companion measure in the House has 45 co-sponsors.”

Concluding thoughts

America is under a number of internally generated threats to democracy. The anti-abortion movement is one of them. In this case, the threat stems from an anti-abortion movement that has used court challenges, protests, civil disobedience, and violence to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is advanced as well by the Republican Party, Trump, the majority of its Party’s electoral base, segments of the rich and corporate communities, conservative religious groups, and right-wing media.  

In the final analysis, the defense of the reproductive rights of women to obtain a legal abortion faces strong political headwinds. It is one of the highly partisan political battles that will determine whether America’s women will have reasonable control over their reproductive decisions or not. Normally, the outcome would rest on which side can most effectively educate and mobilize supporters and get them to act and vote. However, Republicans are doing their best to create electoral rules that will nullify the votes of the opposition.

So, in the final analysis, the battle over reproductive rights is tied up not only with legal arguments over the Constitution but also with the relative political power of the two major parties.

Fanning the flame of violence as one feature of the right-wing agenda

Bob Sheak, bsheak983@gmail.com

December 4, 2021

Introduction

The acquittal of gun-toting Kyle Rittenhouse on the charges of first-degree intentional homicide for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, for seriously wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 26 is unsurprising. I’ll delve into the Rittenhouse case later in this post. At the same time, there is a larger problem. The acquittal, decided by a largely white jury, is being used to legitimate a right-wing conception of the second amendment, endorsed by the still Trump-dominated Republican Party and its allies and supporters. Much of the action advancing unregulated gun rights is being taken by Republican governors and legislators at the state level.

They want little or no government regulation of gun ownership. Such a position on unregulated gun ownership has relevance for the Rittenhouse case and also how the society broadly deals with guns and violence. It is a position that implicitly endorses a wild-west conception of the law, that is, everyone – at least adults – should have the “freedom” to own as many guns as they want and carry them concealed or openly wherever they want. And, in this viewpoint, it is up to the gun owner to decide whether and when it is appropriate to shoot someone in what they perceive to be self-defense or in the course of a self-conceived citizen’s arrest.

As I’ll document in this post, the acquittal of Rittenhouse undermines the traditional legal meaning of self-defense; gives right-wing groups the opportunity to make heroes of such self-styled shooters, encouraging vigilantism; and increases the chance of threatened and actual violence by people carrying firearms in all public and private places.

It contributes to the creation of a society in which every “adult” can carry a weapon into any one of innumerable public spaces (streets, households, neighborhoods, malls, community centers, athletic events, religious ceremonies, libraries, boards of education meetings, political events, government buildings, the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, etc.) and, as noted, where a gun-toting person can shoot and kill others because of a perceived threat to his/her personal safety or to the public order. These developments intensify the political and ideological polarization in the society and reduce opportunities for dialogue and cooperation. The concept of the common good is alien to this extremist perspective.

Background in the Rittenhouse case

The police shooting of an unarmed black man leads to peaceful demonstrations as well as looting and property destruction

On August 23, 2020, “Jacob Blake was shot seven times by Kenosha Police Officer [Rustin Sheskey] shortly after 5 p.m. on the 2800 block of 40th Street,” according to a report by Liz Snyder in the Kenosha News (https://www.kenoshanews.com/the-jacob-blake-shooting-and-its-aftermath-a-timeline-of-events/article_08d1ea27-b8b7-51a4-b223-8887c48529f2.html).

Snyder continues. “Police were called to the location for a domestic incident. Several witnesses at the scene said Blake was trying to break up a verbal altercation between two women on that Sunday.” A bystander videoed what then transpired. As Blake attempted to get into a parked car, with his three children inside, police officer Rustin Sheskey shot him in the back seven times.

Amazingly, Blake did not die from his wounds. He was transported via Flight For Life Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. His injury paralyzed him from the waist down. Later, on August 28, the “Wisconsin Department of Justice released the names of two other officers who had been present when Jacob Blake was shot: Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek. Neither fired a shot.

The video of Blake being gunned down is seen in Kenosha and around the world. On the evening of Aug. 23, 2020, and over the next couple of nights protests erupt in the center parts of downtown, “with some protests turning destructive and violent, as people break windows, set fires and loot businesses.” In the early hours of Monday, August 23, Gov. Tony Evers activates the National Guard.

Then on Aug. 24, according to Snyder, “A noon rally, followed by a peaceful march to Downtown Kenosha, draws members of the media from all over the world to the spot where Jacob Blake was shot, on 28th Avenue and 40th Street. As the protesters march to the Kenosha County Courthouse, chants of “No justice, no peace” ring out.” Later in the day, “Local officials put out a plea for protesters to remain peaceful. A chaotic scene erupts outside the Kenosha Public Safety Building when Mayor John Antaramian tries to address the crowd via megaphone. Unable to be heard in the crowd, the mayor moves his press conference inside the building.”

The mix of peaceful demonstrations and civil disruption continue on Tuesday August 25.

Enter Kyle Rittenhouse

Wikipedia provides details

(https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosha_unrest_shooting).

The night before the day of the shootings on August 24, 2020, 17-year-old Rittenhouse traveled across the state line from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha to stay at a friend’s house. The friend is Dominick Black, who had previously purchased an AR-15 assault weapon for Rittenhouse, an illegal action according to Wisconsin law. The next day, Aug. 25, Rittenhouse strapped the weapon around his shoulder and drove with Black to the downtown area of Kenosha where the demonstrations and civil disorder were occurring.

(“In November 2020, 19-year-old Dominick Black was charged with two felony counts of intentionally selling a rifle to Rittenhouse, then a minor. Bond was set at $2,500,” as noted by the Wikipedia account.)

Who is Kyle Rittenhouse?

Wikipedia informs readers that “Kyle Rittenhouse was a resident of Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles from Kenosha by road.[17][6][50] Prior to the Kenosha unrest, he had participated in local police cadet programs and expressed support on social media for the Blue Lives Matter movement and law enforcement.[51][6][52]” (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosha_unrest_shooting).

Haley Willis and her colleagues at The New York Times refer to evidence on multiple posts of Rittenhouse’s social media account, where he states his “support for pro-police causes like the Blue Lives Matter movement and Humanize the Badge, a nonprofit that he ran a Facebook fund-raiser for on his 16th birthday.” They add: “His posts also suggest a strong affinity for guns, with videos showing Mr. Rittenhouse taking backyard target practice, posing with guns and assembling a weapon” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/27/us/kyle-rittenhouse-kinosha-shooting-video.html).

In a report published on The Washington Post, MarkBerman and Griff Witte write the following. “Before he took his rifle and drove 20 miles up the road to confront the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., Kyle Rittenhouse seemingly idolized one thing: the police….” filling his social media feeds with posts declaring that ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and photos of himself posing with guns” (https://washingtonpost.com/2020/08/27/kyle-rittenhouse-suspect-ideolized-the-police). The journalists also note that in December 2018, Rittenhouse “started a Facebook fundraiser for Humanizing the Badge, a nonprofit that Rittenhouse said looks to ‘forge stronger relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.’”

According to Berman and Witte, ““Jim McKay, the superintendent for the school district that includes Antioch, said in a statement to the [Washington] Post that Rittenhouse attended Lakes Community High School for a semester in the 2017-18 school year and did not re-enroll afterward. Two unnamed neighbors told the Chicago Sun-Times that he had dropped out of Lakes.”

Outside of school, Berman and Witte continue, “Rittenhouse participated in cadet programs with both the Antioch Fire Department and the Grayslake Police Department, according to department newsletters. The police initiative offers participants from ages 14 to 21 “the opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement” through ride-alongs with officers on patrol and firearms training, according to since-deleted pages on its website.” Recently, “Rittenhouse worked as a part-time lifeguard at a YMCA in Lindenhurst, Ill., the Tribune reported. Man-Yan Lee, a representative for the organization’s metro Chicago branch, said in a statement to The Post that Rittenhouse was furloughed in March.”

Up until the shootings and his arrest, “Rittenhouse lived with his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, a single mom and nurse’s assistant, in a quiet apartment complex beside a park in Antioch, a bedroom community that sits just south of the Wisconsin border.”

August 25: The fateful day

Wikipedia provides a detailed overview of the events of August 25 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosha_unrest_shooting).

“During the day of August 25, peaceful[13][43] protests in Kenosha were followed by chaos where demonstrators, armed civilians and others faced off against one another and the police at night.[13][43] After the city suffered building and vehicle damage the preceding day,[44] social media had drawn locals and outsiders, left-wing activists and right-wing militia into the city streets despite an evening curfew imposed on citizens.[40] Some 250 National Guard members were deployed to the city.[44] Militia that included Boogaloo boys[45][40] and a biker crew carrying ‘hatchets, ball bats, and firearms’ accumulated near two gas stations south of Car Source, an automotive business with three properties (a dealership, a used car lot, and another car lot to the South), which had been badly damaged during the first two nights of unrest.[46] Car Source had suffered $1.5 million in arson damage the previous night.[46][47][40] The shootings took place shortly before midnight along Sheridan Road in Kenosha after protesters were moved out of Civic Center Park following clashes with law enforcement.[48] Police in armored vehicles drove protesters south away from the courthouse and Civic Center Park.[49]

Rittenhouse amid the turmoil  

“In the hours leading up to the shooting,” according to the Wikipedia account, “Rittenhouse appeared in multiple videos taken by protesters and bystanders and was interviewed twice: first by a live streamer at the car dealership where he and a number of other armed men had stationed themselves, second by Richie McGinniss, a reporter for The Daily Caller.[13] Rittenhouse was seen talking with police officers,[13][61] and offering medical aid to those who were injured.[13] When McGinniss asked Rittenhouse why he was at the car dealership, he responded: “So, people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business. Part of my job is also to help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle, because I have to protect myself, obviously. I also have my med kit.” At some point, Rittenhouse left the dealership, was prevented by police from returning,[13] and then headed to the Car Source lot farthest to the South.[40]

Haley Willis and her colleagues at The New York Times compiled background evidence on Rittenhouse and tracked him in the fatal Kenosha shooting. They published an initial version of their evidence in August 27, 2020 and updated on November 16, 2021 (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/27/us/kyle-rittenhouse-kenosha-shotting-video.html). They report, “About 15 minutes before the first shooting, police officers drive past Mr. Rittenhouse, and the other armed civilians who claim to be protecting the dealership, and offer water out of appreciation.” Then, “Mr. Rittenhouse walks up to a police vehicle carrying his rifle and talks with the officers.” Rittenhouse “eventually leaves the dealership and is barred by the police from returning.

Berman and Witte report that at one point the police welcomed the armed men, as they “thanked them for being in the city — despite the fact that they were violating Kenosha’s curfew — and passed out water bottles in gratitude.” The police are also reported to have said, “‘We appreciate you guys,’ one officer tells the men in a live stream video published online. ‘We really do’”

According to Berman and Witte, Rittenhouse spoke to reporters and showed off his medical kit and said he was guarding private property.” “Six minutes later footage shows Mr. Rittenhouse being chased by an unknown group of people into the parking lot of another dealership several blocks away.” These were just moments before the first of three shootings.

The shootings

In one of her articles on the Rittenhouse case, Julie Bosman, the Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, gives us a “timeline” of the events before and after Rittenhouse’ deadly actions

(https://nytimes.com/article/kyle-rittenhouse-shooting-timeline.html). Here are some examples of what she reports.

“By late evening [of August 25], most of the demonstrators had left the area. But dozens of armed protesters and other members of the crowd remained on Sheridan Road, arguing, threatening and shoving each other and occasionally setting fires in garbage cans. Mr. Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois, was walking in the area holding a military-style semiautomatic rifle, the AR-15.”

Bosman continues: “At one point, he was chased into a used car lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who threw a plastic bag at Mr. Rittenhouse. Mr. Rittenhouse fatally shot Mr. Rosenbaum and ran away, in the direction of the armored vehicles where police officers and National Guardsmen were stationed. Several members of the crowd pursued Mr. Rittenhouse and he shot two of them, killing Anthony Huber, 26, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, who was 26 at the time.”

Wikipedia provides details on these events (https://en/wikipedia.org//wiki/Kenosha-unrest-shooting).

“Video footage showed Rittenhouse being pursued across a parking lot by a group of people.[67] [13] Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag containing socks, underwear, and deodorant at Rittenhouse.[10][17][68][63] A bystander named Joshua Ziminski fired a shot into the air,[40] and then Rittenhouse stopped running and turned towards the sound of the shot.[13] Rittenhouse testified at trial that prior to being chased by Rosenbaum, he heard another man tell Rosenbaum to ‘get him and kill him,’ but he also knew that Rosenbaum was unarmed. Rittenhouse testified that he aimed his gun at Rosenbaum to deter him from pursuing him further.[64]

“Witnesses for the prosecution testified at trial that Rosenbaum engaged Rittenhouse and tried to take his rifle from him.[14][16][19][69] At 11:48 pm, Rittenhouse then fired four rounds at Rosenbaum, hitting his groin, back and left hand. The bullets perforated Rosenbaum’s heart, aorta, pulmonary artery and right lung, fractured his pelvis, and caused minor wounds to his left thigh and forehead.[70][71] McGinniss [the reporter for The Daily Caller] began administering first aid to Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse stood over McGinniss for half of a minute before fleeing,[17] and was heard saying “I just killed somebody” on his cell phone to his friend Dominick Black as he sprinted out of the parking lot where he had shot Rosenbaum.”

Haley Willis, et. al., report that Rittenhouse walked toward the police vehicles, while bystanders “call out to the officers that he had just shot people,” but the “police drive by him without stopping.”

According to Wikipedia, “Protesters were heard on two different videos yelling “Beat him up!”, “Hey he shot him!” and “Get him! Get that dude!”[10] One individual struck Rittenhouse, knocking off his cap,[75] shortly after which Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground.[49] Others shouted “What’d he do?”, “Just shot someone!” and “Get his ass!”[10] While he was on the ground, one of the men in pursuit jump kicked Rittenhouse who fired twice but missed the man.[17][76]

“Another protester, Anthony Huber, hit Rittenhouse’s left shoulder with a skateboard as the pair struggled for control of the gun.[10][19][77] As Huber was pulling on the rifle, Rittenhouse fired once, hitting Huber in the chest, perforating his heart and right lung, causing his rapid death.[10][78]

Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot and wounded during the fateful events, “was filming the protest as a legal observer for the American Civil Liberties Union on a Facebook livestream. Shortly before midnight he said he heard gunshots to the south and observed Rittenhouse running in his direction[73] on Sheridan Road.[74] Grosskreutz said he ran alongside Rittenhouse and asked ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and ‘You shoot somebody?’”[73] In his testimony, Grosskreutz said “he believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter.[79][80]” Grosskreutz had an expired concealed carry permit for a handgun and was carrying a Glock pistol.[79] He approached Rittenhouse, who was on the ground, but stopped and put his hands up after Huber was shot. Grosskreutz then pointed his handgun and advanced on Rittenhouse, who shot Grosskreutz in the arm, severing most of his right biceps muscle.[19][81][82][20]

Rittenhouse turns himself in

In an article for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bruce Vielmetti and Christopher Kuhagen report that after the shootings and after the police ignored what had happened, Rittenhouse met up with his friend Dominick Black, who drives him back to his home in Antioch, Illinois (https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2021/10/28/timeline-kyle-rittenhouse-case-in-kenosha-wisconsin-after-protests-jacob-blake-police-shootings-8437851002).

“His rifle was in Black’s trunk, along with Black’s own rifle,” the journalists write. Joined by his mother, he surrendered to the Antioch police” about an hour after the shootings in Kenosha. This is on the morning of August 26. Black had purchased the firearm for Rittenhouse in May at a hardware store in northern Wisconsin and kept it at Black’s stepfather’s house. Black turned over both weapons to the police.”

Rittenhouse turned himself in to police in his home town of Antioch, Illinois about an hour after the shootings in Kenosha, that is, on the morning of August 26. He will spend the next two months in the juvenile detention center in Vernon Hills, Illinois, based on the allegations that he had killed two people and wounded another. On October 30, 2020, he is extradited to Kenosha.

 The charges

Ray Sanchez and Brad Parks describe the 5 charges the 12 jurors in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial were to consider (https:///cnn.com/2021/11/14/us/kyle-rittenhouse-jury-deliberations-charges/index.html). Here are the three charges regarding the three persons Rittenhouse shot.

One charge is for first-degree reckless homicide and use of a dangerous weapon and states that Rittenhouse “recklessly caused the death of Rosenbaum under circumstances that showed utter disregard for human life.” Rittenhouse would testify that “he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Rosenbaum after the man threw a plastic bag at him and chased him.” He testified that he knew that Rosenbaum was unarmed but considered him dangerous and that he might try to take his weapon. Still, he said “he pointed his rifle at Rosenbaum in an attempt to deter him and acknowledged it was dangerous.”

Rittenhouse testified: “If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people.”

Mark Eiglarsh, Rittenhouse’s criminal defense attorney, commented that putting Rittenhouse on the stand as “a game changer.” CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson said. “Number one, you humanize him… More important, number two, he explained his uses of force.” The jury would find him “not guilty” on this charge, perhaps because they believed Rittenhouse’s account that he feared for his own life in the encounter with Rosenbaum and that he acted in self-defense.

With respect to the killing of Huber, the charge was “first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon.” This charge “states Rittenhouse caused the death of Huber, with intent to kill him. It’s the most serious charge he faces, with a mandatory life sentence. Huber swung his skateboard at Rittenhouse after Rosenbaum was fatally shot.”

Finally, Rittenhouse was charged with “attempted first-degree intentional homicide, use of a weapon” in the case of Grosskreutz. Sanchez and Parks describe the situation. “After shooting Huber, Rittenhouse testified, he saw Grosskreutz lunge at him and point a pistol at his head. Rittenhouse shot him, he testified. Grosskreutz was wounded.” In testimony before the court, Grosskreutz said “he and a crowd followed Rittenhouse, who had just fatally shot another man.” They continue: “Rittenhouse fell to the ground, fired twice at an unknown person and then fatally shot Huber.” And: “Grosskreutz testified he pulled out his own firearm because he believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter,” and he witnessed Rittenhouse “reracking” his weapon, “a motion that loads it for gunfire.”

Detention and release on $2 million bail

Will Sommer, Zachary Petrizzo, and Justin Baragona report on another aspect of the story, that, after two months, Rittenhouse was released from jail on $2 million bail

(https://thedailybeast.com/kyle-rittenhouse-reps-lawyers-in-wood-and-john-pierce-as-they-feud-over-his-dollar2m-bail).

They report, “After Kyle Rittenhouse’s bail was set at $2 million in November 2020, conservative celebrities and others raised the cash to keep him out of jail.”

“The money was initially raised after Rittenhouse’s bail was set at a staggering $2 million in November 2020, following a ruling from a court official that Rittenhouse’s hefty potential sentence and potential supporters meant he could become a flight risk.” Then a nonprofit created by Lin Wood, a controversial defamation lawyer and QAnon conspiracy theorist, “swung into action to raise enough money to get Rittenhouse out of jail ahead of his trial.” He set up The Fight Back Foundation and with assistance of a former Rittenhouse attorney, John Pierce, they together raised the bail money. Pierce holds the receipt for the bail. They hoped to make a profit off their promotion of a rising right-wing hero. There is now a controversy involving Pierce, Wood, and Rittenhouse’s mother about who the recipient of the bail money should be.

Judge Schroeder’s rulings

“At a hearing on September 17, 2021,” according to Wikipedia, “Schroeder denied prosecutors’ requests to admit as evidence Rittenhouse’s outing with Proud Boys members and a previous fight he was involved in, finding that the incidents were too dissimilar to be used as evidence of Rittenhouse’s mindset during the shootings.[115][116] On October 25, Schroeder defined what testimony would or would not be admissible by both the defense and the prosecution.[117] Schroeder ordered that the men shot by Rittenhouse cannot be referred to as victims but can be described as arsonists or looters if the defense is able to establish evidence they were engaged in those activities that night.[118][119] Legal experts weighed in on the decision saying that the term “victim” can appear prejudicial in a court of law, heavily influencing a jury by presupposing which people have been wronged.[119]

Bruce Vielmetti and Christopher Kuhagen also report on judge Schroeder’s rulings (https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/crime/2021/10/28/timeline-kyle-rittenhouse-case-in-kenosha-wisconsin-after-protests-jacob-blake-police-shootings-8437851002_).

They write: “The judge in the case denied prosecutors’ requests to use so-called ‘other acts’ evidence they argue shows the teen’s inclination to act like a vigilante, and would reveal his state of mind.” And: “Schroeder also denied more prosecution motions at the last scheduled hearing before the trail. The prosecution sought to block the defense from introducing evidence that, earlier in the night of the shooting, a law enforcement officer had told Rittenhouse and other armed men who were not being moved out of the area under the curfew, ‘We appreciate you guys, we really do.’”

During the trial, Judge Schroeder dismissed the illegal weapon carrying charge brought by the prosecution. Daniel Funke notes, “Prosecutors argued that allowing an exception for hunting-style weapons would effectively eliminate the prohibition on minors carrying weapons. But in this instance, Schroeder dismissed the charge, saying he had a ‘big problem’ with the state statute (https://politifact.com/factcheck/2020/aug/28/facebook-posts/did-kyle-rittenhouse-break-law-carrying-assault-st).

Here is what a fact check of the evidence by Funke at Politifact, found that disputes Schroeder’s decision.

