History News Network

Former federal prosecutor details why Trump’s involvement in the January 6 conspiracy is easy to prove

The Italian author Primo Levi, himself a holocaust survivor, proclaimed that “Every age has its own fascism.” Today, Americans wonder whether we are in our own drift towards an undermining of democratic values, which comes not with a sudden coup d’état, but by a thousand cuts.

The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection will try to make clear that the evidence points strongly to a political coup, calculated to overturn the 2020 election results and destroy the vote, the very foundation of American democracy.

The committee has already argued in a court filing that Trump and others were part of a conspiracy to defraud the United States. The panel wrote in a legal brief: “The Select Committee ... has a good-faith basis for concluding that [Trump]…engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

The Supreme Court has stated categorically that conspiring to defraud the United States includes a plot “to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions.” And the events of January 6 fit the definition neatly.

Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, along with an intent to achieve the agreement's goal. It has been called a “partnership in crime.”

Conspiracy is an easy crime to prove. The iconic jurist Learned Hand called it the “that darling of the prosecutor’s nursery.”

Conspiracy is proved by acts, declarations, and conduct. Conspiracy may be proved by circumstantial evidence:

“Relevant circumstantial evidence [may] include: the joint appearance of defendants at transactions and negotiations in furtherance of the conspiracy; the relationship among codefendants; mutual representation of defendants to third parties; and other evidence suggesting unity of purpose or common design and understanding among conspirators to accomplish the objects of the conspiracy.”

The objectives of the January 6 conspiracy could not be clearer or more unmistakable.

One becomes a member of a conspiracy by joining in its enterprise and making it his own. A conspirator must have knowledge of the conspiracy and participate in achieving its goals.

Members of the conspiracy are also liable for the foreseeable crimes of their fellows committed in furtherance of the common plot. And statements by one conspirator are admissible evidence against all.

So, if it’s all so easy, why, as many wonder, hasn’t Trump yet been indicted for seditious conspiracy like his follower “Enrique” Tarrio and four of his Proud Boys henchmen? A trial before a District of Columbia jury would seem like a slam dunk for the prosecutors.

The January 6 committee which, as reported in The Hill, has hired a seasoned TV producer to add a measure of theatricality to its presentation, has a “narrow” opportunity to make the case that January 6 was not some spontaneous riot, but a well-organized, well financed attempt to ride roughshod over the will of the people, and retain power in the hands of Donald Trump. Trump was the kingpin. His lieutenants organized the plot. Everything that happened was for his benefit, and subject to his control. He could have called off the assault on the Capitol, and was asked by his advisers, including his son, to do so. In the moment, he waited six hours. The conspirators included not only the pawns who stormed the Capitol that day, but the knights and rooks--like Tarrio and his henchmen who were not present in Washington--and the bishops and queens--the advisers and enablers who fashioned the plot, defined its objectives, and tried to make it happen.

It will be a tough uphill fight for the committee. The public may be bored with January 6. The passage of seventeen months may have diminished its significance in a public consciousness recently traumatized by Ukraine horrors and gun violence at home. The committee can only anticipate a typical Republican distraction from the hard factual record, claims of a witch hunt, partisanship, and repetition of the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen. The distraction will not come from the Republicans who are on the committee, but from those in the GOP, who may not even like Trump, but who want to make the threat to our democracy disappear as an issue for the midterm congressional elections.

It was Trump who refused to concede the election even after he had lost more than 50 lawsuits, brought in both federal and state courts, with many of his legal defeats coming from judges he himself appointed. It was Trump who urged his followers to march on the Capitol with false claims that Biden had stolen the election, and even said he would go with them until he thought better of it. It was Trump who pressured Mike Pence to take illegal steps to block Biden electors, while threatening Pence with the violence of the “Hang Mike Pence” mob which assaulted police officers and created mayhem in the seat of government. And it was Trump who beseeched Republican legislatures to set aside the electors the voters had chosen and replace them with pro-Trump slates.

A political case does not make a partisan witch hunt. Where there is criminality and corruption in politics, it must be brought to account under the rule of law. We have always done this in our history. Why is this time any different?

It is for the committee who must bring out the facts in excruciating detail of Trump’s corruption. It must do so in a way that leaves no doubt that he was at the center of the seditious conspiracy that ensnared Tarrio and his Proud Boys and makes Trump’s indictment ineluctable.

The peaceful transfer of power is something we have always enjoyed in America, and may have always taken too much for granted. We have seen public officials voted in, and others turned out. Other countries have had political coups and military juntas. It can’t happen here. But, it might. As Madeleine Albright warned: [F]ascism can come in a way that it is one step at a time, and in many ways then goes unnoticed until it's too late.

Florida's divisive concepts bill mistakes what historians do — with dire implications

Two weeks ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an Amicus Brief in Falls v. DeSantis maintaining that Florida’s H.B.7, which was passed in April and goes into effect on July 1, is unconstitutional because it represents “a gross infringement on… freedom of expression and access to information under the First Amendment.”

Similar to various laws proposed by state legislatures that appear to be modeled after Donald Trump’s now rescinded “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” H.B.7 is intended, in part, to dictate rules about content covered in college and university classrooms. That includes, to use the SPLC’s words, discussions of “America’s legacy of racism.”

At 30 pages long, a number of provisions of H.B.7 alarm people concerned with protecting freedom of speech, but a few notable measures target history education in particular. For example, the law stipulates: “It shall constitute discrimination” to “subject” a student to instruction that “compels” the student to believe that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.”

Lawyers representing the Florida Governor and Attorney General last week rebutted claims that H.B.7 is unconstitutional. “The First Amendment,” they argued, “does not compel Florida to pay educators to advocate ideas, in its name, that it finds repugnant.”

The language of H.B.7 is, at points, confounding, and the details of how it will be enforced are unclear, but it appears that the law is based on gross oversimplifications of how and why history is taught. It also seems that H.B.7 would make it challenging, if not impossible, for teachers at Florida public universities to offer students, as the American Historical Association put it in a February 2022 letter to the state’s legislature, “a full and accurate account of the past.”

Although wording in legislation like H.B.7 may suggest otherwise, history professors do not simply catalog atrocity after atrocity and uncritically identify victors and victims. My first goal as a teacher of modern U.S. history is to help students develop the skills that define history as a discipline, including, for example, how to consider and make evidence-based arguments and how to evaluate varying representations of the past. A second goal is to help students understand the historical roots of contemporary problems and to recognize how decisions made in the past influence the present. I also aim to help my students open-mindedly explore multiple perspectives from and about the past to analyze change over time. When learning about the historical factors that have led people to have diverse experiences and viewpoints, students have the opportunity to consider how and why individuals and groups did what they did, to interpret how their actions shaped societies, and to develop empathy.

“Sources” are the tools of history professors. We use primary sources – artifacts from the period under study – to offer our students windows on to the past. Secondary sources – books, articles, and other texts produced after the period being studied – provide context for understanding how and why the past matters and how certain people, events, and trends are connected.

Florida’s new law would make it difficult for professors to pursue basic teaching goals like the ones I list above.

For example, a multitude of primary and secondary sources that do not necessarily relate to the sort of “advocacy” imagined by politicians could be construed as “discriminatory.”

To cite just one example of a reading that could be used in an introductory undergraduate U.S. history class, teachers are left to ponder whether Andrew Carnegie’s “The Triumph of America” (1885) may be unacceptable in the classroom.

In that piece, Carnegie, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland, writes: “There is no class so intensely patriotic, so wildly devoted to the Republic as the naturalized citizen and his child, for little does the native-born citizen know of the value of rights which have never been denied.”

Carnegie was arguing not only that immigrants played a crucial role in fueling the United States’ economic growth, but also that they had a more profound understanding of the value of rights than their American-born counterparts.

Rather than being free to use Carnegie’s article to generate open discussion about, for example, why the steel tycoon might have made certain arguments, whether he supported his points with ample evidence, and the broader time period, H.B.7 suggests that a history professor at a public university should first consider a daunting question: Could statements in the piece be interpreted as derogatory to “native-born citizens” and therefore “compel” students who, like Carnegie, identify as immigrants, to believe that “they must feel guilt, anguish, or any other forms of psychological distress”?

Though it may seem outlandish, the Carnegie example underscores the extent to which vaguely worded laws like H.B.7 could constrain class content and discussion – even if they never lead to a claim of discrimination. Policies pressuring teachers to limit access to relevant historical evidence ensure that students consider only part of the story. They undercut core tenets of the discipline and teaching of history and restrict students’ opportunities to make sense of their world.

Similar examples of this sort of problem are endless. Most U.S. history survey textbooks and classes cover how Irish and German immigrants established themselves in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They also generally note that those groups faced discriminatory treatment. Would students be tasked with learning only about the positive experiences of Irish- and German-Americans? Would discussions of the hardships those groups overcame be limited because they might “compel” students to believe that they “must feel guilt”?

Of course, a prime target of H.B.7 is the study of the history of racism in the United States. The law, some have said, attempts to “whitewash history” in schools and universities. Indeed, people of all backgrounds might experience a range of emotions – including “anguish” – when they learn basic facts about the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, and Black Americans’ fight for freedoms. But placing restrictions on the information students may access in classrooms is irresponsible, not least of all because, as Historian Nikki Brown points out, studying the meaning and history of white supremacy can be a powerful means of dismantling it.

The implications of H.B.7 bring to mind a recent piece by Peter Hessler about his experiences teaching non-fiction writing in China, where students can report professors for “political wrongdoing.” Hessler recalled that when he “made a statement that touched, even obliquely, on a sensitive aspect of Chinese history or politics… the room would fall silent, and students would stare at their desks.” It was, Hessler wrote, “a visceral response.”

Under laws like H.B.7, conveying the complexity and nuances of history – encouraging students to critically analyze the rich stories of their country, including questions about why certain ideas may be defined as “repugnant” at given moments in time – could be construed as a criminal act. For the sake of public university students who deserve free access to information and knowledge, let us not fall silent.

Jessica L. Adler is Associate Professor of History at Florida International University.

There is a real 'Great Replacement' – but it’s not the one the right-wing talks about

On Saturday, May 14, a gunman opened fire upon a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing ten people. As of this writing, investigators have reportedly uncovered the terrorist’s manifesto, suggesting that he was motivated to commit mass murder by a conspiracy theory popularly known as “the Great Replacement,” which holds that elites (typically depicted as Jewish) in white, European countries are overseeing the importation of immigrants to undermine the white population.

The term “Great Replacement” was popularized by a French white nationalist in his 2011 book of the same title and has since become a staple of right-wing ideology, being promoted here in the United States most feverishly by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson. Belief in this conspiracy theory has motivated other mass killings, including the 2018 murder of eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as the massacre of fifty-one people in Christchurch, New Zealand the following year. The growing death toll has not stopped Tucker Carlson and other Republican elites from claiming that the supposed influx of migrants is part of a master plan to undermine white America.

It is easy to imagine the “Great Replacement” is just another moral panic stoked by populist grifters to keep their adherents simmering in fear and resentment. However, if you examine the historical record, elites in this nation, and my own home state of Arkansas, have explicitly engaged in the importation of foreigners to undermine local populations—just not for the reasons conspiracy theorists prefer to imagine.

Following the Civil War, whites in the South did everything they could to bring back the lucrative system of slavery. They engaged in regimes of terrorism and violence, but they also promoted the importation of foreign labor, especially Chinese, as a means of undercutting the local Black labor market. Or as Governor Powell Clayton, a Republican, put it, Democratic politicians and local landowners aimed to “punish the negro for having abandoned the control of his master,” for having begun to demand fair wages and tolerable working conditions. Planters dreamed that allegedly submissive, non-citizen Chinese labor would be easier to control, but the Chinese found the slave-like conditions these planters tried to impose intolerable and cut their contracts short or moved into other lines of work, which is why the Arkansas Delta has a number of multi-generational Chinese-run grocery stores and restaurants.

In the late nineteenth century, Austin Corbin, president of the company that oversaw Sunnyside Plantation in Chicot County along the Mississippi River, recruited Italian laborers to work on the plantation with contracts obligating men to work the land for twenty-two years before finally being allowed to own it. There was no shortage of labor in Arkansas at the time, but Chicot County was majority Black, and, again, plantation owners were hoping to find a source of cheap labor devoid of citizenship rights. But the Italians had no experience with cotton, and many died from malaria. The survivors by and large moved elsewhere, most notably to Tontitown, in the northwestern corner of the state.

During World War II, plantation owners again began to dream of cheap, disposable, foreign labor, but this time the federal government came to their aid. To ensure sufficient labor to meet wartime demand for agricultural crops, the United States and Mexico created the Bracero Program, which supplied American landowners with Mexican workers on fixed-period contracts at a time when many men of laboring age were engaging in military service. The program has often been depicted as a matter of wartime necessity, but in his chapter in the recent book Race, Labor, and Violence in the Delta, historian Michael Pierce of the University of Arkansas examines the career of Lincoln County activist Ethel Dawson to argue that “there was no shortage of African Americans willing to work the Arkansas Delta’s cotton fields, and planters employed braceros to lower domestic wages, stifle worker protests, rid Lincoln County of Black people they had long considered dangerous, and maintain near absolute power at a time when pressure to end Jim Crow was building.”

This anti-Black “Great Replacement” continues to the present day. When I was down in Phillips County in the runup to the 2019 centennial of the Elaine Massacre, I heard many stories about local planters who would not hire men or women from the area to work on their farms but, instead, recruited foreign labor, especially from South Africa. On November 12, 2021, the New York Times reported on that exact thing happening just across the river in Mississippi, revealing how residents were losing their jobs to foreigners brought to the country on H-2A guest worker visas.

The “Great Replacement” is real. But it has never been about the recruiting of foreigners to undermine white workers. Instead, it has always, in this country, centered upon the recruitment of foreigners to undermine Black labor, and thus Black economic and political aspirations. Not that Tucker Carlson or any of his brother blood-soaked millionaire elites will ever admit that.

Dr. Guy Lancaster is the editor of the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System, and the author or editor of multiple books on racial violence, most recently American Atrocity: The Types of Violence in Lynching.

What happens when the 'End Times' are now?

