Washington Foresaw the GOP Threat in 1796

Washington Crossing the Delaware – Painting by Emanuel Leutze

The democratic republic of the United States was truly unique when its Constitution was ratified and amended in the late 1700s, as was the concept of an elected president. Most countries in the global political landscape had some form of an autocracy, ruled by an emperor, a king, queen or czar.  None had a U.S.-styled constitution and no other citizens in the world had the protections of a Bill of Rights.  I fear that too many Americans today aren’t aware of this glorious history or the wisdom of our first president, George Washington.

After having served his country for several decades, including eight as its president, Washington decided not to seek a third term in 1796.  He was worn out by the pressures of the presidency and the attacks of his opponents.  Before he retired to his Mt. Vernon Virginia plantation, however, he composed a “Farewell Address.”  It was not delivered publicly, as many politicians might do; the 32-page Address first appeared in a newspaper in Philadelphia – where Washington resided as president – on September 19, 1796, and then in papers around the country.

According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, Washington wanted to inspire and guide future generations of Americans, but he also “believed that the stability of the Republic was threatened by the forces of geographical sectionalism, political factionalism, and interference by foreign powers in the nation’s domestic affairs.”  “Washington’s principal concern was for the safety of the eight-year-old Constitution.”  And he feared that political parties “carried the seeds of the nation’s destruction through petty factionalism,” as noted in the Historical Office backgrounder.

Each year on or around Washington’s birthday (February 22) his Farewell Address is read by a Senator from the well of the Senate – either a Republican or a Democrat on an alternating basis.  This year the task falls to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D) next Monday, the 28th.  I wonder how many of his colleagues will be paying attention, particularly on the other side of the aisle. 

After the reading, Mr. Leahy will record his name and brief remarks in a leatherbound book, which will be maintained by the secretary of the Senate.  I have a feeling they will echo Washington’s concerns about partisan politics.

Remember that political parties didn’t really exist in 1796 as they do today and writing styles were quite different.  One sentence that I discovered in Washington’s Address was 88 words long, which may not be the longest.  Still, he made his points quite well regarding the evils of “parties,” so I will simply provide a few quotes that convey his deep concerns, with highlighting by me.

“In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations – Northern and Southern – Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views.”

“However combinations or associations [parties] —- may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely —- to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.”

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension —- is itself a frightful despotism.  The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction —- turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

“It [spirit of party] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

Obviously, Washington’s Address was prescient:

  • Republican politicians from top to bottom have promoted former president Donald Trump’s utterly baseless “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
  • This resulted in Trump supporters viciously attacking the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, in an effort to keep him in office. 
  • Thereafter, Republican members of U.S. House (139) and eight GOP Senators voted against certifying Joe Biden as the lawfully elected president. 
  • Republican-controlled states, mainly in the South and West, used the Big Lie as a pretext to enact radical voter suppression laws that make voting harder for minorities and others who typically support Democrats.    

To make matters worse, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is directing an invasion of Ukraine, Trump and numerous Republicans are aiding and comforting this despot by exalting him and disparaging President Biden.  This is beyond outrageous.

With these attacks on our democratic processes – and in so many other ways – I believe the Republican Party is causing the realization of Washington’s worse fears of the geographical sectionalism and political factionalism that threaten our Constitution and this republic.

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Spotlighting the Forces Attacking American Democracy

Photo by Michael S. Williamson – The Washington Post

When Donald Trump descended the escalator in 2015 to announce his candidacy for president, he immediately captured the support of white supremacists by viciously attacking immigrants as rapists and murderers.  Then, with a blizzard of lies and misinformation, he quickly gathered in the remaining right-wing outliers until he had a formattable legion of enthusiastic, raucous followers.  They aren’t necessarily conservative Republicans, however, they are the anti-government, anti-gun control, anti-abortion, and anti-vaccination people who love Trump because they believe he is one of them.  Trump may be a narcissistic bastard – Right? – but he’s their bastard. 

They don’t care if he flaunts the rule of law; hell, they don’t like laws anyway.  These Trumpers hate the civil rights acts, Roe v. Wade abortion rights, gun restrictions and any other laws that prevent them from doing exactly what they want to do and living the way they want to live in a society dominated by White males.  They only care about “their freedom!” 

It’s these millions of voters that Republican politicians fear, not Trump.  Yet, his fiercely loyal base has given the former president total control of the Grand Old Party.

Supplementing Trump’s hardcore, grassroots supporters are ultra-conservative Republicans who simply hate the “left” and would never vote for a Democrat.  For decades, they have been fed a steady diet of anti-liberal misinformation and fear mongering.  This may have started in the late 1950s with Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his vicious crusade against communism.  But hate of liberals certainly became a mantra of the GOP in 1995 when Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) became Speaker of the U.S. House.  His scurrilous strategy of viciously attacking Democrats and liberals as corrupt, radical, traitors, etc. is still being employed by Republicans to this day.

Needless to say, Trump is also supported by wealthy libertarians and corporate executives who want the government out of their lives.  Some just don’t like to pay taxes; others desire a “free market” capitalistic economy without government regulation where they can do whatever provides the most profit for their businesses.  In fact, some 80 billionaires and their spouses – with a combined wealth of $210 billion – made huge donations to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, according to a Forbes review of Federal Election Commission filings. 

