Sunday, January 17, 2021
Eugene Goodman is an American hero. At a pivotal moment on January 6, the veteran United States Capitol Police officer single-handedly prevented untold bloodshed. Staring down an angry, advancing mob, he retreated up a marble staircase, calmly wielding his baton to delay his pursuers while calling out their position to his fellow officers. At the top of the steps, still alone and standing just a few yards from the chamber where senators and Vice President Mike Pence had been certifying the Electoral College’s vote, Goodman strategically lured dozens of the mayhem-minded away from an unguarded door to the Senate floor.
The leader of that flank of the mob, later identified by the FBI as Douglas Jensen, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a red-white-and-blue Q—the insignia of the delusional QAnon conspiracy theory. Its supporters believe that a righteous Donald Trump is leading them in a historic quest to expose the U.S. government’s capture by a global network of cannibalistic pedophiles: not just “deep state” actors in the intelligence community, but Chief Justice John Roberts and a dozen-plus senators, including me. Now Trump’s own vice president is supposedly in on it, too. According to the FBI, Jensen “wanted to have his T-shirt seen on video so that ‘Q’ could ‘get the credit.’”
January 6 is a new red-letter day in U.S. history, not just because it was the first time that the Capitol had been ransacked since the War of 1812, but because a subset of the invaders apparently were attempting to disrupt a constitutionally mandated meeting of Congress, kidnap the vice president, and somehow force him to declare Trump the victor in an election he lost. En route, the mob ultimately injured scores of law-enforcement officers. The attack led to the deaths of two officers and four other Americans. But the toll could have been much worse: Police located pipe bombs at the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Investigators discovered a vehicle fully loaded with weaponry and what prosecutors are calling “homemade napalm bombs.”
The violence that Americans witnessed—and that might recur in the coming days—is not a protest gone awry or the work of “a few bad apples.” It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice. When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.
[T]he Republican Party faces a separate reckoning. Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.
The newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. She once ranted that “there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.” During her campaign, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a choice: disavow her campaign and potentially lose a Republican seat, or welcome her into his caucus and try to keep a lid on her ludicrous ideas. McCarthy failed the leadership test and sat on the sidelines. Now in Congress, Greene isn’t going to just back McCarthy as leader and stay quiet. She’s already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president. She’ll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party.
If the GOP is to have a future outside the fever dreams of internet trolls, we have to call out falsehoods and conspiracy theories unequivocally. We have to repudiate people who peddle those lies.
The conservative swaths of this media landscape were primed for Trump’s “Stop the steal” lie, which lit the fuse for the January 6 riot. For nine weeks, the president consistently lied that he had “won in a landslide.” Despite the fact that his lawyers and allies were laughed out of court more than 60 times, he spread one conspiracy theory after another across television, radio, and the web. For anyone who wanted to hear that Trump won, a machine of grifters was turning clicks into cash by telling their audiences what they wanted to hear. The liars got rich, their marks got angry, and things got out of control.
The failure of our traditional political institutions and our traditional media to function as spaces for genuine political conversation has created a vacuum now filled by the social-media giants—who are even worse at the job.
Whatever the Republican Party does, it faces an ugly fight. The fracture that so many politicians on the right have been trying desperately to avoid may soon happen. But if the party has any hope of playing a constructive, rather than destructive, part in America’s future, it must do two things.
First, Republicans must repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire. Putting it out will take courage—and I don’t mean merely political courage. This week, after realizing that some Capitol insurrectionists wanted to capture the vice president, several Republican House members said privately that they believed a vote to impeach the president would put their lives, or the lives of their families, at risk. That is not the “constituent engagement” that elected officials are duty-bound to deal with on a daily basis. That is simply tyranny, just from the bottom up, instead of the top down. When arsonists are inside our house, can we just stand by and hope that they’ll depart quietly?
Second, the party has to rebuild itself. It must offer a genuine answer to the frustrations of the past decade. Other than by indulging Trump’s fantasies about building iPhones in America, Republicans have not figured out how to address Americans’ anger about community erosion, massive dislocations in the labor force, or Big Tech’s historically unprecedented role in governing de facto public squares.