In June 2016, I organized a meeting for the local council of churches in an English town to discuss issues relating to the forthcoming European Union (EU) Referendum. The meeting was intended to provide an opportunity for airing Christian views on the subject. It was well attended and drew in participants from across the wide denominational spectrum of churches.

The evening was lively. Many of my friends (regardless of whether they were ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ in the context of the EU Referendum) expressed astonishment afterwards at the way the discussion developed.

They had expected the topics to include debates over things like sovereignty and parliamentary accountability, jobs and economic prosperity, continent-wide cooperation in order to meet global challenges, or peace and security in Europe.

What they got was discussion ranging from the allegation that the seat 666 is kept empty in the European Parliament chamber in both Brussels and Strasbourg (it isn’t), to whether the EU is a political tool of Antichrist in advance of the second coming of Christ.

My friends were astonished at this. I wasn’t. During the previous month I had contributed a guest blog fora Christian news platform, challenging these same accusations. During that month (it went live on May 25, 2016) it had become, from my calculations, one of the most visited blogs on this website.

It can still be read online but, unfortunately, the huge string of comments and conversations under it can no longer be accessed. That is a pity because they would have provided interesting source material for future students of theology and the sociology of religion. Like the meeting I organized later, in June of that year, the online discussion got lively. In fact, it got very lively indeed! Some might say “heated.”

Eschatological turbulence on both sides of “the pond”My experience in the UK was not the only turbulent event of 2016 that had end-times features to it. In November, something even more extraordinary occurred in the USA: the election of Donald Trump.

Somewhere in the region of 33 million white evangelicals voted for Trump and huge numbers of these see contemporary events through the same eschatological lens that had informed the outlook of those with whom I had debated in the UK about the European Union. In the US, this support has had significant effects on foreign policy.

President Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (announced in 2018) and to support Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (announced in 2019) were designed to appeal to American evangelical Christians. Polling in the US in 2017 revealed that 80% of evangelicals believe that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfilment of biblical prophecy that will bring about Christ’s second coming.

In addition, Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement in 2017 (the decision was implemented in 2020) sat easily with a group which contains many who deny the reality of climate change caused by human action, or do not consider it a threat which can be averted by human agency.

Whatever one feels about these geopolitical and environmental issues, it is undeniable that huge numbers of voters in the USA see these decisions through an end-times lens.

At this point, I should say that as well as being an historian, I attend a church in the UK which would be described as “evangelical.” But, in the UK, “evangelicals” are as likely to be internationalist and in favor of state invention in society as not. The political homogeneity that is so pronounced in the USA is not a feature on this side of the pond.

The End Times, Again?

These experiences caused me to write a book which explores the history of end-times beliefs. It is called: The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of the Use and Misuse of Biblical Prophecy. It explores the history of end-times beliefs within the Christian community and their political and cultural impact.

Christianity inherited from Judaism a belief in prophecy and early Christian texts reveal this, both in the belief that the life of Jesus is foretold in Old Testament prophecy and in adding to the prophetic tradition by predicting the future return of Jesus.

Although the New Testament clearly says that the date of the second coming cannot be known, this has not stopped two millennia of speculation. Tenth-century commentators claimed that raids by Magyars and Vikings were fulfilments of prophecy. End-times excitement and anxiety mounted as the Year 1000 approached (despite the fact that an error in calculating the dating system meant it was not actually 1000 years since the birth of Jesus). This accelerated during the crusades, when the armies of Islam were confidently identified as end-times actors. During the Middle Ages, rival popes, kings and emperors quarried prophetic scripture for accusations to throw at each other (usually the accusation of being the Antichrist).

During the Reformation, Protestants overturned the official Catholic view of prophecy as allegorical and were sure they lived in the “last days” – with the pope being the Antichrist. Radical Anabaptist groups established “New Jerusalems” in anticipation of the second coming. As Britain spiraled into civil wars in the 1640s, eschatological excitement was intense, only to be dashed when the monarchy was restored in 1660.

The same ideas were taken to New England and entered the cultural DNA of what became the USA. Eighteenth-century patriots accused George III of being “the great Whore of Babylon,” riding the “great red dragon” upon America (references to Revelation). In the nineteenth century the concept emerged of the Rapture, the idea that the “true church” will be removed from the earth shortly before a time of “Great Tribulation” preceding the return of Christ. The recent Left Behind series of novels embody this interpretation and have sold somewhere in the region of eighty million copies.

In the twentieth century, the establishment of the State of Israel and the Cold War galvanized prophetic study – especially in the USA – with many Christians identifying Israel as a fulfilment of end-times prophecy. For some in the Cold War, this outlook justified opposition to nuclear disarmament, since these weapons were seen as fulfilling predictions concerning widespread destruction, fire and sickness. This is where apocalypse meets foreign policy. Prophecy was interpreted in line with Western, and especially US, perspectives. In this process, end-times beliefs increasingly became associated with the political right. This was by no means inevitable, but it continues to be the case.

The continued impact of end-times beliefs today

Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to claims that it has eschatological significance. It should be noted that the same thing was said about the fourteenth-century Black Death. Anti-vaxxers and those unhappy with mask-wearing have included some who loudly identify these as aspects of an emerging international order associated with the Antichrist. This has resonated with – and been amplified by – conspiracy-theory-culture and the effects of social-media algorithms.

Some of the most extreme supporters of gun rights in the USA see them as weapons to be used in resisting the forces of the Antichrist in the last days.

In the face of such certainty regarding imminent end-times events, the urgent need to address the existential threat posed by climate change can be presented as irrelevant. After all, if the second coming is imminent, there is little urgency. Indeed, the threat from climate change may actually be viewed as an end-times judgement on humanity.

What is clear from all of this is that these beliefs are highly significant because, in an increasingly polarized political climate, the way they are being deployed in support of right-wing agendas impacts at the ballot box. This is especially so in the USA, where white evangelicals (even through a shrinking fraction of the electorate) punch well above their weight due to the extent of their ideological homogeneity, organization, and turnout. In any analysis of conservative voters’ political outlook and intentions, this end-times ideology needs to be recognized. Recognition does not imply agreement. But it can at least be the basis for dialogue, debate, and challenge. Ignoring it may prove to be a serious mistake.

Martyn Whittock graduated in Politics from Bristol University UK, where his degree special study was in radical Christian politics and theology of the seventeenth century. He also studied the politics of the USA. He taught history for thirty-five years and latterly was curriculum leader for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education at a high school in the UK. He has acted as an historical consultant to the British National Trust organization, the BBC and English Heritage. His latest book is: The End Times, Again? which explores the impact of Christian end-times beliefs over 2000 years and their continued impact on outlook, culture and politics today.

Nothing I learned as a historian over 45 years prepared me for this moment

This blog post was written by Rick Shenkman, the founder of George Washington University's History News Network, and the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books).

I spent the last 45 years studying the history of this country. But after the last 4 years I can truly say I didn't understand it, cynical though I often was about the ugly disfiguring patches that no Band-Aid could hide.

McCarthyism – sure. Racism – of course. Xenophobia – duh. Misogyny – hell yes. America had it all.

But a mass cult built around an old man known for lying and grifting who bronzes his face each day? Didn't see that happening. Nor did I anticipate that tens of millions would refuse a free vaccine that could save others' lives – and their own.

And cynical as I was I never thought that the politicians these millions elected would be so cowed by their chosen leader that almost every one of them would go along with his wild schemes and lies.

It's said that the past is a foreign country. But with each passing day I can't escape the feeling that it's the present I don't understand. Knowing our history hasn't made it easier to come to terms with the present. If anything, it's been a hindrance.

It's gotten in the way of me seeing what is in front of my own eyes. It's made me want to excuse what's happening or to downplay it.

Realizing that this country is not what I thought it was is disillusioning. Which is strange. I spent my whole career trying to see things clearly as they are and not as I'd wish them to be.

I wrote three books bursting the myths of American history. Then I wrote a book showing the unsavory lengths to which presidents went to gain power and keep it.

After George W. Bush, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, convinced Americans that the leader of Iraq was connected somehow to 9-11, I wrote a book calling out Americans for their gullibility: Just How Stupid Are We?

Because I wanted to understand the underlying forces shaping Americans' support for Bush's war I spent the next seven years searching for answers in the scientific literature concerning human behavior.

In the course of my study I read books and papers on Evolutionary Psychology, social psychology, and even neuroscience. In the book I wrote summarizing my research – Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics – I devoted the bulk of the pages to a discussion of our susceptibility to lies.

The literature shows that human beings are capable, productive -- and often plain wrong. They think they are good at detecting lies but aren't. They believe they have empathy for others but often don't. They are confident they can read other people but often can't. This is true of human beings around the world living in vastly different environments.

And still nothing I learned prepared me for the country I find myself living in today. History had convinced me that Americans wouldn't elect a wild demagogue as president and wouldn't stand by him after it was proven (over and over again) that he lies to them. History was wrong.

It's heartbreaking.

I haven't felt the urge to write lately, but this piece needed to be written and so I wrote it. It concerns, at bottom, the debate historians have been having about Donald Trump: Is he sui generis or inevitable? As a historian I have always believed that everything has a history and that events don't just happen. Through careful analysis of the past we can demonstrate how the events that capture the headlines emerge from changes over time in a particular place.

Sometimes, to be sure, contingency is the cause. Nothing's inevitable, after all. Individual human beings acting in one way rather than another can affect the course of history, sometimes with positive outcomes (think FDR) and sometimes with bad outcomes (think Hitler).

But even taking into account the serendipity of events it always seemed clear to me that history seldom conjures up a genuine surprise. Things happen for a reason that can be fully accounted for after a careful review. Thus, even 9-11, though a shock, was not a surprise. Terrorists had been blowing up buildings and killing people for decades in the Middle East. On numerous occasions they had hijacked airplanes. That no one until Osama bin Laden had been brazen or daring enough to think of crashing a hijacked plane into a building until 9-11 hardly changed the calculus of history. So shocked as I was by 9-11 it didn't force me to rethink my views about the way history happens.

Donald Trump's presidency has.

While I can reassure myself that in his racist demagoguery Trump is like George Wallace, and in his prevaricating he's like Joe McCarthy, and that the GOP's exploitation of race runs like a strong thread through the history of the past half century (since the passage of the Voting Rights Act), and that on numerous occasions Americans have demonized outsiders from the Irish in the 1840s to Chinese in the 1880s to Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, nothing prepared me for the embrace and continuing adoration of Donald Trump by a major political party.

That still stumps me. So, for that matter, does the ongoing resistance to the Covid-19 vaccines.

Some historians, such as Heather Cox Richardson in How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, see strong parallels between the forces of oligarchy in the 19th century and those today in the 21st, noting the parallels between the ideology of southern slaveholders, western silver mine owners and Trumpie Republicans. These parallels are striking, no doubt. In the old South and the Wild West oligarchs celebrated rule by the rich. Who does that sound like? But it seems too simple to me to draw a straight line through American history from oligarchs in the past to those of the present. While I highly respect Richardson's work and am in awe of her research and broad knowledge I'm more impressed by the differences between then and now than the similarities. Something has changed.

Still, history is not irrelevant. It is helpful to know that our history is replete with instances of racism, xenophobia, and other signs of moral depravity. We'd really feel lost if we weren't aware of Jim Crow, Juan Crow, and McCarthyism. (Which is why it's vital that school children are exposed to the truth about American history, at least in the higher grades.) And while white people by and large haven't faced the assaults on democracy we are seeing now and can anticipate in the future, black Americans have, and familiarizing ourselves with their experience can teach us lessons about resistance and endurance. What history has taught white Americans is that the unfolding of history is the unfolding of human freedom, from the broadening of the suffrage to males without property to female suffrage and gay marriage. What black Americans have learned is that rights can be taken away. That is the lesson they learned when whites put an end to Reconstruction.

To those who think a coup couldn't happen here in America there's the unpleasant fact that we've already had one. In 1898 white Redeemers in Wilmington, North Carolina violently staged a coup against a coalition of blacks and white Populists who had managed to win an election to take control of city government. A knowledge of history is therefore not nothing.

But the present challenge requires us to look with fresh eyes on our country. As Lincoln said, writing in a different time but in one which resonates today, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Postscript 8/13/21

Rereading my own post several days after I wrote it I realized that I didn't fully address an obvious question. Did I really misread the past? Maybe I understood American history correctly. Maybe in the past a Donald Trump was impossible for a variety of reasons: the elite's control over our politics and media, the strength of the party gatekeepers, the absence of paths to power by people existing outside the normal political structures, the enduring assumption that each new generation will do better than the preceding generation, the self-confidence of white people, the absence of a grievance-based culture, etc.

Once the circumstances that shaped our politics changed -- once the gatekeepers lost control, once social media empowered the extreme ranks of voters, once the white majority concluded they live in a zero sum society and that every step forward for minorities is a step backward for the majority -- our society changed and with it our politics and our history. In other words, maybe I understood this country just fine but the country changed.

Our task is to learn to live in the country we actually live in. This won't be easy.

Let's think about 'thinking' before we teach 'critical thinking'

Advocates for the liberal arts often emphasize their role in fostering critical thinking. But how often do we think critically about how we hope to achieve that? Certain subjects obviously emphasize critical thinking very explicitly, but in other courses instructors often count on critical thinking to develop somewhat organically. And critical thinking does emerge fairly naturally in courses that are not about logic or statistics. However, many faculty can do more to consider the relationship between methods of teaching and the development of critical thinking.

The liberal arts tradition has drawn on critical thinking since its start. Socrates has long been an animating influence. But apart from the Socratic method, liberal arts professors sometimes struggle to explain the connections between their approach to teaching and the outcome of critical thinking. The paucity of terminology and explicit method does not mean that nothing is happening, but it does mean that it can be hard to identify what specifically needs improvement and very difficult to instruct others well in the arts of instruction.

A whole host of recent findings and books from psychology offer an opportunity to expand our vocabulary and approach to thinking about thinking in the classroom. In particular, the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which has done so much to shake up economics, can also knock some dust off approaches to education. In particular, Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow identifies ways that humans think and the shortcuts we use in thinking (heuristics), which sometimes get us into trouble. Having a better sense of these heuristics and how judgment can be deceived can be very useful in the classroom. Thinking explicitly about the anchoring effect, which reflects our use of even irrelevant reference points, can make instructors more aware of what reference points we're providing and also give us the opportunity to teach students about other biases. Teaching students how to reason and judge well is enhanced by having a better understanding of how human judgment works.

