Democracy Is Dying on the Right

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There’s a lot to unpack from the events of the past several weeks.  First, it appears that the Republican Party has crossed the Rubicon to join former President Donald Trump and his band of radicals – a collection of anti-government, anti-abortion, anti-gun control and anti-immigration bigots who are driven by lies and wild QAnon conspiracy theories.  It’s likely that the moderate and Constitution-supporting Republicans in the party will be subsumed by this mob or driven out by it.

The 10 U.S. House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January are being censured or rebuked by their local GOP organizations and Trumpian primary candidates are lining up to challenge them in 2022.  One of them, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, is the very conservative number three ranked Republican in the House who had to survive a vote to oust her from that leadership position.  She will definitely face one or more primary opponents next year and being “primaried” is what Republicans in red districts typically fear the most.  State senator Anthony Bouchard has already announced his campaign against Cheney saying, “Wyoming taxpayers need a voice in Congress who will stand up to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, and not give them cover.”

All but two of the seven Republican Senators who voted to convict Trump last Saturday have been censured by local or state GOP organizations.  The effort to chastise Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who is a very conservative legislator, tells us a lot about where the party is these days.  Although, he is retiring at the end his term in 2023, he has been censured by numerous GOP county committees and may suffer a putdown by the state organization for voting his conscience as well.  Toomey responded, “I did what I thought was right.”

But here’s the thing; that’s not what many of his constituents had in mind.  “We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” said Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County, Pennsylvania GOP, one of the organizations that had censured Toomey.  “We did not send him there to do ‘the right thing’ or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.”

Comments by these Republican officials make it clear that they believe the election was stolen from Trump and that he was definitely not at fault for the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.  Recent polling confirms that Trump and the Republican Party are of upmost importance to them.  In fact, a Quinnipiac University poll indicates that three out of four Republicans want Trump to play a big role in the GOP.

The January 2021 American Perspectives Survey – a project of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute – found the following regarding Republicans:

  • Seventy-nine percent have a favorable opinion of Trump.
  • Sixty-six percent believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected, with 75% of those without college degrees holding that belief.
  • Seventy-four percent say Trump did not incite the attack on the Capitol.
  • Sixty-five percent believe the 2020 election involved widespread voter fraud.
  • Twenty-nine percent say the QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump was fighting a global child sex trafficking ring run by elite Democrats is mostly or completely true and – get this – 43% aren’t sure.
  • Forty-one percent feel frightened about the outcome of the 2020 election.

I believe that Trump’s constant lies and conspiracy theories – which were supported by Fox News and other right-wing media – have literally poisoned the minds of millions of otherwise reasonable people.  The fact that 29% of Republicans are QAnon believers and that 41% of them are “frightened” by the election results adds credibility this conclusion.  What’s actually to fear from Democrats, Medicare for All or the Green New Deal?  Isn’t it the GOP that’s supported by the radical Proud Boys, tens of thousands of well-armed militia people, white supremacists and neo-Nazis?  Give me a break! 

Isn’t it also true that Republicans in state legislatures are attempting to win elections by radical gerrymandering, suppressing minority and college student voters and otherwise changing the rules to favor their candidates?  In fact, since November 3, lawmakers in states with Republican majorities are using Trump’s lies about voter fraud to enact over 100 restrictions that would limit mail-in ballots, impose new voter ID requirements and slash voter registration options.  Arizona tops the list with 19 anti-democratic proposals, followed by Pennsylvania with 14 and Georgia with 11.  The impetus for this, of course, is the 2020 election that saw record numbers of minority voters who flipped several red states to blue. 

The Democracy Index, which is prepared every year by The Economist Intelligence Unit, rates 167 countries on a scale that ranges from “full democracy” to “authoritarian regime.”  The U.S. was rated a full democracy in 2006 – 17th on the list.  After being rated a “flawed democracy in 2016 and dropping to 25th on the list, it has remained there through 2019.  A decline in public trust in U.S. institutions was the reason given for the downgrade in 2016, which may have helped Donald Trump win the presidency.

Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the January 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters and Republican efforts to further suppress minority voters, however, will no doubt cause America’s democracy rating to sink significantly lower for 2020 and 2021.  And I believe the blame for this falls squarely on the Republican Party.

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Will Republican Lies Make America Ungovernable?

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The insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 was incited by the many unfounded election fraud lies spread by former President Trump, his supporters and right-wing media.  The eight senators and 139 House Republicans who, shortly thereafter, objected to President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania were apparently motivated by the same false narritive.  Incredibly, this meant that two-thirds of GOP House members believed that keeping Trump in office was more important than upholding our democracy. 

After the Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach Trump for inciting the attack on the Capitol and delivered the articles to the Senate, 45 of 50 GOP Senators voted to challenge the constitutionality of impeaching a former president.  In doing so, they signaled that they will likely vote to acquit Trump of these charges, no matter how much damning evidence of his guilt is presented during the upcoming Senate trial. 

Numerous congressional Republicans are claiming that an impeachment trial will further divide the nation and that Congress should just, “move on” and forget about the five people who died during the insurrection and the desecration of our most sacred government building.   What flaming hypocrites!  They didn’t move on from the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, did they?  Oh no, House Republicans and Fox News anchors spent the next four years trying to put the blame for that tragedy on former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton.