  • “In Wisconsin, it is legal for adults to carry firearms in public without a license if the gun is visible. However, to open carry, you must be at least 18 years old.”
  • “Wisconsin law stipulates that ‘any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.’ On Aug. 27, prosecutors charged Rittenhouse [among other charges] with a misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18, according to court records.”
  • “John Monroe, an attorney who specializes in gun rights, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there’s an exception for rifles and shotguns, which is aimed at letting children ages 16 and 17 hunt, that could apply. But Rittenhouse wasn’t in Kenosha to hunt.”

The Trial

“Trial arguments and testimonies took place between November 2 and 15, 2021, in Kenosha County Courthouse, according to Wikipedia.

“After opening arguments, jurors were shown multiple video recordings of the events. Video footage recorded shortly before the shooting showed Rosenbaum confronting the armed men, after one of them pointed a gun at him, and shouting ‘Shoot me, nigger!’, before several protesters rushed to calm him down.[18][120] Two witnesses testified having seen Rosenbaum behave violently and yell before approaching Rittenhouse and trying to take the teenager’s rifle. A former marine testified that Rosenbaum had taunted him and other armed men before the shootings; he also said that he did not consider Rosenbaum a threat.[121] A witness who said he had spoken with Rittenhouse after the shooting testified that Rittenhouse was nervous, pale, and sweating, repeatedly saying “I just shot someone.”[121] Three more witnesses, including a Kenosha police officer, testified regarding the claim that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense. The prosecution questioned how Rittenhouse would feel threatened while holding a rifle, and described him as an armed threat.[122]

“Grosskreutz testified that when he approached Rittenhouse and put his hands in the air, he believed he saw Rittenhouse re-rack his rifle,” which to Grosskreutz “meant that [Rittenhouse] pulled the trigger while [Grosskreutz’] hands were in the air, but the gun didn’t fire.” Grosskreutz then assumed that Rittenhouse “wasn’t accepting [Grosskreutz’] surrender”[123] At this point, Grosskreutz decided to “close the distance” to Rittenhouse and to try “non-lethal” methods of either “wrestling the gun” or “detaining” Rittenhouse. He further testified that he was ‘trying to preserve [his] own life’ but ‘was never trying to kill’ Rittenhouse’”[7] He then  “moved closer to Rittenhouse, unintentionally pointing his handgun at Rittenhouse, after which Rittenhouse shot him.”[20]

The Acquittal

The jury began deliberating on November 16 and, after 25 hours over four days reached a unanimous not-guilty verdict on all charges on November 19.

Some effects of the Rittenhouse case

The further perversion and use of “self-defense”

Ronald Sullivan is Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He challenges the contention that Rittenhouse killed two people and wounded a third person in self defense, as the concept is known traditionally (https://counterpunch.org/2021/11/22/rittenhouse-verdict-flies-in-the-face-of-legal-standards-for-self-defense).

“The Wisconsin jury believed Rittenhouse’s claims that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense after he drove about 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois – picking up an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha – in what he claimed was an effort to protect property during violent protests.” In delivering the verdict, the “jury decided that Rittenhouse’s conduct was justified, even though the prosecution argued that he provoked the violent encounter and, therefore, should not be able to find refuge in the self-defense doctrine.” Prosecutor Thomas Binger made this point in his closing argument: “When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”

Generally, Sullivan points out, “The law of self-defense holds that a person who is not the aggressor is justified in using deadly force against an adversary when he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. This is the standard that every state uses to define self-defense.” Sullivan argues that there are five elements of self defense. The defense attorneys were able to stretch the meaning of the law enough so that the legal meaning of self-defense was replaced in the jury’s deliberations by the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“First, the use of force must be proportionate to the force employed by the aggressor. If the aggressor lightly punches the victim in the arm, for example, the victim cannot use deadly force in response. It’s not proportional.

“Second, the use of self-defense is limited to imminent harm. The threat by the aggressor must be immediate. For instance, a person who is assaulted cannot leave the scene, plan revenge later and conduct vigilante justice by killing the initial aggressor.

“Third, the person’s assessment of whether he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury must be reasonable, meaning that a supposed ‘reasonable person’ would consider the threat to be sufficiently dangerous to put him in fear of death or serious bodily injury. A person’s own subjective view of this fear is not enough to satisfy the standard for self-defense.

“Fourth, the law does not permit a first aggressor to benefit from a self-defense justification. Only those with ‘clean hands’ can benefit from this justification and avoid criminal liability.

“Finally, a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as it can be done safely. This reaffirms the law’s belief in the sanctity of human life and ensures that deadly force is an option of last resort.”

In the end, despite the letter of the law, “The prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse was not reasonably in fear for his safety.” The fourth element appears particularly relevant. Rittenhouse was “a first aggressor” by coming armed to the scene and illegally armed at that. He fits the definition of a vigilante.

The making of this “hero” glorifies vigilante violence

Meridith McGraw delves into how the Right has been lionizing Rittenhouse as a hero (https://politico.com/news/2021/11/19/the-lionization-of-kyle-rittenhouse-by-the-right-523054). She writes: “A wide swath of conservatives had turned his case into an example of a social justice system run amok and Rittenhouse himself into an avatar of Second Amendment virtuosity. They treated the trial outcome as vindication, perhaps divine.” She continues.

“Since Rittenhouse’s arrest, legal defense funds have been formed in his name, right-wing commentators have blasted media coverage for allegedly mishandling facts of the case, memes depicting Rittenhouse as a hero — or even Captain America — have cropped up on Twitter, and T-shirts have been made with the silhouette of Rittenhouse shooting his gun with the words, ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ and ‘Free Kyle.’ Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz offered Rittenhouse an internship in Congress if acquitted.”

McGraw cites Republican strategist Gregg Keller who said he could see a future in which Rittenhouse becomes a featured speaker at the conservative confabs where activists congregate…. I think there will be every effort made to turn him into conservative hero.”

An Economist/YouGov poll cited by McGraw found that that Rittenhouse is become a part of the country’s political polarization, with 76 percent of Democrats believing Rittenhouse should have been found guilty of homicide, while 65 percent Republicans did not. “Fox News commentators like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have dedicated nightly monologues to blasting media coverage of the Rittenhouse trial and defending the teen.”

A role model?

In an article for The Atlantic, David French adds the following observations (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/11/kyle-rittenhouse-right-self-defense-role-model/620715). “The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”

 George Chidi at the Intercept voices similar concerns (https://theintercept.com/2021/11/19/kyle-rittenhous-acquitted-trial-ahmaud-arbery). “Here’s the argument that the jury couldn’t hear: In exonerating Rittenhouse, the jury has given license to every violent extremist in America to arm themselves and look for trouble amid their political opponents, wherever they might be.” He continues: “A body count begins today with this verdict. Every time a Proud Boy or a neo-Nazi opens fire at a Black Lives Matter rally or its equivalent in the future, they will have Rittenhouse’s defense on their lips.

The Washington Post Editorial Board concludes an editorial on Rittenhouse’s acquittal with the following thoughts.

“The worst outcome here would be for other hapless young men to think it is okay for them also to strap on weapons and play vigilante. Mr. Rittenhouse is innocent in the eyes of the law, but the fact remains: Had he not gone to Kenosha, the two people he killed would be alive today. And the ease with which, at the age of 17, he could get his hands on what amounts to a weapon of war underscores how ludicrous and lax are the gun laws in this country” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/11/19/kyle-rittenhouse-verdict-editorial).

What did Rittenhouse accomplish?

Ronald Sullivan offers an answer. “He didn’t impose order. He didn’t stop a riot. He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man” (https://counterpunch.org/2021/11/22/rittenhouse-verdict-flies-in-the-face-of-legal-standards-for-self-defense).

Buttresses the right-wing endorsement of unregulated gun ownership

We live in a society in which gun ownership has almost sacred meaning. For decades since the early 1970s, opponents of gun regulation, most prominently the National Rifle Association (NRA), have used their political influence to foster a one-sided interpretation of the Second Amendment to keep the federal government and many states and local governments from adequately regulating access to guns (gun ownership) by private citizens.

On this point, Thomas Gabor, who has studied gun violence and policy for over 30 years in the U.S. and other countries, captures the uncompromising position of the NRA and its considerable allies as follows: “…those viewing gun ownership as an inalienable right often see this right as an absolute and will yield little ground regardless of the annual death toll or other evidence pointing to the harm produced by widespread gun ownership” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 263). New York Times reporter Greg Weiner illustrates this retrograde viewpoint, reporting on a speech given by Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2018. Here’s some of what Weiner reported.

“According to this conception, rights are zones of personal autonomy where the individual owes no explanation and the community has no jurisdiction. This manner of thinking about rights is a serious barrier to reasonable regulations of firearms. The N.R.A. ritually claims the mantle of the Constitution, but the American founders who framed it had a far richer view in which individual rights were subject to considerations of the common good.” (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/wayne-lapierres-unconstitutionalism.html?_r=0). For a recent summary of the Supreme Court’s views on the Second Amendment, go to: https://law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment).

Gabor maintains that a reasonable position on gun rights is that they must be balanced with public safety concerns. He states his position, along with other reasons, writing that “[g]un ownership can be a right while every effort is made to ensure that those who pose a risk to public safety cannot easily obtain them” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 32).

U.S. leads in gun ownership

But there is little balance on gun ownership in the U.S. One glaring example is that there are more firearms in the hands of private persons in the U.S. than in any other country. CNN reporters Kara Fox, Krystina Shveda, Natalie Croker and Marco Chacon cite evidence from the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS) and other sources

(https://cnn.com/2021/11/26/world/us-gun-culture-world-comparison-intl-cmd/index.html).

They report that “[t]here are 120 guns for every 100 Americans” and that

SAS researchers estimate that Americans own 393 million of the 857 million civilian guns available, which is around 46% of the world’s civilian gun cache.” The CNN journalists also refer to an October 2020 Gallup survey which found that about “44% of US adults live in a household with a gun, and about one-third own one personally.” The U.S. leads the world in gun-related violence, homicides, and suicides.

The NRA is hardly alone.

The Republican Party favors unregulated gun ownership laws

Bob Ortega pens an article for CNN on how Republican fear of unlikely federal gun-control measures is leading to raft of state laws

(https://cnn.com/2021/11/05/politics/gun-control-fears-state-second-amendment-laws-invs/index.html).

He reports, as an example, that Brandon Steele, a second-term Republican in West Virginia’s House, has “worked hard this year to get his colleagues to pass his ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act.’ It seeks to bar state or local police from enforcing new federal gun restrictions the Biden administration might adopt.” He is doing this despite the fact that he “himself concedes he doesn’t see significant new federal restrictions getting passed anytime soon.” Indeed, as of December 2021, the Biden administration has not gotten anywhere in pushing for firearms regulation.

All the while, gun-rights groups and politicians across the country are “ginning up fears that Biden wants to, as Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz put it, ‘erase the Second Amendment,’ and come to people’s homes and take away their guns.” Ortega continues:

“GOP lawmakers in at least 17 states have introduced bills this year taking aim at possible federal gun restrictions, a CNN review has found. Nine of those states signed new laws that take a page from the immigration sanctuary movement (which limited state and local police from helping with federal immigration enforcement), by barring local and state police agencies from helping enforce any new federal gun laws. And two states, Missouri and Arizona, enacted measures that conflict with existing federal gun laws in ways that prosecutors tell CNN already are making it harder, or risk making it harder, to investigate gun crimes.”

According to Alexandra Filindra, a political science professor at University of Illinois, Chicago, who studies gun politics, disinformation and social media, this narrative is part of an ideological system, [and believe] that the other side — in this case, the Democrats — are devious and intent on taking political rights away and imposing a socialistic tyranny.”

Ortega gives the following examples. Top of FormBottom of FormLaws being considered in Missouri and Arizona “have the potential to undermine present-day law enforcement investigations. Missouri has already adopted its version of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” in June. The law “seeks to nullify any federal gun laws that tax guns, ammunition or accessories; that register or track firearms or firearms ownership; or that would confiscate or forbid the ownership, use, or transfer of guns by ‘law-abiding citizens.’ It says no state or local officers or officials ‘can have authority to enforce or attempt to enforce’ such laws.” The Missouri law also lets “residents sue, for up to $50,000, local or state police who enforce federal gun laws that fall afoul of the act.”

It remains in a legal limbo for the time being. The city of St. Louis filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law shortly after it was passed. The Department of Justice supported that effort, arguing that under the US “Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the State of Missouri has no power to nullify federal laws.”

Regarding Arizona, the state’s “Second Amendment Sanctuary” act, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in May, applies to current federal firearms laws. It orders state and local police agencies not to enforce or cooperate with any federal measures that are ‘inconsistent with any law of this state regarding the regulation of firearms.’”

States can’t simply claim to nullify federal firearms laws that go farther than state laws, said Jonathan Lowy, chief legal counsel of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. If they think a law is unconstitutional, they can challenge it in court, he said. “That’s the way you do it: You challenge laws. You don’t say, ‘I’m not going to follow federal law.'”

However, Ortega points out, “legal experts across the spectrum say that while provisions in Missouri and Arizona’s laws appear to go too far, other recent acts, such as West Virginia’s ‘Second Amendment Preservation and Anti-Federal Commandeering Act,’ are likely to survive legal challenges. Those measures rely on what’s known as the “anti-commandeering” doctrine, which holds that the federal government can’t make state or local authorities enforce federal regulations on its behalf.”

Ortega quotes Eric Ruben, an assistant professor of law at Southern Methodist University and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive policy think tank, who told him, “It’s perfectly constitutional for state officials to opt not to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement or federal gun enforcement.”

The trend is ominous.

Filindra, the political scientist cited by Ortega, told CNN that “the gun-rights narrative has been shifting, from a focus on using guns for self or home protection, to ‘the idea that citizens have a right to arms as a check on government, and that without that, the franchise is insecure … if the voting box is insufficient to guarantee our rights, we have the ammo box.’ In this narrative, she said, ‘threats to gun rights are existential threats to democracy,” or an authoritarian, autocratic perversion of democracy.

The Republican Party and violence

Paul Waldman reports on this connection (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/11/12/republican-party-violence-problem).

Waldman gives examples of events and controversies in which there “is the belief that liberals are so wicked that violence and the threat of violence are reasonable responses to the possibility of them getting their way. Right along with that belief is a fantasy, that of a man (almost always a man) who rather than being an ordinary schlub at the mercy of a world in which he has no power is actually bursting with testosterone and potency, someone who can and perhaps should become a killing machine.” Here are Waldman’s examples.

  • “In new audio released by Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Donald Trump is asked about his supporters chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ on Jan. 6 as they rampaged through the Capitol in search of the vice president. Trump was unconcerned, both because he thought Pence was ‘well-protected’ and because the protesters were justified in their rage: ‘It’s common sense’ that Pence should have attempted to overturn the results of the election so Trump could remain president, he said, so the rioters’ pursuit of Pence was understandable.
  • “And of course, they were looking for Pence because Trump himself told them that the vice president should be the focus of their anger: As he watched rioters break into the Capitol on television, Trump tweeted that ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.’ Ever since, Trump has tried to recast that assault not as an attack on American democracy but as a legitimate response to him losing the election.”
  • “In other news, members of the House are debating what to do about Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who recently tweeted an animated video in which he is depicted killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Gosar’s defense is that the video was merely a symbolic representation ‘of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies.’”
  • “And if you’re a Republican who does so much as vote for a bipartisan bill to bring infrastructure spending to your district, you can expect death threats. The quickest way for Republican candidates to demonstrate their bona fides is by shooting guns in an ad.”
  • “That’s the story of the Jan. 6 rioters, who believed they could break down doors and smash windows and the American system of government would bend to their will.”
  • “It’s Rittenhouse’s story, too: When you go to a protest with a rifle, you’ve cast yourself as a potential killer in a righteous cause, and a killer was what he became. He’s now being cheered on by all those who stockpile weapons and say our country is headed for a civil war.”
  • “His most ardent supporters absolutely love that fantasy of Trump as someone who dishes out violence to their enemies. Check out the wares sold outside Trump rallies, and you’ll see him transformed on T-shirts and posters into a muscle-bound warrior wielding a rifle; if he isn’t Photoshopped onto the glistening torso of Sylvester Stallone circa 1985, he’s riding a velociraptor while firing a gun.”

All in all, “Republicans encourage those violent impulses and apocalyptic beliefs, figuring that they can be exploited without spinning out of control.”

Unlikely to be contained

Political scientist Anthony Dimaggio thinks that the Republican narrative will spin out of control, writing as follows. “A dangerous precedent has been set in this ruling, empowering vigilantes who believe they are deputized to enforce ‘the law’ against perceived political enemies”

  (https://counterpunch.org/2021/11/24/vigilantes-on-parade-rightwing-extremism-and-the-threat-of-national-implosion). He argues that we are now in a situation where such individuals “feel empowered to commit murder and rationalize post-hoc that it was in ‘self-defense’ because they ‘felt’ endangered, regardless of whether their fears were rational, or based on paranoia, bigotry, and a commitment to fascist vigilantism.” Here is what Dimaggio foresees.

“The consequences of this ruling for social movement protests are dire. There is a very real and rising threat that vigilantes will show up at other left-oriented protests in coming months and years, feeling they have carte blanche to ‘police’ the events however they see fit, and that if they engage in violence, it will simply be in ‘self-defense’ against those who resist their aggression. The concern for violence grows when we consider that there are likely to be large protests come the 2024 presidential election, with the looming efforts from Trump (or another Trump-style frontrunner) and Congressional and state Republicans, who are likely to try and nullify majority votes in swing states if they favor a Democratic candidate based on fictitious claims of ‘voter fraud.’ If there are large protests by progressive, left-leaning, and Democratic supporters, there is reason to worry about the potential for violence if rightwing vigilantes convince themselves they must act to fight Democratic voter fraud, and if they believe they’ve been informally deputized to do so by the courts.”

Concluding thoughts

The right-wing movement to make gun ownership unregulated is supported by Republican officials at all levels of government, by the NRA, by swaths of the corporate community and wealthy advocates and opportunists, by right-wing media, by the great majority of Republican voters, and by a host of expanding extremist militias. On the latter, the Southern Poverty Law Center is tracking “more than 1,600 extremist groups operating across the country” (Hate and Extremism in 2001).

But the promotion of unregulated sale and ownership of guns and the seeming acceptance of violence by their supporters (“heroes”) aimed at enemies are only part of what Republican and their supporters are undertaking. They are also undermining voter rights in state after state, marshalling forces with Christian Nationalists to eliminate a woman’s right to reproductive choice, pushing for a closed border in the southern parts of the U.S., mobilizing to cleanse public education of the country’s racist history or anything that they deem unacceptable.

This list goes on. Supporters at the local state and local level to disrupt the meetings of boards of education.

They continue to deny or downplay climate change. In the U.S. Congress, they are using the rules to obstruct the passage of Democratic initiated legislation on voting rights, “social” infrastructure, and anything that may benefit Democrats.

This all adds to a major assault on democracy. This right-wing, vision with all its anti-democratic elements, will become a nightmarish reality in the elections of 2022 and 2024 unless Democrats and Independents are successful in their many efforts to educate and mobilize voters. If they fail, the violence that Republicans and their allies have abetted may tragically serve as a significant factor in moving the society toward a one-party, authoritarian state in which the only “truth” is the one they promulgate, the only law is what they sanction, where critical thinking is squelched, inequality rises to new heights, racism intensifies, and the prisons fill up.  

Careening toward climate catastrophe, with glimmers of hope

Bob Sheak, November 17, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

Representatives from 200 countries arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31 for the convening of COP26, the purpose of which is to find an international consensus on how the nations of the world can address, curtail, and eventually stop global warming.

The first COP summit was held in 1995 and has served since then as the meeting of parties to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol that first committed countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to Wikipedia, “twenty-five thousand delegates from 200 countries are attending,[38] and around 120 heads of state” are participation in COP26 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

The international efforts in all these years, based on unenforceable agreements,  have not kept the steady increase from emissions from fossil fuels since COP1 in 1995. This appears to be true of COP26 as well.

In this post, I point out: (1) there has long been recognition of the problem of global warming, well over a century before the first COP summit; (2) the evidence is increasingly compelling; (3) the U.S. has been the biggest contributor to the problem; (4) the U.S. and some other “rich” countries continue to expand their use of fossil fuels; (5) what transpired at COP26 to undermine the mission of the conference; (6) the contradictions in the U.S. position on global warming; (7) the weakness of what COP26 accomplished; (8) the Biden administration’s policies after COP26; and (9) an overall assessment of COP26.

The upshot of the post is that, despite growing recognition of the reality of advancing global warming and its destructiveness, and despite international efforts to reach agreements to stem the problem, the U.S. and the world’s nations have not yet been able to free themselves from fossil fuels, the principal sources of this growing existential threat. In the U.S., the chief hurdles have been continuing support and dependence on fossil fuels, too little investment in renewables, political and economic forces that generally prioritize fossil fuels, a powerful right-wing, reactionary movement under the sway of Trump, as well as a public that is by and large influenced more by their immediate economic interests than by increasingly catastrophic climate change.

#1 – It long been established scientifically that global warming is a growing, existential problem

Recognition, but not enough action

There has been an understanding of and concern about the rising Earth temperature for at least 165 years, principally caused by emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Eunice Newton Foote “theorized that changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect the Earth’s temperature back in 1856 (All We Can Save, p. xvii).