Together Kahneman and Tversky have contributed a great deal to our understanding of human understanding. Professors from many different fields should be reading their work, because all of our fields involve understanding. Another introduction to their work and their working relationship is available in Michael Lewis' The Undoing Project, which offers a more narrative approach and also highlights the role of collaboration in the advancement of knowledge. Kahneman and Tversky's continuous experimentation and reflection is a helpful example.

Another recent work that has insights for the liberal arts project is Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by performance expert David Epstein. The book itself is a strong argument for the liberal arts. The "general education" of a liberal arts degree is, in a sense, the broad sampling period that so many high performers benefit from having and helps create the kind of generalists that can succeed in various fields. Range explicitly takes on the subject of thinking, emphasizing the importance of thinking with analogies and the ability to think outside of a single discipline. It also explicitly takes on the subject of student learning, drawing on various studies to emphasize the importance of student struggle in comprehension and the ways that teachers can accidently circumvent that struggle. A book like Range is not about teaching, but it can help us reinvigorate our approaches to sharing material in the classroom by reminding us what leads to excellence in outcomes.

Another way that new insights from psychology and performance studies can enhance our approach to education is through making us reconsider the contexts for learning that we create. Are our classrooms settings that truly encourage critical thinking or do they reward simple recall? Do our syllabi and assignments point people toward the outcomes we hope to achieve? A book like Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, can help us think through these things. Nudge borrows from the insights of Kahneman and Tversky to recommend use of heuristics and patterns in human judgment, like the availability bias, to "nudge" people in the right direction. The authors argue that things can be structured in such a way as to make people more likely to default to better choices. Professors already do some things like this—like requiring a first draft so that people turn in better final work—and we can all be encouraged to think more about how our coursework and classrooms already "nudge" people in certain directions. Once we identify more of what we are doing, we can make more conscious choices about where we want to go.

A very tangible way to integrate some of these insights from psychology and other fields is to consider something we almost all work with: learning outcomes. Learning outcomes help tell students what courses are about and they help satisfy accreditation requirements. They are also often quite dry. Students will learn how to "assess" something or "identify" or "distinguish" or "demonstrate competence," etc., and these outcomes will be measured through "quizzes, tests, written assignments, a presentation," etc. But learning outcomes are also an opportunity for us to engage and require critical thinking in more direct ways.

Learning outcomes are tied explicitly to subject matter, but they can also be used to integrate critical thinking goals which are implicitly associated with the liberal arts subjects. As faculty formulate the assignments that are used to measure learning outcomes, they can keep in mind aspects of critical thinking or even specific heuristics. For example, history students already need to be aware of hindsight bias in order to succeed in the discipline, but professors can do more to make that an aspect of assignments. Again, these things are already happening, but not often enough in ways that faculty openly describe and discuss. If faculty are more conscious and communicative of how we integrate critical thinking, we can improve our approaches.

Those who love the liberal arts are fully aware of their benefits outside specific knowledge, but we are not often specific enough about how those benefits are achieved in explaining our disciplines to the rest of the world. We know that classrooms are somewhat organic spaces and that critical thinking is not achieved through a formulaic set of learning outcomes. But failure to talk about method can lead to failure to think enough about method. Thinking through these things not only helps us communicate better with others, it helps us consider what it is we may want to integrate.

Thinking about what will be implicit in our teaching approaches is not about forwarding agendas, but about educating the whole person. In a 2011 New York Times op-ed, David Brooks wrote that the "unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place." In that essay, Brooks advocated a healthy reunion of reason and emotion, arguing that society had become over reliant on reason and therefore was often at the mercy of undereducated emotions. Instead, he suggested that we educate our emotions and integrate them well into decision-making, emphasizing qualities like attunement, equipoise, metis, sympathy, and limerence. These are also things worth considering. How do our classrooms portray the relationship between reason and emotion?

In truth, whatever ways we are teaching are already encouraging certain ways of thinking and discouraging others. Investigating new research about thinking and making our own approaches more intentional can be of great benefit. Have we crafted assignments that reward critical thinking or those that reward mimesis and recall? Have we created a classroom environment that fosters reasoning or one which fosters shallow thinking? If the liberal arts is, in part, about critical thinking, having a conscious approach to it is essential. We can all benefit from new ways to think about thinking when we're teaching.

Elizabeth Stice is Associate Professor of History at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Experts beware: America may be headed for a Scopes moment

In a recent debate over a law to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, Tennessee legislator Justin Lafferty (R) explained to his colleagues that the 3/5th Compromise of 1787, used to determine a state's representation in Congress by counting enslaved people as "three fifths of all other Persons," was designed with "the purpose of ending slavery." Lafferty had his facts spectacularly wrong, but that did nothing to derail the law's passage.

Anti-Critical Race Theory laws like the one passed in Tennessee – as well Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida -- are not just aimed to push back against the heightened awareness of the nation's history of racial injustice in the wake of the popularity of the 1619 Project and last summer's massive protests over the murder of George Floyd. They are also attacks on educators -- and on expertise itself. As Christine Emba explained in a recent Washington Post article on conservatives' current obsession with Critical Race Theory, "disguising one's discomfort with racial reconsideration as an intellectual critique is still allowed." Not only is it allowed in these public debates, it is an effective strategy to curb movements for social change. It is also not new.

A century ago a similar right-wing outrage campaign was launched against the teaching of evolution in public schools. The 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" remains a touchstone of this era of conservatism. When John Scopes, a substitute teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was charged with violating a new state law against teaching evolution, the case became an international story. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.

The Scopes Trial's legacy rests perhaps too comfortably on defense lawyer Clarence Darrow's skewering of the anti-evolution hero William Jennings Bryan in that hot Tennessee courtroom, memorialized in the play (and film) Inherit the Wind.Darrow's withering questioning made Bryan appear ignorant and incurious. In response to Darrow's questions about other religious and cultural traditions, Bryan acknowledged that he did not know about them, but added that he did not need to know since through his Christian faith, "I have all the information I need to live by and die by."

Bryan's responses were more clever than the popular legend of the trial might lead us to believe. By asserting that he did not need to know what Darrow and the scientists knew, Bryan was calling into question the social value of modern expertise itself. When Darrow asked if Bryan knew how many people there were in Egypt three thousand years ago, or in China five thousand years ago, Bryan answered simply, "No." Darrow pressed on, "Have you ever tried to find out?" Bryan: "No sir, you are the first man I ever heard of who was interested in it." Translation: experts studied subjects that no one needed to care about. When asked if he knew how old the earth was, Bryan again responded he did not, but added that he could "possibly come as near as the scientists do." Here Bryan rejected the premise that the experts really knew what they're talking about any more than he – presenting himself to the court and the public as a simple man of faith -- did.

The legacy of these tactics is on full display today. As David Theo Goldberg wrote in the Boston Review recently, Republican critics of Critical Race Theory "simply don't know what they're talking about." Goldberg is correct of course, but their ignorance is not a hole they are looking to fill anytime soon. It is rather both a shield and a weapon used to go on the offensive against the experts themselves. What the experts "know" about the 3/5th Compromise or the history of racial injustice generally (or climate change, or the dangers posed by COVID-19, or the outcome of the 2020 election) threatens their beliefs in how American society should look and function.

Similar to what we're seeing today, the attack on the teaching of evolution in the 1920s was an effective means by which to challenge all manner of troubling developments that always seemed to emanate from the latest pronouncement of some expert somewhere. Mordecai Ham, for example, was a popular Baptist preacher who first converted Billy Graham. In a 1924 sermon he moved seamlessly from attacking evolution as false to warning parents that having Darwinism taught to their children would assuredly lead to communism and sexual promiscuity. He thundered, "you will be in the grip of the Red Terror and your children will be taught free love by that damnable theory evolution." That Ham skipped effortlessly from the teaching of evolution to Bolshevism to free love makes sense only if one remembers that winning a debate over evolution was not the goal--condemning the modern day teaching of evolution was. Evolution then served as the entry point to attack educators and expertise in general as existential threats to their way of life.

After Bryan's death in 1925 sidelined the evolution debate, conservatives continued to connect expertise with unwelcome social change. When University of North Carolina (UNC) sociologists began to investigate the often-poor living conditions in nearby textile mill villages, David Clark, publisher of the Southern Textile Bulletin, the voice of the powerful textile industry, became irate. Clark was convinced that university sociologists were not "just" interested in research. In response he accused the school's experts of promoting "dangerous tendencies" and "meddling" in the business community's affairs. The university, he charged, "was never intended as a breeding place for socialism and communism." UNC's sociologists like Howard Odum, a fairly conservative, but well-respected expert, was taken aback by Clark's virulence. But, like Bryan and Ham, linking expertise with radicalism was central to Clark's strategy.

As Goldberg observed of today's critics of Critical Race Theory, David Clark actually knew very little about sociology or socialism. This became clear when UNC invited him to campus in 1931 to make his case before the faculty and students themselves. During the question and answer period an exasperated audience member asked Clark if he knew what socialism actually was. He responded: "I don't know, and I don't think anybody else does." A newspaper account recorded that "The audience fairly howled."

Clark's followers would not have been bothered by his concession on socialism -- and they would have not been surprised that the university audience laughed at him. Once again, the goal was not to win a debate over socialism; it was to stop social change they objected to. The experts represented a movement aimed at them, they believed -- a movementthat also seemed to take delight in pointing out all that people like David Clark did not know. UNC, so proud of its accomplished faculty, was actually, in the conservatives' view, a "breeding ground for reformers" and "radicals."

The factual misstatements by today's Republicans can seem breathtaking to those who value living in an evidence-based reality. These include historical errors like Representative Lafferty's forehead-smacking error on the 3/5th Compromise or Congressman Madison Cawthorn's (R-NC) reference to James Madison signing the Declaration of Independence. And there is the ongoing misrepresentation, and even outright denial, of current day events that happened in plain sight – the January 6th insurrection, for example. But attempts by "the experts" to set the record straight will most likely be seen as more proof that the world is out to get them. For the rest, perhaps some comfort can be taken by remembering that facts, as John Adams once pointed out, "are stubborn things."

harles J. Holden is Professor of History at St. Mary's College (MD). He is the author of Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump's America(University of Virginia Press, 2019).

Historian says politics aside, Trump was an ineffective manager and leader

One of the most intriguing aspects of current politics is the fealty of the Republican Party to Donald Trump. Central to this loyalty is the view that Trump was an effective leader. As a candidate in 2016, the future president claimed that he was uniquely qualified to lead the country, unite the public, and overcome gridlock in Congress. To accomplish these goals would require successful persuasion. Was this talented self-promoter able to win public support for his initiatives? Was this experienced negotiator able to overcome polarization in Congress and obtain agreement on his proposals? Was Donald Trump an effective leader?

Did the public follow the president's lead?

At the core of Donald Trump's political success were his public relations skills. He possessed well-honed promotional talents sharpened over a lifetime of marketing himself and his brand. Once in office, the president wasted no time in conducting a permanent campaign to win the public's support. On the day of his inauguration, Trump filed for reelection with the Federal Election Commission. Less than a month afterwards, on February 18, 2017, he held the first of what were to be dozens of political rallies around the country.

Did he succeed in winning support for himself and his policies? I have shown in great detail, he did not. Instead, he consistently failed to win the public's backing for either his policies or his own handling of them. Indeed, he seemed to turn the public in the opposite direction. He made the Affordable Care Act, which had been unpopular, popular, and the health care policies he backed unpopular. Similarly, in the face of a general desire to control our borders and protect the country from terrorists, Trump managed to alienate the public from his immigration policies. Perhaps most remarkably, his tax cut for nearly all taxpayers and businesses was unpopular. In addition, the public remained supportive of free trade and critical of his handling of trade policy.

Capping Trump's failure to win public support was his earning the lowest average level of general job approval of any president in the history of polling. Moreover, thisapproval was also the most polarized, with the difference among members of the two major parties averaging 81 percentage points.

As president, Trump dominated the news, but his impulsive, undisciplined, and divisive communications created distractions from his core message and alienated the public. His discourse was characterized by ad hominem attacks aimed at branding and delegitimizing critics and opponents, exaggerated threats and inappropriate offers of reassurance, blurred distinctions between fact and fiction, encouragement of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and challenges to the rule of law. The public was not persuaded by this inflammatory rhetoric and concluded that he was an untrustworthy source of information.

The president Trump more successful in solidifying his core supporters—those who already agreed with him. Although we cannot know for certain, it appears that his rallies, tweets, and other communications—along with affective polarization and motivated reasoning—kept Republicans in the public in his camp, making it more difficult for congressional Republicans to challenge him.

Most significantly, it appears that Trump's efforts to influence the public were detrimental to the polity. His rhetoric encouraged incivility in public discourse, accelerated the use of disinformation, legitimized the expression of prejudice, increased the salience of cultural divisions and racial and ethnic tensions, and undermined democratic accountability. For the Republicans who followed him, he distorted their knowledge about politics and policy, warped their understanding of policy challenges, and chipped away at their respect for the rule of law.

Did the president succeed in leading Congress?

Donald Trump claimed a unique proficiency in negotiating deals. Announcing his candidacy for the presidency on June 16, 2015, he proclaimed, "If you can't make a good deal with a politician, then there's something wrong with you. . . . We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal." Was he able to exploit his experience to win congressional approval for his policies?

He was not. Once in office, he floundered. His passivity, vagueness, inconsistency, and lack of command of policy made him an unskilled, unreliable, and untrustworthy negotiator. He often adopted a reactive posture and easily lost focus. He was not successful in closing deals and convincing wavering members, principally Republicans, to support him. His shifting positions, inconsistent behavior, exclusion of Democrats in developing policies, and use of threats and ridicule squandered whatever potential for compromise might have existed. As a result, he received historically low levels of support from Democratic senators and representatives. His high levels of support from Republicans in both chambers of Congress were largely the product of agreement on policy and party leaders keeping votes he might lose off the agenda. When they were resistant, the president could not convince Republicans to defer to him, and his customary tools of threats and disparagement gained him little.