Problems with the Republican Party, however, go much deeper than hypocrisy in Washington.  It’s mind boggling what’s happening in states where Trump loyalists are in control of the GOP organization. 

Party officials in Arizona actually adopted a resolution censuring their very conservative Republican Governor Doug Ducey, former Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of Arizona hero and former Senator, John McCain.  McCain and Flake sinned by endorsing Biden.  Ducey was rebuked because his coronavirus restrictions allegedly limited personal liberties.  This stunning move was the work of radical state party chairwoman Kelli Ward, who Trump recently endorsed for reelection. 

The Republican Party of Texas issued a statement thanking Trump for “putting America first,” and falsely stated that his defeat was due to massive fraud.  Comments from local GOP officials in Oklahoma, Nevada, Virginia and Washington state, among others, published more lies in strongly supporting the former president and totally opposing Republican politicians who challenge him. 

The Oregon GOP approved a resolution that went even further into an absurd, alternative reality.  It accused the ten Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump of “conspiring to surrender our nation to Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship void of all cherished freedoms and liberties.”  It also falsely claimed there was growing evidence that the attack on the Capitol was a “false flag” operation – i.e., one perpetrated by the left to blame the right – “designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans.”  These Oregon party officials compared the Capitol insurrection to the February 1933 burning of the German Reichstag, which led to a Nazi dictatorship. 

Back in Washington, a staffer working for a Trump-supporting GOP congressman told a Politico reporter that “their office has received multiple calls from constituents who say the rioters didn’t inflict enough damage and that there should’ve been more people storming the Capitol.”

The big news in D.C. for Republicans, however, is newly-elected Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who Trump called a rising star in the party.  She’s a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory that Democratic leaders are part of a global pedophile ring that engages in unspeakable acts against children.  One of the totally sick conspiracy theories that Greene has promoted claims that Hillary Clinton has mutilated and murdered children.  It is simply too gruesome to describe. 

In 2018 and 2019 Greene supported Facebook comments that advocated putting a bullet in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head and executing FBI agents who were accused of being part of the nonexistent, Trump-hating “deep state.”  And she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the murder of teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

No problem, says House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.  He gave Greene a seat on the House Education Committee and most House Republicans have been silent about her ultra-radical behavior.  

On the other hand, conservative Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), the third most powerful Republican in the House, is being pilloried by many of her colleagues because she voted to impeach Trump. 

Recent polls indicate that 70% of Republicans believe that Biden “was not legitimately elected,” that 80% supported Trump as he left office and that 60% believe the GOP should follow Trump’s leadership going forward.  Democrats, of course, have a totally opposite opinion.

A January New York Times Article by Thomas B. Edsall entitled, Is America Ungovernable Now? presented opinions on this subject by several noted educators, including Julie Wronski, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi.  She contended that “when Americans are divided on simple facts, and live in two different realities, we are not a governable people.”

Well, I believe Wronski precisely described where Americans are today, thanks to GOP and right-wing media lies.  Still, I’m not ready to accept that America is ungovernable.  The problems President Biden inherited from Trump’s incompetent administration require bold government solutions and I’m reasonably confident that “we the people” will demand that they be legislated.

Note: Thanks to the follower(s) who posted my January 14 blog on Facebook.  It resulted in significant activity on my fromthecenter.net blog site.  I greatly appreciate followers who post my blog on Facebook or send links or copies to their email list.

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The Republican Party Is Not Fit to Govern

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If ever there was a day that defined the reckless incompetence of President Donald Trump and the anti-democratic tendencies of the Republican Party, it was January 6.  The word “unprecedented” has been used so often with regard to this president’s abuses of power that it’s too weak and pale in this context.  The fact is, Trump and his congressional supporters have been involved in a continuous attack on our democracy for the past four years, which culminated in an insurrection at the Capitol complex last week.

There is something profoundly sad and deeply disturbing when we see Americans storming the Capitol and rampaging through the halls of Congress, the people’s house, with some actually defecating on the floors.  Many were simply vicious thugs, beating, and in one case murdering, a Capitol policeman.  This happens in a third world country, not the United States. 

As soon as the building was secured, eight GOP senators and 139 Republican House members attempted to keep Trump in office by objecting to Arizona’s and Pennsylvania’s certified electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden.  Among those were Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his second in command Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the Republican leaders in the House.  

Evidently, they weren’t fazed by being put in fear for their lives by Trump supporters or that the president called these murderous criminals “very special” and said he “loved” them.  Neither, I suppose, were they concerned that the mob threatened to lynch their colleague, Vice President Pence.  These Republican legislators persisted in attempting to subvert the presidential election, choosing to undermine the people’s vote – the most sacred right our Constitution provides – rather than suffer the wrath of Trump’s base.  This should not be surprising, however, it totally fits the cowardly pattern of the GOP over the past four years or more. 

Still, if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership, had stood firm against Trump’s abuses of power in the beginning of his term, they might have contained him.  The longer they let him smash norm after norm and snub the separation of powers, however, the bolder and more authoritarian the president became.  Republican coddling of Trump was always just a selfish political calculation though and when everything becomes political, even human life and the Constitution are no longer sacred.