Sensing a chance at tribal expansion, some on the left are thrilled by the chaos on the right, and they’re eager to seize the moment to banish from polite society not just those who participated and encouraged violence, but anyone with an R next to his or her name. . . . Yet the exploitative overreaction by the left should not allow an underreaction by the right.
The past four years have wounded our country in grievous, long-lasting ways. The mob that rushed the Capitol had been fed a steady diet of lies and conspiracy theories. It is very possible that the QAnon devotee Douglas Jensen believed the junk he’d been sold—that he was a valued foot soldier in Trump’s war against shadowy forces of darkness. So, according to the FBI, he put on his Q T-shirt and acted like a foot soldier. Right up until he ran into Officer Goodman.
In a standoff between the Constitution and madness, both men picked a side. It’s the GOP’s turn to do the same.
Don't hold your breath waiting for displays of courage by a majority of GOP elected officials.
Soon after Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, a visitor assessed the stakes of his New Deal proposal. “Mr. President, if your program succeeds, you’ll be the greatest president in American history,” the visitor told him. “If it fails, you will be the worst one.” “If it fails,” Roosevelt responded, “I’ll be the last one.”
That story, from Jonathan Alter’s excellent book “The Defining Moment,” about Roosevelt’s first 100 days, underscores the desperation and uncertainty in the Great Depression as Roosevelt took office — a desperation that may seem familiar today.
This is not the Great Depression today, but we face the worst economic crisis since that time, plus about 4,000 Americans dying daily from the worst pandemic in a century, plus an insurrection incited by the lame-duck president, plus an undercurrent of national delusion that fuels division and violence. Countless numbers believe QAnon nonsense that leading politicians are Satan-worshiping child-traffickers or think coronavirus vaccination is a plot by Bill Gates to plant computer chips in people.
In some ways, F.D.R. had it easy.
That’s the context of President-elect Joe Biden’s “America Rescue Plan,” a far-reaching effort to revive the American economy — and to do much more. Like Roosevelt, Biden is employing a crisis to try to address long-neglected problems in our country. This is Big Policy. You might even call it Rooseveltian.
Of course, what was significant about Roosevelt was the scale not of what he proposed but of what he achieved, and even if Biden’s initial proposal gets through Congress, it does not add up to anything close to the 12-year revolution that was the New Deal. But after years of hesitation and half-steps, it’s thrilling to see truly bold efforts to tackle some of America’s deepest underlying problems.
Coverage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan has understandably focused on the $1,400 payments to individuals, the increased unemployment benefits, the assistance to local governments, the support for accelerated vaccine rollout and the investments to get children back in schools. But there is so much more: food assistance, policies to keep families from becoming homeless, child care support, a $15 federal minimum wage and an expansion of the earned-income tax credit to fight poverty.
To me, the single most exciting element of the Biden proposal is one that has garnered little attention: a pathbreaking plan that would drastically cut child poverty.
It is a moral stain on America that almost one-third of people living in poverty are children, a higher share in poverty than any other age group.
In effect, Biden is turning the child credit into something like the child allowances that are used around the world, from Canada to Australia, to reduce child poverty.
The Biden child poverty plan was previously offered as legislation backed by Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and a Columbia University analysis found that it would reduce child poverty in the United States by 45 percent. For Black children, it would reduce poverty by 52 percent, and for Native American children, 62 percent.
“This is the boldest vision laid out by an American president for fighting poverty, and child poverty in particular, in at least half a century,” said Luke Shaefer, a poverty expert at the University of Michigan.
Americans too often accept poverty or race gaps as hopeless and inevitable. In fact, the evidence suggests they are neither. Two examples:
· As Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair cut child poverty by half with a strategy that included Biden-style child allowances.
· In Michigan, 41 percent of the early coronavirus deaths were among Black patients, even though Black residents make up only 14 percent of the state population. But Michigan then made a determined effort to address the inequity by bringing testing to Black neighborhoods and ensuring equal access to support programs, and Black residents are now underrepresented in Covid-19 fatalities, according to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer.