Trump was successful in preventing bills he opposed from passing, as are most presidents, but Congress passed little significant legislation at his behest. He was even less successful after Democrats gained control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. He could not win support for new health care policy, immigration reform, or infrastructure spending. By 2020, he had virtually no legislative agenda. Congress took the lead on pandemic-related bills. Government shutdowns and symbolic slaps at his foreign policies characterized his tenure, even when Republicans were in control of the legislature.

Abandoning Leadership

Donald Trump wrote off the majority of the public and much of Congress. His genius for politics focused on playing to his base, with all its attendant detriments for the success of his presidency and the health of the polity. Governing by grievance may have met his personal needs but it did little to enhance his effectiveness as a leader. In the end, his response to his failure to persuade was to push the boundaries of presidential power and violate the norms of the presidency.

George C. Edwards III is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Jordan Chair in Presidential Studies Emeritus at Texas A&M University. He is also Distinguished Fellow at the University of Oxford, editor of Presidential Studies Quarterly, and general editor of the Oxford Handbook of American Politics series. His most recent book is Changing Their Minds? Donald Trump and Presidential Leadership (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Historian: How MAGA's 'culture of resentment' has a lot in common with Nazi Germany

William A. Galston's recent essay "The Bitter Heartland" begins, "We are living in an age of resentment . . . [that] shapes today's politics." The more I read of it (and more about it later), the more the great resentments of Hitler's followers came to mind. They resented rich Jews, the victorious Allies who in 1919 had imposed the "unfair" postwar Versailles Treaty upon them, civilian German politicians who had signed the treaty, communists, who had taken over in Russia and were a rising force in Germany, and the "decadent" godless ways of Berlin, as hinted at in the play and film Cabaret.

The Versailles Treaty forced Germany to give up land to their west and east and also their overseas empire. It also imposed strict limits on its armed forces and weapons. But perhaps most bothersome of all to the average German was the imposition of war reparations, which many Germans believed contributed to their great financial agonies. This was especially true during the great inflation of 1923 – by then a loaf of bread could cost billions of Reichsmarks – and the Great Depression. Historian Peter Fritzsche notes that "between 1929 and 1932, one in three Germans lost their livelihoods. At the same time, young people had no prospect of entering the labor force . . . German farmers suffered terribly as commodity prices slumped."

Fritzsche also relates some of Hitler's early tactics like boycotts that "relied on entrenched resentments against allegedly wealthy, rapacious, or tricky Jews," and he writes that "the Nazi leader appealed to popular fears and resentments and transformed them into final judgments and the promise of direct remedial action." Moreover, Hitler used a we-versus-they approach, "pitting patriotic Germans against subversive Communists, Aryans against Jews, the healthy against the sick, the Third Reich against the rest of the world."

Almost a century after Hitler came to power in 1933, some of Donald Trump's followers remind us of Hitler's crowds. On at least one occasion, after Hitler ranted about the "November criminals" (German politicians who negotiated the war-ending armistice of 1918), the audience cried out, "Hang them up! Bust their ass!" In both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Trump crowds (in response to their hero's words about Hillary Clinton) shouted "lock her up."

Already during the 2016 campaigning, writer George Saunders observed some of the resentments of Trump supporters. Many believed "they'd been let down by their government . . . and [were] sensitive to "any infringement whatsoever on their freedom." Many suffered from what Saunders labeled "usurpation anxiety syndrome," which he defined as "the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions."

In Galston's 2021 essay "The Bitter Heartland" he cites a 2016 poll that indicated that 65 percent of whites without college degrees "believed that America's culture and way of life had changed for the worse since the 1950s." But more than that poll, his essay dissects the continuing Trumpites' resentments much more thoroughly.

Like some before him, he indicates or hints at where the Trump resentful are mostly found: in small towns and rural areas, and among older people, non-college graduates, groups once dependent on manufacturing and mining jobs, and "social conservatives and white Christians." The resentful are more provincial and traditional and many of them "lack access to high-speed broadband."

"They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life." They believe that the big-city elites, the professionals, and the government—before Trump came along—all failed to help them achieve their share of the American Dream. They resent professionals and liberals telling them how to live, calling them racists, or limiting their freedoms—e.g. to buy multiple guns or go about maskless during our present pandemic. "President Trump was at his best, they say, when he ignored the experts and went his own way."

Like Saunders earlier, Galston thinks that many of the resentful feel they are "being treated unjustly, unfairly, or disrespectfully." The appearance of Trump and discovery of like-minded people—via the Internet and the person-to-person contacts of smaller towns—help overcome feelings of powerlessness. Feeling more powerful, some "people merely want a remedy for the injustice they have experienced. But others—typically those who experience disrespect—want more than redress; they want revenge."

Galston closes his essay with some suggestions for dealing with Trumpite resentments, but they are less compelling than his analysis of them. Partly this is because, while some are legitimate, others—like the reluctance of many white Christians to grant equal rights to all ethnic and religious minorities—are not. As we learned from examining the supporters of Hitler, understanding the difficulties of people and even sympathizing with their plight (e.g., being jobless) does not mean condoning resentments that lead to hateful behavior like victimizing Jews.

The preceding comparison between two phenomena of group resentment, separated by almost a century, in two different countries and political cultures, omits many contrasts and nuances. In addition, we know how Hitler and German Nazism ended. The ending of the Trumpite culture of resentment is still unknown. Will it gradually decline? Will the Biden administration successfully address many of the Trumpite grievances? Will Republicans continue to stoke them? Will Trump run again in 2024? None of us know for sure. But thanks to the writings of Galston and others--he mentions Katherine Cramer and Arlie Hochschild--we better understand the resentments, and that's a start.

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, a Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of A History of Russia. 2 Vols. For a list of his recent books and online publications click here.

'Fox & Friends' host mocks a 6th grade student for saying Biden is doing a better job than Trump

"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed three young students Wednesday morning about virtual learning while pushing his agenda that children should return to in-person learning immediately regardless of any potential consequences.

Kilmeade, as Mediate reports, told on California student, eighth-grader Lilly Rauzon, "Your numbers are the lowest in the country. You should be back in school right now. The danger's infinitesimal."

Politicizing his conversation with her even further, Kilmeade told her to blame "your politicians and your unions" after she said she had not learned anything since March of 2020.

Philadelphia sixth-grade student Mason Seder praised his teachers for doing a "great job," but added, "its not what it could be if you're in person."

When Kilmeade asked him what he misses most about in-person learning, Seder offered a positive assessment, one that clearly angered the Fox News co-host and disrupted his attempts to indoctrinate the children.

"I miss, most obviously, seeing my friends and all the after-school activities that I have done," Seder told Kilmeade. "I think we are very, very close getting back to school. And I think that the way that our new president is handling things is a very good way, and we would not have gone to this if it were still the last president."

One of the other students appeared to nod in agreement as Seder offered support to President Biden.

Kilmeade responded angrily to the sixth grader.

"Really? That's hard to believe because the last president was saying 'I want every kid back in school.'"


FDR's court packing plan backfired in the south. Will Biden repeat the error?

In assessing recent moves by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats pointing to possible expansion of the Supreme Court, it helps to recall the immediate and long-term consequences of an earlier Democratic attempt to alter the makeup of that body. Over a roughly two-year span beginning in May 1935, a majority-Republican Court had almost systematically eviscerated a succession of key New Deal measures, including the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. By February 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had finally had his fill of sitting by while the Court made war on his recovery program. Accordingly, he unveiled a plan that would enable him to appoint up to six additional, (and presumably more liberal) justices, based on the number of sitting members who were 70 or older.

In reality, Roosevelt's aggressive move did not stem entirely from his fear of an extended reign of judicial terror at that point. It also reflected his anger at mounting pushback against his entire New Deal legislative agenda, not only from House and Senate Republicans but from some key representatives of his own party as well. A number of these Democrats made no secret of their distaste for his Court plan, rendering it dead even before its arrival on Capitol Hill. This blatant display of ingratitude infuriated Roosevelt, whose historic landslide re-election victory just three months earlier had also swept a dozen new Democrats into the House and five more into the Senate, leaving the party with overwhelming majorities in both.

Still, for too many congressional Democrats, FDR's "court-packing plan" amounted to playing Russian Roulette with the constitutional balance of powers. It was particularly disquieting for the southerners among them who saw it paving the way for a judicial assault on the legal underpinnings of racial segregation in their region. In other circumstances, FDR might have recognized his attempt to dramatically remake the Supreme Court as the ultimate political longshot from the beginning, and, as he had done before, simply cut his losses and moved on.

In this case, though, his judgment was likely impaired by his exaggerated sense of the political loyalty and latitude that should be his due by virtue of the stunning tribute to his personal popularity recently rendered at the polls. This sense, in turn, only stoked his outrage at the congressional rebuff, leading him to compound the effects of one egregious political miscalculation with another. The latter lay in attempting what his critics deemed a Stalinesque "purge" of some of the Democrats who had the temerity not only to oppose his Court measure, but express reservations about some of his programmatic New Deal initiatives besides.

Having persuaded himself that his overwhelming personal popularity with the Democratic faithful put their votes in other political contests at his disposal, Roosevelt moved in 1938 to recruit and emphatically endorse primary challengers to several of what he saw as his most consistently obstructionist Democratic adversaries in Congress. These included Ellison D. "Cotton Ed" Smith of South Carolina, who had been in the Senate since 1909, and Walter F. George of Georgia, who had joined him there in 1923. As southerners, both Smith and George likened Roosevelt's move against them to a second Yankee invasion, while other objects of his ire cited his interference as a violation of the sovereignty of their respective states. With but one exception, all of FDR's designated enemies bested their anointed primary challengers, typically by comfortable margins. Divided and worn down by all the primary in-fighting, and saddled with a slumping economy to boot, the Democrats would go on to lose 71 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate in the November general election.

In the end, Roosevelt had squandered an enormous amount of political capital, shattered his own image of invincibility and further widened the ideological and regional divisions within his own party. This additional stress on the potent but increasingly tenuous "New Deal Coalition" of southern whites, northern blacks and organized labor turned up the heat on the simmering tensions that finally boiled over with the Dixiecrat revolt in 1948. Beyond that, these southern Democrats now had additional incentive to join right-wing northern Republicans in resisting further expansion of not just presidential but federal prerogatives in general. In this, FDR's attempt to bring the Supreme Court to heel may have sown the seeds of the knee-jerk animus toward Washington that propelled Donald J. Trump to victory in 2016.

In fact, it was this very hostility that spurred former president Trump and former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to pursue their own ideological realignment of the Court, aimed at skewing it in precisely the opposite direction envisioned by FDR. Their success in ramming through three decidedly conservative new appointments in rapid succession has prompted President Biden to create a thirty-six-member bipartisan commission of constitutional experts charged with exploring the pros and cons of Supreme Court reform. Meanwhile, on the heels of Biden's action, congressional Democrats have announced their own plans to introduce a bill that would expand the membership of the Court from 9 to 13.

Whether we may soon be looking at "deja vu all over again" remains to be seen, of course, but there is reason to think not. Ultimately Biden seems too much the political realist to believe that any plan to alter the composition of the Supreme Court has much better prospect of winning the requisite backing on either side of the aisle at this juncture than Roosevelt's did in 1937. Some have already ventured that, in assembling so cumbersome and diverse a commission with such an open-ended mandate, the President's initiative is a largely perfunctory attempt to fulfill a campaign pledge to the more liberal-minded cohort within his party.

The largely positive popular response to the relative moderation of the new Democratic administration to date also begs the question of why the Democrats would choose to go all-in for so polarizing a measure at the risk of lending traction to GOP charges that Biden is engineering a radical leftist takeover of our government. Joe Biden has made no secret of his admiration for Franklin Roosevelt, and it may well be that he could do with some of Roosevelt's charisma and elan. Yet, insofar as the circumstances and options he now confronts may compare to those facing his aspirational model some eighty-four Aprils ago, he enjoys at least one potential advantage. As a veteran of untold Senate skirmishes over White House initiatives, Biden should have entered the Oval Office fully aware of something that had apparently eluded FDR prior to the Court-packing debacle. Even in times less fiercely partisan than these, it is the ultimate ahistorical folly for any President to mistake even the most resounding personal triumph in winning the hearts of the voters for gaining sway over their choices of who represents them in Congress and elsewhere, much less for commanding the allegiance of those whom they select.

Black Monday: What caused the Stock Market crash of 1987?

In the days between October 14 and October 19, 1987, major indexes of market valuation in the United States dropped 30 percent or more. On October 19, 1987, a date that subsequently became known as"Black Monday," the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 508 points, losing 22.6% of its total value. The S&P 500 dropped 20.4%, falling from 282.7 to 225.06. This was the greatest loss Wall Street had ever suffered on a single day.

According to Facts on File, an authoritative source of current-events information for professional research and education, the 1987 crash"marked the end of a five-year 'bull' market that had seen the Dow rise from 776 points in August 1982 to a high of 2,722.42 points in August 1987." Unlike what hapopened in 1929, however, the market rallied immediately after the crash, posting a record one-day gain of 102.27 the very next day and 186.64 points on Thursday October 22. It took only two years for the Dow to recover completely; by September of 1989, the market had regained all of the value it had lost in the '87 crash.2

Many feared that the crash would trigger a recession. Instead, the fallout from the crash turned out to be surprisingly small. This phenomenon was due, in part, to the intervention of the Federal Reserve. According to Facts on File,"The worst economic losses occurred on Wall Street itself, where 15,000 jobs were lost in the financial industry."3

A number of explanations have been offered as to the cause of the crash, although none may be said to have been the sole determinant. Among these are computer trading and derivative securities, illiquidity, trade and budget deficits, and overvaluation. Below we have quoted representative analyses.


Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas:

Initial blame for the 1987 crash centered on the interplay between stock markets and index options and futures markets. In the former people buy actual shares of stock; in the latter they are only purchasing rights to buy or sell stocks at particular prices. Thus options and futures are known as derivatives, because their value derives from changes in stock prices even though no actual shares are owned. The Brady Commission [also known as the Presidential Task Force on Market Mechanisms, which was appointed to investigate the causes of the crash], concluded that the failure of stock markets and derivatives markets to operate in sync was the major factor behind the crash.


