AlterNet 2020

Democracy in crisis: Here's how experts want to save our elections

The Trump presidency is over and the Biden presidency has begun. The 2020 election's legacy will now turn to examining how the institutions and laws that govern voting can be fortified, after a bruising season where Trump attacked the process as illegitimate and enlarged the GOP myth of massive voter fraud.

Normally, after every presidential election, every sector involved in elections issues post-election reports and prescriptions. While Trump's refusal to admit defeat has delayed that process, the emerging analyses and recommendations so far have two focuses. The first concerns the maze of laws and rules governing elections. The second focus is arguably harder to solve, as it concerns the personal and societal factors that allowed the narratives of stolen elections and underlying conspiracies to take hold among tens of millions of Americans—such as 15 percent of Republicans who still support the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

"This anger on the part of some people has been building for a long time, and there can be a separate discussion of why it is that people are feeling frustrated and that leads to a willingness to engage in violence," said Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of homeland security and a leader of the bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises, which was convened last year as Trump escalated his attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. "But the fuse that lit this particular explosion was a big lie."

"It was the lie propagated by Donald Trump and his supporters that this election was rigged and stolen and fraudulent," Chertoff said, speaking on January 15 as the National Task Force on Election Crises issued its recommendations. "Even though, repeatedly, when evidence was requested, no evidence was provided, and every court rejected these claims. But the big lie nevertheless continued to propagate and reflects a challenge in our society in terms of truth and willingness to trust our [electoral] institutions."

In the short run, Chertoff believes that those individuals who led the lie-based attacks on 2020's elections—Trump, those storming the Capitol, elected officials seeking to override swing-state popular votes, pro-Trump lawyers filing falsity-filled lawsuits—must be held accountable. That near-term step will help revive factual baselines and trust in electoral institutions, he said. But the body's recommendations, like other "what next?" discussions by legal scholars, policymakers, election officials and advocacy groups, concern other foundations of American democracy.

The task force made 28 recommendations in several areas, including: election administration, with regard to how states helped voters both to get a ballot during the pandemic and to ensure their votes were accurately counted; legal reforms, ranging from clarifying federal laws governing the Electoral College and presidential transitions to urging that states modify their post-Election Day procedures to allow more assurances that votes were being counted accurately; and social media platforms, which would do better to delete false posts, not merely add warning labels.

As extensive as this to-do list seems, it is not the full democracy reform agenda. In July 2020, a 25-member expert panel based at Harvard University and the Washington-based Brookings Institution issued a report calling for mandatory voting. As María Teresa Kumar, founding president of Voto Latino, who participated in that panel and the bipartisan task force, said, universal voting was one way to dilute the power of the most extreme political factions.

"Universal voting, in countries that practice it, actually tones down the extremism on both sides because it involves everybody," she said. "If there are methods to promote that type of practice in the country, we will see not only fair elections but more participation… with the hopes of toning down that extremism that we are witnessing today."

An even longer-standing reform effort led by voting rights advocates is calling for swift passage of H.R. 1. That 791-page House bill addresses election intricacies, campaign finance and ethics. It is comprised of reforms proposed mostly by Democrats from more than 50 bills that failed to pass during the past decade when Republicans controlled at least one chamber in Congress. A growing coalition of 170 center-left groups are pushing for H.R. 1, even though most of it was drafted before the pandemic dramatically altered how 2020's general election was conducted, including greatly expanding the use of mailed-out ballots and early in-person voting. One day before Biden's inauguration, a version of H.R. 1 was introduced in the Senate.

On the same day, Marc Elias, who led the Democratic Party's voting rights litigation, published his initial ideas based on the 2020 election. They include "shoring up the weak points in our system that Trump and his allies exploited," such as streamlining post-election certification of winners, improving access to ballots, minimizing bureaucracy surrounding mailed-out ballots, and better audits and transparency to assure voters are not being disenfranchised.

"As we transition to an America without Trump as its president, the days are still dark—an epidemic is raging and the assault on democracy continues," he said. "Although the man will leave the White House, it has become clear that Trumpism will remain, now deeply embedded in the Republican Party. The damage that it has done and, until rooted out, will continue to do to our nation and its institutions and values is structural and will not be easily repaired."

Where to Begin?

The early post-election reports, related briefings and other discussions suggest bold action is needed to counter the damage done to the institutions and procedures undergirding American democracy. Even though Trump and his allies lost 64 out of 65 post-election lawsuits (and gained no votes in the suit they won), the constitutional roles surrounding who regulates elections must be clarified. The steps instituted to help voters during the pandemic have not been codified into law—and may even be rolled back in red-run states. The architecture of online media that spread Trump's stolen election lies remain in place.

Every new presidency has a window to pass a fraction of its agenda. When it comes to dealing with the damage done to America's elections, the emerging question is what steps are likely to most immediately fortify democratic institutions. Put another way, if the bedrock of American democracy was shaken and tested, what steps—possibly beyond what was on the table in 2020's elections—are needed to strengthen representative government?

On January 14, a dozen of the nation's leading constitutional scholars met on Zoom for an Ohio State University forum, "Picking Up the Pieces of the 2020 Election." Two divergent focal points drove the discussion. The first was what to do about the millions of Trump voters who believe that one of the best-run national elections in memory (record turnout, more voting options, more verification of vote counts, etc.) was illegitimate. And second, what should most immediately be done to fortify the laws and structures behind elections to restore public trust?

The country faced a crisis that was bigger than the fine print of election law and procedure, said University of California, Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen. Laws and election reforms can only go so far—as both are based on facts and rules of evidence—if people rejected the law, or felt that their identity as citizens had somehow been threatened and required patriotic rebellion.

"There is only so much that election law can do if people are not willing to comply with the rules of the game," he said. "We can structure rules that try to create fair elections and that, if people are willing to believe the truth, should give assurances that elections were conducted in fair ways. But if you've got a significant part of the population [unwilling to believe the truth], led by someone who is spouting lies about the integrity of the election, it turns out it is very difficult to fight against that."

Others said that the county was not quite at the abyss, but agreed that the moment called for remedies other than what many democracy advocates are coalescing around, which was the swift passage of H.R. 1.

"Some of the things in H.R. 1 are good and we should think about them, as well as things that came up in this election related to mail balloting and the like," said Nathaniel Persily of Stanford Law School. "The impact that they're actually going to have on some of the problems that we are seeing in the short term is relatively minimal. You can support gerrymander reform, [party] primary [election] reform and the like, as I do, but I don't think that it's going to respond to our current crisis."