But that’s in the past and Trump made history yesterday by being the only president that has been impeached twice.  He is being charged with inciting an insurrection, about the most serious crime a president could commit short of treason.  Still, 197 House Republicans voted against holding the president accountable and turned their backs on democracy.  The 10 who voted with the Democrats will no doubt receive death threats from Trump supporters and could be punished by their party. 

There’s no question, the GOP is deeply divided and in trouble.  On one side corporations that donate to Republicans are closing their wallets because the president attempted to undermine the 2020 election and his supporters mounted an attack on the Capitol.  On the other side is Trump’s Frankenstein monster of a base, which will try to destroy any Republican politician who opposes their president.

The 9/11-styled commission that will be established to thoroughly investigate how the attack on the Capitol happened – who caused it, why law enforcement wasn’t prepared to repel it and why the government response to it was totally inadequate – won’t help the GOP either.  Trump must be held accountable, as do the insurrectionists, but some Republican representatives may have been involved.  

Yesterday we learned that members of Congress, including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), led tours of the would-be rioters through the halls of Congress on January 5, in what appears to have been reconnaissance missions in preparation for the attack on the following day and there’s a picture to prove it.  Boebert has been asked to resign because she tweeted information about Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a target of the attackers – as the insurrection unfolded. 

Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala), Andy Biggs (R-Az.) and Paul Gosar (R-Az.) have also been implicated in a plot to help the rioters.  If true, these representatives and any others who aided and abetted the insurrectionists must be expelled from Congress and indicted for any crimes they committed.

Longer term, however, here’s what I believe voters should never forget.  Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate failed miserably to protect this nation from the deadly coronavirus that will likely kill over 400,000 Americans, even politicizing the wearing of protective masks.  They baulked at legislation that might have helped federal agencies repel a massive Russian cyberattack that went undiscovered for months.  And a Republican-controlled federal government mostly stood by as the most sacred building in the nation’s capital was ravaged by an angry right-wing mob.  In time, many Republicans will attempt to blame Trump for these catastrophes but his willing accomplice was the Republican Party that rolled over like an obedient dog at his command.

We elect a president and members of Congress to be leaders, to set examples, to shield the people they serve from harm and to always protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  No doubt, this nation needs a viable GOP for our two-party system.  But I believe the current edition of the Republican Party has failed in every duty they were elected to fulfill and are therefore unfit to govern.

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Will Trump’s Coup Attempt End Next Week?

Are you curious about the count of electoral votes to be conducted during a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, January 6 that will finalize the results of the presidential election? Well, you’re not alone.  For the past two weeks, half the nation has been focused on that day, particularly Trump supporters.  There has been very little written, however, about Sunday, January 3 when the new Congress convenes and the rules for that momentous count will be established. 

The Senate rules committee – currently chaired by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) – typically issues the first draft of these rules in what is called a concurrent resolution.  I’ve read that in the past they have been adopted unanimously by both chambers without debate and have not been altered for decades.  Basically, these rules state that Congress shall abide by the Constitution, specifically the 12th Amendment, and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which I’ve summarized briefly as follows:

President of the Senate shall be the presiding officer (Vice President Mike Pence or the Senate President Pro Tempore), who shall, in alphabetical order starting at 1 PM, open all certificates purporting to be the electoral votes of the States and announce the results.  Any objection thereto must state clearly and concisely the grounds for the objection in writing and be signed by one Senator and one member of the House.  The two chambers shall then meet separately for two hours to consider the objection(s) and take a vote.  Objections will fail if a simple majority in either the Senate or the House reject them.

The Electoral Count Act is not only vague and confusing, it is an English professor’s nightmare.  The 12th Amendment, which sets forth the duties of the President of the Senate (probably Pence), is not much more lucid.  Legal scholars believe that this lack of clarity and specificity could provide an opportunity for Senate and House leadership to craft the aforementioned rules more precisely in order to guide the electoral vote counting process and thereby avoid lengthy challenges and a donnybrook by supporters of President Trump.

Far-right Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has clearly stated that he intends to object to various states’ votes because of what he alleges is their flawed election systems.  He will likely be joined by dozens and perhaps a hundred or more House Republicans.  Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has said he will object to votes submitted by Pennsylvania and 11 other Republican Senators say they will also object to the election results until there is a 10-day audit. 

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) seems to be the major voice of reason in the GOP.  In a long Facebook post he detailed why there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election.  He also criticized the “giant gulf” between what Trump and his allies are saying in public and what they are alleging in court.  Sasse’s bottom line is that Trump doesn’t have the evidence to back up his fraud claims and neither do the “institutional arsonists members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote.”

When asked if any of his colleagues disagreed with him about his position Sasse said, “When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.”  As I have written in several blogs over the past two years, Republican politicians fear the wrath of Trump voters if they fail to support the president. 

Mike Pence has his own political future to consider.  No doubt, he will be a presidential candidate in 2024 if Trump doesn’t run.  So, for the past four and a half years he has been sickeningly obsequious to Trump and mindful of the president’s millions of supporters.  He knows that on Wednesday afternoon, all of their eyes and hopes will be on him.  Pence has a no-win dilemma.  Does he go rogue and attempt to aid Trump and his congressional allies in what would be a coup attempt?  Or will he play by the rules and infuriate Trump’s base? 