One of these Trump benefactors was libertarian, megadonor Peter Thiel, who made his fortune by founding PayPal, the online payments system.  He recently resigned from the Meta (Facebook parent) Board so he could focus on electing Trump aligned Republicans to Congress in 2022.  No doubt, he has the financial resources to influence numerous congressional contests.

Thiel wrote an article in 2009 for a libertarian publication entitled “The Education of a Libertarian.”  It provides a peek inside his head and it looks very dark and scary in there.  In it, Thiel touted “authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good.”  But what followed that statement is a total shocker; he no longer believes that freedom and democracy are compatible.  

This piece shows that Thiel pines for the limited government of the 1920s.  He wrote that the economic depression of 1920-21 was the last one in the U.S. that did not involve massive government intervention.  The result, he implied, was the economic boom of the “roaring 20s.”  You know, if government stays out of the way, everything will be great.  Thiel went on to state, that the 1920s was “the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics.” 

But following quote, I believe, is the heart of Thiel’s philosophy and why he opposes democracy: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians – have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”  I highlighted his phrase about women’s suffrage because I believe it reveals Thiel’s illiberal, anti-feminist mindset.  No doubt, many of Trump’s wealthy, male supporters totally agree with him.

You see, they are still angry about the election of Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and his New Deal of the 1930s, which is an anathema to wealthy, ultra-conservative Republicans.  I suspect many of them, including Thiel, would repeal the laws that gave Americans Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if they could.  Fortunately, the democracy that Thiel abhors – with its free and fair elections – has so far given Americans sufficient power to preserve these critical social safety net programs.

I believe, however, that Thiel’s hero – his main man Trump – is simply a figurehead in the right-wing attack on democracy.  The former president has become a caricature of himself, consumed by grievances over his 2020 election defeat and much less useful for their purposes.  That may open the door in 2024 for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who I believe the GOP base would support if Trump falters and who I see as a more dangerous politician. 

In the meantime, base supporters in Trump’s “cult” are forcing Republican politicians to join them, far-right conservatives in the middle are clamoring for them to “own the libs” and ultra-wealthy donors at the top, like Thiel, are controlling GOP candidates with their hefty campaign contributions.  Together, they are a potent force that cannot be ignored. 

Clearly, these zealots are attempting to subvert American democracy. The major question today is, will democracy-loving Americans come to realize what they’re doing and cast enough votes to stop them?

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Republicans Advance Hands on Doomsday Clock

One Image of the Doomsday Clock

Two hundred billion trillion (200 sextillion) is an incomprehensible number.  No, that isn’t the Republican’s scary projection for the national debt.  It’s one estimate of the stars in the universe, which are being orbited by roughly twice that many planets.  Yet, there is not one planet that is reachable with foreseeable technology that would sustain life as we know it on planet earth.  In fact, no such planet has even been identified.  Like they say, there’s no planet B.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic but in the total scheme of the cosmos, earth is only significant to those who try to exist on it.  It’s just a tiny spec that could be completely destroyed in numerous ways which we humans are powerless to control.  A collision with a very large asteroid, for example, could leave cockroaches, crocodiles and sharks as the only major life forms that survive, if any.   

The end of life on earth, however, is more likely to come from human-inflicted wounds.   That’s why atomic scientists created the Doomsday Clock 75 years ago in 1947.  Each year they reset it at somewhere between 11:45 PM and Midnight, the countdown to Doomsday.  For the third year in a row, its hands are hovering at a mere 100 seconds to that fateful hour. 

Over time, however, other deeply concerning issues have been added to atomic war as planet-threatening, including climate change, biological threats, artificial intelligence and even the rapid spread of disinformation.  I’m not sure, but I suspect climate change has become a very significant factor in the formula that’s used to establish the clock’s setting.  The good news is, humans can have some control over all of these potential catastrophes – if only they’ll do what’s necessary to exercise it.

Lately though, I’ve begun to realize that the Republican Party’s far-right ideology has had an influence on advancing the hands on the Doomsday Clock, and here’s why.

Even though the scientific community is almost unanimous in assessing that spaceship earth is warming at an alarming rate and that human activity is a substantial cause of rising temperatures, Republican politicians refuse to acknowledge climate change science.  They vote against the investments necessary to mitigate or delay the inevitable damage that a much warmer planet will do to earth’s infrastructure, natural resources and humanity.  At times their attempts to downplay this threat are ridiculously comical.

I don’t know if these Republicans are just catering to the large fossil fuel companies that pour money into their campaigns or if they actually believe climate change is a hoax.  Sometimes I think they simply don’t want to spend the money to combat the problem.  No matter, I fault these wrong-headed politicians as being grossly negligent in their duty to protect this nation and its citizens.  

The coronavirus pandemic is definitely a serious biological threat.  Yet, under the leadership of former president Donald Trump, Republicans started politicizing it within a few months after the virus began ravaging the U.S. population.  They made mask wearing a political issue, claiming that mandates to protect public health were somehow suppressing their followers’ “freedoms.”  And they touted unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as effective alternatives to covid-19 vaccinations when there was no significant data to justify their claims. 