"There are things that can be done now, though, that are worth spending political capital on, like [Washington] D.C. statehood, Puerto Rican statehood, and the like," Persily said, "that I think would have a dramatic effect on the composition of Congress, as well as the Electoral College." He went on to say that Congress must regulate online speech, as it has in other settings depending on time, place and manner, instead of allowing "Google, Twitter and Facebook to be those judges."

Others at the Ohio State University forum were more measured. They pointed to clarifying the constitutional questions involving the Electoral College and state certification of winners. They said that administrative decisions and emergency rules that helped voters during the pandemic should be codified—put into law. They suggested that political parties, especially Republicans, might rein in extremist flanks by revising their rules for primary elections. They agreed American public education lacked a sufficient focus on civics.

Looming overhead during the forum was an unnerving question posed by several scholars. Democrats could use their control of Congress and the White House to impose their vision, as the Republicans have done for years—such as red states imposing barriers to Democratic voting blocs after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. But doing so might further provoke a violence-prone right wing, some scholars said, suggesting that progressives might have to step back to allow moderate Republicans to reclaim control of their party and return to respecting elections.

"Prior to November 3, I thought where we would be now is, conceptually, having the Democratic Party having control of the Senate, control of the House, control of the presidency, [and the leadership] asking itself to what extent it was appropriate, and how could it impose its conception of fair play and fair elections on the system, because it would have the ability to do that," said Edward Foley, who directs Ohio State University's election law program. "This was the moment. Use the power. And just have a new Voting Rights Act and new reform agenda that would come out of the Democratic Party and its values."

"I now think that would be a terrible mistake," Foley continued, "because it will embolden the Trumpian right wing of the Republican Party to say, 'The system is rigged. It's their system. It's not our system. It's not a shared system. And we're not going to play by your rules. We're not going to play this game.'" Foley said that Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needed "to build a bilateral conception of what America needs by way of an electoral system that both sides can buy into and accept. It can't be one side's vision. It can't be the other."

The possibility of ceding ground to Republicans to get their post-Trump party to heed facts, and to follow the law and evidence in elections, disturbed Franita Tolson, a University of Southern California Gould School of Law professor. She said such a response lent false credibility to years of Republican lies that elections were fraudulent unless Republican candidates emerged victorious.

"This agreement that we have to appease those who believe in election security [to overly police the process], while also expanding access to the ballot, to me, it just seems like an odd starting place because it gives credence to this idea that on the election integrity side that we have an equal problem there—similar to the problem that we have with access to the ballot," Tolson said. "I may be in the minority here, but I actually don't think that's a good starting point. I think that to the extent that we are worried about people questioning the legitimacy of this election, we have to stop pretending that there are problems with the legitimacy of this election. This is a narrative that's been building, really, for over the past two decades."

Clear Frames and Goals

These big questions and frames offer ways to assess post-election recommendations. In the meantime, other key voices have yet to weigh in.

In presidential battleground states, election officials have yet to submit reports to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and to private foundations about how they used millions in grants to better conduct elections during a pandemic, said Tammy Patrick, a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises and senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund.

"The election itself was a raging success, in the midst of a raging pandemic and some of the worst rhetoric around the integrity of elections that the Republic has ever seen," said Patrick, who counseled against fast federal action, such as passing H.R. 1, despite its many laudable elements—including reliable federal funding.

"There's so much going on," she said. "If the states take the false narrative of the 2020 election as a reason or a way to implement regressive law [as GOP-majority legislatures in swing states may do], I think we will have to have some sort of baseline federal legislation get passed in order to make sure that all Americans have some semblance of equal access to the ballot."

Meanwhile, others, such as Stanford's Persily, said now was not the right time to talk about election intricacies, especially with Trump's upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.

"Now's not a time to be talking about ballot drop boxes and absentee ballot signatures, when… the basics of American democracy and government are under assault," he said. "I believe the Biden folks when they say that they are worried that a trial sometime soon after he takes office will make it very difficult for the Senate [to focus elsewhere]."

In other words, the odds that constitutional or electoral reforms will emerge quickly depends on how the impeachment unfolds—including whether or not Republicans vocally reject Trump's false claims about election fraud—and the outcome, which could include barring Trump from running again for federal office. In the meantime, influential players will keep weighing in.

"It is difficult to overstate the danger that this kind of violent rhetoric poses for our democracy—not only to election officials themselves and the future willingness of Americans to help run our elections [as poll workers], but to the stability of our system," said Trevor Potter, a Republican, ex-Federal Election Commission chair and founder of the Campaign Legal Center.

"Are we ruled by voters and laws, or by force and violent threats?"

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Here's the extortionist trick the GOP is already using to undermine Biden

The headlines produced by the new president's inaugural address were almost universal in quoting one of its key themes: "We must end this uncivil war." This quote is now being put through the spin cycle, as they say, where it will be rinsed and re-rinsed, and interpreted and reinterpreted, until all the nuance and complexity and profundity of the speech is washed away, leaving behind a widely accepted and, therefore, uncontroversial truth about what Joe Biden's presidency is all about.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, demonstrated this on the Senate floor Wednesday, during a speech that in appearance was in the spirit of democracy. In addition to congratulating the new president and Kamala Harris—a "new three-word phrase 'Madam Vice President' is now a part of our American lexicon"—McConnell said that, "President Biden made unity the major theme of his inaugural address." You can expect the rest of the Republican Party to continue in this vein, defining and redefining "unity" in whatever ways that are politically convenient. You can expect "unity" to be defined and redefined in ways beneficial only to the Republican Party.

You can expect "unity" to be defined and redefined in ways beneficial only to the Republican Party.

Indeed, we saw it before Biden's swearing in. For instance, an unsigned Wall Street Journal editorial, published the day before Inauguration Day, said that "if Mr. Biden really wants to unite the country, he will have to reach out to the 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump. One way to do that would be to speak out against the burgeoning progressive desire to punish, black list, and censor political opposition. Americans will be listening to his Inaugural Address for such a constructive signal."

That such a thing was not offered is beside the point. (So is the suggestion that Biden needs to reach out to Trump voters; he already has, many times over.) The point is rhetorical. Indeed, this maneuver is quite effective. (Or it has been in the past.) The Democrat can have unity if he [fill in the blank]. If he does not [fill in the blank], he can't have unity. If the Democrat in question decides to take this advice in good faith, the next step is to "move the goal post," as they say. Sorry, [fill in the blank] won't work. Now you have to [fill in the blank]. I don't know if the Wall Street Journal's editorial writer watches Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown, but that's what this is.