Pence had planned to fly off to Bahrain, Israel and Poland after the January 6 session but that trip was unexpectedly cancelled recently.  Consequently, speculation on what Pence intends to do as he presides over the electoral vote count will be wagging everyone’s tongue in the nation’s capital early next week. 

My focus, however, will be on the rules established tomorrow – yes, Sunday – and how restrictive they will be.  Will they prevent Pence from presenting slates of Trump electors?  Will they set forth more stringent procedures for making objections to Biden’s electors?   Hopefully, we will know the answers to these questions before Wednesday.

But here’s the thing.  Regardless of what Pence does, if one House member and at least one Senator object to the electoral votes from all five states where Trump is contesting the elections, that would require well over 10 hours of deliberations and related procedures. 

So, will Congress end Trump’s coup attempt by finally declaring President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the winners on January 6?  Perhaps not – but I’m confident they will do that by early on January 7.

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Republicans Attempted a Coup; It Won’t Be Their Last

President Donald Trump has attempted a coup-d’état and the vast majority of congressional Republicans are either actively supporting him or watching silently from the sidelines.  Many may fear a nasty tweet from the president, however, I believe that a significant number of them would have cheered if he had succeeded in a post-election power grab.  That is profoundly sad.

How in the world did the longest lasting and most powerful democracy in the world get to this miserable state?  Well, I think it started with Trump using lies and deception to cultivate a huge, loyal cadre of supporters from an already radicalized Republican Party.

In a February 2018 blog, I wrote that Trump’s objective in keeping his hardcore base fired up was to make sure that congressional Republicans wouldn’t dare cross him.  Clearly, any GOP politician who might go against the president would risk being defeated by a Trump-backed primary candidate.  I also thought that Trump’s base was his insurance policy if he were impeached or if he decided to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller to kill the Russia investigation.  

Later that year Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a persistent Trump critic, was one of the first victims of the president’s strategy.  Flake criticized Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and challenged the president early in 2017, so Trump turned against him.  Knowing that a well-financed candidate would oppose him in the primaries and seeing his low polling numbers, Flake dropped his reelection bid.   This lesson was not lost on other Republican politicians.  They began to cower in fear of a critical Trump tweet and the wrath of his base. 

This intimidation has continued over the past four years as the president took complete control of the GOP and his followers became bolder and more aggressive.  Is it any wonder that his base immediately went on the attack after Trump was soundly defeated in November?

Yet, out of over 50 legal challenges to the election results filed by Trump’s campaign and his supporters, only one achieved a minor win.  Both Democratic and Republican appointed judges ruled against these suits, including some appointed by Trump.  Why?  They weren’t supported by credible evidence of voter fraud or significant election irregularities. 

One federal court suit sought to invalidate former VP Joe Biden’s Pennsylvania’s votes.  U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephanos Bibas, a 2017 Trump appointee, rejected this attempt stating, “Voters, not lawyers, choose the President.”  Regardless, around 70% of Republicans believe the Democrats somehow stole the election from their president.  Apparently, they don’t care what the courts decide.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed “the big one” – according to Trump – a suit asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the votes in four other states.  Most legal scholars believed it was totally frivolous and antithetical to the GOP’s adherence to Federalism and states’ rights.  Still, 18 Republican state attorneys general quickly joined in the litigation.  Incredibly, so did over 120 Republican members of the U.S. House, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).  They obviously don’t care about their party’s principles.  No matter, the Court wisely refused to hear their case. 

Other attempts to keep Trump in office were more radical.  During a Newsmax Media interview, Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, suggested that Trump could use the military to conduct election reruns in the swing states that Biden won.  Reportedly, he also made that suggestion to the president in the Oval Office.  That’s outrageous.

Chairman of the critically important Senate committee on Homeland Security, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has been wasting precious committee time holding ridiculous hearings for months.  He used his powerful position in an attempt to smear Biden and his son Hunter and cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election.  Yet, while he was playing politics and ignoring the cybersecurity of the federal government, Russian hackers were roaming around at will in the computer systems of numerous federal agencies, threatening our national security.   

As what should be the final political ploy, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) intends to challenge the count of electors when a joint session of Congress meets next January 6 to officially declare Joe Biden the president-elect.  Several GOP senators may join him, including Sen. Johnson, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).  This tactic will likely fail.

So, with all their undemocratic efforts since November 3, Republicans won’t succeed in keeping Trump in the White House and preventing Joe Biden from taking the oath of office on January 20. 

What they’ve spawned, however, is ominous: 

Members of Trump’s base are becoming more violent, threatening to harm numerous public officials – Democratic and Republican alike – for simply doing their job to conduct a free and fair election.  Trump and his administration have been obstructing Biden’s transition team, attempting to hamstring the new president going forward.  And a majority of Republican-controlled states, along 60% of Republicans in the U.S. House, have made it clear that they don’t care what the voters want or what the courts have decided.  

After the 2020 election, the Republican National Committee and most congressional Republicans turned their backs on the rule of law and the Constitution and aggressively tried to subvert our democracy in order to keep an incompetent autocrat in power.