Prominent GOP members of Congress, with support from right-wing media like Fox News, have been spreading disinformation about masks and vaccines continuously since all levels of government first rushed to control the pandemic in 2020.  Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), for example, has implied, without proof, that the vaccines have caused tens of thousands of deaths.  And last month, he began spreading a totally false story about hundreds of vaccinated athletes dropping dead on the field of play.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other Republican politicians have attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, so viciously that he must have round the clock security protection from those who want to kill him.  Sadly, they’ve also caused many other officials to receive death threats from right-wing zealots.

Millions of Americans have rejected masks and refused the coronavirus shots due to the Republican-driven campaign against mask wearing and coronavirus vaccinations.  This cynical manipulation of the GOP base is putting all Americans at risk of contracting this deadly disease.  As a result, 900,000 individuals in the United States will likely have died from the virus by July and the toll for 2022 could even top one million. 

It’s not just what Republicans have been doing in the past that is moving the hands forward on the Doomsday Clock, however, it’s their continuing efforts to suppress minority voters, threaten election workers and politicize elections.  It’s also the way they’re empowering dangerous antigovernment militias and white nationalists and denigrating the rule of law.  But what I fear most for the future of this nation is the additional horrific damage they’ll do if they take control of Congress in 2023.    

Of course, the Doomsday Clock is nothing more than a visual representation of the combined threats to our planet and its population as some scientists see them.  It’s their way of warning us about the catastrophes we could face if action is not taken to avert them.  To me it provided a dramatic way to alert voters that Republican politicians are an existential threat, not only to mother earth but to our democratic republic and its citizens.

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SCOTUS Delivered Really Great News

The Supreme Court of the United States

In an 8-1 decision on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ended former president Donald Trump’s attempts to block the January 6 Select Committee’s requests for White House documents related to the attack on the Capitol.  The first sentence of its order said it all: “The application for stay of mandate and injunction [by former president Trump] … is denied.”  This is a critically important decision.  In fact, the National Archives has already started delivering some documents to the Committee.

The Court’s order went on to state, “Because the Court of Appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision.”  In other words, we still don’t know if former presidents can prevail if they claim executive privilege over documents created during their presidency.  

In a separate concurring statement, Justice Kavanaugh disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ “suggestion” that only the sitting president may invoke the presidential privilege for communications that occurred during a former president’s time in office.  Kavanaugh argues that a former president must be able to successfully invoke the executive privilege for such communications, without regard to the sitting president’s approval, unless they involve illegal discussions or activities.  He is concerned that if a president and his staff know that their communications could be subject to disclosure after that president leaves office, it would have a chilling effect on the candor necessary for the presidential decision-making process.  I agree with Kavanaugh’s logic.  Perhaps President Biden and staff took note of it too.

Only Justice Clarence Thomas sided with Trump.  I’m not suggesting that he made a political decision, but his wife Virginia (Ginni) Thomas is a lawyer who is very active in conservative politics and a devoted follower of the former president.  Ms. Thomas has reportedly promoted various conspiracy theories on Facebook, including a false claim that Bill Gates would use coronavirus vaccines to kill people and another that warned about George Soros funding a massive conspiracy against Trump.

Regardless, I suspect the Court’s decision has Trump going a little crazy by now.  At last, it is official, the emperor has no clothes and a lot of his staff and some Republican members of Congress might be feeling quite naked right now too, particularly Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.  Those who have claimed executive privilege for not appearing before the January 6 Committee are probably seriously rethinking their options.  Every day we are learning more about the possible crimes committed by Trump and/or his staff leading up to the January 6 insurrection.  The prospect of jail time should make some of them eager to tell their story before one of their colleagues tells it for them.

To make matters worse for Trump, he is also facing legal liability in at least three other investigations. Last summer, the Manhattan district attorney charged his company with a criminal scheme to help its executives evade taxes.  The former president and one or more of his children could also face charges as this case unfolds.  There is also a civil case against the Trump organization that was brought by the New York Attorney General Letitia James. 

Perhaps the most serious criminal case against Trump, however, could be brought by Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani T. Willis.  She alleges that he illegally pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 11,780 votes he needed to win the state.  And, she has a damning audio tape of Trump’s discussion with Raffensperger.  Norm Eisen, senior fellow of the Brookings Government think tank, believes that Trump is facing a “substantial risk” of prosecution in this case.

In addition, there is a possibility that the U.S. Department of Justice will bring charges against Trump related to his call to Raffensperger and/or the White House involvement in the attack on the Capitol.  If the Oath Keepers’ leader and associates were involved in a seditious conspiracy, as the DOJ has alleged, why can’t that same charge form the basis for indicting Trump, Meadows, Steve Bannon and numerous other Trump staff members and associates?    

It’s also worth noting that a few establishment Republicans have started challenging Trump.  Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) recently attempted to debunk Trump’s lies about a stolen election.  He was supported by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who appeared to be motivated by concern that Trump will become a liability in the upcoming elections.  If this fear becomes prevalent among the GOP candidates in 2022, the former president’s grip on the party could seriously slip.