The scientific confirmation of this theory is confirmed again and again over the last century and a half. Jumping to recent times, James Gustave Speth, an internationally environmental expert, writes that it is well documented that “the federal government knew enough in the 1970s and 1980s to begin addressing the climate issue in energy policy and elsewhere.” Such understanding is documented during the Carter administration in the 1970s, and has been continuously demonstrated in every subsequent administration up through Trump’s four years. And all of  these administrations failed to reduce the rise in fossil fuel emissions (See Speth’s book, They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis). The climate denialism of the Trump administration was off the charts in denying or avoiding the problem and in undermining efforts to address it.

In an article published in The New York Times, Coral Davenport considers the evidence that Trump’s most profound legacy will be “climate damage” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html). She writes:

“…Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.”

#2 – Recent evidence documenting global warming

Kenny Stancil analyzes a recent climate report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) titled State of the Climate in 2020. “It is,” he writes, “the 31st installment of the leading annual evaluation of the global climate system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/08/25/atmospheric-co2-levels-havent-been-high-800000-years-noaa). The report is based “on the contributions of more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries and compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

NOAA finds that 2020 “was the warmest on record without an El Niño effect, and ‘new high-temperature records were set across the globe.” Additionally, “The agency added that the past seven years (2014-2020) had been the seven warmest on record,” continuing a trend toward a warmer planet.

The trend reflects growing greenhouse gas emissions and how they are accumulating in the atmosphere. NOAA finds that, in 2020, “the global average atmospheric concentration of COincreased to a record high of 412.5 parts per million. According to CO2-earth, the number reached 414.57 ppm on November 15, 2021 (https://co2.earth/daily.co2).

Stancil notes that the atmospheric concentrations of other major greenhouse gases (GHG), including methane and nitrous oxide, also continued to climb to record highs last year despite the pandemic.” Astoundingly, 2020’s COconcentration “was 2.5 parts per million greater than 2019 amounts and was the highest in the modern 62-year measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.” Moreover, “the year-over-year increase of methane (14.8 parts per billion) was the highest such increase since systematic measurements began.” The trends are upward.

At the same time, global sea levels continued to rise. The NOAA research reveals the following, according to Stancil: “For the ninth consecutive year,” said NOAA, “global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches (91.3 millimeters) higher than the 1993 average,” which is when satellite measurements began. As a result of melting glaciers and ice sheets, warming oceans, and other expressions of the climate crisis, the “global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeter) per decade.”

Stancil also refers to other notable findings from the report, as follows.

  • Upper atmospheric temperatures were record or near-record setting;
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of CO2, global upper ocean heat content reached a record high, and the global average sea surface temperature was the third highest on record;
  • The Arctic continued to warm at a faster pace than lower latitudes—resulting in a spike in carbon-releasing fires—and minimum sea ice extent was the second smallest in the 42-year satellite record;
  • Antarctica witnessed extreme heat and a record-long ozone hole; and
  • There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85.

U.S. physicists take an official stand on the unfolding reality and destructiveness of climate change

Award-winning journalist Marianne Lavelle reports at Inside Climate News on how the nation’s physicists have toughened their stand on the causes and effects of climate change (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11112021/american-physical-society-climate-change-statement; also see Andrea Germanos, Truthout, Nov 11, 2021 https://trthout.org/articles/200-global-scientists-urge-immediate-large-scale-action-to-limit-global-warming).

Lavelle writes: “On Wednesday [November 10], the society of 50,000 physicists issued a statement on the policy, which was “approved at a virtual meeting of the APS 42-member policy-making council.” Lavelle quotes from the statement as follows: “Multiple lines of evidence strongly support the finding that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have become the dominant driver of global climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century.”

“The policy statement arrives,” Lavelle points out, “just a month after the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three physicists whose work became a foundation for science’s understanding of climate change: Syukuro Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann, an oceanographer and professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg; and Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. Their work helped explain and predict complex forces of nature, showing how reliable climate models could be developed despite the apparent disorder of weather systems, and how human influences could be identified in a system also affected by natural forces.”

Sylvester James Gates, director of the theoretical physics center at Brown University, who took over as APS president earlier this year, is quoted:

“Physicists have been essential to advancing our understanding of the climate system and humanity’s impact on it.” And now “renews its call for sustained research in climate science and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The statement also expresses a sense of urgency, as it maintains that climate change and its potential consequences “are great and the actions taken over the next decade or two will determine human influences on the climate for centuries to millennia.” The ongoing research of physicists will help to clarify and explain what CO2 and other greenhouse gases are and their environmentally detrimental effects.

“As in its previous climate change statements,” Lavelle writes, “the APS urged sustained research on climate change. But drawing heavily from the scientific assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the society changed its characterization of the remaining uncertainties in climate science. In place of a previous sentence on the scientific challenges in our abilities ‘to observe, interpret, and project climate changes,’ the APS now points to the challenges in our abilities ‘to project, adapt to, and mitigate anthropogenic climate change’—indicating that the greatest remaining uncertainties pertain to solutions.” Lavelle underlines this point with a quote from the Associated Press from Syukuro Manabe, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, who said that his work in the 1960s building the first model predicting climate change was ‘1,000 times’ easier than getting the world to do something about it.”

#3 -The U.S. has been the biggest contributor to global warming, along with other “rich” countries

New York Times journalists Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer address this issue that has great relevance for the world’s nations, namely, who among nations has the most historical responsibility for climate change? (https://nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/12/climate/cop26-emissions-compensation.html).

It is an issue that is publicly advanced by countries that have contributed very little to climate change, that are now particularly most affected by climate change, and that do not have the resources to adapt to the ongoing and increasing ravages of such change. They want the countries that are mostly responsible for this multifaceted and existentially threatening problem to give them support, some call it reparations, so they may be able to deal with the unfolding problem and have a chance of surviving as nations.

Popovich and Plumer say this is “[o]ne of the biggest fights at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is whether — and how — the world’s wealthiest nations, which are disproportionately responsible for global warming to date, should compensate poorer nations for the damages caused by rising temperatures.”

Rich countries such as “the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.” Over this time, the “Earth has heated up by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit), fueling stronger and deadlier heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires. Poorer, vulnerable countries have asked richer nations to provide more money to help adapt to these hazards.”

In 2001, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars annually, and very little aid so far has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early warning systems for floods and droughts.”

In this context, poorer countries, “many of which still produce a tiny fraction of overall emissions, have asked for a separate fund, paid for by wealthy countries, to compensate them for the damages they can’t prevent. This issue is referred to as “loss and damage.” There are precedents.

“Lots of people are losing their lives, they are losing their future, and someone has to be responsible,” said A.K. Abdul Momen, the foreign minister of Bangladesh. He compared loss and damage to the way the United States government sued tobacco companies in the 1990s to recover billions of dollars in higher health care costs from the smoking epidemic.”

Wealthy nations are reluctant to go along with the plea for “a specific funding mechanism for loss and damage, fearing that it could open the door to a flood of liability claims. Only the government of Scotland has been willing to offer specific dollar amounts, pledging $2.7 million this week [during COP26] for victims of climate disasters.”

Moreover, “the United States and the European Union have argued that the world will never be able to minimize the damage from global warming unless swiftly-industrializing nations like India do more to slash their emissions. But India, which recently announced a pledge to reach “net zero” emissions by 2070, says it needs much more financial help to shift from coal to cleaner energy, citing both its lower per capita emissions and smaller share of historical emissions.” By the way, 2070 is not soon enough.

Resolving the disputes over money – or not – will determine whether negotiators from nearly 200 countries can strike a new global deal in Glasgow to limit the risks of future global warming. They have not been clearly resolved.

#4 – The U.S. and some other rich countries are expanding fossil fuel expansion

Contrary to the science and simple rationality, Kenny Stancil reports that the five of the richest nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Norway, have plans to support the expansion of fossil fuels in their respective countries (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/12/five-rich-nations-jeopardizing-future-plans-fossil-fuel-expansion-report).

The evidence on this situation was assembled by Freddie Daley, “a research associate at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, as well as key partners in each of the five countries analyzed—Oil Change International, Uplift U.K., The Australia Institute, Stand.earth, and Greenpeace Norway.”

The key finding: “Coal, oil, and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030… Projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will… actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%,” while reducing coal production by only 30%. They also “intend to approve and subsidize new fossil fuel projects that ‘will be in operation for decades to come.’” Indeed, the five countries “have provided “more than $150 billion USD to support the production and consumption of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This level of support from the Fossil Fuelled 5 is more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery effort ($147 billion).”

Here are examples of the country-specific findings from the report:

  • The United States has pledged to halve emissions by 2030 yet has simultaneously provided $20 billion in annual support to the fossil fuel industry;
  • Despite hosting COP26, the United Kingdom is expected to greenlight the Cambo oil field, which contains approximately 255 million barrels of oil;
  • Despite its recent commitment to net-zero by 2050, Australia has over 100 fossil fuel projects currently in the approval pipeline;
  • Canada is looking to increase their price on carbon but also provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020; and
  • Norway has raised its ambition to decrease emissions but has already granted 60+ new licenses for fossil fuel production and access to 84 new exploration zones in 2021 alone.

Progressive advocates from all five countries denounced their respective governments for subsidizing planet-wrecking fossil fuels when the world is demanding a rapid and just transition to clean energy.

The United States—which has planned to expand oil and gas production more than any other country between 2019 and 2030—was described by Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, as “the poster child for climate hypocrisy.”

“Together, the Fossil Fuelled 5 account for 25% of global fossil fuel exports,” says the report. “Nations such as Australia, Norway, and the United States continue to export huge amounts of coal, oil, and/or gas, essentially exporting their greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the continued fossil fuel dependence of many countries worldwide.”

The Fossil Fuelled 5 report also proposes solutions.

“Halt the licensing for further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels;

Commit to a timeline for domestic phase-out of fossil fuels in line with 1.5ºC, noting that wealthy countries can and should move first and should therefore exceed the average rates identified in the Production Gap Report of phasing out coal, oil and gas on average by 11%, 4% and 3% respectively each year;

End the support for fossil fuel production through subsidies, tax relief and other mechanisms of government support;

The “Join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) is working with other governments to achieve several goals: to end fossil fuel production and fund a just transition for workers; act as first movers as part of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; and redirect the vast financial support currently provided to fossil fuel industries towards helping developing countries shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel production and consumption. Such groups have not yet had much of an impact, certainly not when compared to the corporate representatives at COP26.

#5 – 200 countries assemble in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26

The opening statement by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general

The bad news

Antonio Guterres opened COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, pointing out that the “six years since the Paris Climate Agreement [Dec. 2015] have been the six hottest years on record” and “[o]ur addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink” of a climate catastrophe that will be irreparable (https://unfccc.int/news/un-secretary-general-cop26-must-keep-15-degrees-celsius-goal-alive). There are only two choices: “Either we stop it — or it stops us.” 

Guterres refers to examples of what has already been occurring in the unfolding climate catastrophe. We have been “digging our own graves” by brutalizing biodiversity, killing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning and drilling that intensifies this enormous problem. These activities have already had unprecedented and calamitous effects, as reflected, for example, in melting glaciers, extreme weather events, warming oceans, and where parts of the Amazon Rainforest “now emit more carbon than they absorb.”

Little progress in stemming the increase in global warming

It is illusory, he says, to think we have turned things around. Instead, past pledges by nations to reduce their carbon emissions have not been fulfilled and, indeed, the pledges are inadequate to begin with. If current emission increases continue, the world is headed toward “a calamitous 2.7 degree increase.” “We are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating.”

Some reasons to be hopeful?

Guterres then turns to hopeful examples. He says that we know what we must do, that is, invest “in the net zero, climate resilient economy [that] will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs and opportunity.” And, he contends, “We have progress to build upon.” 

  • A number of countries have made credible commitments to net-zero emissions by mid-century.
  • Many have pulled the plug on international financing of coal.
  • Over 700 cities are leading the way to carbon neutrality.
  • The private sector is waking up. 
  • The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance — the gold standard for credible commitments and transparent targets — is managing $10 trillion in assets and catalyzing change across industries.
  • The climate action army — led by young people — is unstoppable.
  • The science is clear.  We know what to do. First, we must keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive
  • This requires greater ambition on mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

What then must be done

Guterres urges “developed countries and emerging economies to build coalitions to create the financial and technological conditions to accelerate the decarbonization of the economy as well as the phase out of coal.” We must, Guterres says, revisit the national climate plans and pledges every year, until the realization of 1.5 degrees is assured, until subsidies to fossil fuels end, until there is a price on carbon, and until coal is phased out. He also says climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure will save jobs and reduce emissions. Developed countries must actually deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment in support of developing countries. And there must be more public climate finance, more overseas development aid, more grants, easier access to funding. And

“multilateral development banks must work much more seriously at mobilizing greater investment through blended and private finance.”

Corporate lobbyists are there to protect their fossil fuel interests

Jake Johnson reports on an analysis of a 1,600-page U. N. list of approved COP 26 attendees published by a coalition led by Global Witness (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/08/fossil-fuel-lobbists-have-larger-presence-cop26-any-single-country-report). The analysis documents that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists have been admitted to the summit in Glasgow, Scotland and that they represent the largest group of delegates at the climate conference. They are signed in as delegates from various large nations or business groups. Johnson puts it this way:

“Prominent industry attendees, according to the new analysis, include “delegates from over 100 fossil fuel companies”—such as the oil giants Shell and BP—’who openly stated their affiliation, attending the talks as part of country delegations or with business groups’ like the International Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson continues. “‘For example,’ the analysis notes, ‘one in eight delegates from Russia’s three hundred-strong delegation were from the fossil fuel industry while lobbyists were also included in Canada’s and Brazil’s official delegations. In total, 27 different official country delegations included fossil fuel lobbyists.’”

Why are they participating? Johnson quotes Pascoe Sabido, “a campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)—one of the groups behind the new research—[who] said in a statement that /COP26 is being sold as the place to raise ambition, but it’s crawling with fossil fuel lobbyists whose only ambition is to stay in business.’? Sabido added: “The likes of Shell and BP are inside these talks despite openly admitting to upping their production of fossil gas. If we’re serious about raising ambition, then fossil fuel lobbyists should be shut out of the talks and out of our national capitals.”

Demonstrations by environmental activists have little impact at GOP26

While thousands marched in Glasgow demanding the phasing out of fossil fuels, support for renewable energy, and “reparations” to vulnerable nations, Popular Resistance reported on November 8, 2021 that governments at  the COP26 paid little attention to social movements and demonstrations (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements).

Emilio Godoy echoed that message in an article on The Citizen website (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements). Godoy quotes Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a member of the non-governmental organization Youth Advocates for Climate Action from the Philippines, who voiced a common criticism of the UNFCCC for gladly welcoming those who caused the crisis to COP26, while accomplishing too little of substantive import to address the unfolding climate crises. [UNFCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For an explanation, go to https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change. It’s another way of referring to the COP summits.]

The COP Coalition, of which Tan is a participant, is made up, as Godoy describes, of a “a motley crew of organizations and movements whose common demand was a real effort to fight the climate crisis through concrete and fair measures and whose 200 events in this Scottish city included workshops, forums, artistic presentations and protests.”

Participants in the coalition included demands of the 196 Parties to the UNFCCC to abandon fossil fuels, reject cosmetic solutions to the climate emergency, support a just transition to a lower carbon economy, and the call for reparations and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and the global South.

“One of the most unanimous and loudest criticisms from non-governmental social and environmental organizations focused on the exclusion of civil society groups from Latin America, Africa and Asia, due to the UK host government’s decision to modify the admission criteria according to the level of contagion in each country and the extent of vaccination.” They also complained about the “strict hurdles imposed by the COP26…to the presence of NGO observers at the official negotiating tables, which undermined the transparency of the Glasgow process.”

One of the key initiatives from the civil society groups “was for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at moving towards the end of the era of coal, gas and oil, the consumption of which is primarily responsible for the growing planetary climate emergency,” as well as “a fair phase-out and a just energy transition.” They also want an end to deforestation and investment in forest protection and expansion.

The Coalition’s demands have “so far received the support of some 750 organizations, 12 cities, more than 2,500 scientists, academics, parliamentarians from around the world, and religious leaders, indigenous movements and more than 100 Nobel Prize winners.”

#6 – The contradictions in the U.S. policies toward fossil fuels

U.S. claims to be the world’s climate champion – it is not

In an article for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard, the environmental correspondent and investigative editor at large at The Nation, author, and a co-founder of Covering Climate Now, refutes the deeply entrenched notion in U.S. political and media circles that the U.S. is, or has been, the world’s greatest climate champion and “US leadership is essential to global climate progress” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/11/10/who-worlds-greatest-champion-hint-not-united-states). 

That laudatory message, Hertsgaard writes, was “repeated Tuesday [Nov. 9] at the United Nations climate conference COP26 as Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of 16 fellow congressional Democrats congratulated themselves and US president Joe Biden for the ‘Build Back Better’ climate legislation they are trying to pass in the United States Congress,” which contains about $500 billion for climate-related programs. Of course, the big question is whether the U.S. Senate will ever pass the legislation.

The evidence contradicts what U.S leaders boast

Here is Hertsgaard’s extended argument.

“Never mind that the United States, under Democrats and Republicans alike, has arguably been the single biggest obstacle to global climate action since the 1992 Earth Summit that set in motion the negotiations whose latest installment is now unfolding in Glasgow. Former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement is only the most obvious recent example of that obstructionism. Indeed, the main reason the Paris Agreement, which was signed under President Barack Obama, is only an agreement rather than a treaty regarded as legally binding is that then–Secretary of State John Kerry and his international counterparts knew full well that the US Senate would never ratify a treaty that committed countries to keeping global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius. The United States was even more hostile to climate action during George W. Bush’s eight years in the White House. And in 1997, when the world’s governments approved the Kyoto Protocol, Bill Clinton’s administration did not bother submitting it to the Senate because, according to then–Vice President Al Gore, not even 10 senators were likely to approve it.”

Back to the present, Hertsgaard returns to Pelosi’s press conference at the Glasgow summit and how she bragged about alleged U.S. climate leadership, focusing again on the pending Build Back Better bill. She said:

“the $250 billion that the Build Back Better budget bill allocates to ‘clean energy tax credits’ and its $222 billion for “environmental justice.,’ praising the yet-to-be-passed bill’s “$150 billion for ‘climate-smart agriculture and nature-based climate solutions.” She also “emphasized the hundreds of billions of dollars for family medical leave, universal pre-K, and other social welfare programs that will ‘enable everyone to participate in the economic prosperity that will flow from this’ bill—because, she added, ‘this is all about the children, leaving them a world where they can be healthy and more secure.’”

After other people spoke, Pelosi fielded too two questions from the press.

“The first asked whether Pelosi still intended the House to pass the Build Back Better Act the week of November 15. The speaker confirmed that she did. The second question was rather less predictable and came from Abby Martin of The Empire Files, who made a comment and then asked a question.

“Speaker Pelosi, you just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget,” Martin said. Pointing out that the Pentagon budget “is already massive” and “the Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined,” Martin asked Pelosi, “How can we possibly talk about net zero if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change?”

“Veteran politicians are skilled at not answering questions they don’t want to answer,” Hertsgaard points out. “Pelosi invited John Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, to respond. He said the military knows that climate change is a national security issue, ‘so I don’t see…increasing the defense budget as being something that’s inconsistent with climate action.’ Likewise avoiding the subject of the Pentagon’s bountiful budget, Pelosi added that reducing the military’s use of fossil fuels would help ‘stop’ climate change, so ‘that is something we’re very focused on.’”

The hidden U.S. military’s harmful contributions to global warming

Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez interviewed on November 9 three guests on Democracy Now, including Ramon Mejia, “an anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Iraq War veteran,” Erik Edstrom, “a former U.S. Army infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan and author of Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War,” and Neta Crawford, “co-founder and director of the Costs of War project at Brown University.” They pick up on the issue of the U.S. military’s enormous carbon emissions and how have never been included in the U.N. COP carbon emissions’ estimates

(https://democracynow.org/2011/11/09/cop26_militaty_emissions_and_climate_change).

Goodman opens with these facts.

“The Costs of War project estimates the military produced around 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, with nearly a third coming from U.S. wars overseas. But military carbon emissions have largely been exempted from international climate treaties dating back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol after lobbying from the United States.” Here are examples of what the guests had to say.

“RAMÓN MEJÍA: When I was in the military, there wasn’t any discussion about the chaos that we were creating. I conducted resupply convoys throughout the country, delivering munitions, delivering tanks, delivering repair parts. And in that process, I saw nothing but waste being left. You know, even our own units were burying munitions and disposable trash into the middle of the desert. We were burning trash, creating toxic fumes that have impacted veterans, but not only veterans, but the Iraqi people and those adjacent to those toxic burn pits.”

“So,” Mejia adds, “the U.S. military, while emissions is important to discuss, and it’s important that within these climate conversations that we address how the militaries are excluded and don’t have to reduce or report emissions, we also have to discuss the violence that the militaries wage on our communities, on the climate, on the environment.” He gives the following example of how they affect communities in the U.S.

“One of our delegates from New Mexico, from the Southwest Organizing Project, spoke to how millions and millions of jet fuel have spilled in Kirtland Air Force Base. More fuel has spilled and leached into the aquifers of neighboring communities than the Exxon Valdez, and yet those conversations aren’t being had.

And we have another delegate from Puerto Rico and Vieques, who tell the officials at COP26 how munitions tests and chemical weapons tests have plagued the island, and while the U.S. Navy is no longer there, cancer still is strickening the population.”

