Tag Archives: Heather Cox Richardson

Context And Clarity

One of the great virtues of Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American” is her ability as a historian to “connect the dots” and provide context to the news of the day. That context often strips away the non-essentials that can confuse us, and provides the clarity so often missing from the reporting that follows our daily headlines.

A recent letter was triggered by Rick Scott’s angry op-ed excoriating the reaction of what he sneeringly called “woke” corporations to the Georgia election bill. Here’s where the history operates to clarify the moment in which we find ourselves:

The ideological faction that is currently in control of the Republican Party grew out of opposition to the active government both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. But since Americans actually liked business regulation, a social safety net, and infrastructure projects, those Movement Conservatives who wanted to take the government back to the 1920s got little traction until 1954, when the Brown v. Board of Education decision enabled them to harness racism to their cause. With federal government efforts to end segregation in the public schools, businessmen who hated government regulation warned voters that their tax dollars were being used to give Black Americans extra benefits. It was socialism, they said, and it would encourage Black people to step out of their place.

This formula worked. Businessmen determined to cut the government bankrolled Movement Conservative candidates, and people determined not to let their tax dollars go to Black or Brown people voted for them. In 1986, Grover Norquist, a former economist for the Chamber of Commerce, brought together business people, evangelicals, and social conservatives. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.”

Richardson points out that the racist and sexist language was initially understated. That allowed supporters–including corporations concerned about their images– to wink at it.  But that was before Trump and his attack on “political correctness”–i.e., civility–brought the racism and sexism out into the open.

In the wake of Georgia’s effort to suppress minority votes and the corporate response, several observers have suggested that we are on the cusp of a realignment that would sever the longstanding relationship between  the GOP and the corporations that have previously supported and funded it. After all, they reason, Republicans may deny the reality of demographic change, but businesses cannot and will not. Corporate America has increasing numbers of minority employees–even in management–and vastly increasing numbers of minority customers. Unlike the GOP, they don’t live in an alternate reality.

It would be very satisfying if Corporate America deserted the Republican Party, but as both Paul Ogden and Richardson point out, small donors are increasingly able to replace any monies that corporations might withhold from GOP candidates.

There is a truism in politics to the effect that voters are more motivated by what they are against than by what they are for. Stirring up anger and bias are, unfortunately, timeless tactics for getting out the vote. With the niceties of “political correctness” stripped away, the departure of most moderates from the party, and the dwindling need to placate corporate and business supporters, today’s GOP is putting all of its electoral eggs in the racism basket.

And as we saw in 2020, there’s a depressingly substantial portion of the electorate responsive to that appeal.

 

 

 

The Winners Write The History

I get Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letter. Richardson is a history professor, and one of the voices trying to restore accuracy to the largely incomplete lessons we’ve been taught about how and why we find ourselves where we are.

A couple of days ago, her letter made me think of the old adage about history being written by the victors–something that is evidently as true of policy arguments as it is of warfare.

Richardson was reacting to the mass shootings in Boulder and  Atlanta, and she proceeded to lay out a history of gun control in the United States, much of which I had not known.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

So how did the “original intent” of the Amendment get twisted into a personal right to own weapons? Evidently, thanks to a similar twisting of the NRA.

The NRA was established in the late 1800s “to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting.”

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA… In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

Times have certainly changed.

The early NRA distinguished between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns, and criminals and mentally ill people who should not. In 1931, it backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It endorsed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and other gun control legislation.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

Richardson tells us that the NRA “embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism,” a movement opposing business regulations and social welfare programs. Movement Conservatives also embraced the myth of the heroic American cowboy, a White man standing up to the “socialism” of the federal government while dominating Black and Native American people.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan– for the first time.

After Reagan was shot, the  NRA spent millions of dollars fighting the Brady Bill; after it passed, the organization financed lawsuits in nine states to strike it down.

Richardson also points out that until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded it wasn’t intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. In the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA began arguing that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

The organization got its money’s worth. In 2008, the Supreme Court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members— recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.

The good news is that the NRA is currently imploding. Perhaps the loss of its ability to spend mountains of money will allow Congress to pass responsible gun control legislation–and if it’s no longer the policy “winner,” we may get a more accurate history.

 

 

 

 

Stuff That Makes Me Feel Better…

Here and there, evidence of progress against hate and division makes me feel marginally more hopeful.

 Juanita Jean reports that Fort Bend, Texas elected its first Black sheriff since 1869. (Fort Bend was Tom DeLay‘s old district.)

A reader sent me an editorial written as the final results were being tallied. It was headlined “Stop Saying America is Divided. It Isn’t” and it made some important points.

What’s always been certain is Biden winning the popular vote. What’s surprising is his winning more votes than anyone. I mean, like, ever. He’s at more than 71.7 million votes, as of this writing. That breaks Barack Obama’s record in 2008. The number is going to go higher as votes come in from California and other western strongholds. Some estimate that his final tally, when it’s all over but the shouting, could top 80 million. That plus the Electoral College victory equals not just a landslide defeat of one lying, thieving, philandering sadist. It’s a wholesale rejection of GOP orthodoxy. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 50.7 percent of the popular vote. Biden could eclipse 52.