Due to all the mounting challenges against Trump, I believe that it’s highly unlikely he will be the GOP’s nominee in 2024.  That’s not necessarily a reason to celebrate, however; the apparent number two guy on the list of potential presidential nominees is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.  The 43-year-old DeSantis is more intelligent, in my opinion, and even more dangerous than Trump.  His popularity with the Republican base puts him in an excellent position to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024.

But all that is on the horizon.  For now, I’m very relieved that the Supreme Court ruling will enable a thorough, in depth report on how and why the January 6 attack occurred, one that Fox News and Republican spin masters won’t be able to ignore or refute.

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Biden’s 2021 Shows No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Photo by The Daily Dot

During President Biden’s first year in office, all the focus has been on the Democrats as they try to enact the president’s truly beneficial policies.  Yet, the mainstream media seems to ignore what they’ve accomplished while harping on their failures to make good on campaign promises.  I have written about this recently; but bear with me as I take another shot at it. 

Here are some quotes from a Bloomberg article on December 20, where the writers touted Biden’s first year economic performance as “unbeatable.”

“Corporate America is booming because the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccination programs and $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan reduced the jobless rate to 4.2% in November from 6.2% in February, continuing an unprecedented rate of decline during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“[I]nflation adjusted, gross domestic product surged at an average annual rate of 5.03% in each of the first three quarters of 2021 and is poised to expand 5.6% for the year based on the average estimate of more than 80 economists surveyed Bloomberg.”

“Corporate America was never healthier than under Biden in 2021. Efforts to support consumers flowed through to America’s companies, which are enjoying profit margins of around 15%, the widest since 1950, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

“Biden is the only president over the past half century with robust increases in non-farm payrolls (4.3%) and manufacturing jobs (2.6%), approaching the gains enjoyed by [President] Carter in general employment (4.6%) and factory workers (3.9%).”

“America’s economy is the envy of the world, looking at the foreign-exchange market. The dollar has strengthened 7.37% this year.”

As 2021 made its exit on Friday, Ben Winck at Business Insider wrote about the 27% surge in the S&P 500 and how that gain “thrashed” almost all Wall Street estimates from a year ago.  He noted that JPMorgan’s prediction of a 17% gain at the beginning of 2021was the most bullish for that index but that some estimates were as low as 1.2%.  Winch cited the vaccine rollout in early 2021– a Biden administration initiative – as a major factor in fighting the coronavirus, which allowed the economy to reopen.

Amazingly, however, recent polls show that many Americans believe the economy is in terrible shape, which is obviously not true.  At the same time, many of these same folks believe Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, which is also false.  Biden’s accomplishments, the economy and the presidential election aren’t the problem though, what’s fueling the public’s concern is right-wing misinformation.  And a lot of this garbage comes from Fox News.  I don’t believe opinion anchors at this network care about democracy, the welfare of our citizens or this republic; they and their management are totally focused on making viewers angry at Democrats, which is what boosts their ratings with Trump’s base.  But that’s for a future blog.

The economy, however, wasn’t Biden’s only significant 2021 accomplishment.  According to a recent MSNBC article, he also got 40 federal judges confirmed.  This compares to 19 of Trump’s nominations confirmed in 2017.  There are also 31 Biden nominees teed up and ready for confirmation.  This is a very big deal that, unfortunately, gets very little attention from the media or the public.

I guess, that since much of what Republicans try to do, slash Medicaid, food stamps, labor laws, bank regulations, gun controls, abortion clinics, etc., isn’t popular with most Americans, they don’t get criticized when they fail.  None the less, they have a long history of failures, which I believe are well worth highlighting in comparison to Biden’s performance.

Republicans have continuously promised to reduce the size of government and to cede authority over federal programs to the states.  They’ve endlessly harped about balancing the federal budget, often suggesting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  These are among the most solid, bedrock policies for the GOP, small government, states’ rights and zero federal deficits.  Yet, the four Republican presidents since 1981, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump – a total of 24 years in the White House – have totally failed to accomplish any of this.  Their major wins, except for Bush I, have been tax cuts, which, of course, ballooned the federal deficits that they claim to hate.

Bush II’s attempt to privatize Social Security – a longtime conservative priority – crashed and burned during his second term, despite the GOP’s sizable majorities in Congress.  Trump, who also had a Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 and 2018, promised to repeal Obamacare the minute he took office and he touted infrastructure week until it became a standing joke.  Why did he fail?  Republicans had no viable plan to replace Obamacare and Trump couldn’t get Republicans to even draft an infrastructure bill.    

Perhaps voters have low expectations for Republicans.  It goes without saying, however, that if politicians never try to do anything significant – like the Build Back Better Act – they can’t be criticized for failing in the effort. 

Obviously, Democrats are attempting to legislate some huge programs with very narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress, perhaps too many.  But is that something for which they should be punished?  Will voters put Republicans back in power because Democrats tried to do too much and failed on part of it?   I sure hope not.

Happy Holidays!  I hope you and your families enjoyed a warm and wonderful, virus free holiday season and that your New Year will be uplifting and productive.

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Conservative SCOTUS Justices Threaten Our Republic

Dallas Morning News

In the foreseeable future, this nation will be in the grip of six, mostly far-right justices on the Supreme Court of the United States.  They will have the power to determine if “we the people” get to keep the democratic republic that the Founders established in 1787.  And I’m not confident that the answer will be a clear cut yes. 