There are many variations of extortionist rhetoric. I'll name three more. A talking head on Fox said there can be no unity with the Democrats constantly talking about white supremacy. A top editor at the Washington Examiner said Biden doesn't want unity, because … well, it makes so little sense, I'm not going to try comprehending it. His point is that Biden intends to govern using "lofty rhetoric about unity, while acting below the radar to smash norms to implement the Left-wing agenda." And, finally, a Breitbart reporter said Biden's "amnesty" bill elevates CEOs and "migrants" but "sidelines Americans." He said it "includes a few cursory mentions of American families while championing the demands of migrants, employers, and investors."

All of this is extortionist, because it brandishes a threat—do [fill in the blank] or something bad happens—or it identifies a threat so monstrous the Republicans are "forced" into sabotage. A) Stop talking about racism or no unity for you. B) Biden is controlled by "Left-wing" masters who must be eliminated in the name of self-preservation. C) Good white people are victims of bad rich and foreign people. If you haven't noticed, the rhetoric of extortion puts whiteness at the center of politics, so the Democrats must work with the Republicans but not the other way around. If the Democrats don't play by these "rules," they're not quite Americans enough. Any way you put it, Biden and the Democrats are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Which is why context matters. Yes, the president called for unity, but he called for it in a speech delivered at the foot of the US Capitol, where days before armed guerrillas, at the behest of a former president, tried to sabotage the transfer of power, murder members of the US Congress, and bring down the republic. On that same day, 142 Republicans stood up to be counted among the traitors. Biden's speech, seen in its proper context, is clearly not just about unity but unity against common enemies.

My whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work, and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

Only a fool would think the enemy does not include Republican seditionaries and their media allies who've forfeited the right to accuse others of not being American enough.

How Biden's inauguration sent a strong signal about the kind of president he could be

Steny Hoyer was right, and we should thank the House Majority leader for clarifying things. In a stem-winding speech urging the second impeachment of Donald Trump, he said he keeps hearing about "the peaceful transfer of power," but there hasn't been one. Indeed, according to federal prosecutors, the seditionaries who stormed the US Capitol intended to "capture and assassinate" members of the Congress. A self-styled militia conspired days in advance to make "citizen arrests," according to the Post. Some 25,000 National Guard troops were guarding today's swearing-in ceremony.

We should thank Hoyer for not only pointing out the truth, but for making us aware of this moment in our history. "The last time an incoming inauguration of a president was met with this level of violence and real threat to the life and safety of the president and members of Congress," Thomas Balcerski, a presidential historian at Eastern Connecticut State University, told the Connecticut Post, "would have been 1861."

Biden could have chosen a priest to give the inauguration homily. Instead, he chose the most powerful voice of the religious left since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death.

That's the last time "treason was in the air," said David Holahan. Abraham Lincoln, before he took office, "was not threatening to abolish slavery in states where it already existed," he wrote Tuesday in the Connecticut Mirror. "Indeed, he had proclaimed that it was not in his Constitutional power to do so. No, the rebels simply didn't like the outcome of the 1860 election. They would not abide the will of the American voters."

Given the Civil War-like milieu we're living in right now, I think it's meaningful that the person chosen to give Thursday's inauguration homily is the Rev. Dr. William Barber, senior pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. According to the Times, "the initiatives he has helped to start—the Moral Mondays series of protests and the Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired Poor People's Campaign—have motivated legions across the country to engage in demonstrations and peaceful civil disobedience in support of racial, economic and environmental justice as well as the protection of voting rights, among other issues as much moral as political."

But Barber is meaningful for reasons other than prominence in grassroots politics. For one thing, he was active in 2008 when Barack Obama, the first Black president, could have selected him to do what Joe Biden selected him to do tomorrow. Instead, Obama, because he was the first Black president, went out of his way to seem nonpartisan by selecting Rick Warren to deliver the homily. Warren, as you might already know, is the head of a mostly white evangelical megachurch in California. His politics are Obama's opposite. He's against abortion, same-sex marriage, LGBTQ-friendly laws and policies, etc. By picking Warren, Obama was sending a message: I'm not a scary Black man.

Biden doesn't carry Obama's burden, obviously, but he could have followed suit, choosing, perhaps, a white religious conservative like Rick Warren who openly opposed Donald Trump. Or Biden could have, as a practicing Catholic, chosen a priest, and no one would have batted an eye. Instead, he raised eyebrows by choosing Barber, the most powerful voice of the religious left since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, that is to say, the most important activist since the end of America's Second Reconstruction.

That's how Barber sees political history. The First Reconstruction came after the Civil War when white people and Black people came together—in what Barber calls a mass social movement of "fusion politics"—to fulfill partially the first principle of the United States enshrined in the Declaration of Independence in which everyone is created equal. The results included the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Then came the Second Reconstruction during the postwar years when, again, white people and Black people came together to fulfill partially that same promise. The results included the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We are now, Barber believes, living in a time of the Third Reconstruction and have been since Obama's election.

That has been hard to see given that Trump's election was a backlash against Obama's. But remember the energies that coalesced in the past six months. The politics of Black Lives Matter, which came to be after Michael Brown was shot to death in 2014, merged with anti-Trump politics. Literally, white people came together with Black people—in other words, their interests fused—to create the biggest coalition in the history of presidential elections to defeat Trump and, consequently, save the American republic.

Will that lead to a Third Reconstruction? Let's just say there's now reason to hope.

The myth of Trump refuted: How his actions were his own undoing

Today is Donald Trump's last day as president. While that's cause for celebration, it's also opportunity to look back and ask ourselves: Are the things we thought were true really true? I have in mind the notion that the president, during his time in office as well as his business life, has never faced serious consequences. According to Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman, writing in the Sunday Times, "the relationship between his words and their consequences has been fairly straightforward: He says what he wants, and nothing particularly durable tends to happen to him." But:

in the final frames of his presidency, Mr. Trump is confronting an unfamiliar fate. He is being held to account as never before for things he has said, finding his typical defenses—denial, obfuscation, powerful friends, claiming it was all a big joke—insufficient in explaining away a violent mob acting in his name.

Put another way, the president was "Teflon Don" all the way up to the moment he ordered a mob attack of the United States Capitol. In the past, Trump could say whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and the GOP would stand by him. Now, for the first time, a president is twice impeached. Now, for the first time, this president is facing "durable" consequences. Twitter banned him. His business empire is tottering. His biggest lender cut him off. And: "Some once-reliable Republican congressional loyalists are revisiting their commitment, threatening his grip on the party, even as the president's popularity with much of his support base remains undimmed."