Make no mistake, failure this year won’t deter them – and next time they just might prevail.  

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Election Revealed the GOP Base and What’s Ahead

The 490 counties that President-elect Joe Biden won account for 70% of the U.S. economy, according to the Brookings Institute.  This year, the 100 counties with the largest economic output – which overwhelmingly vote Democratic – together comprise over half the total U.S. economy, according to Commerce Department data and various research organizations, including Brookings.  The 2,535 counties that almost reelected President Trump in November account for a little less than 30% of the U.S. economy. 

The economies in Trump voting areas have eroded since 2016, however, when the 2,584 counties he won produced 36% of the nation’s economic output.  The loss of economic power in Republican voting counties has been even more dramatic since the 2000 election when George W. Bush won 2,417 counties that produced 45% of the U.S. economy.

Ironically, Republicans promote the type of policies – like tax cuts for the rich and fewer regulations on corporations – that benefit the wealthier, higher educated urbanites who vote for Democrats.  These are the people who own stocks and who have gotten richer while the GOP base has gotten poorer.  In fact, when ranked by wealth, the top 10% of the richest Americans owned 87% of all stock outstanding in the first quarter of this year, according to Federal Reserve data.

For the past several decades, the GOP has moved further to the right, always promoting Federalism, which dictates that more federal programs should be taken over by the states.  Here is the problem with that – as some of the above statistics indicate:  Not all states are equal.  Just compare Mississippi’s economy to California’s. 

I have frequently written about the 10 states that are most dependent on federal government money.  These are states that receive more federal dollars than their citizens and companies pay in federal taxes.  Typically, nine of these states are controlled by Republicans.  The federal government actually uses excess blue state taxes to provide benefits to red states, mainly for health care and education.  Many red states simply don’t have the economic (tax) base that would allow them to fund the programs the GOP would delegate to them and that’s even more apparent in this year of the pandemic. 

Now the 2020 election is almost behind us, although a Biden win won’t be official until state electors meet to cast their votes on December 14 and a joint session of Congress finalizes that result on January 6.  In the meantime, the president-elect is selecting individuals for key positions in his administration.

The challenges facing the new president, however, are enormous.  The coronavirus pandemic is raging out of control and hospitals are almost full, particularly in red states that were mostly spared during the first wave in the spring.  More states, including red ones, are imposing or reimposing restrictions that will almost certainly impair the already feeble economic recovery.  Millions of Americans will soon lose the economic benefits and protections from evictions they received under the pandemic relief Cares Act that was signed into law in March.

Federal Reserve Chairman Powell has urged Congress to pass another significant fiscal rescue package in order to avoid continuing business failures, job losses, bankruptcies and long-term damage to the economy.  Most economists agree.

It’s possible that some agreement on this legislation could be reached before year end.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is now involved in the negotiations, is stuck on a limited $500 billion package, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already passed a comprehensive $2+ trillion bill in the House.  It appears, however, that Senate Republicans have suddenly become deficit hawks again.  Trump doesn’t appear to care what is passed; he’s too busy attempting an unprecedented election reversal that would keep him in power.

Unless the two Democrats win the runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, 2021, which I believe is unlikely, McConnell will still control the Senate, at least during the first two years of Biden’s presidency.  He knows the leverage is on his side in current virus relief negotiations and he is in no hurry to help Biden shore up the economy going into 2021.

So, in the face of horrific problems this nation is facing both domestically and internationally I believe Republicans will be playing politics instead legislating for the benefit of their constituents and the health, welfare and security of this nation.  Democrats are even fearing that McConnell will block Biden’s appointments to the federal judiciary if he retains the Senate leadership and I don’t believe their anxiety is unfounded.

Senate Republicans are already expressing opposition to some of Biden’s selections for positions in his administration.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is eying another run for the presidency in 2024, has spent the past four years in silence or excusing Trump as he took a wrecking ball to America’s world leadership role and questioned election integrity here at home.  He tweeted, “Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

Well, because of Trump’s inept response to the coronavirus pandemic, his distain for allies like France and Germany, his politicizing of America’s democratic institutions like the Justice Department and his preference for autocracies like those in Russia and Turkey, it’s clear this nation is already in decline.  

Sadly, Republicans are signaling they want to keep it that way until the next presidential election.

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A Critical Battle Has Been Won – But Not The War

Halleluiah!!  We can keep our democratic republic, at least for the next four years.  I won’t relax, however, until President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20 next year and President Trump and his family are out of the White House.  Still, based on his record of gross incompetence, Trump should have been dramatically ejected from the presidency by a Biden landslide.  The fact that he wasn’t is troubling. 

Truth is, over 72 million Americans voted their approval of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his attacks on our democratic institutions.  They evidently don’t care that Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department became a de facto part of Trump’s political organization and that the president put loyal lackies in charge of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense. 

And I’m concerned that down ballot voting seemed to confirm that Republican obstruction, hypocrisy, lies, bigotry and voter suppression didn’t cost them much beyond the presidency.  They even gained seats in the U.S. House.  For me, that is the most disturbing result of this election.  When politicians – in this case Republicans – don’t pay a price for their malfeasance, they have no reason to change and I don’t believe they will.  