How did we get to this disturbing point?  First, recall some statistics that I included in an earlier blog:  The four chief justices appointed since President Franklin Roosevelt’s death have all been selected by Republican presidents.  Of the Supreme Court justices confirmed since 1945, 12 were appointed by Democratic presidents; 20 were appointed by Republican presidents. 

Still, in the 1960s and early 1970s – the era of landmark civil rights legislation – conservative Republican politicians claimed that the Supreme Court was involved in “judicial activism” and railed against the “liberal Court.”  Yet, in 1973, when the Court rendered a 7-2 decision in Roe v. Wade that gave women a constitutional right to an abortion, the opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, a Richard Nixon appointee, and joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger, another of Nixon’s Republican appointments.

The Court took a definite turn to the right, however, when President Ronald Reagan appointed William Rehnquist as chief justice and Antonin Scalia as an associate justice in 1986.  It moved further right in 1991 when President George H. W. Bush appointed staunch conservative Clarence Thomas to replace a retiring liberal, Justice Thurgood Marshall, on the Court.  

Thus began a period when the Court handed down numerous 5-4 decisions, usually five conservatives to four liberals.  Occasionally, Justice Anthony Kennedy – a Reagan appointee and sometimes swing vote – would join the liberals to deny the conservatives their way.  It was this alignment, five conservatives to four liberals with the possibility of a swing vote, that kept some balance in the Court. 

That didn’t stop the conservatives, however, from handing down two democracy-damaging rulings.  First, there was Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 that opened the floodgates of money in politics, followed by Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 that crippled the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and freed racist-inclined Republican-controlled legislatures to significantly restrict minority voting rights.

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s swing vote was eliminated when he resigned in 2018 and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally got Bret Kavanaugh – President Trump’s second appointee – narrowly confirmed to the Court after a contentious hearing. 

At the time, I hoped Chief Justice John Roberts would become a swing vote on some issues and help keep the conservatives somewhat under control, which he did.  When McConnell rushed Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate just days before the 2020 presidential election, however, the power on the Court shifted sharply to the right, with almost no possibility of a swing vote.  In effect, the Chief Justice lost control of “his” Court.

It’s worth noting that all six conservative justices on today’s Court are members of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative and Libertarian lawyers who generally believe in federalism, aka, “states’ rights.”  As such, they favor limiting the scope and power of the federal government.  These justices also describe themselves as “originalists,” which means they believe the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted based on the accepted meaning of its words when they were written.  So, we have an 18th Century perspective addressing 21st Century issues.

After recent oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson [Mississippi] Women’s Health Organization, it seems almost certain that the Court’s conservatives will significantly limit constitutional protections for abortion by weaking or overturning Roe v. Wade.  All of them were quizzed on this issue during their confirmation hearings and they either dodged the question or apparently lied, saying Roe was settled law.  A plurality of Americans doesn’t support overturning this landmark precedent on abortion but these justices don’t seem to be concerned about public opinion.  I believe they are committed conservative ideologues. 

Liberal-leaning Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned her colleagues about weakening Roe while questioning Mississippi’s Solicitor General, “Will this institution [Court] survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?  I don’t see how it is possible.”  That, my friends, is mighty strong language. 

Later, Justice Sotomayor questioned, “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive? How will the court survive?”  I would argue that a politicized Supreme Court also threatens the survival of our democratic republic.

Earlier this year, Texas enacted SB 8, a law that bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy and enables citizens – some say vigilantes – to enforce it with private lawsuits.  Since this law was first challenged in August, the conservative justices, with the exception of Roberts, have allowed this very strict abortion law to remain in effect even though it’s clearly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.  To me, this is a strong indication that at least five conservative justices intend to overturn Roe and legitimatize Texas’ SB 8.

But here’s the thing.  Constitutional protections and other prior Court precedents could be effectively nullified by state laws that are enforced by private citizen lawsuits.  States could even empower right-wing plaintiffs to bring a torrent of spurious libel lawsuits against mainstream media organizations, which would severely restrict freedom of the press.  The damage the conservative justices could to our democratic republic is totally frightening.

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Even Unbiased and Liberal Media Help GOP

Getty Images

Media organizations need content to fill their publications every day, which is difficult during news voids over long holiday weekends like Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, my email from Politico Playbook last Sunday contained several “filler” articles that primarily focused on Democratic failures while mostly ignoring Republican obstruction and malfeasance.  They were about politicians “falling short of promises or expectations, or just plain blowing it.”  

First up was how President Biden fell short by “Failing to tame the pandemic and provide a return to normalcy.”  This conclusion was supported by brief summaries of articles by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and the New York Time’s Nate Cohn.  Both predicted a tough election year ahead for the president. 

Baltz outlined Biden’s promises of taming the coronavirus pandemic, fixing the economy, persuading Congress to enact his sweeping domestic policy and unifying the country.   He concluded that “none of these goals has been fully accomplished, and that shapes the political environment heading into next year’s midterm elections.”