Website, University of Melbourne:

In searching for the cause of the crash, many analysts blame the use of computer trading (also known as program trading) by large institutional investing companies. In program trading, computers were programmed to automatically order large stock trades when certain market trends prevailed. However, studies show that during the 1987 U.S. Crash, other stock markets which did not use program trading also crashed, some with losses even more severe than the U.S. market.


Website, University of Melbourne:

During the Crash, trading mechanisms in financial markets were not able to deal with such a large flow of sell orders. Many common stocks in the New York Stock Exchange were not traded until late in the morning of October 19 because the specialists could not find enough buyers to purchase the amount of stocks that sellers wanted to get rid of at certain prices. As a result, trading was terminated in many listed stocks. This insufficient liquidity may have had a significant effect on the size of the price drop, since investors had overestimated the amount of liquidity. However, negative news to investors about the liquidity of stock, option and futures markets cannot explain why so many people decided to sell stock at the same time.

Bruce Bartlett:

While structural problems within markets may have played a role in the magnitude of the market crash, they could not have caused it. That would require some action outside the market that caused traders to dramatically lower their estimates of stock market values. The main culprit here seems to have been legislation that passed the House Ways & Means Committee on October 15 eliminating the deductibility of interest on debt used for corporate takeovers.

Two economists from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mark Mitchell and Jeffry Netter, published a study in 1989 concluding that the anti-takeover legislation did trigger the crash. They note that as the legislation began to move through Congress, the market reacted almost instantaneously to news of its progress. Between Tuesday, October 13, when the legislation was first introduced, and Friday, October 16, when the market closed for the weekend, stock prices fell more than 10 percent -- the largest 3-day drop in almost 50 years. In addition, those stocks that led the market downward were precisely those most affected by the legislation. [Ultimately, the legislation was stripped of the provisions that concerned the stock market before being enacted into law.]4


Bruce Bartlett:

Another important trigger in the market crash was the announcement of a large U.S. trade deficit on October 14, which led Treasury Secretary James Baker to suggest the need for a fall in the dollar on foreign exchange markets. Fears of a lower dollar led foreigners to pull out of dollar-denominated assets, causing a sharp rise in interest rates.

Website, University of Melbourne:

One belief is that the large trade and budget deficits during the third quarter of 1987 might have led investors into thinking that these deficits would cause a fall of the U.S. stocks compared with foreign securities (this was the largest U.S. trade deficit since 1960). However, if the large U.S. budget deficit was the cause, why did stock markets in other countries crash as well? Presumably if unexpected changes in the trade deficit were bad news for one country, it would be good news for its trading partner.



Long-term bond yields that had started 1987 at 7.6% climbed to approximately 10% [the summer before the crash]. This offered a lucrative alternative to stocks for investors looking for yield.


Website, University of Melbourne:

Many analysts agree that stock prices were overvalued in September, 1987. Price/Earning ratio and Price/Dividend ratios were too high [Historically, the P/E ratio is about 15 to 1; in October 1987 the P/E for the S&P 500 had risen to about 20 to 1]. Does that imply that overvaluation caused the 1987 Crash? While these ratios were at historically high levels, similar Price/Earning and Price/Dividends values had been seen for most of the 1960-72 period. Since no crash happened during that period, we can assume that overvaluation did not trigger crashes every time.


Bruce Bartlett:

What the 1987 crash ultimately accomplished was to teach politicians that markets heed their words and actions carefully, reacting immediately when threatened. Thus the crash initiated a new era of market discipline on bad economic policy.

1"The 1987 Stock Market Crash." http://www.arts.unimelb.edu.au/amu/ucr/student/1997/Yee/1987.htm 23 July 2002.
2"Key Event: 'Black Monday'Crash of 1987 Rocks Stock Markets." Facts on File World News CD-ROM. Facts on File News Services. http://www.facts.com/cd/v00066.htm 23 July 2002.
3 Ibid.
4"Triggering the 1987 Stock Market Crash: Antitakeover Provisions in the Proposed House Ways and Means Tax Bill?" Journal of Financial Economics, vol. 24, no. 1 (September 1989), pp. 37-68.

Ms. Itskevich is a student at Rutgers University and an intern at HNN.

Historian: The real patriots invaded the nation’s capital fifty years ago

They called their trip to Washington, D.C., an "invasion." Vowing not be "deterred or intimidated by police, government agents, [or] U.S. marshals," they arrived outfitted for war in fatigues and jungle boots with weapons and gas masks firmly in hand. Calling themselves "concerned citizens" and "patriots," they announced their intention to "protect the flag" by "stop[ing] all business as usual, until the government recognizes and responds positively to our demands."

No, these were not the self-professed patriots who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

This was back in 1971 when President Richard Nixon claimed to be fulfilling his campaign promise of "peace with honor" by lowering the number of American ground troops in Vietnam. Much to the horror of thousands of recently returned GIs, the civilian branch of the most vocal and sustained antiwar movement in American history took the bait and stopped protesting.

And thus, on the evening before Patriots' Day, twelve hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War ("VVAW") arrived in Washington from around the country for what they called Operation Dewey Canyon III in a pointed rebuke of the recent American expansion of the air war into Laos under code names Operation Dewey Canyon I and II.

At first the public was confused. The men who descended on the nation's capital in olive drab, some with bandoliers strapped across their chests, did not look anything like the closely clipped GIs featured in the military recruiting posters plastering America's post offices. These guys had beards and long hair.

"Son, I don't think what you're doing is good for the troops," a Daughter of the American Revolution complained to one them, as the veterans marched past the DAR's Memorial Hall.

"Lady, we are the troops," was the ready reply.

After four days spent in such peaceable pursuits as lobbying their congresspeople, laying funeral wreaths at Arlington National Ceremony for both the American and the Vietnamese dead, holding a candlelight vigil at the White House, and testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the veterans announced their plan to descend on the Capitol Building, which the Nixon administration decided to surround, preemptively, with a version of the same kind of barrier fence that encircles it now.

The nation held its collective breath.

But rather than storm the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the veterans set about assembling a makeshift platform on the west side of the Capitol, which they equipped with a powerful sound system. At the appointed time, those who were not confined to wheelchairs walked up to the microphone one-by-one. Holding up their medals, ribbons, and citations, each man told the assembled crowd of veterans and journalists what the nation's highest honors meant to him.

"A symbol of dishonor, shame, and inhumanity," said one veteran as he hurled his medals over the barrier fence.

"Worthless," said another as the pile of discarded honors grew.

Many of the veterans called out the American government for being racist towards South Asians and others.

"I symbolically return my Vietnam medals and other service medals given me by the power structure that has genocidal policies against the nonwhite peoples of the world."

"Our hearts," many of the veterans declared, "are broken," and their copious tears proved it.

In taking a stand against the war in front of the Capitol Building, the veterans were following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., who addressed the American people in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a means of asking them to measure the distance between the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and the reality of Jim Crow. VVAW was similarly asking the country to note the difference between the promise of an inclusive and transparent government, as represented by the welcoming façade and the usually open doors of the Capitol Building, and the secret air war the Nixon administration was conducting.

These first veterans to protest a war in which they had served won their countrymen's respect. Noting that the day they began their protest was the "anniversary of the day the 'shot heard round the world' was fired at Concord Bridge," one Boston newspaper asked any readers who might be reluctant to recognize the veterans as patriots to remember that "in 1775 the colonial forces were also unruly and young."

After being photographed and filmed by all of the major news outlets throwing away their medals and discarding what turned out to be Mattel-manufactured toy M16s, the veterans packed up their gear and policed their campsite on the National Mall. Just to be sure they left it in better shape than they had found it, they planted a tree. Then they went home to their local VVAW chapters where they continued to work to end the war by mobilizing other sacred symbols. The New England chapter marched Paul Revere's route in reverse, stopping at the famed Revolutionary War battlefields in Concord, Lexington, and Charlestown to perform mock search-and-destroy missions in a demonstration of the difference between fighting against an imperialist regime and becoming one. On another occasion, antiwar veterans signaled their distress about the ongoing war in Southeast Asia by hanging an upside-down American flag from the crown of the Statue of Liberty. And when the war was finally over in 1975, VVAW set to work advocating for better mental health care for those American servicemen who had been traumatized by being asked to do the most un-American thing imaginable: deny another country its own April 19, 1775.

On this Patriots' Day, fifty years after a battalion of Vietnam veterans brought their anguish and their outrage to the Capitol Building, the nation owes its thanks not only to the colonial militiamen who lost their lives along the famed Battle Road, but also to their direct descendants, the antiwar veterans who, in reminding a nation of its foundational values, sought to reset its course.

Elise Lemire is the author of the just released Battle Green Vietnam: The 1971 March on Concord, Lexington, and Boston (University of Pennsylvania Press) and other titles. She is Professor of Literature at Purchase College, SUNY.

Ammon Bundy has amassed an army of over 50,000 as he looks for his next battle in a religious war

Ammon Bundy, right-wing malcontent behind the 2016 armed takeover of Oregon's Malheur Wildlife Refuge and now a western anti-mask movement, believes he's doing God's work.

Coming from a long line of religiously inspired men who have been "called" to defend the US Constitution, Bundy has varied in his focus, from rebelling against public land ranching regulations to protesting COVID-19 safety protocols. But in his view, these are all forms of government tyranny and affronts to constitutional rights. Arrested for the fourth time on March 15, 2021, Bundy was taken into custody for failing to appear at his hearing on past trespassing charges. Because he refused to wear a mask into the courtroom, thereby missing his trial, he was apprehended outside amid of a throng of other protesters.

Bundy's crusade has been a long time in the making, but in the last year he successfully established a coalition of supporters that is broad, diverse, and a serious threat to federal law. His group is called the People's Rights Network. Like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, it includes members who see the current government as a threat to perceived rights and are committed to defend their ideas of personal liberty, by force if necessary.

So what has taken Ammon Bundy, who first came to prominence during the 2014 armed standoff in Nevada over his father's unpaid grazing fees and trespassing cattle, into a life of an anti-government militant? The answer is a libertarian worldview and his take on Mormonism. Bundy's ideology parallels the thinking of certain leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who've had a history of government cynicism. He also shares with them a tradition of theo-constitutionalism--venerating the Constitution as a sacred document. The paradox here is that Bundy believes he is upholding the Constitution and fulfilling his religious duties in his acts of lawlessness.

His impetus has roots in the early Church. After the founder and first prophet of Mormonism, Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was murdered, Brigham Young (1801-1877) assumed the reins of the Church and brought the Latter-day Saints into the Great Basin. By that point, Young and his brethren were disgusted with the US government after the years of mistreatment and bigotry they had faced. But the Mormon people kept great faith in the Constitution. While still an apostle of Smith, Young said "I find no fault with the Constitution or laws of our country; they are good enough. It is the abuse of those laws which I despise, and which God, good men and angels abhor." He later avowed " Corrupt men cannot walk these streets with impunity, and if that is alienism to the Government, amen to it. The Constitution of the United States we sustain all the day long, and it will sustain and shield us, while the men who say we are aliens, and cry out 'Mormon disturbance,' will go to hell….But to proceed; the principal evil is in the rulers, or those who profess to be rulers, and in the dispensers of the law…"

Young was not just the leader of the Church; like Smith, he was a prophet. Although he was not as prolific in his revelations as other Mormon prophet/presidents, these statements are memorialized in the Journal of Discourses and the History of the Church, texts not part of official Church doctrine, but significant, especially to those with radical leanings. Over the years, many Church prophets echoed Young's sentiments, from Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898) to Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994), reinforcing the idea that the Constitution is good, but not those who govern under it. Benson took that idea further, declaring that the Mormon people had a religious obligation to protect the Constitution, even if this meant violence. In 1979 he declared, "I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will. For that reason men, 200 years ago, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. No nation which has kept the commandments of God has ever perished, but I say to you that once freedom is lost, only blood – human blood – will win it back."

So this is where things get treacherous. If the Constitution is sacred, but those overseeing it are evil, then who determines and upholds the law of the land? Bundy has come to think that this is his duty—a chilling certainty that is likely to escalate during this current administration. As vaccines are more widely administered and mask mandates therefore become less of a concern, Bundy's focus will return to his original cause. The new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, is now charged with overseeing public lands, including the place where Ammon's Bundy's father, Cliven, continues to illegally graze his cows. The patriarch Bundy and his most infamous son share the conviction that the federal government has no constitutional right or power to own land; hence the land belongs to those white people who have occupied and used it, and the requirement of grazing fees paid to the Bureau of Land Management is unconstitutional. Although Cliven has repeatedly lost his appeals in federal court, and currently owes over a million dollars in fines and fees, the old rancher's cows still roam the same BLM land, years after the Nevada armed standoff. To Ammon, mask mandates and grazing regulations are the same thing—affronts to constitutional rights. Law and common good be damned—he sees both as tyranny. He is determined to protect the Constitution, even by unconstitutional means. Where the next action is again taken—Nevada, Oregon, or somewhere else on the 600,000,000 acres of American public lands—remains to be seen.

In 2018, Bundy talked before an audience in South Jordan, UT during an event advertised as a "power packed four hours, with an LDS [Latter-day Saints] perspective, but practical info for all true friends of liberty." He told them about his father's dream, in which people approached a large building. Inside the building sat a golden calf, a biblical reference to a false idol, that Cliven understood to symbolize the American court of law. Ammon explained that the dream meant people are putting their faith in judges who do not have their best interests at hearts. "You can't worship the golden calf, you have to have faith in God," he told the audience. "When you know for certain that those are your own rights, you do not allow them to be questioned. And I know that's a strong thing I'm saying. But when you do that, then your friends need to come and protect you also. And it's a duty of ours to do that." Four months later, PeoplesRights.org was registered, a year and two months before pandemic brought America to a screeching halt. COVID-19 gave him a cause that fit a long ongoing narrative. The pandemic swelled the ranks of People's Rights because of conspiracy theory and righteous anger, but it wasn't invented in response to it.