So, here we are again, another Republican president has left his Democratic successor with a full plate of monumental crises.  President Biden will be heir to a raging pandemic, massive federal deficits, high unemployment, a weak economy, a foreign policy in shambles and a world that mostly views the United States as a pitiful nation in decline.  Does anyone believe Republicans will help Biden solve these problems?  I don’t.

In fact, I am confident that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is already thinking ahead to 2024.  If Republicans still control the Senate, which is likely, McConnell can prevent Biden from enacting any progressive legislation, block or impede his judicial appointments and generally obstruct his administration just like he did with President Obama.  The Senate leader will hope that the American public will blame Biden for failing to achieve important objectives and vote more Republicans into Congress in 2022, perhaps even retaking the House and adding additional Senators to the Republican caucus.  That would put the GOP in an excellent position to elect their presidential candidate in four years and have full control of the government again in 2025, just like they did in 2017.

Even while falsely claiming that he won this year, Trump is already talking about being a candidate again in 2024.  Congressional Republicans are both supporting his efforts to contest this election and indicating he should run in four years.  The foregoing tells me that the GOP leadership believes an autocracy will help them retain power better than a democracy and there’s some data to support this proposition.

The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden maintains data on political parties around the world.  One graph produced by this organization shows how the Republican Party’s commitment to democracy has steadily eroded since the late 1990s and fell off a cliff after Donald Trump was elected in 2016.  Another shows how Republican Party leaders went from demonizing Democrats “half the time” around 2009 to “usually” demonizing them around 2016.  V-Dem also graphed how Republican Party leaders increased explicitly encouraging violence against political opponents around 2012 and how it continued from there through Trump’s leadership.  Conversely, the Democratic Party received a high, steady rating for its commitment to democracy, with low incidences of opponent demonization and calls for violence against adversaries.

What’s the good news?  I believe private citizen Donald Trump will be facing a substantial possibility of being indicted for numerous crimes when he leaves office in 2021, including massive money laundering, bank fraud and insurance fraud.  That’s probably why he is fighting so hard to retain the presidency.  Fearing prosecution by a Biden appointed U.S. attorney general and a U.S. attorney in the hard driving Southern District of New York, I believe Trump will attempt to pardon himself and his family before he leaves office.

The problem for The Donald – a federal pardon won’t prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from getting his financial records and that could lead to indictments by a New York grand jury.  Trump loyalists may want their hero to run again in 2024 but I think he has a better chance of going to jail than he does of serving a second term as president. 

No matter, there are numerous far-right Republicans who are courting Trump’s base and advocating Trumpian policies.  No doubt, a dozen or more of them will throw their hat in the 2024 ring.  The one I fear the most though is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is highly intelligent, ruthless and unethical.  He has the skills to use the anti-democracy precedents set by Trump to control the federal government and again put the fate of our democratic republic at risk.

For now, however, we can revel in the fact that Trump will not have four more years to subvert the Constitution and further destroy the image of the United States abroad.  And we can be confident that competent, ethical Biden-appointed officials will follow the rule of law as they control key government agencies that protect us from threats, both foreign and domestic.

Oh yes.  Halleluiah!

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Conservative Supreme Court Could Hurt the GOP

Supreme Court of the United States

After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and President Trump quickly nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, some Democrats were hoping that Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney might oppose confirmation of a justice so close to an election.  Romney dashed their hopes on September 22, however, when he released a statement saying he favored a vote to confirm her.

Speaking to reporters, Romney voiced support for justices who are “strict constructionists.”  Romney further commented, with a smile.  “I recognize that we may have a court which has more of a conservative bent than it’s had over the last few decades,” he said.  “But my liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court.  And that’s not written in the stars.”

“What liberal court?” I almost yelled aloud when I read this.

The fact is, liberal Democrats haven’t been the predominant influence on the composition of the Supreme Court since World War II ended.  The four Chief Justices appointed since President Franklin Roosevelt’s death were all selected by Republican presidents.  Of the Supreme Court justices confirmed since 1945, 12 were appointed by Democratic presidents; 20 were appointed by Republican presidents. 

As for strict construction, which Romney and many other Republicans support, it dates back to before the Civil War.  This theory requires that those interpreting a law or the U.S. Constitution should strictly adhere to the text exactly as it was written.

Most conservatives today, however, use two different terms, “textualism” and “originalism.” During her confirmation hearing Judge Barrett was asked to define originalism.  She said it means that the text of the Constitution should be considered as having the meaning that it had when it was ratified and that meaning doesn’t change over time.  A bit later she defined textualism in a similar way, saying that a judge should consider the text as it was written, with the meaning it had at the time and shouldn’t infuse her own meaning into it.

Prominent conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society promote jurists who are originalists.  In fact, all six conservative Supreme Court justices are members of the Federalist Society and Trump mainly used recommendations from that organization to choose the 200+ judges he has appointed to the federal courts. 

Consequently, I decided to do some research on federalism, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation so I could better understand how decisions might be made by Trump appointed judges.

Federalism is a system of government in which powers are divided between two levels of government that have equal status, i.e., federal and state.  Federalists, however, believe that states no longer have equal status and that many federal government powers should be delegated to the states, including those over education and welfare. 