But Flegenheimer and Haberman's framing is more artistic than empirical. They want to write about "the irony of a president felled by the very formula that powered his rise: inflammatory speech and a self-regard that has congealed at times into functional self-delusion." So they elevated Trump's boast that he "could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters" in order to knock it down. The Times prides itself on being aloof. The result is columns invoking Greek tragedy.

That's not to say there's no truth in their framing. It's to say there's probably not as much truth as the imprimatur of America's "newspaper of record" would normally suggest. As I have said before, Trump was never made of Teflon. Things stick. They always stick. It's just frequently hard to tell they're sticking. In time, I think it will be clear that consequences didn't slip off him so much as accumulate surely, slowly, then suddenly, until his presidency sank under their collective weight and out of sight.

Over time, students of American history will ask themselves why Donald Trump was a one-term president when virtually all incumbents are given another term. The answers will be various, of course, but all of them will begin with his having cheated to win the first time (in a conspiracy with the Russian government). They will end with his having cheated a second time (first, in a criminal conspiracy to smear Joe Biden in the 2020 election, second by actually leading an attempted overthrow of the US government).

Between the beginning and the end, Trump was never popular with the majority, not even once. Meanwhile, he allowed more than 400,000 individuals to die from a once-in-a-century plague. He never took responsibility. He never once offered compassion or contrition. He covered up for his ignorance, carelessness and mistakes. He covered up the fact that he was covering all of that up. Most of all, he lied, and he lied, and he lied.

Impeached twice for cheating twice. Take some comfort knowing that youngsters will see justice in that. And they will probably see justice in Trump's rise being a white-power backlash against 21st-century democratic politics (embodied by the country's first Black president) while Biden's rise was a backlash against native-born fascism.

The lesson for presidents going forward is to never lose sight of being everyone's president, never forget the need to expand your base, never give an inaugural address informing everyone, right from the start, that you're the head of a suicide cult instead of a political coalition, and, above everything else, never ever ever commit treason. The new conventional wisdom should be that the president who betrays his country is a one-term, twice-humiliated pariah-in-the-making, who is also, without presidential immunity, facing the prospect of financial ruin. According to the Post, civil attorneys representing Trump's myriad victims await the clock striking noon tomorrow.

If you mean Trump was never brought down by things that would have brought down other presidents, then I suppose, yes, he was made of Teflon. But that perspective is contingent. It reflects the here and now more than it does the future, where the present will look different and where the truth will be easier for everyone to see.

The treasonous face of white supremacy has been laid bare

Joe Biden is preparing to ask the US Congress to grant legal status to an estimated 11 million immigrants residing in the country without the proper paperwork. That's not surprising. Barack Obama asked, too. What is surprising, however, is that Biden won't bother enticing Republican legislators with expensive promises to "secure the border." What is surprising is his apparent decision not to take Republican bad faith seriously.

It didn't matter how much money the Obama administration poured into militarizing the border. It was never secure enough. That one person could slip by was occasion for accusing Obama of … well, anything, given that he wasn't really an American (wink wink). That he wasn't really an American (wink wink) meant the Democrats in the Congress were often under pressure to send more money to the border, financing, though they didn't realize it, agents of the state who'd later take infants from their still-nursing mothers as well as serve as Donald Trump's secret police. Biden won't go so far as to open the border (alas), but we should praise overtures toward defunding it. (He won't tear down the wall either (alas), but he won't spend money maintaining it.)

It should now be clear that when white people say they must "take back our country," they aren't talking about voting.

Though Biden recognizes Republican bad faith for what it is—specifically, that it is not something you can trust while crafting national-security policy—some aren't getting it, even so-called Never-Trump conservatives. On the news that Biden won't promise to "secure the border," David Frum, perhaps the most famous Never-Trumper, sorta freaked. "The Biden immigration plans could wreck his whole administration from the start," he tweeted. "They will invite a border surge that will force Biden to choose between mass detentions or ever-accelerating unauthorized migration."

Before I move on, let me spell out what I think Frum is saying. First, that he means it in good faith. He clearly wants the next president to succeed insofar as his success will stymie the fascism rising in the Republican Party, his former home. Second, that defunding the border, to Frum's way of thinking, is the same thing as lax border security. Third, that lax border security will give incentive to immigrants to enter illegally in the not-unreasonable belief that they'll be legalized along with 11 million others. And fourth, that the more brown people come in, the more white Americans will want them out, thus fueling white-power demands for a Donald Trump copycat.

But even if Frum's correct in saying lax border security will in time give birth to a Trump copycat, that doesn't mean a Trump copycat will rise to the same heights as his namesake. For all his faults going into the 2016 election, Trump was still thought of as a nationalist. He was thought of as a patriot. When he called reporters "the enemy of the people," he was still thought to mean all of the people. He didn't. He never did. He meant white people, specifically "real Americans" who must "take back our country," with violence if necessary, from an electorate that dared allow a Black man to sit in the White House. Frum worries Biden's border policies might arouse more fascism. That's fair. But fascism is what sacked the United States Capitol. For the first time in my life, white supremacy isn't just seen as morally disgusting. It's now seen as treasonous.

That Trump and treason go hand-in-hand has not been obvious for a lot of reasons, good and bad, but I think it will be obvious in time. Treason, after all, is what links his first impeachment to his second. It's what links his cheating to win (and succeeding) four years ago to cheating to win (and failing) four years later. (Treason, in other words, is what you do if you want to be a one-term president.) In each instance, the treason was made possible by the ubiquity of a Big Lie. The first lie was "Obama isn't really an American." The second lie is "Biden isn't really the winner." But even those lies are subsumed by the biggest of all rooted in our history: that white Americans are more American than other Americans, and that the browning of America, as Ron Sundstrom said in 2008, is why some "real Americans" are prepared to die "for their country."

After the Capitol Hill siege—after a woman died for a conspiracy theory, after a cop was beaten to death with a flag pole, after a mob tried to murder lawmakers—it should be clear that when white people say they must "take back their country," they aren't talking about voting. It should be clear that when white people carry semiautomatic rifles into government buildings, their goal is not exercising their first and second amendment rights. It should be clear that when a party demands "border security," it isn't actually demanding border security. It should be clear they aren't fighting for a real country. Biden is right not to trust the feelings of people living in a fake one.