The solution: “it’s important that we discuss it, but greening the military is also not the solution. We have to address the violence that the military wages and the catastrophic effects it has on our world.”

Amy Goodman next introduced Erik Edstrom, “Afghan War vet, went on to study climate at Oxford and write the book Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War.” He basically echoed Mejia, stating this: “the journey to climate activism, I think, started when I was in Afghanistan and realized that we were solving the wrong problem the wrong way. We were missing the upstream issues underpinning foreign policy around the world, which is the disruption caused by climate change, which endangers other communities.” After he left the military, he went on to study this issue in college. He agrees now that it is intellectually dishonest, irresponsible, and dangerous to exclude the carbon emissions stemming from the U.S. Military at home and abroad. 

Finally, Amy turns to Neta Crawford, who emphasizes three points.

“First, there are emissions from installations. The United States has about 750 military installations abroad, overseas, and it has about 400 in the U.S. And most of those installations abroad, we don’t know what their emissions are. And that is because of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude those emissions or have them count for the country that the bases are located in.”

Second: “There’s also something known as — called bunker fuels, which are the fuels used on planes and aircraft — I’m sorry, aircraft and ships in international waters. Most of the United States Navy’s operations are in international waters, so we don’t know those emissions. Those are excluded. Now, the reason for that was, in 1997, the DOD sent a memo to the White House saying that if missions were included, then the U.S. military might have to reduce its operations. And they said in their memo, a 10% reduction in emissions would lead to a lack of readiness. And that lack of readiness would mean that the United States would not be prepared to do two things. One is be militarily superior and wage war anytime, anywhere, and then, secondly, not be able to respond to what they saw as the climate crisis that we would face. And why were they so aware in 1997? Because they had been studying the climate crisis since the 1950s and 1960s, and they were aware of the effects of greenhouse gases. So, that’s what’s included and what’s excluded.”

Third, there is another large category of emissions we don’t know about, which are the emissions from the military-industrial complex. “All of the equipment that we use has to be produced somewhere. Much of it comes from large military-industrial corporations in the United States. Some of those corporations acknowledge their, what are known as direct and somewhat indirect emissions, but we don’t know the entire supply chain. So, I have an estimate that the top military-industrial companies have emitted about the same amount of fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, as the military itself in any one year.”

Crawford adds: “we’re not counting Department of Homeland Security emissions — I haven’t counted them yet — and those should be included, as well.

#7 – Guterres’ concluding assessment of COP26: Not enough was accomplished but there is hope

Here are key points from the UN’s Secretary-General’s Statement on November 13 at the Conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, (https://unfaccc.int/news/secretary-general-s-statement-on-the-conclusion-of-the-un-climate-change-conference-cop26).

Secretary-general Guterres acknowledges that “the approved texts are a compromise” and “reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.” They do not ensure that pledges will “keep the 1.5 degree goal alive.” The nations of the world, particularly the richer nations, have not promised to go into an “emergency mode,” or “agree to phase out coal, “put a price on carbon” [a dubious, market-based idea that doesn’t curtail emissions from corporations],” build “resilience of vulnerable communities, or “make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.” 

At the same time, Guterres maintains that some positive steps were taken, involving commitments to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions, and “encourage International Financial Institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in concessional financial and other forms of support, including Special Drawing Rights.”

But they alone will not let us achieve “a 45% cut by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.” As it stands now, the commitments by nations, even if fully implemented, “will clearly lead us to well above 2 degrees by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.” Furthermore, the Guterres said, richer nations have not met their pledge to deliver “on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries.” 

He wants national climate plans to be updated every year and pledges to reduce CO2 emissions raised.

Having said all that, Guterres closed “with a message of hope and resolve to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, all those leading the climate action army,” quoting “the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson’ who said:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” He continued: “We have many more seeds to plant along the path.” He then expressed confidence about what can be accomplished.   

“We won’t reach our destination in one day or one conference. But I know we can get there….Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward. I will be with you all the way.” 

A bit of good news

In an article for Euro News, Rosie Frost reports on an “ambitious alliance to phase out oil and gas” launched on the sidelines of COP26 by Denmark and Costa Rica, and joined by France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales. California and New Zealand joined as associate members, as Italy expressed support. The name of this effort is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (https://euronews.com/green/2021/11/11/cop26-denmark-and-costa-rica-launch-ambitious-alliance-to-phase-out-oil-and-gas).

The representatives from 10 of the 11 countries in the alliance have committed to “ending new licensing rounds for oil and gas exploration and production” and setting an ‘end date for oil and gas production and exploration that is aligned with Paris Agreement objectives.” Of course, there are pledges and it remains to be seen whether they are achieved by the end of the decade.

#8 – After COP26, US President Under Fire for ‘Failing to Act on Fossil Fuels’

What Biden and his administration are doing and not doing

Jessica Corbett points to criticisms of President Biden for not acting or doing too little to support policies at COP26 and domestically to reduce carbon emissions (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/13/after-cop26-us-president-under-fire-failing-act-fossil-fuels). For example, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food and Water Watch, emphasized in a statement “this White House should fulfill its campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling on public lands, put an end to oil and gas exports, and stop approving new dirty energy power plants and pipelines.”

And Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted: “We’re in a five-alarm fire, but Biden refuses to use a firehose. President Biden can use his unique set of executive powers to stop fossil fuel project approvals and declare a climate emergency, but he isn’t. Failing to act on fossil fuels is beyond climate denial, it’s climate atrocity.”

Su further said that by declaring a national emergency, the president would have the opportunity “to reinstate the crude oil export ban and use military funds to deploy just and distributed energy systems in the communities most harmed by the fossil-fueled energy system.” To his credit, Biden “is backing global efforts to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, end public financing of fossil fuels, and halt deforestation, but he has not supported “a pledge to phase out coal-fired power plants.”

With respect to support for vulnerable nations, the “United States also joined with the European Union and the United Kingdom—which hosted the conference—to quash the proposed creation of a new mechanism to make rich nations pay for the devastating climate impacts that global frontline communities are already enduring.”

Further contradictions in Biden’s climate-related policies

Mike Ludwig reports for Truthout on November 12 that the Biden administration is about to hold the US’s largest offshore drilling auction just days after COP26

(https://truthout.org/articles/after-cop26-biden-administration-to-auction-off-gulf-mexico-for-offshore-drilli).

The administration, he writes, “is preparing to auction off more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling companies less than a week after the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland…” The lease is “planned for November 17 in New Orleans [and] is the largest federal offshore drilling auction in United States history and comes just months after Hurricane Ida unleashed dozens of oil spills and petrochemical leaks from aging fossil fuel infrastructure near the Louisiana coast. On October 1, a ruptured underwater pipeline off the coast of California spilled an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil across ocean waters and beaches, the latest disaster to raise fears about the dangers of offshore drilling.”

The administration did not initiate the upcoming leases, but seems willing to allow them to go forward. Ludwig describes the complicated situation as follows.

“After campaigning on a pledge to ban new oil and gas leases on public lands and ocean waters, President Biden in January issued an executive order placing a moratorium on new federal leases while his administration conducts an environmental review that has yet to materialize. The moratorium was expected to have little immediate impact on drilling companies, which have already secured leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters for years to come. Still, Louisiana and a dozen other fossil fuel-producing states filed suit, and in June a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the ‘pause’ on leasing.”

“The Biden administration is appealing the decision, but the Department of Interior is moving ahead with plans to lease 734,000 acres of public lands in western states and millions of acres across the Gulf despite objections filed by environmental groups. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said the federal agency is conducting the Gulf of Mexico lease sale in compliance with the court order.”

Nonetheless, if it wanted to, the “administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale,” according to Ludwig’s investigation.

Meanwhile, the pending lease is being opposed by “[m]ore than 250 environmental, social justice and Indigenous groups,” who have sent “a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday [Nov. 10] with an ‘urgent plea’ to cancel the lease sale as the U.S. and other major polluters hammer out their latest pledges at the UN climate conference.” They contend, supported by the relevant science, that the fossil fuels “produced in the Gulf would contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis… and feed onshore refineries and petrochemical plants that pollute low-income communities and neighborhoods of color.

Ludwig adds: “Fossil fuels produced from public lands and waters are responsible for about 24 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to federal researchers. If oil and gas leasing on public lands came to a halt, researchers estimate that carbon dioxide emissions would fall by 280 million tons by 2030, a sizeable reduction compared to other proposed climate policies.” Additionally, “environmental attorneys have filed a lawsuit, arguing the analysis used by federal regulators to estimate the environmental impacts of the lease sale is outdated and insufficient.”

Kristen Monsell, an oceans defense attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, informed Ludwig via an email that “advances in climate science in recent years tell us that burning this amount of oil and gas will absolutely contribute to the climate crisis.” And she points out, “The administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale. It’s incredibly disappointing to see them not doing so and instead casting their lot with the fossil fuel industry and worsening the climate emergency.”

At the same time, the Biden administration is moving to curb emissions and, Ludwig reports, is “committed to cutting U.S. emissions by 50 percent under 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.” Ludwig points out, furthermore, that “the administration is focusing on new methane regulations and investments in cleaner technology and renewable energy, along with updates to infrastructure included in two bills Democrats are pushing through Congress.”  Biden signed the first [infrastructure] package on Monday [Nov. 15], which passed with support from a handful of Republicans.”

However, the bottom line for climate advocates is that “the legislation will not result in serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and are urging Democrats to pass their broader spending package with a ban on offshore drilling for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

#9 – A critical assessment of COP26

Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman consider the final agreement reached at the end of COP26, reporting that diplomats “from nearly 200 countries on Saturday [November 13] struck a major agreement aimed at intensifying global efforts to fight climate change by calling on governments to return next year with stronger plans to curb their planet-warming emissions and urging wealthy nations to ‘at least double’ funding to protect poor nations from the hazards of a hotter planet”

 (https://nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-glasgow-climate-agreement.html).

However, they also point out that the “Top of FormnewBottom of Form deal will not, on its own, solve global warming, despite the urgent demands of many of the thousands of politicians, environmentalists and protesters who gathered at the Glasgow climate summit. Its success or failure will hinge on whether world leaders now follow through with new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to keep the earth’s average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius or lower compared to what it was at the onset of industrialization in the early 19th Century. The earth’s average temperature has already reached 1.1 degrees Celsius.

The agreement watered down its statement on fossil fuels. Plumer and Friedman write: “In the final hours of talks Saturday night [Nov. 13], negotiators clashed over wording that would have called on countries to ‘phase out’ coal power and government subsidies for oil and gas. Fossil fuels have never been explicitly mentioned in a global climate agreement before, even though they are the dominant cause of global warming. In the end, at the urging of India, which argued that fossil fuels were still needed for its development, ‘phase out’ was changed to ‘phase down.’”

“Switzerland’s representative, Simonetta Sommaruga, assailed the change: ‘We do not need to phase down, but to phase out.’”

There are also pledges to curb deforestation. However, the “detailed plans that governments have made to curb fossil-fuel emissions and deforestation between now and 2030 would put the world on pace to warm by roughly 2.4 degrees Celsius this century, according to analysts at Climate Action Tracker, a research group.” In the absence of sufficient compliance with pledges, temperatures could rise to 2.7 degrees or even higher. [See Mark Lynas’ book, Our Final Warning, on the effects of each addition rise in the earth’s temperature.]

Nonetheless, leaders at COP26 heralded that the agreement establishes “a clear consensus that all nations must do much more, immediately, to prevent a harrowing rise in global temperatures. And it set up transparency rules to hold countries accountable for the progress they make or fail to make.” But, in the final analysis, the agreement is based on unenforceable pledges about phasing down coal, oil, and gas and in fostering wind, solar, and controversially nuclear power.

The chief organizer of the U.N. COP 26, Alok Sharma, the British politician who led the United Nations summit, called the meeting’s final pact a “fragile win.”

In the new agreement, countries are asked “to come back by the end of next year with stronger pledges to cut emissions by 2030. Though the agreement states clearly that, on average, all nations will need to slash their carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half this decade to hold warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it leaves unresolved the question of exactly how the burden of those cuts will be shared among nations.”

Plumer and Friedman report: “A number of swiftly industrializing countries, such as India and Indonesia, have said they would be willing to accelerate a shift away from coal power if they received financial help from richer countries. But so far, that help has been slow to arrive.”

“A decade ago,” Plumer and Friedman remind us, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars per year.” And “only a small fraction of that aid to date has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early-warning systems for floods and droughts. According to one recent study, some African nations are spending up to 9 percent of their gross domestic product on adaptation, while still only addressing about one-fifth of their needs.”

Negotiators at COP26 also announced “a major deal on how to regulate the fast-growing global market in carbon offsets, in which one company or country compensates for its own emissions by paying someone else to reduce theirs. One of the thorniest technical issues is how to properly account for these global trades so that any reductions in emissions aren’t overestimated or double-counted.” It is a measure that leaves major emitters the opportunity to forego reducing their own emissions.

Meanwhile, “clusters of countries announced pledges they were undertaking on their own. More than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, by 30 percent this decade. Another 130 countries vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 and commit billions of dollars toward the effort. Dozens of other countries vowed to phase out their coal plants and sales of gasoline-powered vehicles over the next few decades.”

“The United States and European Union said they would do so by 2050, China by 2060. At Glasgow, India joined the chorus, saying it would reach net zero by 2070.”

Concluding thoughts

The experience of COP26 and the continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the energy systems of the U.S. and other rich countries bodes poorly for the future stability of all nations and the existence of all people.

In the U.S., there is an additional obstacle stemming from the climate denying and dismissive Trump-dominated Republican Party and a massive electoral base that follows Trump’s lead. They want to maximize fossil fuel production and exports and disregard or minimize the relevant science. If Republicans win back the presidency and U.S. Congress over the next few years, then there is virtually no hope that the climate crisis will be ameliorated. For analysis of Trump’s environmental legacy, check out the following: https://latimes.com/opinion/story/2019/12/27/trump-bad-year-review-climate-change; https://washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/10/trump-world-climate-change; and https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html.

While Biden’s policies during the first ten months of his administration are contradictory, there are elements of his infrastructure legislation and the possible passage of the Bring Back Better Bill that will provide major resources directed toward the support of renewable and efficiency measures, with assurances of their equitable distribution. Biden is already in favor of phasing out coal and methane gas from fracking. If the Democrats can hold onto their control of the presidency and congress, there is reason to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

However, whatever they do, the outcome will critically depend on the scope of such policies and how long it will take to implement them. In an article for Scientific American, Mark Fischetti writes “there’s still time to fix climate – about 11 years” (https://scientificamerican.com/article/theres-still-time-to-fix-climate-about-11-years). Whatever the U.S does, the climate crisis requires effective and timely international cooperation. There is no doubt based on the best scientific evidence that the unfolding climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity.

Disjunctions in labor markets: Capital versus workers

Bob Sheak, November 2, 2021

bsheak982@gmail.com

Introduction

This post focuses on recent developments in the economy that are pitting workers generally against corporate owners and managers and other businesses. Such conflict is intrinsic to capitalism, especially when guided by the neoliberal economic policies advanced by the Republican Party and, at times, centrist Democrats. After decades of wage cuts, low wages, job insecurity, and inadequately regulated often dangerous workplaces, workers are going out on strike, quitting jobs, while millions are remaining out of the labor force altogether.

Biden, his administration, and most Democrats in the U.S. Congress are advancing policy initiatives designed to address some of the disparities in power and level the playing field between employers and workers, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

To make progress, it will take a powerful social movement, commitments to unionization, the election of progressive legislators, an aroused and informed electorate to alter the trajectory on which the U.S. is now moving.

Capitalism and class conflict

Corporate capitalists are dominant

In capitalist economies, there is typically an inherent conflict of interests between businesses and workers. Employers want to retain managements’ traditional prerogatives and keep labor costs as low as they can, while workers want to bargain over hours, wages, benefits, workplace conditions, and, in some cases, have representation on corporate boards and some influence on corporate policies.

Employers, especially large corporations and their contractors, have a systemic advantage, as they decide where to locate their businesses, what to produce, how to organize production or services, and the price of the products and services. Corporate power extends into the political realm, giving their further advantages over workers. Corporations devote huge resources for political purposes, such as campaign contributions, political ads, lobbying, and hiring former high-ranking government officials, support of trade associations and think tanks.

Through most of U.S. history, business had the dominant hand, though the New Deal, WWII, and a booming economy created an interregnum in business-worker relations from the 1930s up into the 1970s. During these years, workers, especially white male workers, benefitted as never before. Also, in the aftermath of the war, the G.I. Bill helped millions of mostly white veterans get education and training and purchase their own homes. It should not be forgotten that there were always some white workers in the highly racially and gender segregated skilled trades and other occupations who did relatively well. The War on Poverty in the 1960s brought Medicare and Medicaid, and other additional programs to the social safety net. The Earned Income Tax Credit, a government subsidy for lower-income workers and implicitly support for lower-wage employers to have enough employees to stay in business. This was added in the mid-1970s.

In the face of revived international competition in the 1970s, and in reaction to union gains and increased government regulations and spending, corporations coalesced politically and effectively pushed for anti-union legislation and limits on government wage and workplace standards. In manufacturing, corporations accelerated a process of outsourcing manufacturing jobs to non-union southern states, then to Mexico, and later to China and other countries with abundant supplies of low-wage workers and no labor or environmental regulations or enforcement of such regulations.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures were all too successful in the 1970s, especially after Reagan became president, in passing legislation that benefitted corporations and businesses generally, as reflected in low minimum wage laws, weakly enforced occupation and safety regulations, the use of strike-breakers when unionized workers dared to strike, and the employment of non-union contractors. Additionally, they could intimidate workers who threatened strikes with the threat of closing plants and other workplaces. Business lobbies have also done their best to limit the social safety net so that workers would be even worse off on government assistance than even in a low-wage, no benefit, insecure, and oppressive, if not dangerous, paid work.

Economics professor David Auter, who is the co-director of the M.I.T. Task Force on the Work of the Future,” provides a glimpse of recent history. He writes that “[t]here is ample evidence that for the past 4 decades, the economy ‘has generated vast numbers of low-paid, economically insecure jobs with few prospects for career advancement.” He refers, for example, to how many workers have suffered not only from low pay but also from dangerous working environments, the absence of prior notice of job termination, and no access to paid vacation, sick time and family leave.

Now, surprisingly, in 2021, millions of workers in and outside of the labor force are massively resisting the corporate power that has produced such conditions. The immediate effect has been a wave of strikes as well as a major reduction in the availability of workers for employment who are currently outside of the labor force. And all this is occurring amid high levels of consumer demand. At the same time, the pandemic and the lockdowns have given many workers an additional motive to risk their jobs by going on strike, quitting, or staying out of the labor force.

Millions of jobs are going unfilled

There is thus at present an extraordinary situation occurring in U.S. labor markets. Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers and Andrew Van Dam report that in August [2021] there were 8.4 million on strike or not looking for work while there were 10 million job openings (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/04/ten-million-job-openings-labor-shortage).

Jobs are being created

Long and her colleagues refer to economists who find that “overall jobs are actually rebounding at a remarkable pace. Over 75 percent of the jobs lost during the pandemic are back, a much faster recovery than almost anyone anticipated a year ago. Private forecasters anticipate all the jobs lost could be back by mid to late 2022 — a rebound of about two years compared to the six-plus years it took for the labor market to recover from the Great Recession.” Job creation has varied, rising in some states and communities but not in others, and there are racial and gender disparities in who lands the jobs and who stays out of the labor force altogether.

Overall, however, Ben Casselman reports that the labor force shrank in September [2021] and shortages aren’t limited to low-wage industries. (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/19/business/economy/us-economy.html).

 “the great strike of 2021”

Evidence of worker resistance

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, columnist, and author, offers the following summary (https://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/0ct/13/american-workers-general-strike-robert-reich).

“Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo.” Consumer spending is up, but “employers are finding it hard to fill positions.” The Bureau of Labor’s October 8 “jobs report showed “the number of job openings at a record high. The share of people working or actively looking for work (the labor force participation rate) has dropped to 61.6%. Participation for people in their prime working years, defined as 25 to 54 years old, is also down.” At the same time, “job openings have increased 62%…[while] overall hiring has actually declined.”

Labor economist Jack Rasmus identifies the present labor market situation as “the great strike of 2021” (https://thestreet.com/economonitor/news/the-great-strike-of-2021/). Rasmus uses the term strike broadly to refer not only to workers involved in union actions but also to “mostly [but not only] millions of low-paid non-unionized workers.” He posits that the “best definition of a strike is when ‘workers withhold their labor’ for better wages and working conditions. Contrary to convention wisdom, workers go on strike when they withhold the labor, even when they are not members of unions. “That fact is evident today as millions of US workers are refusing to return to their jobs.” Rasmus refers to the following evidence:

“Workers returned to jobs at a rate of 889,000 a month during the 2nd quarter 2021 (April-June) as the economy reopened. That average fell to only 280,000 per month in the just completed 3rd quarter 2021 (July-Sept), according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Rasmus points out that the U.S. Labor Department’s estimate of five million workers who have not returned to employment since the start of 2021 “is a gross under-estimation.” He explains: “It doesn’t count the 3 millions more who have dropped out of the labor force altogether and are no less jobless than those officially recorded as unemployed. Nor does the 5 million include a several million or so workers who were mis-classified by the Labor Dept. as employed in March 2020 when the pandemic began simply because they indicated when surveyed by the government that they expected to return to work even though they weren’t working at the time of survey. The Labor Dept. soon thereafter acknowledged it was an error to count them as employed, but to date it has still refused to correct the numbers. That number of mis-classified as employed today remains around 1 million or so.”