Ammon Bundy has been looking for a next battle since the takeover of Malheur, when he led a group of heavily armed militia to occupy government buildings in Harney County, Oregon. During that takeover, one man, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police. Ammon now has his own militia, the People's Rights Network, an army of over 50,000 members in 50 states, according to the organization's website. He recently finished a recruitment tour in Utah, talking God, liberty, and the need for vigilante action—antidotes to golden calves. His campaign is part of a long drawn arc and we shouldn't expect his rebellion to end with a die-down of COVID-19. Bundy's attention will return to public land battles, where the first insurgencies began. It wasn't COVID-19 that spurred the formation of the People's Rights Network and inspired Bundy's mission, it was a deeply rooted sense of righteousness, Cliven's dream, and a version of Mormon ideology.

Betsy Gaines Quammen, PhD is the author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in the West.

Expert explains how ridiculing QAnon cult members could be dangerous

The recent Senate acquittal of former president Donald Trump renewed attention on QAnon followers, with reports that some followers are taking the trial result as evidence of the correctness of their beliefs, galvanizing their faith in "the plan." Prior to the acquittal vote, other QAnon followers had soured on the group, particularly after the failed prophecy on January 6 that Trump would remain president.

Families are also experiencing hard feelings and tensions associated with QAnon, as people struggle to relate with family members who are strong believers.

Whether a follower decides to leave or stay, outsiders and loved ones would do well to resist ridiculing. Deprogramming cultish beliefs is difficult under the best of circumstances. Shaming and making fun of adherents may make you feel good, but it won't help you achieve the more important goal of getting back your loved ones. Social science helps us understand why.

I wrote earlier about the ways devotees to a cause can respond in the wake of a failed prediction. While there are acute differences between the Seekers cult and QAnon followers, particularly when it comes to their post-disconfirmation behavior thus far, we'd be naive to not learn from the allegiances of past failed prophecies.

The Seekers example dates back to 1954 when a Doomsday group believed the world would end in a catastrophic flood with only the believers in the group being spared. Social psychologist Leon Festinger chronicled the group's actions in the months leading up to and after the prophesied day of destruction.

What was remarkable about the Seekers (and which confirmed Festinger's famous theory of cognitive dissonance) was that when faced with knowledge of the failed prediction—there was no flood—believers not only doubled down on their belief, but immediately began to proselytize. They became desperate to win new converts.

This may resemble what we're seeing with QAnon followers post-acquittal, but by comparison, it's hard to say what they're currently thinking. Perhaps some are laying low and biding their time. Perhaps others have abandoned the group (as did some of the Seekers). Some may be experiencing a restored sense of hope given the most recent failed impeachment of Trump, but we haven't yet seen evidence of increased proselytizing by QAnon adherents.

Both groups experienced a failed prediction on a massive scale, a prediction in which both groups' followers believed strongly and to which they demonstrated fierce commitment. Seekers did so by giving up their jobs and handing over their possessions and savings, while QAnon followers risked exposure and prosecution on January 6 by rioting in the nation's capital. But what determines whether QAnon followers will increase their proselytizing?

Inspired by Festinger's test of his theory of cognitive dissonance, scientists Jane Hardyck and Marcia Braden published a report of a doomsday group they observed in 1962 called the Church of the True Word. The group also faced a disconfirmed prophecy that the world would soon end in nuclear war. In commitment to their belief, the group had built underground fallout shelters and stocked them with canned and dehydrated food, large jugs of water, and power generators. On word that the group's prophet had received a divine message, having already been inspired by certain passages of the book of Revelation, 135 followers headed into their shelters.

Of those who went in, 103 remained for a full 42 days and nights. The faithful received word to come out. Those who'd stayed inside claimed that their stay had strengthened their faith and increased their belief in the work of the group. While the Seekers reframed their own failed prediction as God having spared the world, the True Word group reacted in the same vein by claiming God was testing their faith. In other words, some members of both groups clung to their beliefs.

However, whereas the Seekers desperately began to search for new converts, the True Word group did not. What made the difference? The observations of scientists Hardyck and Braden suggested one possibility: news coverage of the Seekers was largely disdainful and ridiculing. By contrast, the True Word followers received very little ridicule from news outlets or local townspeople. In fact, the town mayor was quoted as explicitly calling for no one to ridicule the group for their beliefs.

It was ridicule that backed the Seekers into a corner from which relief could come only by attempting to find other people who believed the same. Because the True Word followers weren't ridiculed, they were not pushed to the point where they felt no recourse but to proselytize. Herein lies the lesson for us.

Your loved one's next move may depend on the amount of ridicule they experience. It may be tempting to scoff at the group, but in the end it may be counterproductive. If we really want to shrink QAnon, or at least curb its outreach efforts and heal our families, we have to recall the differences in treatment given to followers of the failed prophecies of the past. That's not to say people who broke the law or engaged in other antisocial behavior shouldn't be held accountable, but history does have a way of repeating itself.

McConnell's decision to condemn Trump after voting for his acquittal wasn't just an act of cowardice: Historian

On February 12, when 43 Republican Senators voted to acquit former President Trump of the charge of incitement to insurrection, they reaffirmed the Faustian bargain they had made with him in 2016. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell was the central figure in the GOP's bargain: in exchange for tax cuts and conservative judicial nominations, he and the Republican senators enabled, supported, tolerated, and lent mainstream conservative legitimacy to Trump. For a month after the 2020 election which Trump had obviously lost, McConnell remained silent while Trump repeated the "stab in the back" lie about the "stolen election." So, it was not surprising that on February 12, 2021, faced with overwhelming evidence of Trump's guilt, that McConnell voted with 42 other Republican Senators to acquit him. He was at the center of that nullification. We do not know if McConnell could have found an additional ten votes to convict Trump, but there have been no reports that he tried to do so or that he was willing to join a minority short of the needed 67 votes on the basis of the law, the constitution, the facts and the evidence.

For Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Lindsay Graham, and no doubt others, the vote was also an expression of ideological agreement with Trump and Trumpism. For them the bargain with Trump had moved beyond McConnell's marriage of convenience to an alliance of shared ideological conviction or of a cynicism so deep that they repeated his lies in public. Their problem was that the House Managers were led by former law professor Jamie Raskin, with a remarkable team composed of Diana DeGette, David Cicilline, Joachim Castro, Eric Swalwell, Ted Lieu, Stacey Plaskett, Joe Neguse and Madeline Dean. That team offered a blend of argument and evidence, from their pretrial brief to Raskin's opening statement, and those of others that set a formidable standard of clarity and causal reasoning that historians would applaud in their own work. The vote to acquit by the 43 Republican Senators was a clear case of jury nullification, that is, of rendering a verdict that ignored the weight of fact, evidence, and argument.

If the Republicans did not want to admit that a team of Democrats made the case based on the Constitution, the law and the facts, they could have sought shelter in the warm embrace of Charles Cooper, the lawyer with close ties to the Republican legal establishment, who several days before the trial argued in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that impeaching a former President was indeed within the constitutional powers of the Senate. Or, they could point to the 144 constitutional experts, include leading conservatives, who issued a public statement that the First Amendment protection of free speech did not defend the right of the President of the United States to incite a mob to attack the Capitol. Or, being the lawyers many of them are, they could admit that Raskin, and the team of House Managers shredded Trump's lawyers efforts to use those arguments. Conservative legal scholars and practitioners, as well as the House Managers gave McConnell the arguments, he needed to attempt to rally his Republicans majority to convict Trump. He could have done so with paeans to constitutional originalism, and of the prerogatives of the Senate.

In the course of the trial, Plaskett and Dean documented Trumps' months long campaign repeating the lie of the stolen election and the need to come to Washington on January 6th. Trumps' lawyers offered no rebuttal to Raskin's rejection of the "January exception" to Presidential misconduct in the last weeks in power, nor did they refute the factual record about Trump's campaign of lies and its consequences. They did not refute the House Managers' accounts of Trump's tactical use and approval of political violence. The Senators themselves knew that Trump refused to order his mob to stop when the entire Congress, its staff, and others working in the Capitol were in imminent physical danger. They also knew that when House Manager and Congressman Joaquin Castro said Trump had "left everyone in this Capitol for dead," he, Castro, was telling them a truth they knew as well as anyone.

Yet after all that, McConnell voted to acquit Trump, hoping that he could assuage the enraged Trump base. Yet McConnell, firmly planted in the reality of this world rather than that of Trump's "alternate facts," then unleashed the anger he had kept under wraps for the past four years. As McConnell's denunciation of Trump may be lost in the mass of words about the trial, it bears quoting at length. Bear in mind, that these are the words spoken by McConnell, not Raskin.

Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

The issue is not only the President's intemperate language on January 6th. It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged 'trial by combat.' It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.

I defended the President's right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled. But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims. The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things. Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.

This was different. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began. Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world. A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.

It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration. But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn't take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!

Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President. Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence. Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later. And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.

In recent weeks, our ex-President's associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection. 74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.

The new Majority Leader, Senator Charles Schumer, gave an address of ten minutes which, had it not been for McConnell's statement, would be regarded as one of the most remarkable delivered in the Senate in decades. It too is a very important historical document and should be part of the record on History News Network. Yet McConnell, despite knowing that the House Managers had made their case, joined the jury nullification of the ideologists and cynics in his caucus. He resorted to the constitutional argument about not impeaching a former President, an argument that defies common sense and was rejected by most constitutional scholars and voted to acquit the man he knew was guilty.

It was here that the master tactictian McConnell made a blunder of probable long-term significance. In so doing, he passed up a fleeting and superb opportunity to convict Trump, then disqualify him from running for federal office, and thus take the offensive in a political fight to retake the GOP from Trump's inflamed base. Instead, McConnell's denunciation of Trump enraged that Trump base, and confounded what is left of a diminishing number of moderate Republicans. Most importantly it left Trump able to brandish his acquittal and denounce the trial as part of "the witch hunt." Wounded but not politically dead, Trump remained a danger to the remnants of the GOP that had any claim at all to respect the rule of law.

McConnell thus sustained the Faustian bargain made since 2016. In so doing he failed to learn the meaning of the mob's chant "hang Mike Pence," the barbaric calls to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Trump's mocking reference to "Mitch." Trump and his followers will turn on McConnell and the GOP establishment which voted to acquit but shared McConnell's hatred of Trump. Trump and his base will turn on Republican politicians in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona who refused to submit to Trump's threats to overturn the results of a free and fair election. The split in the GOP was going to happen anyway, but now the cynics in touch with reality will enter that battle with the Trumpists unable to say they had used their considerable powers to inflict on him the defeat he deserved.

Such historical moments when forces are aligned as they were on February 12, 2021 do not come often. Though McConnell made all the arguments needed to convict Trump, he blinked at the crucial moment. In so doing, he seized defeat from the jaws of possible victory. Trump's conviction would not have meant the end of Trumpism, but it would have been a severe blow against the past four years of lies and conspiracies. McConnell's failure to act on what he knew was true and to rally what troops he had in the Senate emboldened Trumpists, and the right-wing extremist practitioners of violence with whom they are now in a relationship of mutual benefit. Before February 12, Republican mantras about law and order and respect for the Constitution had become threadbare. After the acquittal, there is no reason to believe anything McConnell and the 42 other Republican Senators for acquittal say about the rule of law now. Their pleas for bipartisanship are a bitter joke.

In Nazi Germany, the Faustian bargain launched by Franz von Papen and Otto von Hindenburg with Hitler ended in Germany's destruction. The clever cynics who thought they could outsmart Hitler, if still alive in 1945, stumbled through the ruins of their country. In numerous works of historical scholarship, our profession has demonstrated that the German conservatives of the 1930s were nowhere near as clever as they thought they were. They too passed up moments when they could have brought the dictator down. After 1933, that tiny number of German conservatives who dared opposed Hitler paid with their lives.

Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators did not live in fear of the Gestapo. On January 6th, Trump endangered their lives but on February 12 their only fear was of possibly losing an election. Yet, on February 12, with really nothing of lasting significance to fear, McConnell refused to use the power of the Constitution and of the United States Senate to convict Trump. He and his fellow partisans combined cowardice and cynicism with what could turn out to be a major strategic blunder. The Faustian bargain had created habits of self-abasement, cynicism and raw self-interest that proved too difficult to shatter.

Jeffrey Herf, Distinguished University Professor, Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park. His essay "The January 6th Assault on Congress and the Fate of the GOP's Faustian Bargain with Trump: Notes from German History," was published in History News Network on January 31, 2021. His book Israel's Moment: International Support and Opposition for Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949 is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Historian: We shouldn't defend democracy 'with half-truths about the past'

We often learn most from people who don't share our worldviews. German Carl Schmitt, a reactionary critic of democracy, provides uncanny insight into the uncivil war of opinion after the 2020 election. Constitutional democracies, Schmitt argues, seek a foundation in legality, that is rule by law, but belief in a state's legitimacy depends on a sense of tradition embodied in myths and symbols.

On January 6 insurrectionists convinced by the lie of voter fraud legitimated breaking the law because they felt that they were, like the liberty-loving Minutemen of Concord and Lexington, protecting the country. The same invocation of the spirit of 1776 animated the Confederacy, which claimed to protect "liberty" while in fact legitimating slavery. After the Union victory, paramilitary white supremacists imagined themselves as Minutemen redeeming the South from a threat to its way of life.

The response of those rightly horrified by the events of January 6 is more complicated. Understanding the threat to democracy by a lawless attack on the symbolic citadel of "the people," they mistakenly conflate rule by law with democracy and rely on myths about the nation's founding after the Revolutionary War and its second founding after the Civil War. For instance, historian Jon Meacham, a frequent media commentator, claims that "the framers intended America's to be a popular, not a legislative, government. The voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers in a parliamentary setting, were to determine the occupancy of the presidency." In fact, nowhere does the Constitution mention a role for votes by the people. Art II, sec 1, 2 of the Constitution leaves it up to each state to decide how to determine electors. "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature, thereof may direct, a Number of Electors."

And yet cries of "un-American" arise when the Arizona state legislature undemocratically proposes a law allowing it to ignore people's votes and appoint electors in a manner perfectly consistent with the Constitution. Similarly, pundits equate unlawful acts of the insurrectionists on January 6 with ones by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, although their challenges to state certifications followed procedures created by an 1887 law still in force. Rather than chauvinistic piety about rule by law, we need to address undemocratic actions enabled by our Constitution and our legal system.