The essay goes on to dispute the “conventional wisdom” that the country is divided symmetrically, pointing out that the Democratic presidential candidate has gotten more votes in seven out of the last eight elections.

As the author argues, the electorate is divided, but that division is not 50-50.

Biden is on track to win the biggest coalition this country has ever seen. He’s on track to best the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious coalition of his former boss. Continuing to insist uncritically that the US is divided down the middle not only blurs the line between country and electorate, it minimizes Biden’s and his coalition’s achievement. The majority has ruled. There is now a consensus. The incumbent should have one term. America should be a democratic republic, not a white-wing autocracy…

Some ask why 40 percent of the country voted for dictatorship. It’s simple. Democracy empowers people that 40 percent—representing 69 million voters—don’t like. As I argued Monday, it brought us Barack Obama. It will bring us Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. If you can’t accept that, if you can’t accept the political legitimacy of non-white people in positions of power, you’re probably willing to do anything to “right that wrong,” even if that means killing yourself. Yes, we came very close to seeing the reelection of a chaotic tyrant. More important, however, is a massive majority saw the danger and put a stop to it.

He’s right. The sad thing, however, is that 40% minority includes a majority of white Americans. 

Finally, Heather Cox Richardson adds her considered, informed analysis.She began by reminding us of the degree to which Trump and his team have governed by creating their own reality. When that tactic fails, they are at sea.

He planned to challenge the counting of the mail-in ballots in the courts, all the while telling his supporters that Democrats were stealing his victory. If he could gin up enough chaos, he could buy time to throw the results into doubt and, perhaps, get the Supreme Court to enter the fight. There, he hoped for victory with the help of the three justices who owed him their seats.

He planned to subvert the election, staying in power thanks to his extraordinary ability to control the narrative, making people believe things that are not true.

The only thing that could stymie that narrative was overwhelming turnout from Democrats. To make that impossible, Trump’s team arranged to keep voters from the polls in places like Florida, and Texas, and enlisted Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to delay the mails so ballots would not be delivered in time to be counted.

But, in the end, their plans could not completely suppress those Americans fed up with the Trump administration. As I write tonight, Biden and Harris are winning the popular vote by more than 4 million votes, and the numbers are rising. If it weren’t for our antiquated Electoral College system, this election would already be over, decisively.

In the years to come, researchers will determine just how many Biden votes were suppressed–not cast or not counted. That number–which includes the  disfranchisement of 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida, despite an overwhelming vote in 2018 to restore their voting rights–will add to the margin by which the majority of Americans rejected Donald Trump.

Our job is to keep the arc of history moving toward justice.

 

Balanced Budgets And Tax Caps

For years, it has been a GOP article of faith that the United States should pass a balanced budget amendment. Here in Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels was the driving force behind the “constitutionalization” of tax caps–adding a measure to the state’s constitution limiting state and local government’s taxing power.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed in Congress, and the federal government retained authority for the massive deficit spending needed to ease what will certainly be a major recession or a depression in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Indiana, we weren’t so lucky; Mitch Daniels successfully curried voter favor by decimating the ability of cities to adequately fund services and hobbling the state’s ability to meet unanticipated crises.

The average voter doesn’t recognize the different functions of constitutions and statutes, or understand why specific tax provisions of this sort don’t belong in the former.  Most Hoosiers thought it was a good idea to place tax caps in the state’s charter, making it difficult–if not impossible–to change direction if the need arose. Now, the state of Georgia–which has a similar restriction–is demonstrating just how short-sighted and damaging it is to elect people who are more concerned with politics than good policy.

From Heather Cox Richardson’s daily “Letter,”(no link, but her URL is heathercoxrichardson@substack.com) we learn about an investigation by George Chidi, a Georgia journalist and former staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Chidi examined Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, nail salons, restaurants, theaters, and massage therapists, among other businesses, next week.

Kemp said the businesses would be required to screen workers for illness, increase sanitation rules, separate workspaces by at least six feet, telework where at all possible, and have staggered shifts. He also said that more restrictive local rules could not override his order.

Kemp told reporters that his concern was to protect small businesses, hurt by the economic shutdown, but Chidi had a different interpretation. “It’s about making sure people can’t file unemployment,” he wrote.

The state’s unemployment fund has about $2.6 billion. The shutdown has made claims skyrocket—Chidi says the fund will empty in about 28 weeks. There is no easy way to replenish the account because Georgia has recently set a limit on income taxes that cannot be overridden without a constitutional amendment. It cannot borrow enough to cover the fund either, because by law Georgia can’t borrow more than 5% of its previous year’s revenue in any year, and any borrowing must be repaid in full before the state can borrow any more.

By ending the business closures, Kemp guarantees that workers can no longer claim they are involuntarily unemployed, and so cannot claim unemployment benefits. Chidi notes that the order did not include banks, software firms, factories, or schools. It covered businesses usually staffed by poorer people that Kemp wants to keep off the unemployment rolls. (Emphasis supplied.)