The upshot of Rasmus analysis is this: “there are somewhere around 8 to 10 million workers in the US still without any work at all, (which doesn’t account for the millions more who are underemployed working part time or a few hours a week here and there).”

Moreover, Rasmus points out, workers are not taking jobs in industries like hospitality or retail work, but this is true in lower-wage jobs across nearly all industries. He documents this point as follows.

Comparing the US Labor Dept.’s level of employment as of September 2021 to the pre-pandemic months of January-February 2020, the numbers show workers withholding their labor is widespread across industries and occupations. Here is some of the evidence cited by Rasmus.

“Leisure & Hospitality shows 1.6 million fewer working today, in September 2021, compared with pre-pandemic months of January-February 2020. But the Health Care industry, with hundreds of thousands low paid workers in home health care and clinics, shows 524,000 fewer employed today compared to January 2020. Professional & Personal business services shortfall is 385,000; Education services—with its hundreds of thousands of adjuncts in higher education and millions of K-12 teachers paid low wages in small non-union school districts—is down by no fewer than 676,000. One would think manufacturing was a case to the contrary. But no. Millions of manufacturing workers are employed as ‘temps’ with low pay and no benefits—even in union contracts. Manufacturing has 353,000 fewer jobs today than it had in early January 2020. Ditto for Construction, with 201,000 fewer. And so on.”

“It’s safe to assume,” Rasmus continues, “that at least half of the 9 million with no work whatsoever are refusing to return to work out of choice. That’s 4 to 5 million who are de facto ‘on strike.’” His main point: “The USA is in the midst of the ‘Great Strike of 2021’, involving millions of the low paid and super-exploited US workers across virtually all US industries!” Some are striking and some are quitting or not looking for work at all. He gives these examples of occupations where reflect worker shortages:

“lower paid service workers, independent long-haul truckers, delivery drivers in the cities, hospitality workers in hotel and restaurant service, workers in retail, on local construction projects, teachers and school bus drivers, nurses ‘burned out’ by chronic overtime, warehouse and food processing workers pushed to the limit for the past 18 months, home care aide workers exploited by US middleman ‘coyotes’, and so on. The list is long.”

A rise in the number of strikes

There is in recent months a wave of strikes, as unionized workers are striking for higher wages, better benefits, and less oppressive work conditions.

Jacob Bagage reports that “strikes are sweeping the labor market as workers wield new leverage” (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/17/strikes-great-resignation). In the second week of October, “10,000 John Deere workers went on strike, while unions representing 31,000 Kaiser employees authorized walkouts. Some 60,000 Hollywood production workers reached a deal Saturday night [October 16], averting a strike hours before a negotiation deadline.”

He refers to other examples of strikes. “The strike drives in 2021 run the gamut of American industry: Nurses and health workers in California and Oregon; oil workers in New York; cereal factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee; television and film production crews in Hollywood; and more.”

Bogage adds:

“All told, there have been strikes against 178 employers this year [2021], according to a tracker by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which records only large work stoppages, has documented 12 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers so far this year. That’s considerably higher than 2020, when the pandemic took hold, but in line with significant strike activity recorded in 2019 and 2018.”

The strike activity reflects workplace situations where workers have enhanced leverage amid the current labor shortage. Bogage writes: “Workers are now harder to replace, especially while many companies are scrambling to meet heightened demand for their products and manage hobbled supply chains. That has given unions new leverage, and made striking less risky.”

At the same time, not all work stoppages have been successful. “More than 1,000 Alabama miners have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal since April. That same month, 14 oil workers staged a walkout against United Metro Energy in New York; eight have since been fired, according to the local Teamsters branch. And roughly 1,400 workers at Kellogg Co. cereal factories in four states are entering their third week on the picket line.”

A dramatic rise in the number of people quitting jobs or not even looking for jobs

Reich points to some of the evidence. He writes: “Americans are also quitting their jobs at the highest rate on record. The Department of Labor reported on Tuesday [Oct. 12] that some 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August. That comes to about 2.9% of the workforce – up from the previous record set in April, of about 4 million people quitting.” Indeed, “about 4 million American workers have been leaving their jobs every month since the spring.”

A shortage of truck drivers

Vanessa Yurkevich reports for CNN that there is a need for “80,000 truck drivers to help fix the supply chain” (https://cnn.com/2021/10/19/economy/truckiing-short-drivers/index.html). Chris Spear, President and CEO of the American Trucking Association, told Yurkevich that this is a “record high.” Even before the pandemic, “the industry faced a labor shortage of 61,500 drivers.” Going from a shortage of 61,500 drivers to 80,000 is significant. Spear also points to two factors that have produced the shortage. “Many drivers are retiring, dropping out of the industry,” there is a shortage of trucks, and consumers spending is up for products, many of which are imported and must enter the country through a small number of large ports.

In response to the problem, “President Biden directed the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to move to 24/7 operations. However, the ports can’t yet work round the clock because importers don’t have enough drivers to move their cargo at all hours.” Spear points out that “24/7 operations…[is] an improvement,” but not enough. He makes two other points. First, “…it doesn’t matter if it’s a port in LA or Long Beach, or the last mile of delivery from a train to a warehouse in Wichita. You’re going to have to have a driver and a truck move that freight.” Second, “[i]f nothing is done, the latest figures put the industry on track for a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2030, and the need for 1,000,000 new drivers over the next ten years, according to the American Trucking Associations.”

Questionable Explanations

The strikes and low supply of workers are not due to “generous” government benefits

Long, et. al., write:  “[b]usiness owners complain they can’t find enough workers, pay is rising rapidly, and customers are greeted with ‘please be patient, we’re short-staffed’ signs at many stores and restaurants.” Many employers blame the situation on generous government benefits. However, Long and her colleagues note that on the weekend of September 4-5, 2021, the employment crisis was expected to “hit an inflection point as many of the unemployed lose $300 in federal weekly benefits and millions of gig workers and self-employed lose unemployment aid entirely. Some anticipate a surge in job seekers, though in 22 states that already phased out those benefits, workers didn’t flood back to jobs.”

Economist, author, and columnist Paul Krugman also responds to the “generous government benefits” explanation (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/14/opinion/workers-quitting-wages.html).  Krugman rebuts this explanation, pointing out that “states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month [September 2021] doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.”

Economics professor David Auter, who is the co-director of the M.I.T. Task Force on the Work of the Future, also refutes the argument that millions of workers stayed out of the labor force or left their jobs because of generous government benefits (https://nytimes.com/2021/09/04/opinion/labor-shortage-biden-covid.html). Auter makes two points.

He points out that “[m]ultiple analyses find that generous benefits did discourage workers from seeking new jobs. But the effects were small. States that terminated federal pandemic unemployment benefits ahead of schedule this summer saw only a minuscule decline in unemployment relative to those that didn’t.” Evidence from continental Europe and Britain also bear this out. They are experiencing labor shortages similar to those in America, but they have “barely expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic. (Instead, they covered the paychecks of workers whose hours were cut or who were furloughed.)”

Jack Rasmus points to how Republican officials in “red stateshave now proposed cutting back child care and food stamp benefits. He puts it this way:“Now the drumbeat by employers, politicians, and Red states is that child care benefits and improvement in food stamps are keeping workers from returning. It’s the old employer strike strategy: starve them out and they’ll come back to work.”

It remains to be seen if non-employed workers would seek employment if child care benefits and food stamps are cut. However, there are millions of able-bodied adults who have decided, at least for now, to remain out of the labor force. The lack of affordable or subsidized child care may well figure make it difficult for workers with young children to take a job. Cuts in food stamps negatively affect those with low incomes who receive them.  

More persuasive explanations

As noted, the most telling argument is that many jobs pay too little, offer little security, provide few or no benefits, and are embedded in oppressive, often racially and gender discriminating, workplaces. Indeed, the government in the past have not done much to rectify this situation, especially when Republicans have their way in the federal and state governments. The Biden administration is different in that it has advanced policies that would benefit most workers by supporting unions, creating jobs, and addressing many other important issues.

What accounts for the wave of strikes?

David Auter finds in his research that there has been a change in certain worker values. He writes:

“People’s valuation of their own time has changed: Americans are less eager to do low-paid, often dead-end service and hospitality work, deciding instead that more time on family, education and leisure makes for a higher standard of living, even if it means less consumption.” The implication is that the U.S. has more of a job quality problem than a job supply problem.  

Rasmus compiled the following list of concerns that many union workers and workers who are out of the labor force have and, if enacted, would improve the quality of jobs.

  • unlivable low wages,
  • lack of alternative health care for themselves and their families since returning to work means loss of government COBRA payments or Medicaid,
  • unavailability of or unaffordable child care.
  • employers offering many workers to return to work but at fewer hours and no guarantee of hours needed to ensure sufficient weekly earnings to cover their bills.
  • employers insisting on unstable family-destroying work schedules, no civilized paid leave, and in general no hope for the future ever getting out of what is in effect a system of modern work indenture afflicting tens of millions of US workers today.

Bogage refers to how “Unions increasingly are seeking changes in the workplace and corporate culture. Some strike drives are pushing for better safeguards against sexual harassment and coronavirus safety protocols, including one at El Milagro, a Chicago-based tortilla manufacturer. Workers at a West Virginia producer of industrial pump parts went on strike Oct. 1 seeking better seniority rights.”

Then there are “[s]ome [who] are attempting to claw back perks that vanished years ago during economic downturns. Striking John Deere workers contend that the company’s massive profit during the pandemic — earnings nearly doubled to a record $1.79 billion last quarter — should be reflected in their compensation, particularly retirement benefits.”

“More than 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents Hollywood production workers, had planned to strike Monday [Oct. 11] unless they reached a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The two sides arrived at a tentative agreement Saturday night [Oct. 9] that guarantees workers meal breaks, weekends and breaks between shifts, plus significant raises.”

The strike of unionized workers at John Deere

In an article for The Washington Post, Aaron Gregg delves into the strike by over 10,000 John Deere workers at 14 plants in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia that started on Thursday, Oct 14, after contract negotiations deadlocked and workers walked off their jobs (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/14/john-deere-workers-strike).

Gregg reports that “the company’s offer included raises of 5 to 6 percent, but union officials said the proposed contract didn’t meet workers’ retirement and wage goals. With companies nationwide struggling to fill jobs and grappling with supply chain tie-ups, union officials say they are seizing the moment to regain benefits they lost in the late 1990s, when an era of assembly-line layoffs and outsourcing diminished unions’ leverage.”

A bipartisan majority of support the strikes

Sharon Zhang reports on October 26, 2021on a survey conducted by Data for Progress on behalf of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The survey asked nearly 1,300 respondents if they approve or disapprove of workers striking for better wages. “The one-question survey references the John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg strikes” (https://truthout.org/articles/new-poll-finds-broad-support-for-strikes-across-the-country). Respondents of all political persuasions approved. Here’s what she writes.

“Among all respondents, 74 percent of likely voters say that they either strongly or somewhat approve the strikes, with only 20 percent disapproving — a 54-point margin. Support was strongest among Democrats, where 87 percent of respondents said they approved of the strikes. Still, a majority of Republicans also approved, with 60 percent saying as such and only 30 percent disapproving of strikes.”

“The data suggested something that economists and labor advocates have been indicating in recent years: The U.S. is ripe for a major transformation in how workers are treated and compensated, which has been highlighted by the pandemic.

“For the past two years, coronavirus placed the importance of our nation’s workers at the forefront of voters’ minds,” Ethan Winter, Senior Polling Analyst at Data for Progress, told Truthout. ‘As workers flex their power, our polling shows that Americans across the political spectrum by and large support their fight for better working conditions and pay, a critical indicator of the power of the labor movement heading into 2022.’”

How long can striking workers and workers outside of the labor force hold out?

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt addresses this question. (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/19/business/economy/us-economy.html).

He writes: “The labor shortage of 2021 is both conspicuous and perplexing. How is it, after all, that several million people who were working before the pandemic are now getting by without a paycheck? Some workers have savings and benefitted from the government’s relief checks to help people cope financially with the effects of the pandemic.  But cash reserves are typically limited.

Leonhardt points out “that incomes for the poor, the working class and much of the middle class have grown slowly, failing to keep up with either economic growth or the incomes of the affluent.” The point is that many workers without paid employment due to strikes or other reasons and who have little support from government programs  may not have the resources to go on for extended periods of time in these situations without suffering severe hardship.

Are their solutions?

Not from Trump and the Republicans

One will not find solutions to the problems confronting workers from Trump or the Republican Party. They and their corporate and right-wing allies have put a great deal of effort into pushing cultural issues on guns, anti-abortion, white supremacy, and anti-immigration, but they have been totally reactionary on economic issues relevant to working-class and other Americans. They have long-standing records of opposing raises in the minimum wage, fighting to limit unemployment insurance, supporting anti-union “right-to-work” laws, doing what they can to subvert workplace health and safety laws, resisting improvement in the social safety net, opposing reform of the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, and doing little to curtail the outsourcing of jobs by corporations.

Robert Reich challenges five big lies spread by wealthy corporations and their enablers intended “to stop workers from organizing and to protect their own bottom-lines” (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-5-biggest-corporate-lies-about-unions). Here I quote Reich, who makes a case for why unions are beneficial for all workers.

“Lie #1: Labor unions are bad for workers. Wrong. Unions are good for all workers – even those who are not unionized. In the mid-1950s, when a third of all workers in the United States were unionizedwages grew in tandem with the economy. That’s because workers across America – even those who were not unionized – had significant power to demand and get better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. Since then, as union membership has declined, the middle class has shrunk as well.

“Lie #2: Unions hurt the economy. Wrong again. When workers are unionized they can negotiate better wages, which in turn spreads the economic gains more evenly and strengthens the middle class. This creates a virtuous cycle: Wages increase, workers have more to spend in their communities, businesses thrive, and the economy grows. Since the the 1970s, the decline in unionization accounts for one-third of the increase in income inequality. Without unions, wealth becomes concentrated at the top and the gains don’t trickle down to workers.

“Lie #3: Labor unions are as powerful as big business. Labor union membership in 2018 accounted for 10.5 percent of the American workforce, while large corporations account for almost three-quarters of the entire American economy. And when it comes to political power, it’s big business and small labor. In the 2018 midterms, labor unions contributed less than 70 million dollars to parties and candidates, while big corporations and their political action committees contributed 1.6 billion dollars. This enormous gulf between business and labor is a huge problem. It explains why most economic gains have been going to executives and shareholders rather than workers. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

“Lie #4: Most unionized workers are in industries like steel and auto manufacturing. Untrue. Although industrial unions are still vitally important to workers, the largest part of the unionized workforce is workers in the professional and service sectors – retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, teachers–which comprise 59% of all workers represented by a union. And these workers benefit from being in a union. In 2018, unionized service workers earned a median wage of 802 dollars a week. Non-unionized service workers made on average, $261 less. That’s almost a third less.

“Lie #5: Most unionized workers are white, male, and middle-aged. Some unionized workers are, of course, but most newly-unionized workers are not. They’re women, they’re young, and a growing portion are black and brown. In fact, it’s through the power of unions that people who had been historically marginalized in the American economy because of their race, ethnicity, or gender are now gaining economic ground. In 2018, women who were  in unions earned 21 percent more than non-unionized women. And African-Americans who were unionized earned nearly 20 percent more than African-Americans who were non-unionized.”

In an article for On Labor, Kevin Vazquez underlines an obvious point, one that needs to be amplified, that “the Republican Party Has Nothing [good] to Offer the Working Class,” except “cultural wars” (https://onlabor.org/the-republican-party-has-nothing-to-offer-the-working-class).

Vazquez points out that during his presidency and now, Trump and leading Republicans like Ted CruzMarco RubioKevin McCarthyTom CottonBen Sasse, and many other Republican congressmen, governors, and activists have claimed the mantle of “conservative populism,” based on “cultural” not economic policies.

Vazquez rightly points out that this notion of conservative populism is nothing more than an attempt to “rebrand” what are in effect anti-worker policies and mislead voters, especially white workers. It is the Republican Party’s way of offering workers “the same reactionary pro-corporate and anti-worker policies as always, concealed beneath a gilded veneer of culture war and racial grievances.” And they have been successful, in that “[w]hite blue-collar workers are increasingly voting for Republicans,” while in many cases being undermined economically.

Among other examples, Vazquez refers to “Trump himself, who campaigned in 2016 as a tribune of the forgotten and betrayed (white) working class then offered the working-class voters who elected him nothing but more pain and betrayal once in office, Republicans endeavoring to emulate his electoral success by rebranding themselves as protectors of the proletariat are doing little more than placing a pro-worker sheen on top of the same rotten corporate policies. In some cases, such as that of Marco RubioTed Cruz, or many other Republicans, who have a long history of opposition to organized labor and any redistributive social program, this rebranding reaches a level of absurdity that is nearly comical.”

Steven Greenhouse, author and labor and workplace reporter for 31 years for The New York Times,digs into the ample body of evidence that Trump has waged war on workers throughout his time as president. At the same time, Trump was able to dupe millions of white, non-college-educated workers that he was on their side by escalating a trade war with China that ended up doing little to prevent the loss of jobs due to corporate outsourcing, foreign investment, and imports from low-wage countries. The article was published by American Prospect on Labor Day, August 30, 2019 (https://prospect.org/power/worker-s-friend-trump-waged-war-workers).

Greenhouse draws a sample of Trump’s anti-worker actions from a list of more than 50 items compiled by think tanks and worker advocates. I refer below to some of his examples. It’s worth repeating that, well before Trump, the Republican Party had a long historic anti-worker and anti-union record. Trump has built on that misbegotten record.

Trump erased a rule that extended overtime pay to millions more workers, a move that will deprive many workers of thousands of dollars per year. While Trump boasted that he is the best friend of miners, his Labor Department pushed to relax rules for safety inspections in coal mines, but was stopped by a federal circuit court. Trump has made it easier to award federal contracts to companies that are repeat violators of wage laws, sexual harassment laws, racial discrimination laws, or laws protecting workers’ right to unionize.”

“[Trump] has greatly relaxed requirements for employers to report workplace injuries, making it harder for workers to know how dangerous their workplace is and what hazards need correcting. His administration is hurting gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers by urging the Supreme Court to rule that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t cover them, which would give employers a green light to fire them. His administration has rolled back rules that sought to prevent payday lenders from preying on financially strapped workers.”

“Trump’s Labor Department is even allowing many employers who violate minimum wage, overtime, and other wage laws to avoid any penalty by volunteering to investigate themselves. In a blow to workers of color and women, the Trump administration scrapped a rule that let the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collect pay data from large corporations so it could obtain insights into possible pay discrimination by gender and race.”

“…Trump has done next to nothing to make good on his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure—a promise that had excited many workers. Nor has he lifted a finger to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in a decade, the longest stretch without such an increase since Congress first enacted the federal minimum wage more than 80 years ago. Nor has Trump done anything to enact a paid sick day law or to increase the earned income tax credit. But, of course, he pushed repeatedly to gut the Affordable Care Act, a move that would jeopardize millions of workers and their families by leaving many more Americans without health coverage.

“Trump’s appointees to the federal courts and federal agencies have moved aggressively to undercut workers and unions. Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote in the Epic Systems case, which went far to gut workers’ ability to enforce their rights against wage theft, sexual harassment, or racial discrimination. That ruling gives companies the court’s blessing to prohibit workers from bringing class action lawsuits and instead lets employers require workers to resolve their grievances through closed-door arbitrations, which, according to numerous studies, greatly favor employers.”

Biden advances pro-worker initiatives

Executive orders

Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. He reports on how on Friday, July 9, 2021, “President Biden signed a sweeping executive order intended to curb corporate dominance, enhance business competition and give consumers and workers more choices and power. The order features 72 initiatives ranging widely in subject matter — net neutrality and cheaper hearing aids, more scrutiny of Big Tech and a crackdown on the high fees charged by ocean shippers” (https://nytimes.com/2021/07/13/opinion/biden-executive-order-antitrust.html).

The executive order also features a return to the “antitrust traditions” of the Roosevelt presidencies early in the last century.” This is a tradition, Lichtenstein contends, “that has animated social and economic reform almost since the nation’s founding. This tradition worries less about technocratic questions such as whether concentrations of corporate power will lead to lower consumer prices and more about broader social and political concerns about the destructive effects that big business can have on our nation.”

Lichtenstein emphasizes that “the most progressive part of the executive order is its denunciation of the way in which big corporations suppress wages. They do this both by monopolizing their labor market — think of the wage-setting pressures exerted by Walmart in a small town — and by forcing millions of their employees to sign noncompete agreements that prevent them from taking a better job in the same occupation or industry.” He quotes Biden. “If your employer wants to keep you, he or she should have to make it worth your while to stay. That’s the kind of competition that leads to better wages and greater dignity of work.”

Biden introduces pro-union, pro-worker legislation

At a presidential press briefing on March 9, 2021, President Biden introduced the “Protecting the Right to Organize” (PRO) Act o 2021, strongly encouraging the House to take up and pass the legislation and stating that it would be a major step, if and when approved, “in dramatically enhancing the power of workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases-2021/03/09/statement-by-the-president-joe-biden-on-the-house-taking-up-the-pro-act). You can access the full proposal at https://joebiden.com/empowerworkers.