Joe Biden unveils 2 big surprises sending a powerful signal he's pivoting to the left

The US president-elect Joe Biden did two spectacular things last week which may rewrite the assumption that his presidency would return America back to the Barack Obama era. One was the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan Biden rolled out Thursday and the other his choice of William Burns, veteran diplomat, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.

Seemingly unrelated, these two things convey a powerful signal that Biden understands that the real pandemic danger in America is social collapse and what is needed is a national policy that prevents societal disintegration — and a foreign policy which reflects that top priority.

Biden's advisors had let it be known back in October that if elected, even without waiting until Inauguration Day, he would right away provide an immediate fiscal relief the American economy needs and directed and targeted to middle-class and lower-class families, to the smallest businesses instead of just the big corporations that have the best connections to big banks, since "families need to put food on the table to pay their electricity bills, to keep roofs over their heads."

Biden has kept his word. His spending proposal sets aside $400 billion to address the coronavirus; $1 trillion in direct relief to families and individuals; and $440 billion to help communities and businesses hit the hardest by the pandemic. The proposal envisages:

  • Topping up the $600 cash relief passed by Congress last month with $1400 payments additionally;
  • Hike in unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week through September;
  • Fourteen weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave;
  • Raise in national minimum wage to $15 per hour;
  • Eviction and foreclosure moratoriums;
  • $160 billion earmarked for a broad range of programs, including coronavirus vaccination, testing, therapeutics, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, etc.;
  • $ 170 billion for schools;
  • Billions of dollars earmarked for underserved populations (eg., African-Americans), including health services on tribal lands;
  • Billions of dollars more for helping long-term care workers and who have borne the brunt of the pandemic (and who are disproportionately Blacks.)

It is an unabashedly progressive agenda that the left has been trying to advance for decades — and, arguably, the bulk of them do not even have anything to do with the health emergency as such but are social welfare measures.

Interestingly, Biden is not seeking to raise everybody's taxes to pay for this, but instead proposes to pay for this plan with a series of tax increases on the wealthy, including taxing capital gains as regular income and increasing the marginal tax rate for top earners to almost 40% which he'd announce in spring as a second long-term broader recovery package to "build back" the economy.

The writings of the renowned Serbian-American economist Branko Milanović come to mind. Milanović is famous for his work on income distribution, inequality and poverty. Formerly chief economist at the World Bank and currently teaching at the London School of Economics and the New York City University, his latest work Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System that Rules the World figured in the Foreign Affairs list of Best Books and earned him acclaim as one among the top 50 thinkers in the year 2020.

Milanović wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs last year in March noticing the lengthening shadows of the pandemic stealthily advancing in America at that time. With extraordinary prescience, he forewarned that "the human toll of the disease will be the most important cost and the one that could lead to societal disintegration. Those who are left hopeless, jobless, and without assets could easily turn against those who are better off."

"Already, some 30 percent of Americans have zero or negative wealth. If more people emerge from the current crisis with neither money, nor jobs, nor access to health care, and if these people become desperate and angry… If governments have to resort to using paramilitary or military forces to quell, for example, riots or attacks on property, societies could begin to disintegrate. Thus the main (perhaps even the sole) objective of economic policy today should be to prevent social breakdown. Advanced societies must not allow economics, particularly the fortunes of financial markets, to blind them to the fact that the most important role economic policy can play now is to keep social bonds strong under this extraordinary pressure."

******

On the eve of Biden's address on Thursday, he announced that Ambassador William Burns will be the Director of the CIA in his administration. It is an unusual choice. Indeed, it is not unusual for an "outsider" to head the CIA. During the past quarter century, out of the ten CIA directors, seven came from "outside" — a smattering of generals and a string of politicians. Yet in CIA's 73-year history, this will be the first time that the agency is going to be led by a career diplomat.

Biden has made an optimal choice. Burns is widely praised as a "titan of the foreign-policy world" and also happens to belong to that breed of diplomats who believe that diplomacy and espionage are two sides of the same coin. In his wonderful book, The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal, Burns wrote that in foreign policy, diplomats ought to "harness all the tools of American statecraft—from the soft power of ideas, culture, and public diplomacy, to…intelligence-gathering and covert action".

Interestingly, Burns disavows the so-called "militarisation" of foreign policy. When asked about it in an interview with the Foreign Service Journal, Burns estimated that "time and time again, we've seen how over-reliance on military tools can lead us into policy quicksand. Time and time again, we've fallen into the trap of overusing—or prematurely using—force. That comes at much greater cost in American blood and treasure, and tends to make diplomacy a distorted and under-resourced afterthought."

Without doubt, the choice of Burns is emblematic of where Biden is headed in the conduct of foreign policy. Biden sees Burns as eminently qualified to reinvigorate diplomacy as a critical tool of national power while charioting the intelligence community to devote more attention to its mission of complementing diplomacy.

Burns is also a rare diplomat-intellectual with a mind of his own — who believes that active coordination with China and Russia is necessary to address global challenges to US foreign policy, who derisively looks at the Trump administration's maximum pressure strategy against Iran being a spectacular failure, who maintains that NATO's post-cold war expansion was a grave mistake that derailed relations with Russia, and who strongly argues for arms control talks with Russia in mutual interests.

In the interview with the Foreign Service Journal, Burns spoke about the directions of US foreign policy in the contemporary world situation. He said: "The overarching challenge for U.S. foreign policy today, it seems to me, is to adapt to an international landscape in which American dominance is fading. To put it bluntly, America is no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block. That's not meant to be a declinist argument. In fact, I'm still bullish about America's place in the century unfolding before us. We can't turn the clock back to the post–Cold War unipolar moment. But over at least the next few decades, we can remain the world's pivotal power—best placed among our friends and rivals to navigate a more crowded, complicated and competitive world. We still have a better hand to play than any of our main competitors, if we play it wisely."

Biden's choice of Burns as CIA director underscores his intention to put diplomacy first in the US foreign policies. It also means engagement, based on the realistic understanding that the US can no longer impose its will on other countries.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift in power and influence from West to East. Biden reposes confidence in Burns to lead the intelligence community into a brave new world where the post-cold war "unipolar moment" has vanished forever.

Fundamentally, Biden's expectation would be that the US foreign and security policies will reflect his national strategy, "which not only begins at home, in a strong political and economic system, but ends there, too, in more jobs, more prosperity, a healthier environment and better security" — to borrow Burns' words.