133 years ago constitutional scholar John Burgess criticized the 1887 law for making our flawed system of electing a president worse and therefore producing "a congestion of the body politic until nothing but blood-letting can relieve it." [See more here.] Burgess was prophetic. But he also points to the nation's contradictory past. Like many in the North, as well as the South, he denounced African American suffrage. Nonetheless, he did not have to worry about the Fifteenth Amendment, because it proved ineffectual in protecting Black voters. It is prohibitive, not affirmative. In forbidding states from denying suffrage on the basis of race, it allows other means for suppressing African American and immigrant voters. [See more here.] Unfortunately, partial accounts about the revolutionary change brought about by the constitutional amendments during the nation's second founding distract from the country's need to have an amendment that eliminates legal forms of suppression by affirmatively conferring the right to vote on all citizens eighteen years and older.

The major beneficiary of those partial accounts has been Ulysses S. Grant. Like President Biden, Grant faced the almost insurmountable task of reuniting the country while guaranteeing racial justice. Indeed, commentators, politicians, and media historians, urge Biden to combat domestic terrorists as "Ulysses the Silent" attacked the Ku Klux Klan. Introducing Merrick Garland as his nominee for attorney general, Biden himself praised the Grant administration for creating the Justice Department in 1870 in order to destroy the Klan. What actually happened is a warning, not a model.

Grant did invoke the April 20, 1871, KKK Act to break the back of the Klan temporarily in South Carolina, where his attorney general tried those arrested in federal courts. But success was limited. White supremacists thrived in other states. In South Carolina, most of the Klan's leaders escaped before trial. Furthermore, in the middle of the trials Grant fired his attorney general, most likely pressured by railroad tycoons upset with actions against monopolies. The new attorney general eventually stopped the trials. When ringleaders of the bloody racist massacre in Colfax, Louisiana, on Easter Sunday 1873 appealed to the Supreme Court, they were acquitted in a ruling that paved the way for undermining federal legislation against domestic terrorism. That decision was written by a Chief Justice appointed by Grant and joined by his other appointees. Even worse, in a gesture of national unity, Grant pardoned all Klansmen still in federal prison. [See more here.]

Presidential pardons are part of the Constitution, which also does not forbid a president from pressuring his attorney general. Grant replaced his last of numerous attorney generals the final year of his term during a shuffle in the cabinet when Secretary of War William Belknap was caught selling lucrative positions at Indian trading posts for a profit. Warned of his impending impeachment, Belknap ran to the White House where his friend Grant, without questions, accepted his resignation. The Senate tried Belknap anyway, but he was acquitted because 23 senators, who deemed him guilty, claimed the Senate had no jurisdiction over a private citizen. When, as a citizen, Belknap was indicted in the District of Columbia, Grant intervened and instructed his new attorney general to drop charges, which he did.

Myths about the founders and President Grant cannot restore legitimacy to a democracy in the wake of a second presidential impeachment and acquittal and facing competing demands to unify the country, rebuild the economy, address racial injustice, restore confidence in the presidency and Justice Department, deal with a conservative Supreme Court, and manage a pandemic.

Brook Thomas is Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of English and the Center for Law, Society, and Culture, UC Irvine. His specialty is 19th-century law and literature in the US. He has published six single-authored books including the prize-winning The Literature Of Reconstruction: Not In Plain Black And White (2017), and a case book on Plessy v. Ferguson. A recent podcast on the accuracy and significance of the numerous recent references to Reconstruction in the media and on the floor of Congress is at: https://marktwainstudies.com/mythsofreconstruction/

There's a 'GOP bias inherent in the Electoral College' — and it's another reason to impeach Trump: historian

A friend writes: "I oppose impeaching Trump. Impeachment is the Constitution's procedure for removing a president from office when his/her actions are deleterious to the nation. If the noxious president is no longer in office, the impeachment mechanism is no longer called for."

He adds: "Barring Trump from running again prohibits seventy million people from voting for their candidate of choice. Several score senators do not have the right to overturn the wishes of millions. Any democracy worth anything must give its citizens the right to drive the country off a cliff."

My response:

The point of democracy is to give us good government. To be sure, it's a virtue in itself because it gives people a stake in their government and when it's responsive enhances social trust. But one of its chief virtues is that it is also likelier to give us better results than, say, dictatorships, given that democracies are self-correcting. Though I don't believe that voters are rational actors, when leaders make serious mistakes they are usually thrown out of office. But democracies can be well-designed or badly designed and as a result may not give us good government despite the tendency toward self-correction.

Ours is a case in point. As a result of the undemocratic Senate and the undemocratic Electoral College our system now rewards the GOP. This bias in favor of the GOP inhibits the self-correcting mechanisms. The GOP can fail and still be rewarded with power. Trump came remarkably close to winning re-election despite an unprecedented string of failures because of the GOP bias inherent in the Electoral College. As Andrew Prokop notes, "a shift of just 48,000 votes in AZ, GA, and WI would have resulted in a 269-269 tie." And a tie would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives, which, voting by state, would have given Trump the election.

Given the weaknesses of our system it behooves the Democrats to take steps to remove the threat of a second Trump administration. On this ground alone I'd favor an impeachment trial.

But there are multiple reasons to favor impeachment and conviction.

Impeachment carries two penalties. 1. Removal from office. 2. A ban on holding office in the future. The first is evidently the more serious penalty. That's why it takes a 2/3rds vote in the Senate to convict. The second penalty only takes a simple majority vote in the Senate. But both are included in the Constitution. You have discounted the value of the second feature for some reason, unexplained.

The founders did not say a president is subject to impeachment and conviction except for anything they can get away with during the final months of their term. Yet your approach would in effect amend the Constitution to limit impeachment and conviction in just this manner.

And those final months in a president's term are likely to be the most fraught wherein he is likeliest, if he is so inclined, to break the law and our democracy. For it is just then that he will be fighting for his political life. To let Trump off because he broke faith with his office in the final months of his tenure would set an unfortunate precedent an unscrupulous successor would be sure to take advantage of. Since the GOP is likely to give us another Trump-like figure in the near-future we have to be careful about the precedents we are setting.

The founders fully recognized the usefulness of the impeachment of former officials. As Princeton Professor Keith E. Whittington explained in the Wall Street Journalrecently:

"For the Founders, it would have been obvious that the 'power to impeach' included the ability to hold former officials to account. The impeachment power was imported to America from England, where Parliament impeached only two men during the 18th century, both former officers. No U.S. state constitution limited impeachments to sitting officers, and some allowed impeachment only of former officers."

Finally, should the people vote for a second Trump administration in 2024 and get it as a result of the GOP bias in the Electoral College you would likely see a civil war ensue or at least raise the possibility of one. Certainly, the chances of a civil war would not be zero. Why would you take the risk

Rick Shenkman is the founder of George Washington University's History News Network, and the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books).

Sarah Palin's case against The New York Times is a landmine for the First Amendment: expert

For more than half a century, conservatives have wanted to eradicate New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that is the nation's most important First Amendment case. A trial scheduled for February 1 may give them that opportunity. If the Supreme Court invalidates NYT, federal judges—including the 230 appointed by President Trump—will preside over more libel suits against journalists he calls "the enemy of the people." Those judges can carry out Trump's promise to "open up…libel laws…[and] have people sue you like you've never got sued before."

Anyone who makes factual errors when criticizing government or accusing a person of misconduct could be dragged into court and left destitute by a jury's verdict or legal bills. Public officials with government jobs and public figures—those who are well-known or have entered a public controversy—can win lawsuits that previously would have been unsuccessful.

The NYT ruling is essential to our democracy because it protects discussion of political issues and the fitness of those seeking public office. Justice William Brennan's famous passage in the case exemplifies its significance: "Thus, we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

The case arose when civil rights leaders, clergy, and celebrities purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times in 1960 to protest the treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists by southern authorities and to seek financial support. The ad, with the heading "Heed Their Rising Voices," contained several errors related to the actions of Alabama officials.

L.B. Sullivan was an elected city commissioner in Montgomery who supervised the police department. Although he was not named in the ad, Sullivan claimed that the criticism of the police harmed his reputation, and an Alabama jury awarded $500,000—the full amount Sullivan sought. The jury wanted to send a message to northern media organizations to stay out of the South during the civil rights movement. Similar suits were pending in other southern courts.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the jury award in NYT and required that a public official prove that "the statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." The "actual-malice" standard focuses on what defendants believed and not what they did. Because almost no one will admit they were unsure about the accuracy of their statements before publishing or speaking, it makes uncovering such evidence extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, state and federal courts have upheld numerous jury verdicts in such cases.

Even though NYT serves a vital interest, it is no match for "textualism"—the judicial philosophy that its supporters believe is the only legitimate method of constitutional interpretation. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was the intellectual leader of the textualist movement. His judicial opinions and speeches have been widely influential. Textualism is now so central to conservative jurisprudence that allegiance to it was required of anyone the Trump White House considered for appointment to the federal bench.

Textualists believe that courts must be guided by what the words in the Constitution meant at the time they were written by the founders or when an amendment was proposed and ratified. The Constitution is thus frozen in the 18th century, and judges cannot use the nation's 230 years of experience to support a more enlightened interpretation of constitutional text.

Conservatives ridicule the view that the Constitution can be adapted to changing conditions and values. Justice Scalia said in a speech that the Constitution is "not a living document…it's dead, dead, dead." Textualists believe that if rights—such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment—were not established at the end of the 18th century or when the Constitution was amended, they are not protected today.

The danger is that many of the rights in the original Constitution and later amendments had only symbolic value until judges deciding cases gave them meaning. The First Amendment—which did not protect even mild criticism of government or public officials during the founding era—is an example of how fundamental rights needed time to develop.

Trump-appointed judges

Many judges appointed by Trump were selected because of political connections, not because they were qualified for a prestigious job with lifetime tenure. Judges chosen for their political views and not their knowledge of the law wouldn't be expected to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and other constitutional rights. Their focus will be on implementing conservative policies that legislatures are unable to adopt while pretending to respect the lessons of the founders.

Some Trump nominees had no relevant experience, never litigated a case, could not answer simple legal questions that any competent lawyer would know, and failed to disclose disturbing information on the forms they completed after nomination. Several had strange personal histories that included hunting for ghosts, praising the KKK, claiming that transgender children are "proof that Satan's plan" is working, and supporting the birther controversy about President Obama. Even the most peculiar nominees were approved by the judiciary committee—with no Democratic votes—and if not for embarrassing news reports about their bizarre backgrounds, they would have been confirmed by Republicans in the full Senate.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chair of the judiciary committee, told reporter Bob Woodward for his book Rage that "Some [of Trump's judicial appointees] are a little wacky. Most of them are really good. But a few [are] outliers." Graham recognized that with the removal of the filibuster rule on judicial appointments, the federal courts would be highly partisan: "The problem is when you only need a simple majority [to confirm judges], you don't need to go outside your own party…If you've got to reach across the aisle and pick up 10 [Democratic] votes [in the Senate], you're going to have a different judge than if you don't…the judiciary is going to get far more ideological."

Trump appointed—in addition to three Supreme Court justices—a third of the 850 Article III judges, many of whom are young enough to serve for decades. Only a few presidents have appointed more judges. The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) made judicial appointments such a high priority that there are no circuit court vacancies for the first time in more than 40 years.

The Trump White House, instead of submitting names to the American Bar Association for a nonpartisan evaluation of potential nominees—which presidents had done since Eisenhower—only considered those vetted and approved by the Federalist Society, a conservative and influential organization of former and current public officials, practicing attorneys, law professors, and law students. The Society would have investigated the nominee's background and record to confirm they support textualism and would uphold Republican orthodoxy.

Textualism and the law

Textualists maintain that when the Constitution is treated as an evolving document, the rulings based on that interpretation are illegitimate. Therefore, conservatives are not only justified in reversing such precedents—like NYT—they have an obligation to do so. If someone wants constitutional protection that did not exist in the founding era or when an amendment was ratified, they can change the Constitution. Textualists don't mention that the Constitution is almost impossible to amend in this political climate. It has been modified only twice in the last half century, and one of those amendments was from the founding era.

Almost no precedent is safe. Several Trump-appointed judges refused to say during their confirmation hearings that Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was correctly decided. When the 14th amendment was ratified in 1868, its equal-protection clause was not intended to integrate society or desegregate public schools. Textualists can argue that if Congress wanted African-American and white school children to attend the same schools, the 14th amendment would have said so. To be true to their faith, textualists must conclude that the Warren Court in Brown was creating law beyond what the Constitution required or permitted, and such decisions are to be made by legislatures, not courts.

It isn't just constitutional law that is at stake. Federal judges decide more cases that primarily require statutory interpretation than those involving the Constitution. Inspired by Justice Scalia, textualists hold that congressional "intent"—as expressed in committee reports and in debates on the House and Senate floor—should be ignored; only the text of the statute should govern the way laws are interpreted. If a legislative body does not include every contingency in the statute—even those that could not be anticipated—textualist judges will strike down or so narrowly construe the law as to render it meaningless even when such a ruling ignores its obvious purpose.

Trump's first appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, showed his commitment to statutory textualism when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He criticized the decision by the Department of Labor to reinstate a trucker who was fired for choosing not to freeze to death in subzero weather on the side of a highway. The brakes froze on the trailer Alphonse Maddin was hauling, making it impossible for his truck to move while the trailer was attached. His employer ordered him to stay with the truck and trailer until help arrived. He waited hours in the truck with a broken heater and began to lose consciousness. Fearing for his life, he disconnected the trailer and drove to safety.

Federal law prohibited an employer from firing an employee who "refuses to operate a vehicle because…the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public." Judge Gorsuch argued that Congress did not specifically include the possibility that a trailer's brakes could freeze and immobilize a truck. In Gorsuch's view, since the truck could be driven, Maddin was not entitled to protection under the statute. Two of Judge Gorsuch's colleagues on the court agreed with the department's decision to give Maddin his job back, which was consistent with the long-established principle of deferring to an administrative agency's expertise if a statute does not directly address the circumstances of a case. But Gorsuch was more concerned with textualist purity than Maddin's life or employment. He ruled, in effect, that by not staying with the truck as ordered by his employer, Maddin fired himself. Gorsuch said it was not his job to help Congress write laws more carefully.