At the briefing, Biden also said, “We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full — and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it.”

Biden believes that the conditions and prospects of ordinary workers starts with rebuilding unions. He states: “The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. Unions give workers a stronger voice to increase wages, improve the quality of jobs and protect job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and protect workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union.  They are critical to strengthening our economic competitiveness.”

And there are almost “60 million Americans [who] would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks.” There is the precedent of strong action by the federal government in support of unionization, that is, the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935 despite unified business opposition. The president pointed out that the NLRA “said that we should encourage unions. The PRO Act would take critical steps to help restore this intent.”

U.S. House of Representatives passes Pro Act

Don Gonyea reports on NPR that on March 13, 2021, House Democrats approved the Pro Act by a 224-206 vote, “with five Republicans joining Democrats in favor of it.” Union leaders support it (https://www.npr.org/2021/03/09/975259434/house-democrats-pass-bill-that-would-protect-worker-organizing-efforts).

Gonyea lists five provisions of the Pro Act.

“1. So-called right-to-work laws in more than two dozen states allow workers in union-represented workplaces to opt out of the union, and not pay union dues. At the same time, such workers are still covered under the wage and benefits provisions of the union contract. The PRO Act would allow unions to override such laws and collect dues from those who opt out, in order to cover the cost of collective bargaining and administration of the contract.

“2. Employer interference and influence in union elections would be forbidden. Company-sponsored meetings — with mandatory attendance — are often used to lobby against a union organizing drive. Such meetings would be illegal. Additionally, employees would be able to cast a ballot in union organizing elections at a location away from company property.

“3. Often, even successful union organizing drives fail to result in an agreement on a first contract between labor and management. The PRO Act would remedy that by allowing newly certified unions to seek arbitration and mediation to settle such impasses in negotiations.

“4. The law would prevent an employer from using its employee’s immigration status against them when determining the terms of their employment.

“5. It would establish monetary penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights. Corporate directors and other officers of the company could also be held liable.”

In an interview with Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, described the Pro Act as a potential “game changer,” saying it would a major step in correcting the “wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power.”

Gabby Berenbaum considers a poll that finds a majority of voters supporting the legislation (https://www.vox.com/2021/6/16/22535274/poll-pro-act-unioniization-majority-bipartisan). She writes: “The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act seems unlikely to succeed in the Senate due to a lack of Republican support — but it has the support of the majority of likely voters, according to a new poll from Vox and Data for Progress.” But there is a partisan divide among likely voters. The survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted June 4 to 6 — “found 40 percent of Republicans support the PRO Act, along with 74 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents. Overall, the poll found the bill has the support of 59 percent of likely voters.”

However, Republicans in the Senate threatening a filibuster and powerful business lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The National Retail Federation have kept the Pro Act from moving forward in the Senate.

Concluding thoughts

Biden’s agenda on workers’ rights is at a legislative impasse. The same is true for his two infrastructure bills and other initiatives. The obstacles are corporate and business opposition, the ability of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to obstruct legislative initiatives by using the filibuster, and the insistence of a couple Democratic Senators who have so far refused to support an end of the filibuster. It doesn’t matter much what the public thinks.

While the Pro Act, if ever passed, would strengthen the positions of unionized workers and make it easier for workers to create unions. That’s all good. But there is much that the legislation doesn’t do. Here are some examples of legislation that would help to democratize workplace relations. Although not in play now, a progressive agenda would include:

  • a living wage provision
  • support for a pro-labor National Labor Relations Board
  • the expansion of corporate boards to include workers’ representatives
  • adequate workplace safety and health standards and enforcement
  • government assistance for worker training and education
  • government assistance for workers who need to relocate for different or better jobs
  • creation and enforcement of laws to end discriminatory gender and “racial” practices by employers
  • enforcement and strengthening of anti-trust laws

So, as of now, many workers will continue to be non-unionized, others will have little choice but to take “bad” jobs, while some will continue to subsist outside of the labor force on inadequate government social/welfare programs, on support from relatives, or being desperately poor. In the absence of the Pro Act, unionized workers will continue to be at a severe disadvantage vis a vis employers. In this eventuality, anti-democratic, right-wing political forces will be further empowered and the society will be that much closer to some type of fascism.

Thom Hartmann argues that “corporate America has been shoving fascism down our throats for decades” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/05/08/corporate-america-has-been-shoving-fascisn-down-our-throats-decades). Here are some of his reasons.

“It’s when giant corporations are able to control government and thus stop things like a national healthcare system, rational gun control laws, free college, or even the tiniest tax on carbon. When they’re able to push through ‘criminal justice reform’ that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute corporate CEOs when their companies kill workers, consumers, or even poison entire communities.

“It’s when they don’t do it through presenting strong and defendable ideas in the public realm and before Congress, but by pouring cash into the pockets of individual politicians and their parties.

“It’s when corporations and the very rich have seized control of the political process through the use of their considerable economic power, after having used that power to change laws so they can legally buy politicians.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. But, as stated in the Introduction to this post, it will take a powerful social movement, commitments to unionization, the election of progressive legislators, and an aroused and informed electorate to alter the trajectory on which the U.S. is now moving. In the meantime, Steve Fraser offers this advice. “the capacity to envision something generally new, however improbable, has always supplied the intellectual emotional, and political energy that made an advance in civilized life, not matter how truncated, possible” (The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, p. 419).

U.S. militarism: Some evidence

U.S. militarism: some evidence

Bob Sheak, October 13, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I review evidence establishing that the U.S. is a militaristic society and power. It is one of a number of major problems besetting the society, but it is among those that have existential implications. Militarism is not only the result of a military-industrial complex, but also of citizens who tend to glorify the armed services and who have little concern for the destruction and civilian deaths and casualties that accompany U.S. wars. At the same time, millions of U.S. troops have suffered the physical, mental, and moral injuries of ill-fated wars initiated by political and military leaders (see, for example, David Wood, What We Have Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, or Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops). With some pauses and despite anti-war movements, militarism and its damaging effects have grown since WWII.

This analysis doesn’t call for the end of our military services. Rather, it calls for a reduction in military spending; independent audits of the military budget and spending; more effective congressional oversight; a reevaluation of whether the U.S. really needs over 800 foreign bases in 70 countries to ensure the safety and security of the U.S.; stopping the revolving door between the weapons makers and military officers; giving more focus to building up the State Department with the goal of enhancing U.S. diplomatic assets; ending the space force; joining with other countries to phase out nuclear weapons; and finding ways to better educate American citizens about the history of the country’s wars, the options to war, and generally about the limits of military power. By recognizing such limits and rethinking the country’s priorities, resources can then be made available to address the non-military crises that beset the U.S.

A bevy of crises

There are many developments that threaten to further destabilize U.S. democracy and economy, while putting at risk the health and wellbeing of citizens, including: the climate crisis; the rampant pollution of the environment; industrial agriculture and depleting soils; soaring class, racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities; the ongoing pandemic and a large number of people opposed to being vaccinated; an inadequate social safety net; gross educational inequalities; the extremist Trump-dominated Republican Party and their millions of supporters; the growth of violent white supremacist groups; etc. I have discussed many of these issues in earlier posts, which can be accessed at: https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com)

The problem of excessive military power: an overview

In this post, I consider how the society is affected by the enormous power of the military-industrial complex, about which President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us in his last speech to the nation on January 17, 1961.

This power is reflected in the authority of the president to initiate war without congressional approval or without the support of the U.N.’s Security Council, which is justified by the ambiguously conceived “Authorization for the Use of Military Force.” (Karen J. Greenberg discusses the origin and impacts of the AUMF in her book, Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump).

It is reflected in the large military budgets passed typically on a bipartisan basis by majority votes the U.S. Congress. It is reflected in the absence of independent audits of the budgets and failure to control the cost excesses of government military contracts. Mandy Smithberger writes: “Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into those endless wars, in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a reevaluation of its expenditures. (It has, by the way, never actually passed an audit.)” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).

It is reflected in the huge profits of the large military contractors. In article titled “Profits of War, William Hartung’s article, writes: “Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors” (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war)..

It is reflected in the over 800 hundred U.S. military bases around the globe. Professor David Vine has devoted a book to this topic. The title: Base Nation: How the U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. He points out that there has been “little investigation of the effectiveness of long-term deterrence, of the kind supposedly provided by U.S. bases overseas” (p. 325).

It is reflected in the revolving door between the military and big weapons makers that creates an implicit if not explicit conflict of interests. On this latter point, Mandy Smithberger writes:

“The infamous “revolving door” that regularly ushers senior Pentagon officials into defense-industry posts and senior defense-industry figures into key positions at the Pentagon (and in the rest of the national security state) just adds to the endless public-relations offensives that accompany this country’s forever wars. After all, the retired generals and other officials the media regularly looks to for expertise are often essentially paid shills for the defense industry. The lack of public disclosure and media discussion about such obvious conflicts of interest only further corrupts public debate on both the wars and the funding of the military, while giving the arms industry the biggest seat at the table when decisions are made on how much to spend on war and preparations for the same” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).

It is fueled by how U.S. military and civilian policymakers continue to identify enemies that they say threaten the security of the society and that require ever-greater military budgets. Historian Alfred McCoy has some telling observations on this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-winner-in-afghanistan-china).

“What is it about this country and enemies? It can’t even pretend to do without them. Of course, it just lost one enemy, the Taliban, in a humiliating fashion, even as President Biden bragged that no country had ever airlifted itself out of a losing war quite so brilliantly. (‘No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it, and we did it today.’) In the process, he also announced that the forever wars of the last 20 years were finally ending. But don’t panic — not, at least, if you happen to be a failed commander from those wars or a CEO in one of the many companies that make up the industrial part of the military-industrial complex. There’s so much more to come. As Biden said, ‘The world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia.”

McCoy continues: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan.  It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.

“In fact, the House Armed Services Committee promptly endorsed a plan to add an extra $24 billion (above and beyond the staggering $715 billion the Biden administration had requested for the 2022 Pentagon budget). The equivalent Senate committee had already given a thumbs up to a similar sum, indicating that the next Pentagon budget will be in the range of $740 billion dollars. California Representative Ro Khanna was among the few who gave the measure a thumbs down. (‘We just ended the longest war in American history, now is the time to decrease defense spending, not increase it… We are already spending three times as much on our military as China did.’).

“Political engineering”

The military-industrial complex benefits from the interests of elected officials who gain jobs from the existence in their congressional districts of military bases and military contracts. Mandy Smithberger describes this situation.

“…the big defense firms carefully spread their contracts for weapons production across as many congressional districts as possible. This practice of ‘political engineering,’ a term promoted by former Department of Defense analyst and military reformer Chuck Spinney, helps those contractors and the Pentagon buy off members of Congress from both parties. Take, for example, the Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel meant to operate close to shore. Costs for the program tripled over initial estimates and, according to Defense News, the Navy is already considering decommissioning four of the new ships next year as a cost-saving measure. It’s not the first time that program has been threatened with the budget axe. In the past, however, pork-barrel politics spearheaded by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), in whose states those boats were being built, kept the program afloat.”

It is reflected in the results of opinion polls that show a majority of Americans think very highly of the military, more so than they do of other institutional sectors. The word “glorification” is sometimes used. It is reflected in a situation where the great majority of citizens never serve any time in the military and therefore don’t have to think personally about the dangers that accompany war. And it is reflected in how many Americans glorify the country’s wars and pay little attention to the civilian victims wrought by the U.S. wars. Public opinion polls confirm these points. According to Wikipedia,

Militaries and especially their troops are held in high regard in most countries. In the United States, military officers are regarded as having one of the most prestigious jobs.” At the same time, there is some variation among countries on these issues. Accordingly, “[w]hile 10% of Canadians viewed the military as ‘not at all favorable,’ only 3% of Britons had a ‘low’ or ‘very low’ view of the military. 65% of Russians believe their military does their job ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time.’” The ratings are also very high in the United States, where “89% of white Americans had a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ favorable opinion of the military, compared to 77% of Latinos and 72% of blacks.” (https://en.widipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_militaries).  

As indicated, the U.S. is a highly militarized society

One way to summarize these realities is to say that, unfortunately, we have a militarized society. Wikipedia offers the following definitions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization).

“Militarization, or militarisation, is the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. It is related to militarism, which is an ideology that reflects the level of militarization of a state, and which is associated with the glorification of the military, armed forces and weapons and of military power, including through symbolic displays (e.g., parades of tanks and soldiers) and actual use of force, such as through warfare. The process of militarization involves many interrelated aspects that encompass many levels of society.” The Wikipedia entry continues.

“Another example is Paramilitarization (Quasi-militarization in some media). This however refers to organizations outside the Armed Forces such as security forces, intelligence agencies, border guards etc.”

The definitions apply to the U.S. It has a militarized foreign policy, a society that glorifies the military, its effects are widespread institutionally and culturally, and all of this has a profoundly negative effects on the country’s already fragile democracy and fiscal policies.

Now, consider some examples of the evidence supporting the contention that the U.S. is a highly militaristic society.

#1 – Military Spending

Military spending – the fuel of the military-industrial complex and U.S. militarism

 The military budget, adjusted for inflation, has gone up and down, since the Eisenhower years, though it has always been a significant part of the federal budget. It rose in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, declined during the 1970s, and rose again during the Reagan years. Then, in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union and during the Clinton years, military spending fell. Then it increased in the Bush years and the first years of Obama, reflecting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See http://earlysignal.com/2015/02/14/history-defense-spending-one-chart.) The base military budget increased during the years of the Trump administration (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

Kimberly Amadeo delves into the components of the US military budget, as of Sept 3, 2020 (that is, the last Trump proposal), and considers why the official military spending account is under-stated (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

She estimates military spending to be $934 billion in the last Trump budget, covering the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021.” This is much more, she writes, “than the $705 billion outlined by the Department of Defense alone2.” Continuing: “The United States has many departments that support its defense. All these departments must be included to get an accurate picture of how much America spends on its military operations.” To fully grasp the full amount of military spending, “you need to look at four components,” she maintains. There is also a fifth component that Amadeo recognizes but doesn’t include in her total military spending count has been a major contributor to the national debt – and the interest on that debt. Here I quote from Amadeo’s article.

“First is the $636 billion base budget for the Department of Defense. Second is $69 billion in overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State group. These two, added together, total the $705 billion budgeted by the DoD.

“Third is the total of other agencies that protect our nation. These expenses are $228 billion.3 They include the Department of Veterans Affairs ($105 billion). Funding for the VA has been increased by $20 billion over 2018 levels. That’s to fund the VA MISSION Act to the VA’s health care system. The other agencies are: Homeland Security ($50 billion), the State Department ($44 billion), the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($20 billion), and the FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice ($9.8 billion).4

“Additional funding goes to each department for readiness development. This includes $31 billion to the Army, $48 billion to the Navy, and $37 billion to the Air Force.

Service members will receive a 3% pay raise and an increase in their housing allowance. Family members receive $8 billion for child care, education, and professional development.

DoD will spend $21 billion on building maintenance and construction.”

The fifth component: Military spending, the national debt, and interest on the debt

In an article for the “Costs of War” project at the Watson Institute, Brown University, Heidi Peltier takes up this issue of how the military adds to the national debt and the interest that is paid on it. As indicated earlier, the interest can be added to the four components of military spending about which Amadeo writes (https://watsonbrown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Peltier%202020%20-%20The%Cost%20of%Debt-finance%20War.pdf).

By January 2020, through the “18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds.” This means that “the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt.”

The result is that, since 2001, “these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses.” Peltier calculates “that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.”

Peltier adds: “When war is financed through debt, the costs are much greater than when it is financed through taxation or other revenues, since interest payments must be made as long as the debt is outstanding. In fact, interest payments can sometimes grow to beyond the level of the debt itself, as will likely be the case with the post-9/11 wars. If war spending ceased immediately, interest payments on the $2 trillion of existing war debt would rise to over $2 trillion by 2030 and to $6.5 trillion by 2050. These interest payments will grow larger as the U.S. continues its post-9/11 military interventions and continues amassing debt to pay for the costs of war.”

#2 – Biden goes along with another increase in military spending

It’s perhaps too early to determine how much the Biden administration will be influenced by the military-industrial complex. But early signs are that Biden and many Democrats in the House and Senate support continuing increases in the already inflated military budget, as indicated by the reference to an article by Alfred McCoy earlier in this post.

Despite the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan, the war there is not ending. It will now emphasize drone warfare, as considered in #3, the next section of the post. US military forces will continue to be stationed in the region. The threat of nuclear war will grow. And, if the Republican subversion of the electoral system advances, Republican influence in the Congress and the states will further heighten the society’s militarization. If Trump is re-elected in 2024, the society will move closer to a modern form of fascism, aligned with other authoritarian governments, and the society’s militarism will intensify.

#3 – The U.S. war on Afghanistan will continue with drone warfare

Author, retired law professor, and writer Marjorie Cohn makes this argument, contending that U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan isn’t over. Rather, it is taking the form of illegal drone strikes, which should also be ended (https://truthout.org/articles/war-in-afghanistan-isnt-over-its-taking-the-form-of-illegal-drone-strikes). Cohn’s argument includes the following seven points.

One, “Three weeks after his administration launched a drone attack that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He proudly declared, ‘I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.’”

Cohn points out that Biden misspoke and overlooks U.S. military engagement in many countries. Here are her examples. “The day before [made his statement], his administration had launched a drone strike in Syria, and three weeks earlier, the U.S. had conducted an air strike in Somalia. The commander-in-chief also apparently forgot that U.S. forces are still fighting in at least six different countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Niger. And he promised to continue bombing Afghanistan from afar,” or “over-the-horizon” attacks.

Two, “‘Our troops,” Cohn writes, “are not coming home. We need to be honest about that,’ Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) said during congressional testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month. ‘They are merely moving to other bases in the same region to conduct the same counterterrorism missions, including in Afghanistan.’”

Three, “As Biden pulled U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, his administration launched a hellfire missile from a U.S. drone in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and then lied about it. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley immediately said it was a ‘righteous strike’ to protect U.S. troops as they withdrew.” However, a subsequent and extensive investigation conduced by The New York Times “revealed that Zemari Ahmadi was a U.S. aid worker, not an ISIS operative, and the ‘explosives’ in the Toyota that the drone strike targeted were most likely water bottles. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, then called the strike “a tragic mistake.” The Times article also notes that past experience shows that “drone strikes” are “notoriously unreliable.” Cohn refers to a study “based on classified military data, conducted by Larry Lewis from the Center for Naval Analyses and Sarah Holewinski of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. They “found that the use of drones in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian deaths than piloted fighter aircraft.”

Four, there is continuity through recent administrations on the use of drone warfare. According to Cohn, Biden is following in the footsteps of his four predecessors, all of whom also conducted illegal drone strikes that killed myriad civilians.”

Five, in addition to the lethality of drone warfare, Cohn continues, [d]rone attacks mounted during the ‘war on terror’ are illegal. Although Biden pledged in his General Assembly speech to ‘apply and strengthen … the U.N. Charter’ and promised ‘adherence to international laws and treaties,’ his drone strikes, and those of his predecessors, violate both the Charter and the Geneva Conventions.”

Six, “Civilians can never legally be the target of military strikes,” but they are the victims. “Targeted or political assassinations, also called extrajudicial executions, violate international law,” according to Cohn. “Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions which is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.” Additionally:

“International humanitarian law requires that when military force is used, it must comply with both the conditions of distinction and proportionality. Distinction mandates that the attack must always distinguish between combatants and civilians. Proportionality means that the attack can’t be excessive in relation to the military advantage sought.”

“The United States has engaged in repeated violations of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. And the unlawful U.S. killing with drones violates the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another treaty the U.S. has ratified. It says, ‘Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.’”

Seven, the society is not totally uninformed about drone warfare. Cohn gives the following example of anti-drone action. She writes there are those who condemn and protest drone warfare. Cohn cites how in June, “113 organizations dedicated to human rights, civil rights and civil liberties, racial, social environmental justice and veterans rights wrote a letter to Biden ‘to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.’”

#4 – The U.S. government and military-industrial complex must find “enemies” to justify rising military budgets  

In his introduction to an article by William Hartung, Tom Engelhardt makes this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war).  He writes: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan.  It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.”

#5 – No one’s held accountable for the inflated costs of military weapons and services.

I draw again on Smithberger’s article. She writes:

“Here’s what we already know about how it all now works: weapon systems produced by the big defense firms with all those retired generals, former administration officials, and one-time congressional representatives on their boards (or lobbying for or consulting for them behind the scenes) regularly come in overpriced, are often delivered behind schedule, and repeatedly fail to have the capabilities advertised. Take, for instance, the new Ford class aircraft carriers, produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sort of ships that have traditionally been used to show strength globally. In this case, however, the program’s development has been stifled by problems with its weapons elevators and the systems used to launch and recover its aircraft. Those problems have been costly enough to send the price for the first of those carriers soaring to $13.1 billion.

“Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet fighter, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, has an abysmal rate of combat readiness and currently comes in at more than $100 million per aircraft.”

Key members of the U.S. Congress benefit

Smithberger continues: “And yet, somehow, no one ever seems to be responsible for such programmatic failures and prices — certainly not the companies that make them (or all those retired military commanders sitting on their boards or working for them). One crucial reason for this lack of accountability is that key members of Congress serving on committees that should be overseeing such spending are often the top recipients of campaign contributions from the big weapons makers and their allies. And just as at the Pentagon, members of those committees or their staff often later become lobbyists for those very federal contractors.”