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter. M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.

A Republican caving to terrorists is a Republican working for terrorists

I don't hear it said enough. The 201 Republicans in the US House of Representatives who voted against impeaching Donald Trump might have done so out of fear. Ditto for the 142 Republicans who voted to overturn the election to install a tyrant. I don't mean they feared being primaried. That would be understandable. I mean they feared for their lives. I mean they were afraid Republican voters would find them and kill them.

If this is true, and the material evidence is mounting, then we must come to a grim conclusion. Domestic terrorists who sacked the US Capitol last week, intending to "capture and assassinate" lawmakers, according to federal prosecutors, have strong incentive to keep terrorizing elected Republicans, because in terrorizing them, they get elected Republicans to do whatever they want them to do—even commit treason. If this is true, then the question of whether some Republicans were involved in planning, organizing and executing the magattack, as seems the case, might be of secondary concern. Of primary concern may be the Republicans caving to terrorist demands.

The old presumption is you can trust them not to kill you. They're members of Congress! But given how the Republicans do as they're told, that presumption may be outdated.

Consider the impact on a republican democracy when the prime directive of one of the two major parties is fear—when fear overcomes even the bonds of family. Mike Pence was singled out for assassination. Insurgents raised a gallows. As they breached the building, they chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" About a minute after the vice president was hustled out of the Senate, "the pro-Trump mob arrived at the top of a nearby landing," per the Post. "The proximity of the Jan. 6 attackers to the vice president underscores the jeopardy that top government leaders faced during the siege."

The guerrillas singled out Pence, because Trump did. Yet Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, the vice president's own brother, refused to hold Trump accountable. "The president has made it clear he will support a peaceful transfer of power to President-Elect Joe Biden," Greg Pence said on Twitter. "It's time to move on and focus on what truly helps the American people: recovering from COVID-19 and restoring our economy." On the one hand, you could accuse Pence and the Republicans of being hypocritically more concerned about political division than political assassination. (He was among the 142 Republicans who voted to object to Joe Biden's victory.) On the other hand, however, you could say the Republicans are only concerned about assassination—and by accusing the Democrats of disunity, they're merely covering up fear of their own.

That 60 percent of the Republicans thought treason was easier than telling the truth—Trump lost—is the proper context for discussing a new question coming to the fore. Can the Democrats trust their GOP colleagues not to kill them? Some, especially the party's women of color, expressed doubts about three Republicans who carry guns openly or believe openly in the lie that the Democrats are comprised of pedophiles in league with the "Deep State." The old presumption is that, of course, you can trust them not to kill you. They're members of the United States Congress, for God's sake! But that presumption, given how the Republicans do as they're told, seems outdated.

Greg Pence and other Republicans say they stand against all political violence before putting special emphasis on the looting and rioting associated with last summer's Black Lives Matters demonstrations in protest of George Floyd's murder. While some are correct in saying that they are blurring moral distinctions, few have pointed out something important: that the Democrats never give in to the demands of those who act violently if only because the appearance of caving would inflame the Republicans, who are never accused of caving. It's probably time for the Democrats to change that.

It's true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy, because the elites of this country betrayed them and their values (the rewards of hard work, equal justice, equal opportunity, etc.). But it's also true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy because democracy gave freedom and power to people whom these Americans believe are unworthy of freedom and power. Many "real Americans" looked at the election of Barack Obama and thought the end had come, or was coming, and put everything they had into a candidate promising to punish so-called Americans who had it coming.

Months before last week's mutiny, it was clear that Donald Trump was the head of a loose network of vigilantes inside and outside law enforcement, I wrote last summer, that is prepared to use violence when democratic politics fails to yield the right result. This, I said, is an expression of confederate (i.e., fascist) elements in this country that are always already at work and prepared to burn down the status quo if it gets in the way. The status quo called for accepting the results of a free, fair and lawful election. But the status quo was unacceptable. The status quo was now the enemy. The result has been terrorized Republicans trying to overturn the election out of fear for their lives before refusing to punish a president who is poised to lead a paramilitary insurgency.

The onus, therefore, shouldn't be on the Democrats to show why they can't trust their colleagues. It's on the Republicans to show why they can continue to be trusted.

Why Republicans won't fight terrorism

Just when I thought respectable white people were pushing fascist politics back to the margins, where it belongs, Politico gives that poisonous smurf Ben Shapiro its marque platform to explain why "conservatives" believe, in light of Donald Trump's second and, and this time, bipartisan impeachment, that "members of the opposing political tribe want their destruction, not simply to punish Trump for his behavior."

I'm not going to respect Shapiro by rebutting his points. I'm only going to say that polite white society, if Politico is any indication, remains vulnerable to "koshering," and that as long as it remains so, we're all still in trouble. Shapiro is a bad-faith smear artist who makes fascism seem less lethal than it is by calling it "conservatism" or some other name, as if it were a legitimate school of thought in a democratic republic. In doing so, Politico is making room for fascist politics without appearing to. In doing so, Politico enables the gangrene to continue eating out the center of the body politic.

Dems seem to be ready to tell a story about the Republican Party that puts it in a light similar to Osama Bin Laden's.

By calling himself a "conservative," instead of what he truly is, Shapiro is able to elicit sympathy for members of the Republican Party who fear or suspect the Democratic program of being malicious. If Politico presented him correctly, as the backstabbing apparatchik that he is, you might not feel sympathy at all, because it would be clear that when Shapiro accuses the Democrats of trying to destroy the Republicans, he's projecting what he'd like to see happen to the Democrats or confessing what the GOP has already done. In fascism, everything revolves around the fascists. They are the object, the subject, the hero, the victim. This is why they're totalitarians of the right.

Having a worldview that's totalizing—that squeezes out all respect and deference for anything that can't or won't be dominated—means that Shapiro and the fascists will never concede to having any responsibility in human events. Even when everyone else, and I mean everyone else, sees with their own two eyes that the president really did incite a violent revolt against the US government, and a throng of armed insurgents really did try to murder members of the US Congress, fascists will simply deny it, and focus instead on their fetish. As Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York, said Wednesday: "Democrats just threw more fuel on the fire by ramming through score-settling, hastily drafted articles of impeachment just a week before the inauguration. I voted NO on this latest push that will only serve to divide our nation further."