Cohn analyzed the disconnect between Biden’s popular policies and his low approval rating.  He opined that while voters may punish presidents for pushing unpopular policies, they rarely reward them for enacting legislation.  What the public is seeking, according to Cohn, is “peace and prosperity — in a word, normalcy.”

I suspect most Playbook readers skimmed through those summaries and continued scrolling down to other news.  After clicking on the provided links and reading these columnist’s lengthy articles, however, I had to wonder why WaPo and the NYT are always chided as being the “liberal press.”  While their content may be factually correct, it only told part of the story.

Balz’s full article provided some details about the rising coronavirus cases, and stated that “there have been more deaths so far in 2021 than in the whole of 2020,” a fact that many readers might assume is Biden’s fault.  (That’s what Republican politicians claim.)  From there, he segwayed into how Biden’s hope to vaccinate the vast majority of the population had fallen short and how the president’s vaccine mandates had worsened political divisions, as the administration struggled to overcome vaccine resistance.

Balz did give Biden some credit for getting the $1.9 trillion stimulus package and the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted with very slim majorities in Congress.  He observed, however, that these accomplishments did not garner the expected political credit and that perceptions of the president’s leadership had, “taken a hit.”  A casual reader of this article could get the impression that this legislation was the cause of the “worse inflation in three decades.”

Balz did criticize former president Trump and Republicans who called for punishing their 13 colleagues who voted for the infrastructure bill.  Yet, he stated in the next paragraph that Biden had become almost as polarizing as Trump.

Baltz concluded his article with an oft heard observation that Biden and the White House are struggling with their messaging.  After reading it I can better understand why.

Cohn began his article by stating that many Democrats believe that electoral success will result from enacting popular legislation.  Then he went on to dispel that theory by reminding readers that the president’s approval ratings have dropped into the mid-40s.  He cited polls showing that Americans not only feel that the president hasn’t accomplished much or helped them personally, they believe he has actually made things worse.  These ridiculous conclusions are also supported by some polls I have analyzed.  For God’s sake people, Biden has signed two massive bills before completing his first year in office, including the largest infrastructure legislation in decades. 

In addition to Biden’s shortcomings being highlighted extensively in the Playbook email, the Democratic Party was cited for having failed to deliver on promised immigration fixes and the Never-Trump Lincoln Project was chided for “Too many instances [of falling short] to name in a clause.”  Yet, the only criticism of Donald Trump – if it can be called that – involved his endorsement of several Senate candidates that are failing.    

But here’s the thing.  The editors of Sunday’s Political Playbook email did not take the GOP or its leadership to task for much of anything.  Still, perhaps they didn’t cover the blatantly anti-democratic conduct by Republicans at all levels of government because they certainly haven’t fallen short on that. 

The worst omission in Sunday’s Playbook email, however, was failing to highlight the role of Republicans in obstructing the president’s efforts to make good on his promises, like controlling the coronavirus, vaccinating the populace and unifying the people.  Neither did it emphasize what great progress has been made since January 21 in various areas, including the economy.

The Politico organization is not rated as politically biased that I could find, right or left.  Yet, this entire Sunday email reminded me of what the GOP and conservative media, like Fox News, do constantly – keep the focus on Democrats, emphasize their failures and gloss over or omit any mention of negative news that might damage Republicans.

Certainly, the mainstream media should report fairly on the president’s accomplishments and failures.  But I believe many news outlets are “falling short” in fully focusing on the most critically important issue facing our democratic republic today:  Trump and the majority of congressional Republicans are attempting to subvert our democratic processes in an effort to take total control of government at all levels.  And there damn sure won’t be any “normalcy” for the nation if they succeed.

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West Virginia Needs the Build Back Better Act

West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park

West Virginia truly is a very beautiful state.  Just drive north on I-77 during almost any season and you will be thrilled with the scenery, particularly in the fall.  Yet, all this beauty can’t hide some shocking facts that I learned during Army basic training in the 1960’s.  Some of the soldiers from rural areas of West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Southern Virginia who were in my barracks were incredibly poor and lacked the education to escape their poverty-stricken situations.  In fact, several of these young troopers couldn’t even read or write.  Current data tells me that things haven’t changed much in parts of these states.

The personal finance website WalletHub evaluated the economies of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. in June; West Virginia’s is ranked 50th.  This state of almost 1.8 million is 50th in economic activity and 51st in innovation potential.  WalletHub put WVA at 51st in the critical statistic of median annual household income or, shall we say, dead last.  It’s the third to lowest in high tech jobs and also last in startup activity.  Another WalletHub study ranks the state fifth highest in terms of the most at-risk youth, which is tragic.  The future of all states is dependent on its young citizens.

In the past decade, the United States had the slowest population growth since the 1930s, according to a study of census data by the Washington Post.  The population in three states, however, actually declined and the loss in residents was highest in West Virginia at -3.2%, most of it from rural areas. 

The median age in WVA is between 42 and 43 compared to the national average of 38 and the state is just one of two where deaths have exceeded births since 2010.  In fact, this 90+% White state actually had over 200,000 more residents in 1950 than it has today.  And the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service projects that West Virginia’s population will just keep shrinking through 2040.