Over-charges

The Project on Government Oversight (where Smithberger works) has been uncovering overcharges in spare parts since the founding of the organization, including an infamous $435 hammer back in 1983. I’m sad to report that what, in the 1980s, was a seemingly outrageous $640 plastic toilet-seat cover for military airplanes now costs an eye-popping $10,000. A number of factors help explain such otherwise unimaginable prices, including the way contractors often retain intellectual property rights to many of the systems taxpayers funded to develop, legal loopholes that make it difficult for the government to challenge wild charges, and a system largely beholden to the interests of defense companies.

“The most recent and notorious case may be TransDigm, a company that has purchased other companies with a monopoly on providing spare parts for a number of weapon systems. That, in turn, gave it power to increase the prices of parts with little fear of losing business — once, receiving 9,400% in excess profits for a single half-inch metal pin. An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that TransDigm’s employees had been coached to resist providing cost or pricing information to the government, lest such overcharges be challenged.”

#6 – The U.S. public trust military leaders more than elected officials – the downside

This is the topic of an article by Jessica D. Blankshain and Max Z. Margulies. Blankshain is an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Margulies is the director of research and an assistant professor at the Modern War Institute at West Point (https://nytimes.com/2021/09/16/opinion/americans-trust-us-military.html). Their central question is “How and why did we engage in war for so long with so little to show for it?”

They argue that it is not public apathy or that most Americans are “almost totally insulated from the human and financial costs of war,” and therefore pay little attention to or have little reason to care about to U.S. military policies Call this the ‘the military is at war, Americans are at the mall’ theory.” They reject this argument for several reasons. “First, the perception that most Americans are ‘at the mall’ is not new. ‘Off the base, it was as if there was no war taking place,” one veteran said of Korea, America’s original ‘forgotten war’ (despite the use of the draft and a large number of veterans in the population). ‘The war wasn’t popular, and no one wanted to hear anything about it.’ Second, policymakers are unlikely to implement policies like a war tax or draft in a way that imposes substantial political costs, as the American experience in Vietnam demonstrated. Finally, the logic of this argument — which shames the public while putting the military on a pedestal — may actually be making things worse.”

Rather, Blankshain and Margulies take another position, namely that “[t]he fundamental problem is a yawning gap between trust in the military and trust in civilian institutions of government. This, according to polls, has been true for decades.” They point to one recent survey which “found that Americans were significantly more likely to say that the military has done a good job in Afghanistan over the past 20 years than to say the same of any relevant presidential administration.”

This “trust gap” is “one reason the public doesn’t critically engage with military policy is that civilians have been convinced that they should defer to those with military experience and that criticizing the wars is akin to failing to support the troops.” They add: “Excessive deference to the military has made Americans less willing to weigh in on public debates where they believe they lack expertise or moral standing.” Furthermore, since the end of the draft in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, there have “concerted efforts both to reassure Americans that such a force does not threaten civilian control by emphasizing the military’s professional, apolitical nature and to attract recruits and public support by emphasizing the special honor and status associated with military service.”

As trust in civilian leaders has declined, “Civilian policymakers and politicians have exacerbated the trust gap by attempting to turn the military’s popularity to their own advantage, using the military and military advice as either a shield to defend their policy choices or a weapon to attack their opponents.” Finally, they maintain, “service members and veterans have a perceived moral competence. There is a perception that their service and sacrifice mean they have earned the right to weigh in on conflicts in a way civilians have not.” But, Blankshain and Margulies maintain, this perception “risks downplaying the importance of other forms of public service and civic engagement.”

—————-

#7 – Little concern with the destruction and death caused by U.S. military forces and their allies.  

Much of the U.S. public seem little concerned about the death and destruction in other countries caused by U.S. wars. They are undoubtedly and understandably concerned about the wellbeing of U.S. troops. But the victims of U.S. aggression are of less or no concern.

Nick Turse offers some documentation of the civilian casualties of U.S. wars and “the names you will never know” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/09/27/forever-wars-names-youll-never-know).

Turse begins his account with an example from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Here’s what he writes.

“As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a ‘righteous strike.’ The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.

“Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.”

Most Americans don’t know anything about these victims, let alone their names. Turse asks: “Twenty years after 9/11, with the Afghan War declared overcombat in Iraq set to conclude, and President Joe Biden announcing the end of ‘an era of major military operations to remake other countries,’ who will give their deaths another thought?” But this history of not-knowing goes back hundreds of years, as “Americans have been killing civilians since before there was a United States.” Turse gives this overview.

“At home and abroad, civilians—PequotsAfrican AmericansCheyenne and ArapahoFilipinosHaitiansJapaneseGermansKoreansVietnameseCambodiansLaotiansAfghansIraqisSyriansYemenis, and Somalis, among others—have been shot, burned, and bombed to death. The slaughter at Sand Creek, the Bud Dajo massacre, the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre—the United States has done what it can to sweep it all under the rug through denialcover-ups, and the most effective means of all: forgetting.”

“Names Remembered and Names Forgotten”

“Over the last 20 years,” Turse writes, “the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen—that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.” These figures likely underestimate the true extent of the problem, as they say nothing about civilian casualties or the destruction of their communities.

Turse gives the names and circumstances of some of these U.S. war victims in Afghanistan. Here are a few examples, among others. 

“There’s Malana. In 2019, at age 25, she had just given birth to a son, when her health began to deteriorate. Her relatives were driving her to a clinic in Afghanistan’s Khost Province when their vehicle was attacked by a U.S. drone, killing Malana and four others.

“And Gul Mudin. He was wounded by a grenade and shot with a rifle, one of at least three civilians murdered by a U.S. Army “kill team” in Kandahar Province in 2010.

“Then there was Gulalai, one of seven people, including three women—two of them pregnant—who were shot and killed in a February 12, 2010, raid by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.”

The killing sometimes occurred when the U.S. Air Force “carried out ‘signature strikes’ that executed unknown people due to suspicious behavior…like holding a weapon in places where, as in this country, firearms were ubiquitous—and then counted them as enemy dead.”

Then there were similarly imprecise targeted assassinations. Turse refers to secret documents obtained by the Intercept Secret, which is about a drone strike campaign called Operation Haymaker in 2011 and 2012. The strike was intended to “assassinate 35 high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, [but] ended up killing 200 people.” Turse adds: “Of course, we don’t know who they were. But there were many other Afghans killed in airstrikes simply because all ‘military-age males’ were “automatically be classified as combatants unless proven innocent.”

Further, for two decades American-funded warlords and militiamen “murdered, raped, or shook-down the very people this country was supposedly protecting. Again, “no one knows the names of all those killed by such allies who were being advised, trained, armed, and funded by the United States.”

In 2020, Turse wrote “4,500 words for the New York Times Magazine about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso. As I noted then, that nation was one of the largest recipients of American security aid in West Africa, even though the State Department admitted that U.S.-backed forces were implicated in a litany of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.”

Through it all, the U.S. government builds “memorials and monuments commemorating America’s wars and fallen soldiers. As one example, among others, Turse refers to “one of the most celebrated monuments in Washington, D.C. More than 58,000 men and women are represented on the visually arresting black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” Citing celebrated Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans a total of 400 feet, but it would take a memorial nine miles long for just the Vietnamese dead, not “the countless Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.”

Turse conclusion is mixed. On the one hand, he writes, “there have always been anti-war and pacifist groups opposed to all of the post-WWII wars.” However, “they have mostly failed to affect the overall trends and advances to war by the propaganda of the military-industrial complex.” On the other hand, “the military policymakers have not eliminated anti-war movements

Delving into history, U.S. citizens mis-remember post-WWII wars

John Dower, professor emeritus of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done award-winning research on America’s wars after WWII. His book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (2017), provides an exemplary analysis of the military aspect of U.S. foreign policy during this period in U.S. history. In an article on Tom Dispatch (August 2, 2021),“Memory Loss in the Garden of Violence,” he considers how the “memory” of Americans about the post-WWII wars and how it reflects a distorted reality of the causes and effects of these wars (https://tomdispatch.com/memory-loss-in-the-garden-of-violence).

Such memories are shaped by policymakers who want public support for the misbegotten and counterproductive wars they advance. They lie and do whatever they can to encourage pro-war public sentiments. Nonetheless, they need public support to legitimate their war initiatives. By the way, Joseph Masco does a masterful job in identifying the details on how public opinion has been manipulated in his book, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014).

Back to Dower, who finds that Americans generally have a selective remembrance of America’s wars. And such memories are preserved and reinforced by “war memorials and memorial days.” U.S. soldiers are thought of as the victims of war – and they are, but they are hardly the only ones.  

Dower continues: “Still, the American way of remembering and forgetting its wars is distinctive for several reasons. Geographically, the nation is much more secure than other countries. Alone among major powers, it escaped devastation in World War II, and has been unmatched in wealth and power ever since. Despite panic about Communist threats in the past and Islamist and North Korean threats in the present, the United States has never been seriously imperiled by outside forces. Apart from the Civil War, its war-related fatalities have been tragic but markedly lower than the military and civilian death tolls of other nations, invariably including America’s adversaries.”

Dower uses the concept “asymmetry” to call attention to how U.S. troops are praised, while civilian causalities are largely disregarded. Here’s what he writes. “Asymmetry in the human costs of conflicts involving U.S. forces has been the pattern ever since the decimation of Amerindians and the American conquest of the Philippines between 1899 and 1902. The State Department’s Office of the Historian puts the death toll in the latter war at “over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants,” and proceeds to add that “as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.” (Among other precipitating causes for those noncombatant deaths, U.S. troops shot most of the water buffalo farmers relied on to produce their crops.) Many scholarly accounts now offer higher estimates for Filipino civilian fatalities.

“Much the same morbid asymmetry characterizes war-related deaths in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War of 1991, and the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq following September 11, 2001.”

The American asymmetrical views of casualties is linked to the view that the U.S. is an “exceptional” country. Dower puts it this way: “In paeans to ‘American exceptionalism,’ it is an article of faith that the highest values of Western and Judeo-Christian civilization guide the nation’s conduct — to which Americans add their country’s purportedly unique embrace of democracy, respect for each and every individual, and stalwart defense of a ‘rules-based’ international order.”

Such beliefs rest on and reinforce selective memory. Dower gives the example of “Terror,” which “has become a word applied to others, never to oneself. Though, he reminds us, that during ‘World War II, U.S. and British strategic-bombing planners explicitly regarded their firebombing of enemy cities as terror bombing, and identified destroying the morale of noncombatants in enemy territory as necessary and morally acceptable. Shortly after the Allied devastation of the German city of Dresden in February 1945, Winston Churchill, whose bust circulates in and out of the presidential Oval Office in Washington (it is currently in), referred to the ‘bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts.’”

The U.S. also engaged in carpet bombing in Japan, “pulverizing 64 cities prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.” Dower notes: “Few if any American public figures recognized or cared” care about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, where the bomb’s blast and radiation poisoning killed around 140,000, and of Nagasaki, where 60,000 to 70,000 were killed.

Dower also goes touches on subsequent terror bombing wages by the U.S. Air Force in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He makes the point again that Americans have little or no recollection of these wars. He refers to the following evidence.

“The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953records that U.S.-led United Nations air forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy.” According to one estimate, three million civilian Koreans were killed in the process.

“The payload of bombs unloaded on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos between the mid-1960s and 1973 is commonly reckoned to have been between seven and eight million tons — well over 40 times the tonnage dropped on the Japanese home islands in World War II. Estimates of total deaths vary, but are all exceedingly high. In a Washington Post article in 2012, John Tirman noted that ‘by several scholarly estimates, Vietnamese military and civilian deaths ranged from 1.5 million to 3.8 million, with the U.S.-led campaign in Cambodia resulting in 600,000 to 800,000 deaths, and Laotian war mortality estimated at about 1 million.’”

#8 – The U.S. government supports the continuation and improvement of the nuclear arsenal

Here, as follows, are excerpts from a post I sent out on February 7, 2020
(https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2020/02/07/the-looming-danger-of-nuclear-war-the-context-and-the-doomsday-clock).

————————————–

The current post was inspired by the 2020 annual report of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists specifying its decision to move the minute hand on the “doomsday clock” closer to midnight (end-game for humanity) than ever before in the over 70 years of such decisions. This year’s decision was based on their assessments of the chances for nuclear war and the ongoing cataclysmic advances of the climate crisis.

In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs in the early 1940s appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of nationalism, “national security,” a vapid patriotism, and the self-serving assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons. (Richard Falk takes issue with the view that the existing nuclear arsenals can be managed and makes an argument for banning these weapons: https://popularresistance.org/contesting-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge.

While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and thousands of warheads in non-operational status that can readily be made operational (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

Some of these warheads are on missiles located on launching pads in the US, on submarines, and on large bombers – and are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).

Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. And it appears that the Trump administration is aching for the opportunity to wage war on Iran.

There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan). These figures come from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).

The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident.

It can be safely assumed that most citizens who even think about these weapons have no idea of how fragile nuclear weapons launching technology and procedures are. Couple this with a president who thinks in tweeter-length thoughts, who likes being right and winning every time, who glories in the spotlight, and you end up with an irrational and accident-prone nuclear weapons control and command system.

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In a recent article published September 26, 2021 on Common Dreams, Jake Johnson reports on how United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons in order to avoid “nuclear annihilation” (https://commondreams.org/2021/09/26/un-chief-warns-humanity-unacceptably-close-nuclear-annihilation). According to Johnson, Guterres made the statement at a disarmament conference on September 23 where “he urged all nations that possess nuclear technology to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which—if enacted—would prohibit ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.’ The United States—the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war—is among the eight nuclear-equipped nations that have yet to ratify the CTBT.”

This “international day” was marked in the U.S. by anti-war veterans who implored President Joe Biden to adopt a ‘no first use’ policy and ‘make that policy credible by publicly decommissioning U.S. ICBMs that can only be used in a first strike.”  In an open letter, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace reads,

“We represent millions of people who want nothing more than to see the United States make a dramatic ‘Pivot to Peace.’ What better place to start than to step back from the brink of nuclear war? The billions of U.S. tax dollars saved could be applied to the very real national security threats of the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. What better legacy for the Biden administration than to begin a process that could lead to worldwide nuclear disarmament.”

However, the Biden administration is paying little or no attention to such pleas. Johnson points out that “the Biden administration’s first budget request ‘would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts pursued by the Trump administration pending the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review.” The administration “also recently announced a new ‘security alliance’ with Britain and Australia that will help equip the latter nation with nuclear-armed submarines.

Concluding thoughts

While many U.S. historians and commentators advance the idea that the U.S. is an exceptional country that wants to foster peace in the world, the record belies such claims. It would take nothing less than a transformational shift in the present militaristic foreign policy along the lines referred to in the “Introduction.”

The Biden administration seems unlikely to undertake such a task. In the meantime, there will continue to be citizens, groups, and movements that are “anti-war.” Wikipedia has an entry, “List of anti-war organizations” from around the world, including the U.S. (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti_war_organizations).

“These groups range from temporary coalitions which address one war or pending war, to more permanent structured organizations which work to end the concept of war and the factors which lead to large-scale destructive conflicts. The overwhelming majority do so in a nonviolent manner. The following list of anti-war organizations highlights past and present anti-war groups from across the world.” There are on the list 63 anti-war groups of some size located in the U.S.

Such anti-war groups helped, for example, to end the Vietnam War, end ground-level nuclear bomb testing, end intermediate nuclear weapons capabilities in Europe. As the saying goes, they helped keep the option of peace alive. However, the evidence in this post indicates that they have been by and large unsuccessful.

Perhaps, it will take a war in which nuclear weapons are used to jolt Americans into thinking differently about war and peace and then electing peace-minded elected representatives to Washington. This is the sad lesson of the novel, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, authored by Elliott Ackerman and Admiral Jim Stavridis. Perhaps, we can avoid such madness and find peaceful paths to a better world.

How far will the Republicans go in their efforts to subvert democracy?

Bob Sheak, September 23, 2021

 Introduction

 In this post, I focus again on the Republican Party and how, referring to recent specific examples, it continues to advance policies and practice that are intentionally aimed at attenuating, if not ending, democracy. As I point out, they are desperate to win politically even as their electoral base shrinks as a proportion of the total electorate. There is no compromise with their efforts. They are committed, relentless, and contemptuous of science and verifiable evidence. They have the characteristics associated with authoritarian and fascist parties historically and presently. On this point, see Carl Boggs’s book, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads.

 How far will they go?  The only way to stop them, if at all, is democratically, that is, with solid Democratic candidates, adequate funding sources, voting drives, ample opportunities for citizens to vote in fair elections, social movements, grassroots organizing, and educating the voting population of Democrats and Independents about what is at stake.

 There is a caveat. This analysis focuses on domestic politics. When it comes to foreign policy, both major political parties have a flawed and imperialistic record. See, for example, John W. Dower’s book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, or Joseph Masco’s The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror, or John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century.

The Republicans and the “great replacement” dogma

 Given changing demographics that seem to favor the Democrats, the Republican Party and its allies are desperate to advance their political power by whatever means, regardless of the detrimental effects on democratic processes, public health, the climate crisis. Their aim is ultimately to impose Republican control at the national level of politics without majority support and to use a variety of anti-democratic efforts to win control in the states. It is an authoritarian vision that is based on lies, anti-democratic values and interests, in which there is little room for verifiable evidence. As author Lee Mcintyre has documented, we live in a “post-truth” society, the title of his book, where “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence.”

 Greg Sargent takes up the demographic issue, referring to how the idea of the “great replacement” has become GOP dogma (https://washingtonpost.com/opinion/2021/09/17/dan-patrick-great-replacement-theory). He continues: “It is becoming a trend: More and more Republicans have been signing on to ‘great replacement theory.’ Because this worldview posits various versions of a nefarious liberal scheme to replace native-born Americans with non-White outsiders, it’s often analyzed through a racial prism.” On this point, Sargent quotes, among others, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a House leader, [who] insisted this week [the week of September 12] that providing citizenship for the undocumented would produce a ‘permanent election insurrection’ and ‘overthrow our current electorate.’ Other leading Republicans have also trafficked in versions of this.”

 But it is also more broadly about how Republicans use the replacement theory to justify their subversion and abandonment of democratic values.

 The Republican Party has mounted major efforts to shape the electoral system in ways to limit significantly the opportunities for voters, aimed at voters of color and other perceived opponents. The Republicans have long been engaged in voter suppression. Among other authors, Carol Anderson documents how Republicans have used suppression tactics for 150 years to harass, obstruct, frustrate, and purge American citizens from having a say in their own democracy (One Person, One Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, p. 2). What is new in this era of the Trump-dominated Republican Party, is the breadth and depth of voter suppression and efforts to subvert other institutional aspects of the electoral system.

 If the current Republican efforts to limit the votes of opponents, skew the electoral rules in their favor, propagate untruths, intimidate rivals, prevail, Republicans running for federal and state offices will be able to win elections despite losing the popular vote and even at the federal level when they lose in the electoral college. And there’s more. Whenever there are legal challenges to voting outcomes in these circumstances, the radical-right majority on the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of what Republicans call voter “integrity” laws and legitimate the anti-democratic thrust of the Republican voter suppression laws and other anti-democratic policies and maneuvers they support. Ominously, Republicans in Texas and other states are also pushing for a ban of abortion and the unleashing of vigilantism.

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 The Republican Party’s power base

 The Rich and Powerful

 Meanwhile, of course, Republican Party leaders work to hold onto support of large swaths of the rich, corporations, and ideological compatible networks of trade associations, lobbyists, faux experts, think tanks, and foundations. They have long been known as the party of big business and their commitment to an unbridled form of capitalism, which some refer to as neoliberalism (e.g., Jack Rasmus, The Scourge of Neoliberalism; Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism).

 To satisfy their rich and powerful constituencies, the party advances a program of low taxes, corporate welfare, extensive but selective deregulation, the privatization or leasing of any government function that is potentially profitable, and government contracts, as epitomized by but not limited to the lucrative profits of weapons makers. William Hartung is worth quoting on this last point (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2021/Profits%20of%20War_Hartung_Costs%20of%20War_Sept%2013%2C%202021.pdf).

 “The United States government’s reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 led to dramatic increases in Pentagon funding and revenues for weapons contractors. While the costs and consequences of America’s war policies of the twenty-first century have been well-documented, the question of who has profited from this approach has received less attention. Corporations large and small have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the post-9/11 surge in military spending.

 “Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, Pentagon spending has totaled over $14 trillion, one-third to one-half of which went to defense contractors. Some of these corporations earned profits that are widely considered legitimate. Other profits were the consequence of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price-gouging or profiteering. The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in the post-9/11 period raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse. Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts. More broadly, the outsized influence of defense contractors has resulted in a growing militarization of American society.”

By the way, there has been bipartisan support for increasing military spending, though President Biden has requested a controversially lower increase for the 2022 budget than recent presidents.

 Trickle down – a reactionary ideology

 The Republicans could care less about rising inequalities or poverty, or about the maintenance of an effective safety net, or any concept of the common good. They are modern-day Social Darwinists, who argue that the alleged talented and hardworking billionaires and other rich people are said to rise to the top of the income and wealth distributions because of their talent, entrepreneurial savvy, risk-taking, and hard work, and everyone else struggles to pay the bills or even just subsist. And, according to this view, the losers ironically (if dubiously), need the winners for the job-creating investments and everything else contemporary life requires of people. But they hardly make it easy for most people.