Zeldin is among the 60 percent of Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the election. Like Shapiro accusing the Democrats of wanting to destroy the Republicans, Zeldin, in accusing the Democrats of being divisive, is confessing. What's divisive is not holding accountable a president who fomented an insurgency. What's divisive is protecting a president who fomented an insurgency after casting a vote to invalidate democracy. Like Shapiro, Zeldin is koshering. He's making fascism seem principled. He's making an attempt at political murder seem less political and less murderous.

Koshering only works, however, when there are people ready and willing to believe it. Specifically, if "members of the opposing political tribe" believe it. Truth be told, some Democrats probably did believe some of it before the magattack. Not so much now. The Democrats seem prepared to answer politics with politics, instead of moral appeals to reason. They seem to be ready to tell a story about the Republican Party that puts it in a light similar to Osama Bin Laden's. "On September 11, we came together against an enemy from without, but on Jan. 6, we were attacked by an enemy from within," said Rep. Sean Casten, Democrat of Illinois, during yesterday's impeachment debate. "We must come together today against that domestic threat to our constitution."

Unity, as seen from the point of view of Democrats targeted for murder, is not a matter of being for or against a humiliated one-term twice-impeached president. Unity is a matter of being for or against a common enemy, of being for or against the United States. The question then is why the Republicans have not joined the Democrats the way the Democrats joined a Republican president in the fight against international terrorism. The answer is clear. The Republicans are OK with domestic terrorism, and they are OK with domestic terrorism, because it's Republicans who are doing it. Over time, this will be obvious to everyone. No amount of koshering can change that.


House GOP can't quit Trump

Imagine you're a Republican in the House of Representatives. Imagine you have a choice to make today. You can side with a president who takes no responsibility for the attempted assassination, broadcast on live national television, of members of the United States Congress. Or you can side with everyone else. And I mean everyone: the Democrats, the news media, the US military, business leaders, Wall Street, the courts, civil society, and the 82 million-person multiracial coalition that elected Joe Biden.

Everyone else is saying, yes, what we witnessed was an attempted coup d'etat. What we witnessed was domestic terrorism, plain and simple. What we all saw was disloyalty, treachery, sedition, mutiny, treason—whatever word you want to use to describe the same thing. What we want is for Donald Trump, and everyone who abetted him, directly and indirectly, to face serious consequences. It was possible to talk about a politically divided country after the election last year. Is it still possible in light of the fact that everyone but Republican deadenders understands what must be done today?

The suggestion is that Mitch McConnell might welcome Trump's conviction in order to rid of him. Problem is, he can't.

Imagine being a Republican whose political lifeblood is attachments to the military. Imagine being squeezed between Trump saying his speech inciting the magattack was "totally appropriate" while all eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Gen. Mike Milley, said it was "a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process." Imagine being a Republican spreading the Big Lie—Trump won—while leaders of America's most respected institution say: "In accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief." Imagine you're a Republican finding yourself on the wrong side of the military. What's the point of calling yourself a Republican?

Big business, you could say, and you'd be right. But even there, there's trouble. Many corporate leaders were willing to look the other way while Trump's administration beat down on the politically weak, vulnerable and helpless. But inciting mutiny after losing a presidential election means corporate leaders can no longer look away. Indeed, they have incentive to take action. Tech firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump and his minions. Wall Street banks suspended donations to Republicans complicit in last week's mutiny. Importantly, leaders of traditional and conservative brands are now speaking out against the president. "I think the biggest mistake anybody is going to make is try and rationalize what happened last week, what the president did and what that crowd did," said Home Depot's CEO Ken Langone. "There should be no mitigation at all. It was horrible. It was wrong. I'm shocked."

Wait till it gets worse. On the one hand, these are conditions in which political parties break. Some leading Republicans, for instance Liz Cheney, are coming out strongly in favor of impeachment. Even Mitch McConnell is reportedly open to it. In a phone call with the top congressional Republican, Joe Biden asked if the Senate might operate on duel tracks in the weeks after inauguration: one for confirming his Cabinet and one for putting the former president on trial. McConnell did not say no. Indeed, he punted, saying that it's up to the Senate's parliamentarian. McConnell seems aware of the widening chasm between his party and everyone else. The suggestion is that he might welcome Trump's conviction as means of getting rid of him. Problem is, he can't.

Which brings me to the other hand, and why I'm asking you to imagine being a Republican. However much they are being jammed right now between loyalty to Trump and loyalty to the Constitution, fact is, 142 Republicans already decided. They voted last week to overturn the results of a lawful election, which is to say, they went on the record in favor of overruling the will of the majority and installing a dictator. That many Republicans, or close to it, can be expected to defend Trump today against one article of impeachment. That many Republicans can be expected to shrug at attempted political assassination. That many can be expected to look at the sea of Americans expecting them to honor their oaths of office and say you don't count.

A Fox anchor complained last week about American culture itself being "rigged against conservatives." He's got a point. Polite white society, informed by the news media, the military and the business community, is pushing fascist politics back to the margins, where it belongs. Meanwhile, representatives of fascist politics won't budge. They are putting themselves on the wrong side of democracy and the Constitution by lending support to a former president who is himself poised to lead some kind of paramilitary movement against the US. The GOP likely won't break up so much as forge a new compact between competing wings. One would see political violence as useful and legitimate while the other would see it as illegitimate but useful. The Republicans would today seem to be making a choice, but the choice is already made.

Are respectable white people scared enough by fascism yet?

Last week, after the mutiny on Capitol Hill, I asked: "Is polite white society scared enough?" If so, we might expect a categorical backlash against the rise of native-born fascism. If not, we can expect more of the same amoral indifference among respectable white people that we saw under an autocratic president and his Republican enablers. While the former would be very good for democracy and the republic, the latter would not. Hard as it is to accept, our fates are linked to the feelings of polite white society.

Is it scared enough? I don't know, but the evidence over the last few days alone seems suggestive of an answer. Indeed, at some future point, we might look back at the 2020s the way we look back at the 1980s to see two eras reacting politically to respective previous eras, setting the tone for a generation each. The 1980s, under Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, were a reaction to Black freedom and power. The 2020s, under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris might be, in the end, a reaction to radical right-wing collectivism. For now, we can only hope that's the case. More certain is that each period was and will be, alas, determined by the opinions of respectable white people.

Last week's mutiny should prove to respectable white people that fascist politics never ends on its own. It must consume everything—even itself and even respectable white people.

They should be scared. It's no longer possible to maintain the belief that native-born fascism will be satiated by eating the politically weak, vulnerable or helpless. It's no longer possible to believe the Republican Party can balance protecting the interests of respectable white people with beating down on women of color, Muslims, immigrants, Black people and LGBTQ people. It's no longer possible to believe the president's confederates only stand against "the undeserving." If nothing else, last week's mutiny should prove to respectable white people that fascist politics never ends on its own. It must consume everything around it—even itself and even respectable white people.