The Federalist Society is a group of conservatives and libertarians – federalists – dedicated to “reforming the current legal order,” which its members believe is dominated by liberal ideology.  They advocate “reordering priorities within the legal system to place emphasis on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”  Two of the organization’s founding principles are that the state exists to preserve individual freedom and that the duty of the judiciary is to say what the law is, not what it should be.  

The Federalist Society appears to be an educational organization because it doesn’t take positions on legal or policy issues or engage in other forms of political advocacy – or so they claim.  Its membership of 60,000 lawyers, law students, scholars, and other individuals believe that individual citizens – not government – can make the best choices for themselves and society.  No doubt, its members consider themselves to be originalists.

On the other hand, the Heritage Foundation takes strong positions on policy issues and engages in conservative political advocacy.  It claims to have over 500,000 members who value free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.  I suspect that many members of the Federalist Society also belong to the Heritage Foundation and hold the same conservative beliefs.

The Heritage Foundation developed a 1,100-page policy manual entitled “Mandate for Leadership” in 1980, according to its website.  At the time, this document was described by United Press International as, “a blueprint for grabbing the government by its frayed New Deal lapels and shaking out 48 years of liberal policy.”  I believe this tells us what the Heritage Foundation’s objectives are – roll back President Roosevelt’s New Deal.

So, how will federalism and originalism affect the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?  Will people with preexisting conditions and tens of millions of Americans lose their health insurance?  Will the conservative majority’s beliefs cause them to overturn Roe v. Wade and end constitutional protections for abortions in the United States?  Will they reverse the Court’s 2015 ruling that allowed same sex marriages?

Well, polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor Obamacare, constitutional protections for abortion, marriage equality and numerous other more liberal positions ingrained in American society.  No doubt, conservative ideology and public opinion are headed for a showdown as the Supreme Court considers these and many other issues that Republicans want decided in their favor.   

But here’s the thing.  If the Supreme Court’s conservative majority rules against strong public opinion, it will be Republican politicians that pay the price in subsequent elections.

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Republican Successes Could Herald Their Downfall

It appears that the GOP will finally get a solidly right-wing Supreme Court.  I may not be the first to use this analogy – but Republicans in pursuit of their conservative goals are like a dog trying to catch a car it’s chasing; success might mean the end of them. 

Why so?  Well, just consider one of the huge issues that a 6 to 3 conservative majority on the Court will rule on within the next year – the future of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). 

Republicans have been trying desperately to repeal this law since the day it was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010.  Wealthy Libertarian donors like the Koch brothers, helped the GOP flood the media with fear-mongering attacks before Obamacare took effect in 2014, ominously warning of government-controlled health care.  Almost all GOP-led states refused to cooperate in implementing Obamacare and 22 initially refused to accept the Medicaid expansion it provided.

Since 2014, the non-expansion states have dwindled down to 12.  In some cases, state lawmakers legislated the reversals, others were accomplished by ballot initiatives, where voters took matters into their own hands.  In August, Missouri became the sixth Republican-controlled state where voters expanded Medicaid by ballot initiative and the seventh state to take advantage of greater Medicaid coverage since President Trump was inaugurated.  Voters want health care insurance!

A July 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 75% of Americans favorably viewed the Medicaid program, including 65% of Republicans.  A recent Economist/YouGov poll determined that 65% rated health care as “very important.”  Consequently, it’s no surprise that the attempt by President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare in the summer of 2017 is given as a primary reason why Democrats regained control of the U.S. House in 2019.

Health care is a big issue in rural America, which is home to the Republican base.  University of North Carolina researchers found that 120 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, with a record number of 19 closing in 2019.  According to a February 2020 report by the Chartis Center for Rural Health, there are 453 rural hospitals that are vulnerable to closure.  Of the 216 that are labeled “most vulnerable,” 75% (162) are located in states that have not expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

Still, Republicans have continuously attacked the Affordable Care Act in court, particularly its individual mandate that imposes a tax on individuals who don’t have health care insurance.  In a case before the Supreme Court in 2012, however, Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal justices to uphold the individual mandate as constitutional.

But after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the individual mandate tax penalty to $0 in 2017, 20 Republican-controlled states sued the Trump administration, claiming that without this penalty, the entire law must fall.  Later that year, a federal district court judge in northern Texas agreed with them and so did the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2019. 

Consequently, on November 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin considering if the entire Affordable Care Act must be struck down, with a decision expected next spring. Although the law remains in place, health care insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans hangs in the balance, along with the fate of hundreds of rural hospitals and Obamacare’s protections for an estimated 102 million of our citizens who have preexisting conditions. 

Recently, Trump has been promising that those with preexisting conditions will be covered under his soon to be released health care plan.  But there is absolutely no evidence that such a plan exists.  He is blatantly lying in an attempt to remove health care as a campaign issue.  Numerous Republicans who are up for reelection this year are promising constituents that they will protect those with preexisting conditions too.  They are also lying.

The almost 400 pages of newspaper columns and blogs I have written since 2014, have attempted to document the fallacies of conservative ideology and the damage that GOP policies would do to this nation.  Since 2011, Republicans have proposed federal budgets that would reduce Medicaid funding dramatically and turn Medicare into a premium support program where retirees would be at the mercy of profit-minded insurance companies.  These budgets would cut trillions of dollars from food stamps and the other social safety net programs over a 10-year period.  