We already knew that Kemp was despicable; a man for whom the word “ethics” is clearly meaningless–as Secretary of State, he refused to recuse himself and oversaw the Gubernatorial election in which he was a candidate. By throwing out some 50,000+ registrations from African-American voters, he narrowly deprived Stacy Abrams of a victory in that race.

This effort to deprive low-income workers in Georgia of the ability to claim unemployment is equally contemptible, but it is also equally attributable to the restrictive provisions in Georgia’s constitution.

Indiana’s constitution requires a balanced budget. That requirement need not be debilitating–if the state and its subdivisions can raise taxes to meet unanticipated challenges. Thanks to Mitch Daniels, his successors in the Governor’s office are unable to do that. Governor Holcomb thus far seems like a pretty solid guy–a throwback to the kind of Republicans I used to know–so I am hopeful he won’t emulate Georgia’s Kemp.

When rightwing Congress-critters bloviated about a Balanced Budget Amendment, cooler heads pointed to the perils and prevailed. When Republicans in the Indiana statehouse crowed about putting tax caps in the constitution to “protect” taxpayers, warnings by fiscal and tax policy experts were pooh-poohed.

Politics won, sane and informed policy lost.

Isn’t there a song called “Georgia on my mind”?

Making Matters Worse….

If Trump and his sorry band of predators were simply inept–unable to govern (and certainly unable to govern in the public interest)–it would be bad enough, since  incompetence alone is causing hundreds–perhaps thousands– of unnecessary deaths.

But Trump can’t leave bad enough alone. As crowds of seriously stupid people protested “stay at home” orders in several states, he took to Twitter to encourage them–in language that has been interpreted as advocating “overthrowing” the (Democratic) governors of three of those states.

It’s never safe to attribute intent to Donald J. Trump, since most of his attempts at communication are incoherent. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that encouraging the violent overthrow of the government may be a federal crime. (I’m sure Trump would reiterate his position that the President cannot be investigated for criminal behavior, let alone charged–a position he’s held only since becoming President. It certainly wasn’t his position when Obama–of whom he is clearly insanely jealous–was in office.)

However, as Heather Cox Richardson has written (link unavailable), there is more to it than Trump’s usual obliviousness.

Since the 1980s, the Republican Party has retained power by insisting that its leaders were defending America from dangerous “liberals,” who wanted to redistribute wealth from hardworking, religious, usually white, taxpayers, to “special interests.” In the years since President Ronald Reagan, there has been less and less nuance in that narrative and, by the time of President Barack Obama, no room to compromise. The division of the nation into “us” versus “them” has come to override any attempt at actual problem solving; Republican lawmakers simply address national problems with what their ideological narrative requires: cuts to taxes, regulation, and social welfare programs.

The coronavirus pandemic requires us to unite for our own safety, but members of the Republican Party can only see the world in partisan terms. Boston College political scientist David Hopkins notes that “The contemporary Republican Party has been built to wage ideological and partisan conflict more than to manage the government or solve specific social problems.” Republicans remain so consumed by their war on Democrats and liberals they cannot fathom working together to fight the pandemic.

Richardson sees Trump’s tweets in the context of that GOP narrative–and notes that it is a narrative constantly and wholeheartedly advanced by Fox News. As she points out, the relatively small protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan was not some eruption of grass-roots sentiment; it was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the DeVos family, and the reason anyone even heard about it was because right-wing media–especially Fox– hyped it.

FNC personality Jeanine Pirro said of the Michigan protesters: “God bless them, it’s going to happen all over the country.” FNC personality Laura Ingraham tweeted a video of it, saying: “Time to get your freedom back.” FNC personality Tucker Carlson interviewed a representative of the MCC on his show; the person got another interview on “Fox & Friends” the next day. Indeed, Trump’s “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” tweet came just after a program on the Fox News Channel ran a story on protests at the Minnesota governor’s office by a group called “Liberate Minnesota.”

The goal of this enterprise is to keep Republicans in office in 2020. The latest filing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) leadership committee shows that four of the top five donors are executives for the Fox News Channel. Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Viet Dinh, FNC’s Legal Adviser and Policy Director, and the president of 21st Century Fox all gave $20,600.

Richardson identifies Trump’s “central political problem” as his inability to work with Democrats to implement the measures needed in a time of crisis. I think she’s being kind. I think his “central problem” is a combination of mental illness, narcissism, abysmal ignorance and stupidity. (Ignorance and stupidity are not the same thing; ignorance is an absence of information and can be remedied–stupid can’t be fixed.)

Be that as it may, however, the “central political problem” America faces is an administration composed of people with whom our mentally-ill and entirely self-regarding President feels comfortable. Its an assemblage that is both thoroughly corrupt and totally unfamiliar with the proper purposes and operations of government–  and it’s supported by a base in thrall to a “state media” that puts Pravda to shame.

We know Trump and his administration are stealing us blind; what is worse, between their daily rollbacks of environmental protections and their monumental incompetence in crisis management, they are literally killing us.