I said yesterday that the Republicans fear Donald Trump being impeached by this Congress, and convicted by the next Congress, because it would mean the Democrats have neutralized their best negotiating tool: extortion. For at least a decade, the Republicans have gotten most of what they wanted by holding democracy hostage.

But there's another reason they fear, or should fear, impeachment and conviction. The process will make clear to everyone how deeply fascism is rooted among so-called conservatives. The process will make clear to respectable white people that the problem isn't just "lone wolves" blowing things up. The problem is the Republican Party. Respectable white people, as represented by suburban voters, are already, thanks to Trump's unvarnished sadism, giving the Democrats and their ideas the benefit of the doubt. Impeachment and conviction may cement that dynamic for a few decades.

The idea that the Republicans will get what they want, even if they have to kill people, is already being galvanized by recent reports that last week's insurgency was partly organized by three House Republicans: Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar and Mo Brooks. Not only did they vote to overturn a lawful election; they created the means by which the president incited an insurrection during which seditionaries brought zip ties, guns and homemade napalm into the Capitol, during which five people died, including a Capitol cop who was beaten to death. The danger is so clear and present that some Democrats are demanding that metal detectors be installed at next week's inauguration. They fear gun-carrying GOP members of the Congress might try their hand at assassination.

(The danger isn't confined to Washington. The FBI released a report Monday saying "violent protests" are expected in all 50 states. "Multiple reports indicate various threats to harm President-elect Biden ahead of the presidential inauguration," it said. "Additional reports indicate threats against VP-Elect Harris and Speaker Pelosi." Law enforcement institutions aren't taking the danger seriously enough either. After the siege, the FBI said it was caught by surprise. A memo obtained by the Post reveals, however, that the bureau knew the day before that "extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and 'war.'" The report said organizers were explicit: "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood … being spilled," one said. "Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.")

Then, of course, there's Trump. He denied today having incited a coup attempt. That's going to make life hard for the Republicans. They'll have to defend sedition. But that might succeed if polite white society allows it. After leaving the White House, Jelani Cobb said recently, Trump will lead "a revanchist movement seeking to topple the government." Impeaching and convicting him isn't just moral, he said. It's tactical. That, I think, is how you move respectable white people away from fascism. That, I think, is how you end a four-decade-old political regime rooted in white supremacy.

Republicans are trying another extortion play — but Democrats refuse to pay the ransom

If there's any doubt about the impact of Donald Trump being impeached for the second time in two years, consider this. Some House Republicans sent a letter to Joe Biden asking him to get Nancy Pelosi to back off. "A presidential impeachment should not occur in the heat of the moment, but rather after great deliberation," they said. They added that Impeachment Vol. II "would undermine [Biden's] priority of unifying Americans, and would be a further distraction to our nation at a time when millions of our fellow citizens are hurting because of the pandemic and the economic fallout."

To their credit, these Republicans are not among the 147 Republicans in the United States Congress who planned to vote to overturn the results of the presidential election before a gang of insurgents stormed the Capitol. They are not among the 60 percent of elected Republicans who actually voted to overturn the election after the insurgents, some of whom erected a gallows and chanted "Hang Mike Pence," came close to breaching the room where lawmakers were. These are not the Republicans working with confederates who beat to death a Capitol police officer. These are not the people who stand with murder being a legitimate alternative to democracy.

Nice unity you have here. Shame if something happened to it.

These Republicans are OK with extortion, though. That's what the Republican appeal for unity is. What they are really saying is that if the Democrats move forward with impeaching Trump with just days left in his term, they can expect even more defiance on the part of the president and his confederates inside and outside the Republican Party. Nice unity, these Republicans are really saying. Shame if something happened to it. It's not reasonable. It's certainly not principled. It's a threat of more political violence.

Some might say there's enough bad behavior to go around. Last summer, some Black Lives Matter protests got out of hand. Didn't some "leftists" riot, loot and vandalize? True, some did, but these are categorically different acts of violence. Smashing the windows of the Express Mart is not the same thing as smashing the windows of the US Capitol at the direction of a president during a joint-session of the Congress to finalize an election's results. Anyone saying they are the same, as Fox's Brian Kilmeade did, is expressing sympathy for right-wing terrorists and rationalizing their attempted coup.

Fortunately, the House Democrats seem to understand they can't give in to extortion. Pelosi introduced one article of impeachment this morning, accusing the president of "incitement of insurrection." The House Republicans blocked a resolution calling on the vice president to invoke the 25th Amendment. That set up a vote for Wednesday. Pelosi doesn't fire blanks. Trump is going to be the only president impeached twice.

There's some question about when the impeachment trial would take place in the Senate. Jim Clyburn suggested the House might hold on to the article until after Joe Biden's agenda is up and running after the first 100 days. I'm less concerned about the timing than I am about the Democrats' commitment to convicting the president and making an example of him. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a key vote in the next Congress, said Trump deserves impeachment. That suggests that his party is all-in.

Why? The Democrats are pissed. This time for good, I think. Before the siege, it was still possible to see a gallows erected on Capitol Hill as mere symbolism. Not after, though. It was still possible to believe the president's confederates really did believe Blue Lives Matters. Not after beating a cop to death. Before 147 Republicans went on record supporting the insurrection, it was still possible to believe not all Republicans act like separatists. It was still possible to believe the Republican Party's fascist turn would end after Trump left. It was still possible to believe the Republicans had more to offer the republic than disloyalty, sabotage and treachery.

They don't. So the Democrats are acting accordingly. Pelosi made sure Trump cannot start a nuclear war. House Democrats plan on freezing out their traitorous colleagues, not allowing them to introduce or co-sponsor any bills, even plain-vanilla ones. Civil society seems to be piling on. One CNN anchor is now outwardly, and gloriously, hostile toward Fox. Expect others in the press corps to follow suit. Twitter and Facebook banned Trump. Apple and Google deplatformed Parler, the fascist Twitter. Corporate donors are pulling out. Big-dollar individuals are adding to calls for resignation, sanction or expulsion. Meanwhile, according to CBS News, right-wing violence is spreading across the country, like a virus, after last week's MAGAttack.

The Republicans have held democracy, the economy and democratic norms for ransom for at least a decade. Take that way, and what leverage does the party have? None.