 They oppose unions, minimum wage laws, non-market-related pensions, meaningful occupational and safety laws, government job creation, subsidized child care, paid maternity leaves. They don’t want workers to have viable alternatives to the marketplace. They promote the notion, as mentioned, that the state of the economy is dependent on corporate job makers and the government must do everything it can to encourage their investments and capital accumulation.

 Holding onto a shrinking electoral base

 But catering to the rich and powerful isn’t enough to win elections. For that, they need a unified party and the ability to attract enough voters to win elections, while at the same time finding ways to diminish the electoral participation of opponents. Trump has served as a catalyst to bring a perverted and fragile unity to the party.

 In addition to the support of large segments of the rich and powerful, the Republicans, under the leadership of Trump, need and have the backing of a heterogenous base of far-right organizations and grassroots supporters, from white supremacists, Christian nationalists, xenophobes, gun advocates and owners, homophobes, and others, even when such support conflicts with their economic interests.

 Advancing anti-democratic politics

 The Republican Party has pursued multiple goals and strategies, often based on outright lies, conspiracy theories, dubious legal stratagems, legislative obstructionism to increase their chances of winning elections and enhancing the party’s political power. They have intensified their efforts recently by:

 (1) engaging in voter suppression by governors and state legislators, gerrymandering, changing the rules on how votes are counted,

 (2) playing to the Trump electoral base and in support of the false claim that Trump unfairly lost the presidential election in a corrupt, rigged election,

 (3) glorifying or saying little about the rioters who were responsible for the destruction and casualties of the January 6 attacks on the US Capitol, even though the evidence that this was a criminal, violent attack is factually indisputable,

 (4) engaging, with right-wing media, in divisive “cultural” issues

 (5) passing anti- abortion laws,

 (6) supporting vigilantism

 (7) attacking state election officials

 (8) using the courts to suppress dissent.  

Here is some recent evidence

#1 – Texas as a Republican Party trend setter – suppressing rights and other anti-democratic actions

John Nichols argues that “[w]hat’s happening in Texas is about much more than the fight over reproductive rights” (https://thenation.com/article/politics/texas-abortion-ban-politics).

 Rather, “The state is implementing a template for the authoritarian future Republicans propose for all Americans. The recent enactment of a right-wing wish list of extreme measures by the state’s legislature—denying a pregnant person’s rights to choose, limiting what’s taught in schools about racism, permitting people to carry unlicensed firearms in public—is one piece of an ambitious GOP strategy going into the 2022 midterm elections. The other piece involves the restrictions on voting rights that Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed Tuesday.”

Voter Suppression, etc.

 “In Texas,” Nichols writes, “where Democrats have gained ground in recent years, it is now abundantly clear that the Republican strategy is to make it [ever] harder for probable Democratic voters to cast ballots.” The package of voting rights restrictions that the governor has approved includes a ban on drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which had been used to increase turnout (even during the coronavirus pandemic) in Houston’s Harris County. It also expands voter ID requirements, limits early voting hours, and places new restrictions on mail-in voting. State Representative John Bucy, an Austin Democrat, notes that the bill also outlines new avenues for criminally prosecuting voters who make mistakes.

 “There are increased crimes and penalties throughout this bill just for participating in the process,” says Bucy, “and there is no explanation as to why.”

 “At the same time,” Nichols points out, “the law empowers partisan poll watchers to aggressively monitor and challenge voting procedures—effectively codifying the approach taken by Donald Trump and his allies during and after the 2020 presidential election.”

 Republicans in other states are going all out on voter suppression, as part of a national strategy in anticipation of 2022 midterm elections that could expand GOP control of statehouses and restore GOP control of Congress. “While laws that make it more taxing to vote are not new, the current onslaught of voting restrictions and changes to how elections will be administered is not something we’ve grappled with on this scale,” notes a FiveThirtyEight analysis from May. “Additionally, there is their nakedly partisan origins—nearly 90 percent of the voting laws proposed or enacted in 2021 were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republican legislators—and the fact that these laws are likely to have a greater impact on Black and brown voters, who are less likely to vote Republican.”

 #2 – The Republican base goes along with the “big lie”

 Caitlin Dickson reports, “A majority of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. The latest findings show how persistent this false narrative continues to be, despite the preponderance of evidence against it” (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-two-thirds-of-republicans-still-think-the-2020-election-was-rigged).

 The survey involved “1,552 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 30 to Aug. 2, found that 66 percent of Republicans continue to insist that ‘the election was rigged and stolen from Trump,’ while just 18 percent believe ‘Joe Biden won fair and square.’ Twenty-eight percent of independent voters also said they think Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, as did a small 3 percent of Democrats.”

 The survey also finds a partisan division on how to view the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. “A closer look at the respondents’ party affiliations shows a clear divide within these views: 81 percent of Democrats said Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack, compared with just 9 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents. Only 15 percent of Republicans blamed Trump supporters who gathered at the Capitol for the violence that took place on Jan. 6, while 48 percent of Republicans said that “left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” were largely at fault. Conspiracy theories have falsely blamed liberal agitators like antifa for the attack.”

 Indeed, Democrats tried to impeach Trump in February on the charge that he incited the insurrection. The charge was approved in the House but went on to fail in the Senate, where Republicans whose lives had been threatened by the rioters on January 6 refused to go along out of loyalty or fear of retribution by Trump.

 #3 – Viewing the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes and upstanding citizens

 Trump and most Republicans have stood by the big lie that the presidential election was stolen. In an article on September 16, 2021, for Newsweek, Cammy Pedroja reports that Trump continues to defend the Capitol rioters, saying they have been “persecuted so unfairly” (https://newsweek.com/trump-defends-capitol-rioters-being-persecuted-so-unfairly-sept-18th-rally-1629953). She writes: “Former President Donald Trump doubled down on defending those who rioted at the United States capitol on January 6, calling them unfairly ‘persecuted’ on Thursday [Sept. 16].”

 So far, Pedroja reports, 642 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection as of Tuesday, September 14, and dozens have already pleaded guilty.

Trump’s Save America PAC released a statement “ahead of a rally planned for September 18 in support of the hundreds of rioters arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 Capitol riots, the ex-president expressed solidarity with those criminally charged: ‘Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!’”

 #4 – Energizing the right-win electoral base with cultural issues

Republicans are simultaneously advancing a legislative agenda designed to encourage maximum turnout by voters who make up their party’s social-conservative base. They spent more effort on this aspect of their political strategy when in 2018 “Democrats made significant gains in state legislative races that year and picked up several US House seats.” The Republican loss of the presidency was another big setback, though the party gained seats in the US House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the country – while Trump got 74 million votes.

 John Nichols says the new anti-abortion law and other “cultural” wedge issues in Texas are “red meat” designed to whip up electoral participation of the Republican base (https://thenation.com/article/politics/texas-abortion-ban-politics).

 “GOP legislators are creating controversies and responding to them with an eye toward ginning up turnout by their base voters.” This involves not only the abortion ban but for example stirring “backlash against teaching the legacies of slavery, and expanding gun rights.”

 Such tactics are getting noticed by Republicans in other states. Nichols cites an Associated Press report that a ‘network of conservative groups with ties to major Republican donors and party-aligned think tanks is quietly lending firepower to local activists engaged in culture war fights in schools across the country.’ Comparing the approach to that of the Tea Party in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, conservative lawyer Dan Lennington openly admits, “These are ingredients for having an impact on future elections.”

#5 – The sad “heart” of the Texas anti-abortion law

No legal abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

 In an article for The Texas Tribune, Neelam Bohra reports on Texas Senate Bill 8 “which bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy,” or “whenever an ultrasound can detect cardiac activity.” This is a bill, now law, that appeals to one of the Republican’s principal constituencies, right-wing evangelicals. The Bill “took effect at midnight [Tuesday, August 31, 2021] after the U.S. Supreme Court did not take action on an emergency appeal by Texas abortion providers Tuesday (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/31/texas-abortion-law-supreme-court/)

 “It is usual but not always that at six-weeks old,  defined as a fetal “heartbeat,” though medical and legal experts say this term is misleading because embryos at this stage don’t possess a heart at that developmental stage.” In addition, most women are not aware of their pregnancy at this early stage. Providers and abortion rights advocacy groups say “the new law will …[negatively] affect at least 85% of the abortions taking place in the state.”

Legal scholar and author Marjorie Cohn points out that the Texas abortion law will disproportionately affect some groups more than others (https://truthout.org/articles/justice-department-fights-back-against-texas-anti-abortion-law). She writes:  

 “Outlawing abortion will not prevent abortions. It will prevent safe abortions from occurring within the state. Some pregnant people who can afford to travel out of Texas will get safe abortions elsewhere. Poor, rural, undocumented and non-white women in Texas will be those most directly harmed by S.B. 8”

 The Mississippi anti-abortion law

 The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up another anti-abortion case from Mississippi. Julia Conley reports on this story (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/09/20/supreme-court-announces-date-case-directly-challenging-roe-v-wade).

 The case in question, Conley writes, is “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case in Mississippi which poses a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. On Monday, September 20, the US Supreme Court announced it will consider the case on December 1. The Mississippi law would ban “most abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy,” before “fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks.” The Mississippi law “makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, only allowing abortion care ‘in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality.’ Providers who administer abortions in violation of the law could have their medical licenses revoked and face fines.”

 Abortion rights advocates have geared up to oppose the Mississippi law, but there is concern about the right-wing dominance on the Court. Here is more from Conley’s investigative reporting.

 “NARAL Pro-Choice America noted that the Mississippi case will be the first abortion case the court hears since Justice Amy Coney Barrett—one of three anti-choice judges appointed by former President Donald Trump—joined the court, resulting in a 6-3 right-wing majority.

 “The court’s announcement on Monday followed the filing of an amicus brief in the Mississippi case by nearly 900 state legislators who support reproductive rights and justice.

 “‘Since so many state legislators have been leading the assault on reproductive rights, it only makes sense that state legislators be the first to defend them,’ Arizona Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said in a statement. ‘By adding my name to this amicus brief, I join hundreds of powerful, strong reproductive freedom champions standing up for the rights of all.’”

 “The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). was among 72 organizations that filed a separate amicus brief following the Supreme Court’s announcement.

‘In our brief, we explain that the devastating impact of allowing a pre-viability abortion ban to stand—or overturning the right to abortion explicitly—denies the liberty and equality of women and all people who can become pregnant,’ NWLC said.”

#6 – The Texas anti-abortion law legitimates free-wheeling vigilantism

Neelam Bohra (cited above as well) draws readers’ attention to this aspect of SB 8, the pending Texas anti-abortion law. The law is unique not only in drastically limiting the amount of time a woman has to have a legal abortion, but also, astonishingly, in mandating that, instead of state enforcement, “only private citizens can sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding or abetting an abortion after a ‘heartbeat’ is detected.” This encourages a scurrilous vigilantism. Under this law, anyone turning in verifiable information that leads to a conviction in the courts can received up to $10,000 “bonus” per case. Meanwhile, “[t]hrough no fault of their own, thousands of pregnant Texans will lose constitutionally protected access to abortion.” As noted previously, this will affect mostly those women who do not have the resources to travel out-of-state or to Mexico to obtain an abortion.

 President Biden “denounced the implementation of SB 8 Wednesday morning, saying that his administration “is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right,” though he did not refer to any specific course of action.”

Bohra also points out, “Planned Parenthood will try to keep clinics open, staff attorney Julie Murray said. But there is a chance that some abortion clinics will begin closing, said Helene Krasnoff, vice president of public policy litigation and law.” And: “Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health, said the clinics will have to start turning patients away on Wednesday.” In the day prior to the activization of SB. 8, “Sadler said she was ‘engulfed’ with helping to treat over 100 patients at the organization’s clinic in Fort Worth as Texans scrambled to undergo abortions on what many feared was the last day the procedure would be legal.”

 In preparation for legal actions on the Republican side, the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life, the biggest anti-abortion organization in the state, plans “to start suing those they believe violate SB 8. The organization has even set up a whistleblower website, where anyone can file anonymous tips about illegal abortions, even those who have no personal connection to whomever they sue.”

 There is more disconcerting new from Mississippi. Bohra reports, “A separate bill currently under consideration by state lawmakers, Senate Bill 4, would prevent physicians or providers from giving abortion-inducing medication to patients who are more than seven weeks pregnant.

 Heather Digby Parton provides additional details on the anti-abortion ban by the Texas governor and legislature (https://salon.com/2021/09/03/supreme-court-sanctions-gops-vigilante-strategy-to-stay-in-power). As she reports, “Texas passed a draconian anti-abortion law that banned the procedure after 6 weeks. Since most people don’t know they are pregnant that early in pregnancy, it effectively bans the procedure for all but a very few. This wasn’t the first of what they call ‘fetal heartbeat’ laws that states have tried to pass, but it is the first to go into effect despite Roe v. Wade still standing. This is because the Texas legislature came up with a devious way to circumvent federal jurisdiction, by taking enforcement out of the hands of the state altogether and putting it into the hands of private citizens, also known as vigilantes.”

 This law’s novel approach to enforcement, essentially removing the state and using what amounts to vigilantes and bounty hunters (under the promise of $10,000 for every abortion aider and abettor they bag) is essentially a form of legal secession from the U.S. Constitution. By removing the state and putting this into the realm of civil law, they can circumvent Americans’ constitutional rights by making them impossible to exercise. Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from the majority opinion, concedes that the vigilante scheme is a problem, writing:

 “I would grant preliminary relief to preserve the status quo ante — before the law went into effect — so that the courts may consider whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner.”

 However, the “court majority is signaling loud and clear that they have abandoned all pretense of impartial justice. They have joined the rest of the far-right in their quest to retain power and achieve their ends by any means necessary. All they need for ‘legitimacy’ is the power they have — and it is immense.”

 The fact that hardcore, anti-democratic, right-wingers like the Trump Court have implicitly decided that state-sanctioned vigilantism is a valid law enforcement mechanism should not surprise us. Parton refers to The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg who points out that this is now mainstream thinking on the right:

“Today’s G.O.P. made a hero out of Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man charged with killing two people during protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wis. Leading Republicans speak of the Jan. 6 insurgents, who tried to stop the certification of an election, as martyrs and political prisoners.

 “Last year, Senator Marco Rubio praised Texas Trump supporters who swarmed a Biden campaign bus, allegedly trying to run it off the road: ‘We love what they did,’ he said. This weekend in Pennsylvania, Steve Lynch, the Republican nominee in a county executive race, said of school boards that impose mask mandates, ‘I’m going in with 20 strong men’ to tell them ‘they can leave or they can be removed.’”

 Their leader, Donald Trump, “has encouraged vigilante violence, praising insurrectionist Ashli Babbit as a martyr, issuing statements like ‘Liberate Michigan’ and famously telling his ecstatic fans that he will pay their legal fees if they beat up protesters, among a hundred other provocative comments.”

 Goldberg also points out, according to Parton, that “in Texas, the ‘pro-life’ crowd is ready to start hunting down their enemies quoting one of their leaders, John Seago, saying ‘One of the great benefits, and one of the things that’s most exciting for the pro-life movement, is that they have a role in enforcing this law.’ That’s certainly very exciting for all of the MAGA fans out there. 12 other states have passed laws similar to Texas’. A little tweaking to take state enforcement out of it and put anti-abortion bounty hunters in and they’re good to go. No doubt there will be a lot of pain and suffering but that’s pretty much all there is to the GOP agenda these days.” 

 #7 – Attacking election officials in the states

Jeffrey C. Isaac, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, analyzes this aspect of the Texas anti-abortion law ((https://commondreams.org/views/2021/09/10/republican-party-anti-democratic-vigilantes-existential-threat). Here’s his overview.

 “The recent passage of Texas bill SR 1 [8], and its peremptory validation by the Supreme Court’s far-right conservative majority, has generated widespread and justified horror and outrage. As many have explained much better than I could ever do, the law is doubly despicable. It institutes a ‘fetal heartbeat’ limit on abortion that virtually abolishes all legal abortion in the state and that radically overthrows approximately fifty years of settled jurisprudence following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. And it cynically seeks to get around jurisprudential constraints by empowering private citizens rather than state officials to enforce the criminal law, and establishing draconian civil penalties to be paid to these vigilant citizens upon criminal convictions of ‘offenders’ in court.” The latter provision creates what President Biden calls ‘a vigilante system, encouraging private citizens to ‘go out’ in search of ‘offenders,’ and the moral and financial satisfaction that the apprehension and punishment of such ‘offenders’ will bring them.”

 Isaac notes that Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor [also quoted above] put it even more sharply: “In effect, the Texas Legislature has deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures….[and] “that the law represents a deliberate effort to encourage cruelty and inspire fear, turning virtually any effort to obtain abortion services into a risky, costly, and potentially dangerous crime, and palpably assaulting the life chances, and the very freedom, of millions of women.”

 Isaac views the law as “reactionary and cruel,” and also sees it as a “foretaste of things to come throughout the country if Republicans have their way.” He elaborates. “It certainly reflects the influence of Trump in at least two ways. It reflects Trump’s desire to punish opponents that displease him or his base. In this case, cruelty is the point. But it is also a perfect expression of Trumpism in another way: the general attack on the rule of law, and the fair and impartial enforcement of the law by public authorities, that is the hallmark of constitutional democracy, and the promotion, in its stead, of a kind of informal mob rule.”

 “This vigilantism came to a head,” Isaac points out, “with the violent January 6 insurrection, also incited by Trump, along with his group of enablers, including Congressmen Mo Brooks and Louie Gohmert.” Presently, “The promotion of citizen bounty hunters and citizen militias quite clearly involves the explicit promotion of violence as a perverse form of civic virtue,” Isaac writes. It additionally encourages other, less explicitly violent forms, as well.”

 Such reactionary and cruel intentions are reflected in how Republican politicians in various states are seeking to empower partisan Republican poll watchers, thus involving a direct attack on a basic democratic institution. According to the Brennan Center, referenced by Isaac, Republicans are designing the rules so that partisan poll watchers can be “much more assertive, and intrusive, in their efforts to ‘monitor’ voters. Such rules “are also designed to disallow election officials to restrain such monitoring when it becomes disruptive.” Additionally, Republicans are encouraging a wide range of “intimidation tactics” that target voters but also election officials, “who are subjected to defiance, confrontation, and even what Reuters has recently called ‘Trump-inspired death threats.’ The point: to delegitimize the very idea of non-partisan or professional election administration, and to encourage right-wing activists to increasingly take the law into their own hands in their ‘enforcement’ of election law.”

 Isaac also worries about “the so-called ‘election audits’ being conducted by Trumpist activists, most notoriously in Arizona, which also serve the purpose of  corrupting the electoral system along partisan lines. The audits involve “the turning over of publicly-owned election machines, and data, to private—and unprofessional—organizations like Cyber Ninjas, and the relentless questioning of the work of election officials and of professional auditors by these partisan hacks that even some Republicans have described as ‘clowns.’” Such audits “serve to “spread disinformation, about constitutional democracy, the plurality of opinion, and the actual results of elections as determined by legitimate election officials and courts.”

 (8) Using the courts to suppress dissent. 

 Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU, offers some evidence on this issue (https://www.aclusocal.org/en/news/silencing-dissent-didnt-work-1923-and-wont-work-now). In 1969, he reminds us, “the Supreme Court established that speech is protected under the First Amendment unless it is ‘directed to inciting . . . imminent lawless action’ and likely to incite ‘imminent lawless action.’” Recently, however,

 “Lawmakers in 34 states have now introduced more than 80 anti-protest bills so far this year, more than double the number introduced in any other year. In Oklahoma and Iowa, legislators passed bills to give immunity to drivers whose cars strike protestors. In Minnesota, a bill was introduced to prevent anyone convicted of a protest violation from getting unemployment benefits and student loans. And in Indiana, a proposal barred anyone convicted on an unlawful assembly charge from state employment, including elected office.”

 The intent of today’s anti-protest laws is no different from the criminal syndicalism laws of the 1920s — “seeking to silence rather than engage with the message of protest and dissent.”

 ——————–

Concluding thoughts

 As I have argued, the Republican Party represents an existential threat to an already tenuous democracy. In this post, I’ve focused on how this right-wing party is doing its utmost to limit the votes of opponents, delegitimize Biden’s presidency, re-write what happened on January 6, push culturally divisive issues designed to mobilize the electoral base, attack long-established laws on abortion, encourages vigilantism, on such issues as abortion, and replace state election officials with Republican cronies.

 There is much more to the Republican agenda. For example, they are a major supporters of a fossil-fuel energy policy, while being dismissive of the climate crisis. They are major critics of scientifically-based Covid-19 findings and recommendations. They oppose meaningful campaign finance legislation.

 What I wrote in a post on February 6, 2021, still applies.

 The right-wing forces discussed in this post are daunting. The combination of Trump, his massive and subservient base, the profit-first corporate community, and a Republican Party dominated by Trump, all together represent a formidable political force that could lead to a right-wing Republican government in coming elections. In such an eventuality, the erosion of our Democracy would accelerate. 

 Given the right conditions over the next 2-4 years, Republicans could regain control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. They already control the Supreme Court. With Trump at the helm, more extreme Republicans in Congress and state houses, they could further undermine the values and institutions that support democracy, more equality, and social justice and unleash and advance policies that lead to less democracy, more inequality, heightened racism and xenophobia, the marginalization of science, experts, and regulatory agencies, unregulated environmental degradation, a wholesale repression of dissent, and other developments that, if not contested, will end up creating a country with the heinous quality of “1984” and “1933 Germany.”