But here’s the thing.  Conservatives rarely get any of their policies enacted into law.  Even with total control of the government during 2017 and 2018, they failed miserably in repealing Obamacare and were unable to pass much from their legislative wish list except a tax cut for the wealthy.  There’s a good reason for this; Americans would vote most Republicans out of office if they attempted to significantly change Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs for the elderly and the poor. 

Trump administration failures in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic are looming large as we approach November 3rd.  Americans have a clear picture of what happens when Republicans are in control.  Millions have already cast their ballots and millions more will do so during early voting.  The cowardly GOP Senators who enabled this incompetent president and refused to hold him accountable for his unconstitutional acts are in fear of losing their jobs.  Some GOP Senators are warning of a blue tsunami and a “Republican bloodbath.”

Voters, bring it on!

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A Blue Wave Would Build America Back Better

What could be better for the nation than a Democratic sweep of the November elections?  That would give a President Joe Biden the control of Congress he will need to enact his program next year.  Democrats may have to eliminate the Senate filibuster in the process but I believe they are willing to do that.

With former Vice President Biden ahead in the polls, economists are giving a lot of thought to a total Democratic victory this year and the economic outlook is encouraging according to a September study by Moody’s Analytics.   Their report – The Macroeconomic Consequences: Trump vs. Biden – modeled several scenarios for November, including a Democratic sweep and a Republican sweep.  Turns out – which shouldn’t be surprising – that between these two, the economy would be weaker if President Trump wins and a Republican-controlled Congress fully adopts his economic policies next year. 

So, what would the GOP likely do?

Actually, Republicans didn’t draft a platform this year; their agenda is — well, whatever Trump wants.  So, Moody’s researchers mainly used the proposals in the president’s fiscal year 2021 budget for their analysis.   These include another tax cut costing $1.9 trillion and over $700 billion in spending cuts during the coming decade.  Yep!  Same old, same old.

No doubt, Trump’s first priority would be to make permanent the individual income tax provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025.  That would further benefit the wealthy, of course, and add hundreds of billions to the federal deficits.

Republicans have long wanted to benefit their rich donors by reducing the capital gains taxes that apply to sales of stock and other assets.  They’ll do that by indexing the purchase price of an asset to inflation.  Capital gains tax is assessed on the difference between the sales price of an asset and the original purchase price.  Increasing the purchase price by inflation would reduce this difference, which would decrease the capital gain and the resulting tax.  Regarding stocks, only around 52% of Americans own them and reportedly the richest 10% of Americans hold over 80% of the shares. 

The president has also long supported a reduction in payroll taxes.  Arguably this would benefit working Americans but it would certainly enrich Trump businesses that must match employee contributions.  This summer he actually seemed to support eliminating that tax completely, which according to experts would cause the Social Security Trust fund to run dry in 2023.   Heads up, poor seniors who intend to vote Republican, you may have to stock up on some tasty canned dog food.

Trump’s spending reductions would mostly affect health care programs but he would also cut food stamps and other programs in the social safety net.  One thing’s for sure, Republicans in Congress will try to eliminate President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal achievements and Medicare/Medicaid if they get the chance. 

But here’s the thing.  The GOP policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for everyone else just don’t do enough to boost the economy.  That’s why Moody’s analysts believe the Democrats’ fiscal policies will do more to increase the gross domestic product (GDP) and result in better job creation.

Biden is proposing over $4 trillion in tax increases and over $7 trillion in additional spending.  He would increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy by moving the top corporate rate from 21% to 28% and rolling back much of the Republican’s 2017 tax cuts.  Plus, Biden would tax capital gains and dividends earned by individuals making over $1 million a year as ordinary income, i.e., 39.6% instead of 20%.

In order to bolster the Social Security trust fund, Biden would increase earnings subject to payroll taxes from almost $138,000 to $400,000.  This extra revenue would significantly extend the ability of Social Security to pay benefits, which are reportedly the primary source of income for 40% of retired Americans.

Although it wasn’t covered by Moody’s, I’m sure Democrats would quickly increase the IRS audit and enforcement budgets that Republicans in Congress have been slashing since 2011.  Over the past decade, Republicans helped tax evaders rob the U.S. treasury of hundreds of billions of tax dollars. 

A University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School study found that “Over the next decade, $7.5 trillion, or nearly 15 percent of owed taxes, will go uncollected.”  The authors concluded that “a commitment to restoring tax compliance efforts to historical levels could generate over $1 trillion in the next decade.”

Additional IRS tax collections from wealthy tax cheats, along with tax increases, would nicely supplement Biden’s plan to spend $2.4 trillion on infrastructure and greatly increase government spending on education, the social safety net and health care.  Investments like these have the potential to create millions of good-paying jobs and give Americans hope for better times. 

For I believe that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have caused the future of the United States to look the darkest it has since before the Civil War.  Yet, it doesn’t have to stay that way.  The past four years are history but the coming four years are in the voter’s hands. 

That’s why my Blue Wave political contributions have been greater than ever this year.  And like tens of millions of other concerned Americans, I intend to keep opposing the current anti-democratic Republican menace until its threat is eliminated.

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