Perhaps a third example is the New Deal itself. Results of Roosevelt’s boldness included Social Security, rural electrification, jobs programs, networks of hiking trails, the G.I. Bill of Rights and a 35-year burst of inclusive growth that arguably made the United States the richest country in the history of the world.
Yet for the last half-century, we mostly retreated. We overinvested in prisons and tax breaks for billionaires while underinvesting in education, public health and those left behind.
So we think of the United States as No. 1, but America ranks No. 28 worldwide in well-being of citizens, according to the Social Progress Index. And the United States is one of only three countries to have gone backward since the index began in 2011.
Americans are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to die young, less safe from violence and less able to drink clean water than citizens in many other advanced countries. And then along came Covid-19 and magnified the disparities.
A pair of Virginia lawmakers has introduced a pair of bills to prohibit defense lawyers from employing the gay or transgender “panic” defense, and to ensure anti-LGBTQ bias crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The first measure, introduced by Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), would prohibit the use of the LGBTQ “panic” defense to argue for leniency for violent crimes committed against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Typically, the defense seeks acquittal or reduced penalties for a defendant by claiming they were in fear or became irrational upon learning of a victim’s LGBTQ identity.
LGBTQ advocates, including the National LGBT Bar Association, have long advocated for ending the “panic” defense, claiming it provides justification for bias-motivated crimes or acts of violence.
“Preventing the LGBTQ+ ‘panic defense’ to be used as a ‘legitimate’ mechanism in our court system shows that LGBTQ+ lives and bodies are equal to all in the eyes of the law and that our justice system doesn’t condone violence against our community,” Roem said in a statement. “With this legislation, we are taking action to ensure no one can get away with committing a violent crime against a LGBTQ+ Virginian because they simply exist or are vulnerable enough to be visible as their authentic self.”
Wesley Bizzell, the president of the National LGBT Bar Association, expressed full support for Roem’s bill. According to the Bar Association, one in five lesbian, gay, or bisexual Americans, and one in four transgender Americans will be victims of hate crimes at some point in their lifetimes.
“[F]or far too long courts have allowed prejudice and stigma to excuse the beatings and murders of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially trans individuals,” Bizzell said. “By allowing a criminal to escape punishment for their horrific violence against LGBTQ+ victims, the LGBTQ+ ‘panic’ defense enables a shocking miscarriage of justice.”
“We’ve seen the ‘panic’ defense used to protect those who commit acts of terrible violence based in hate,” added Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Midlothian), who has introduced a measure to complement Roem’s bill. “Delegate Roem’s legislation clarifies that an offender’s perceptions or beliefs about a victim’s sex, gender or gender identity cannot be used as a defense for committing a crime.
“We continue to shine a spotlight on the unacceptable nature of hate crimes,” Hashmi said in a statement. “These acts of violence or vandalism seek to inflict pain and suffering not only on one or two individuals but on entire communities. The real goal of hate crimes is to strike fear and generate terror among targeted communities, and our legal response must be to prevent that power to terrorize.”
The Anti-Defamation League has also come out in support of the Virginia bills.
“ADL is pleased to welcome the introduction of two new bills in Virginia that will work hand-in-hand to provide more comprehensive and inclusive protections for hate crime victims,” Meredith Weisel, the senior associate regional director for ADL’s Washington, D.C. region, said in a statement. “At a time when hate crimes, including those targeting the LGBTQ+ community, are on the rise here in Virginia, we must ensure that our laws are consistent with our Commonwealth’s values. Both bills send the clear message that it is unacceptable — and unjustifiable — to attack people based on their identity. We urge the Virginia legislature to swiftly pass both measures into law.”
Saturday, January 16, 2021
It feels as if we have spent four years watching the wheels come off, yet the vehicle somehow still keeps rolling forward.
But now, finally, the end is at hand. Trump is suffering a series of wounds that, in combination, are likely to be fatal after Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20. Trump is obviously going to surrender his office. Beyond that looming defeat, he is undergoing a cascading sequence of political, financial, and legal setbacks that cumulatively spell utter ruin. Trump is not only losing his job but quite possibly everything else.