Still, WVA isn’t all that much worse off than a large number of Republican-controlled states.  They usually comprise nine out of the 10 most dependent on federal government transfer payments, like Social Security and grants for health care and education.  Typically, these federal dollars exceed what their residents and businesses pay in federal taxes.  The largess they get, of course, comes mostly from blue states that pay more in taxes to the federal government than they get back.  West Virginia is the fifth most dependent on federal help in 2021, according to WalletHub, and has always been one of the 10 most dependent since I started keeping track a decade ago. 

Among the poorest 25 states based on median household income in 2021 – all but several of which are totally controlled by Republicans – West Virginia’s median of $46,711 is next to the poorest and 16% of its population is impoverished, according to another personal finance website MoneyWise.

It reported that West Virginia is one of the worse states for education – based on U.S. Department of Education statistics – with one in five children living below the poverty line and over 10,000 being homeless in the 2019-2020 school year.  “If you can find a good reason to live here,” says MoneyWise, “housing is very affordable.”  To me, this means that West Virginians aren’t even able to build significant wealth by owning a home. 

You know what all of this is leading to, of course, an attempt to show why West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to paid family leave and expanded health care provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, among others, will hurt his constituents.  

It’s obvious why he opposes a provision that would reward utilities that transition to clean energy while penalizing those that don’t.  His state is a significant natural gas producer and coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 91% of the state’s electricity generation in 2019, according to the Energy Information Agency.  Also, Manchin represents the second-largest coal producing state and reportedly is the founder of the coal company that his son runs.   

While Manchin has become the hero of conservative billionaires, the Charleston (WVA) Gazette-Mail decried his successful efforts to gut clean energy portions of the BBB Act, “Manchin has given credence to the claims that he is more motivated by obeisance to the coal and gas industries than to the health of his constituents; that Manchin, personally, and his campaign’s fundraising, benefit more financially by perpetuating climate change than by attempts to avert it.”

Well, the good Senator from WVA is like many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, beholden to special interests that fund their campaigns.  This unfortunate democracy weakening result occurred because five conservative SCOTUS justices cavalierly decided in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporate money was speech protected by the First Amendment.  I believe this decision effectively stifles the voices of ordinary American voters who don’t have powerful lobbyists in Washington to protect their interests from the abuses of well-heeled energy companies and other large corporations.

A recent Washington Post article quoted Manchin as saying, “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society.”  Well, I don’t know how “entitled” West Virginians are but it’s clear to me that without greater federal help – like the full BBB Act provides – they may never escape their current dire straits.

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Big Investments in America’s Future Are Within Reach

Western Washington Wind Turbine Farm

With all the negative news lately, I’ve been thinking about where the nation would be but for the miraculous Senate wins in Georgia by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on January 5.  Let’s see, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would not have been signed in March, very few if any federal judges appointed by President Biden would be confirmed by now and it wouldn’t even make sense to talk about the president’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) Act with Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge of the Senate.  

The coronavirus relief legislation provided billions of dollars to surge the vaccination program and control the pandemic, which no doubt saved thousands of lives and prevented the Delta variant from taking an even greater toll.  It also provided around $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges, funded direct stimulus payments to middleclass and lower income families, boosted unemployment benefits and shored up state and local governments with $350 billion in support.  That alone was quite an accomplishment.

It’s easy to get depressed about what’s going on in Congress right now, particularly with the battles between so-called centrist Democrats and progressives.  Yet, my God, just think how we would be feeling if McConnell controlled the Senate. 

Since we aren’t mired in that gloom – fortunately – I get the chance to delve a bit into the reconciliation (BBB) bill that will hopefully be put in final form by Democrats soon and write about some benefits it could provide for all Americans, now and in the future. That’s happy!

You don’t need piles of data and learned studies by Harvard professors to understand that children who are deprived of decent health care and education will likely grow up to become liabilities to society rather than assets; that’s just plain old common sense.  Sure, some will overcome these adversities and become entrepreneurs, doctors and scientists but many will drift into crime and drug use or simply lack the training and stamina to contribute significantly to the information age economy.  Better health care and support for education are key provisions of the president’s BBB agenda.

Biden and the Democrats wanted $3.5 trillion in their expanded infrastructure bill, which would be spent over a 10-year period.  Many voters probably don’t realize, however, that U.S. defense spending will exceed $8 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is almost half a trillion dollars more than all other discretionary spending by the U.S. government.

I believe that if we were to put the same resources into building our infrastructure, physical and social, as we do to design and build the means to destroy things and kill people, the United States would be a much stronger economic superpower.  Conversely, if we fail to make investments in critical infrastructure as proposed in the BBB Act, I am concerned that this nation, torn by division and dysfunction, will no longer be the dominant superpower in a decade or two.

Consequently, I’m not concerned if this important legislation is half the $3.5 trillion in spending that the president and many Democrats wanted so long as they get it done.  Many of them believe whatever they pass will prove to be popular with the public and that they will be able to build on it later.  I agree.  So, rather than focusing on the cost, I’m more interested in what’s in the bill. 

Preschool: All Democrats are supporting what I believe is a key provision, universal, high-quality, free, preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children across the country, paid for entirely by the federal government. 

Child tax credit: The child tax credit of $300 per child that was established in the coronavirus relief bill earlier this year will likely be extended for at least a year, perhaps with some modifications.