One crisis, though the most opaque, concerns Trump’s business. Many of his sources of income are drying up, either owing to the coronavirus pandemic or, more often, his toxic public image. The Washington Post has toted up the setbacks facing the Trump Organization, which include cancellations of partnerships with New York City government, three banks, the PGA Championship, and a real-estate firm that handled many of his leasing agreements. Meanwhile, he faces the closure of many of his hotels. And he is staring down two defamation lawsuits. Oh, and Trump has to repay, over the next four years, more than $300 million in outstanding loans he personally guaranteed.
Trump has reinvented his business model before, and he may discover new income streams, probably by monetizing the loyalty of his fanatical base through some kind of Trump-branded “news” organization, as has been predicted since before the 2016 election. But starting a media property is difficult and hardly a guarantee to make money. (It’s not as if conservative alt-news fans have nowhere else to find an angry white man shouting about antifa, socialism, and Black Lives Matter protesters.)
If this were still 2015, Trump could fall back on his tried-and-true income generators: money laundering and tax fraud. The problem is that his business model relied on chronically lax enforcement of those financial crimes. And now he is under investigation by two different prosecutors in New York State for what appear to be black-letter violations of tax law. At minimum, these probes will make it impossible for him to stay afloat by stealing more money. At maximum, he faces the serious risk of millions of dollars in fines or a criminal prosecution that could send him to prison.
Trump reportedly plans to pardon himself along with a very broad swath of his hangers-on. But a pardon hardly solves his problems. For one thing, a federal pardon is useless against state-level crimes. For another, the self-pardon is a theoretical maneuver that’s never been tested, and it’s not clear whether the courts will agree it is even possible to do so.
And what’s more, a pardon might constitute an admission of guilt, which could open up Trump to more private lawsuits. Remember how O. J. Simpson was ordered to pay $34 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, even after he beat the murder rap? The families of victims of the January 6 riot might well sue Trump for his role in inciting the violence. Trump might try pardoning himself to make sure he can’t be charged with criminal incitement, but admitting the crime makes it even easier to bring a civil suit against him.
The easiest way out of the self-pardon dilemma would be for Trump to make a deal with Mike Pence, under which he would resign before leaving office and Pence would grant him a pardon. Unfortunately for Trump, Pence is still sore about the whole “whipping up a paramilitary mob to lynch him” episode. ABC reported recently that Trump does not want to resign, in part because he doesn’t trust his vice-president to pardon him.
It might be easy to overlook the significance of Mitch McConnell letting it be known that he wishes to be rid of Trump. McConnell probably won’t push for Trump’s conviction in a second impeachment trial, but he does wish to disqualify Trump from holding office and clear away the threat of a third straight presidential election with Trump at the top of the ticket. A prison sentence would solve that problem nicely.
McConnell obviously can’t dictate decisions by prosecutors or courts. But courts do follow the lead of political elites. And if McConnell sees Trump as a liability for the party and the conservative movement, the ideologue judges he helped install just might see it the same way. Trump will be staving off lawsuits, state prosecutions, and possibly federal prosecutions. He needs help from the courts, and the reserves of latent deference and sympathy he might have counted on to save him will be exhausted.
At noon on January 20, Trump will be in desperate shape. His business is floundering, his partners are fleeing, his loans are delinquent, prosecutors will be coming after him, and the legal impunity he enjoyed through his office will be gone. He will be walking naked into a cold and friendless world. What appeared to be a brilliant strategy for escaping consequences was merely a tactic for putting them off. The bill is coming due.
The presidency of Donald Trump has left such a wretched stench in Europe that it's hard to see how, even in four years, Joe Biden could possibly get America's most important alliance back on track.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a final trip to meet with European and NATO leaders. . . . Throughout Trump's term, Europeans have been walking a tightrope, trying to balance outright condemnation of the President's most destructive behavior with not alienating the leader of the Western world.
Pompeo was unlikely to be received warmly on his farewell tour, even before the insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday. For many, Trump's incitement of rioters was the final straw.