Paid family leave: Democrats wanted to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers since the U.S. is one of the few nations that doesn’t have some type of national paid leave.  To cut the cost, the White House is now backing a four-week program for lower-income workers that would expire after several years.

Tax increases: Instead of raising income taxes on corporations and the wealthy, Democrats are considering a tax on unrealized capital gains for those with $1 billion in wealth or who earn more than $100 million for three consecutive years.  This would be a tax on assets they hold, even if they don’t sell them.

There were numerous other provisions of the original $3.5 trillion bill that will be eliminated or significantly be cut back, including free community college, expanded child care for parents who work, enhanced Obamacare subsidies, housing aid, home care services for the elderly and disabled, expanded dental, vision and hearing benefits in Medicare, etc.

I know, today we can’t be sure what will be in the final bill.  But here’s the thing.  If the Democrats manage to pass even a scaled-back BBB Act as currently envisioned, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it will probably be the largest investment in America’s future that Congress has ever made in one fiscal year.

Some politicians and pundits accuse Biden of over promising and under delivering.  Well, compare that to a McConnell controlled Senate that would promise very little and deliver nothing.  I’ll take glass half full negotiations over an empty glass – that no one is even discussing – anytime.

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America Is Doing Great – Except for its Politics

Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

According to legend, upon being asked about rumors of his demise, renowned American author Mark Twain said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Well, I believe the same is true about stories that democracy in the United States is dying.  Yes, I know – I write a lot about the threats to our democratic republic.  And while they are serious and quite real, they aren’t nearly the whole story. There’s some good news behind the dire headlines if you look for it and you might be surprised at what you discover.

Some might find it hard to believe, but the United States has over 24 percent of the global economy (GDP), about the same share as it did 40 years ago, according to the World Bank national accounts data.  That’s simply amazing considering how other countries have progressed economically during that period, particularly China.  Hey, of the world’s top 10 companies by market capitalization, seven are American.  These corporations dominate the globe like at no other time in the past.  Technology development in the U.S. still out paces that in the rest of the world, including industries of the future like biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.

China is America’s most significant global competitor but I believe President Xi’s aggressive rush toward a more restrictive autocracy and his assault on the Chinese technology sector will inure to America’s benefit.  The supply chain problems that occurred during the pandemic were a wakeup call and many started in China.  The critical products that this nation needs simply can’t be dependent on the whims of a foreign dictator.  Medical supplies, computer chips and pharmaceuticals are among the many that should be produced here in the future, or at least under U.S. control.

Like China and some developed countries, including Japan and Germany, the U.S. population is aging but American demographics remain superior to our closest global competitors due mainly to immigration.  Yes, immigration.  And the U.S. dollar, which is the most dominant reserve currency around the world, is required for almost 90 percent of international transactions, according to thebalance.com.  That’s hugely important!

The world economy is expected to expand 5.6 percent in 2021 and a further 4.9 percent in 2022 according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  Yet, the U.S. economy is recovering faster than any of the other developed countries says PIIE, in spite of the Delta variant and supply chain issues.  Why?  America’s early start on vaccinating its population and the Democrats’ muscular 2021 pandemic fiscal response. 

The net worth of America’s households grew by $5.8 trillion in the second quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.  And if the latest projections for the Delta surge are correct, we may be able to celebrate Christmas in a more normal fashion this year, according to a new projection on the trajectory of the pandemic from a consortium of researchers advising the Centers for Disease Control.  They don’t see a winter surge on their radar.  

Although President Biden is currently mired in battles over his Build Back Better initiative, it’s supported by a significant majority of Americans, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, which is in line with several other polls.  The roughly $1 trillion bipartisan roads and bridges program is supported 62 to 34 percent and the $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks, expanding Medicare for seniors, etc. is favored by 57 to 40 percent.  Reports indicate that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry lobbying groups are pressing for passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Once the American public gets a better picture of Biden’s massive programs, I believe they will find that — well, they’re not all that massive.  Nor will they believe the fear mongering about runaway inflation and other horrific results the Republicans are hyping, and here’s why.  The $3.5 trillion will be expended during the next ten years.  That’s less than 6 percent of total government spending over that period and less than half the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recent estimates.

What’s not to like about all of this news?  Actually, nothing, except it comes at a time when politics across the nation, but particularly in Washington, are acrimonious, uncivil and totally dysfunctional.  Why has this happened?  I believe it’s primarily because the Republican Party has been deteriorating as a rational governing body since the 1980s.

Now that the battle over funding the government and raising the debt limit has been kicked down the road to December, the Democrats can focus on passing several critical bills on voting rights, immigration reform and infrastructure.  They probably won’t succeed with everything but I believe they will find a way to do some great things for this nation’s future before the 2022 elections.

And keep in mind, there is no certainty that Donald Trump will be a candidate in 2024 or that he can win the GOP nomination and even less that he will become the 47th president.  A lot can happen in three years, including Trump being indicted and tried for the many state and federal crimes he has committed.

I know, right now it’s hard to see through the fog created by the Republicans’ election fraud lies and total rejection of democratic principles – but beyond the right-wing gloom, America’s future looks reasonably bright.

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