"It was clearly not going to be a congenial trip, as many European institutions and diplomats are happily turning their back on the Trump administration. It's no secret that Europe is very much looking forward to working with Biden," said Tyson Barker, a senior Europe analyst and former State Department official under Barack Obama.
This week's snub of Pompeo brings an ignominious end to four years of exacerbation with a White House that went out of its way to burn bridges with allies who were caught off guard by the election of Trump, then horrified at his administration's inability to rein in his worst instincts.
"From our perspective, Trump saw Europe as an enemy," a senior European diplomat told CNN. "The lasting impact of 'America First' is the US having fewer friends in Europe."
A senior European Union official said the general view in Brussels was that Trump went out of his way to "gradually undo a lot of what the EU was working towards on the world stage," pointing specifically to the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.
While the assumption is that the transatlantic relationship will improve under Biden, four years of carnage has spooked the European political scene.
"The arrival of a Biden administration has yet to be embraced with the same fanfare as Obama as President-elect, because Trump has done more damage to the relationship than George W. Bush. Trump's outward aggression affected all aspects of European life, be it trade, defense or even the emotional shared ideas and cultural ties. All those things suddenly seem debased and of less value."
The repudiation of shared ideas and cultural ties Cluver describes are one prong of the fork that has punctured the alliance. According to Barker, officials in European capitals were agog at the types of people Trump employed to work as envoys overseas.
"Europeans have considered the last four years extremely distasteful. They've been bemused by Trump's envoys, like Richard Grenell in Germany, who have turned up and started behaving like Fox News anchors and insulting the country they were supposed to be building relations with," Barker said.
Another prong has been the practical implication of Trump's approach to foreign policy. "Trump's disengagement and hollowing out of the State Department meant that we were suddenly without our most important ally on projects in the Middle East and Africa," a senior German diplomat told CNN.
"When they did take big stances on things like China or Iran, they chose not to involve anyone, leaving Europeans scrambling for a response," the diplomat added.
Cluver says this has forced a structural change in the dynamics between allies. "Europeans have had to carry the can on things like the Iran deal and climate change. On one hand, this means that Biden can pick up where Obama left off with some serious American muscle. But he might have to accept that America's role in these relationships has changed."
Barker agreed, saying it would be "important to see how the new administration acknowledges the damage that has been done by Trump to America's reputation." And on top of the big picture issues like Iran and China, Barker said, "how can [Biden] send State Department officials to Ukraine to warn about corruption with any immediate credibility?"
This idea, that Europe has lost its trust in America, comes up time and again when speaking to European diplomats and EU officials. Cluver believes the combination of unpredictability from the White House and "US bureaucracy being dismantled from the inside to make it less effective worldwide" under Trump means we have crossed the Rubicon. "American influence in European defense, security, and other global priorities has diminished. This has led to lots of countries having to think more seriously about their future with a less assertive US," she added.
"In some respects, it was a good thing Trump forced us to think more about diplomatic initiatives, NATO and withdrawal of US troops," said the German diplomat. "It might come as a shock to Biden, but the prospect of the US underpinning European security is not as attractive as it was when he and Obama left office."
A view many European officials share is that no matter how friendly Biden is, Trump happened once -- and could happen again. The President lost the election, but clearly there is still a lot of support for his politics. In 2024, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Mike Pompeo, or any other of his allies could conceivably pick up the torch and win an election.
"We cannot afford to be naive. If you look at the number of votes that Trump got, he wields an influence on American voters. This anti-global, 'America First' undercurrent in American politics is still very much alive and we have to hedge our bets," said the EU diplomat.
Cluver is equally convinced that Trump's supporters are going nowhere, not least because they are unlike traditional voters. "A lot of his followers have been radicalized by conspiracy theories spread by groups like QAnon," she said. "Even if Biden succeeds in his domestic agenda, it will be difficult to pull people away from Trump's movement. Worse, elected representatives who want to bank on their support in the midterms and might continue pandering to them."
If this all sounds a little gloomy, to some extent, it is. "Bush was supposed to be an aberration and Obama a restoration," said Barker. "This idea of a reset seems a much tougher sell, especially since Trump's used his lame-duck period to burn the house on the way out."