After being sworn in as a justice, Gorsuch joked about the case in a speech to the Federalist Society: "Everyone…who's not a lawyer is going to think I just hate truckers…but so be it…In our legal system, judges wear robes, not capes."

The Supreme Court used such an approach to protect employers from gender discrimination lawsuits in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007). The conservative majority created the excuse that Congress did not explicitly say in the law that each paycheck starts the statute-of-limitations clock again. The majority knew that Congress intended to outlaw such discrimination and did not want to set a time limit for bringing a lawsuit that would expire before women could discover the pay disparity. But the majority didn't care about that because they don't think employers should be held accountable for paying women less than men for the same work. Congress was inspired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passionate dissent in Ledbetter and admonished the Court's conservatives by passing the "Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Act," the first bill signed by President Obama in 2009.

Textualism vs. Originalism

Textualism and "original intent"—often referred to as "originalism"—are not the same, although some jurists accept both approaches to statutory and constitutional interpretation. Justice Gorsuch, in a speech to the Federalist Society after his confirmation said, "Tonight I can report, a person can be both a committed originalist and textualist and be confirmed to the Supreme Court." And he added, "Originalism has regained its place and textualism has triumphed and neither is going anywhere on my watch."

Originalism appears to be less harmful to the Constitution because it is utterly impractical. Originalists argue that the "intent" of the framers is what matters when deciding constitutional cases. But whose intent counts: The state legislators who chose the delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787? The convention delegates such as Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, Morris, Mason, Sherman, and others who wrote and debated the Constitution? The authors of The Federalist—Madison, Hamilton, and Jay? The voters who elected the delegates to the ratifying conventions? The delegates at the ratifying conventions?

And what about the Bill of Rights: The members of the House and Senate who proposed what became the first ten amendments to the Constitution? The voters who elected the state legislators who ratified the amendments? The legislators themselves?

Textualists could argue their method of statutory and constitutional interpretation is more reliable than originalism because it is easier to identify and apply. They only have to discover what the words meant at the time and not the views of the many people involved, directly or indirectly, in the writing of the documents. But textualism is not so pure; it shares some of the most troublesome deficiencies of originalism.

When textualists contend that constitutional interpretation must be limited to what the words meant when they were written, the natural question is: How do you know what the writers thought they meant? To determine what they thought requires knowing what they intended them to mean. A speech at a ratifying convention or on the House or Senate floor; a pamphlet or broadside distributed to the public; a letter written by the one of the founders; a newspaper commentary; TheFederalist which was published to win the support of New York voters who were about to elect delegates to the ratifying convention—why do any of those documents conclusively demonstrate how the founders and the public interpreted the text of the Constitution and its amendments? Just because one of the founders made a statement in a letter, even if published, doesn't mean that view was widely shared by other founders or the public.

And what about the Constitution's many general phrases: "due process of law," the "necessary and proper" clause giving Congress powers beyond those listed in the Constitution; the "equal protection" clause? How can originalists—and by implication, textualists—find consensus as to the meaning of those phrases?

Even if we could identify the intent of the people involved in creating our founding documents, why would we want to return to an era when slavery flourished, women had almost no rights, the Bill of Rights provided limited, if any, protection to disfavored groups and individuals, and having property and wealth was often a requirement for public office?

The First Amendment pending crisis

Ironically, the newspaper that had to defend the First Amendment in 1964 is fighting a lawsuit—Palin v. New York Times—that could terminate the actual-malice standard. Former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin sued the newspaper in June 2017 over an editorial published after the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise at a Republican baseball practice. It asked, "Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably." The editorial then stated that before the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six others at a Tucson shopping center parking lot in 2011, "Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs."

The Times quickly issued a correction, explaining that the link between "political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords" wasn't "established," and the graphic showed electoral districts and not people.

James Bennet, author of the essay and editor of the Times editorial page, testified that he included the connection between the PAC ad and the Tucson attack "to make a rhetorical point about the present atmosphere of political anger." Bennet said that he had not read previously published articles in the Times that showed there was no link between the ad and the shooting, nor did he see a similar article that was published in The Atlantic when he was its editor.

The jury and appellate courts will have to decide whether Bennet and the Times either knew what they wrote about Palin was false or recklessly disregarded whether it was false or not—as required by the actual-malice standard. Even if Bennet did not "entertain serious doubts as to the truth" of the editorial—a phrase used by the Supreme Court in St. Amant v. Thompson in 1968—the courts may find that he intentionally ignored available information that would have undermined the defamatory statements, which can be considered actual malice. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Harte-Hanks v. Connaughton that "Although failure to investigate will not alone support a finding of actual malice, the purposeful avoidance of the truth is in a different category."

The textualist undoing of actual malice

Justice Scalia said that if he had been on the Supreme Court in 1964, he would have dissented from the unanimous ruling in NYT because the actual-malice standard did not exist at the time of the nation's founding. In a speech at Wesleyan University in 2012, Justice Scalia said, "There is no doubt that at the time it [the First Amendment] was adopted in 1791, no one thought that this provision invalidated laws against libel—which existed then and have continued to exist ever since. The issue is an easy one…libel laws are constitutional."

Actual malice doesn't just safeguard discussion of politics and government; it protects any defendant sued by a public official or public figure. When women came forward in recent years to tell stories of being harassed, assaulted, and threatened with damage to their careers, some of the accused thought a libel suit might be a way to save their job, vindicate their reputation, and intimidate their accusers. Their lawyers would have told them that unless they could prove the women and the media outlets reporting their stories recklessly disregarded the truthfulness of their statements, they would not win. Without NYT, more plaintiffs would bring such a case, win a jury verdict, and have it upheld on appeal.

No one is as eager to eviscerate NYT as Justice Clarence Thomas. In McKee v. Cosby (2019), Thomas wrote a 14-page concurring opinion supporting the decision not to hear McKee's appeal in her lawsuit against actor Bill Cosby for defamatory statements he made about her. Thomas is one of many conservatives who believes that states should determine their own libel standards and that NYT illegitimately took that authority from them.

This is especially troubling because before NYT, most states allowed punishment for any inaccuracies that could potentially injure reputation. When the First Amendment was adopted, some states even permitted imprisonment and libel suits for truthful speech that criticized public officials or government on the grounds that it leads to a breach of the peace. But that doesn't matter to Thomas: "New York Times [v. Sullivan]and the Court's decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law. Instead of simply applying the First Amendment as it was understood by the people who ratified it, the Court fashioned its own 'federal rule[s]' by balancing the 'competing values at stake in defamation suits.'" And he added, "The states are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm."

The First Amendment is part of our national Constitution, and the fundamental rights it protects should not vary significantly by state. Without NYT providing nationwide standards for public officials and public figures, and with media outlets reaching across state lines, plaintiffs can file lawsuits in almost any jurisdiction hostile to media organizations.

Although all courts must currently follow the requirements of NYT in cases involving public officials and public figures, the Supreme Court allows states much greater flexibility when it comes to private-person plaintiffs. Judges, not juries, decide whether the plaintiff is a public figure or a private person, and it is often a close call. The decision is crucial because in most states, private persons need only show that the publisher or speaker did not exercise reasonable care when making the statements or that someone else would have acted more responsibly. If Trump-appointed judges share his hatred for the media, they will designate plaintiffs to be private persons if there is any basis for doing so, thus greatly increasing their chance of winning a lawsuit.

Those who want to eliminate NYT may believe that Americans will still have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but suddenly everything said and written will be accurate because people will know they can be sued. But as Justice Brennan observed in NYT, "A rule compelling the critic of official conduct to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions—and to do so on pain of libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount—leads to a comparable 'self-censorship.' Allowance of the defense of truth, with the burden of proving it on the defendant, does not mean that only false speech will be deterred."

To Justice Thomas and others who practice textualism and originalism, the First Amendment is stuck in 1791—the year it was ratified. Yet the amendment was appallingly ineffective in protecting unpopular speech during its infancy and for many years after. At least 26 people—mostly newspaper publishers—were prosecuted under the Sedition Act of 1798 for criticizing President Adams and the federal government. Even a congressman from Vermont was imprisoned for four months and fined $1,000 for publishing editorials disparaging the president. Justice Thomas's 18th-century First Amendment may include freedom of the press, but those words were useless until judges began to enforce such rights.

Between 1900 and 1917, hundreds of suffragettes were imprisoned for peacefully demonstrating in support of the right of women to vote. In the fall of 1917, 97 were jailed for picketing outside the White House. They were arrested, convicted, and thrown in disgusting and dangerous prisons. At least 33 were tortured with force-feeding and other physical abuse. One of the leaders, Alice Paul, served seven months behind bars. Justice Thomas's 18th-century First Amendment may include freedom of speech and the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," but its words offered no help to those women. These rights are protected today not because the First Amendment was rewritten, but because society changed and judges began to take them seriously.

If the Supreme Court ends actual malice, it may allow states to adopt it for their courts. But that would likely have to be done by legislatures which have little experience or interest in such laws. It has generally been judges, and not lawmakers, who have protected First Amendment rights. Furthermore, both state legislators and state judges must periodically be elected or retained by voters, and they may not want to bring back NYT if large numbers of their citizens believe media organizations knowingly disseminate "fake news."

It is harmful to the nation and our fundamental rights to treat the Constitution as if it "died" at the end of 18th century. Conservatives claim that judges who find aspirational values in the Constitution are judicial "activists" who disregard the instructions of the founders. Yet, it is textualism and originalism that are dangerous in the hands of judges determined to use the legal system to impose their views on the nation.

The long-overdue end of the 'serious' conservative

One of the challenges in trying to understand what has happened to a conservative movement that has clearly become detached from reality, is that for decades we've heard that some conservatives needed to be taken seriously as intellectuals. These chosen conservatives are often anointed as "serious" due their academic pedigree (usually Ivy Leaguers). But the equating of impressive degrees with intellectual seriousness has an especially bad track record for conservatives. Time and again when it comes to the integrity, honest analysis, and basic grasp of facts that are the basic standards of any "serious" scholar, they have failed.

Let's make a list of today's conservatives who currently get the "serious" designation by virtue of their elite education and for not being Louis Gohmert. In light of last week's conspiracy-driven, right-wing attack on Congress, Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz stand out for their unrelenting intellectual dishonesty. Both Hawley (Yale, JD) and Cruz (Princeton BA, Harvard JD) took to the floor of the Senate just hours after right-wing collaborators had vandalized the Capitol and threatened their colleagues out of an unmoored conviction that the 2020 election had been stolen. Multiple recounts, election certifications, and dozens of court cases later, these two Ivy Leaguers shamelessly continued to raise "concerns" about the election's basic fairness. Yet, when Hawley lost his book contract on the dangers of "big tech" with Simon & Schuster over the weekend, the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt expressed a hesitant reservation at a publisher deciding it didn't like the author instead of the manuscript.

Up until that point, Simon & Schuster "obviously believed" that Hawley's manuscript had "merit" and Hiatt assumes that it would have made "a useful contribution to public debate on a vital subject." Especially after Hawley's surreally dark turn last Wednesday night, why should we assume that a "useful contribution" was forthcoming from him on any debate? Hawley had led investigations into Google and Facebook, to be sure. But certainly part of the answer is that Hawley was seen a "serious" conservative. Ana Marie Cox's recent Washington Post article on Ted Cruz meanwhile stands out for her refreshing willingness to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, Cruz, despite his reputation for smarts, is "devastatingly average." Mimi Swartz has also started to peel the protective cover of seriousness back. Cruz used "his pseudo-intellectualism and his Ivy League pedigree as a cudgel." And now, she adds, "Any decent soul might ask: If you are so smart, how come you are using that fancy education to subvert the Constitution you've purported to love? Shouldn't you have known better?" Assuming that an Ivy League degree translates into conservatives knowing better has been the problem all along. Swartz adds correctly that Cruz "did know better; he just didn't care." And because he was tabbed as a "serious" conservative, he didn't have to.

Senator Tom Cotton (Harvard BA, JD) stood out last Wednesday by not joining his fellow Ivy Leaguers in their objections on the Senate floor; but he'd already shown his flair for dangerous hyperbole and distortion last summer when the New York Times ran the Senator's opinion piece calling for the troops to march on Black Lives Matter protestors. Cotton cherry-picked the most extreme examples of unrest to malign the overwhelmingly peaceful protests happening on the streets. As any scholar will tell you, cherry-picking the evidence is both lazy and untrustworthy. Not a good look for someone posing as a "serious" conservative.

And one could go on. What really connects these elite-educated Senators is precisely their lack of seriousness intellectually. It's not new, however. Going back to the 1960s, alarmed that the conservative movement was falling into the grips of the delusional John Birch Society, William F. Buckley (Yale, BA) was anointed as that generation's "serious" conservative. While Buckley was public intellectual rather than an office-holder, his political influence was considerable and timely for the conservative movement. In particular, Buckley disavowed the Birchers, whose view of the world was rife with conspiracy theories and seething anti-communism. Some Birchers were convinced that Dwight Eisenhower himself was a communist plant, so the bar was pretty low here for a "serious" conservative to clear. The soft bigotry of low expectations, I guess. But Buckley also wrote in 1957 that the white South was right to oppose the civil rights movement because, he wrote, "for the time being, it is the advanced race." This was, he continued, "a fact . . . that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists." While over his long career Buckley did continue to reexamine the state of conservatism – indeed he had grave reservations about the war in Iraq – his entry into the ranks of "serious" conservatism was by virtue of his patrician background and elite education. Once in, like the "serious" conservatives of today, he had permission to be either wildly wrong or occasionally right.

In between Buckley's heyday and the current crop of Ivy League-right wingers, we had the era of William Bennett and Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 1990s. Bennett (Williams College BA, University of Texas PhD, Harvard JD) harrumphed his way to becoming the nation's high school principal, or officially, the Secretary of Education, under Ronald Reagan. In the early 1990s he published The Book of Virtues: A Treasure of Great Moral Stories. It started with a quote from Plato's Republic, and invoked Aristotle in the first paragraph, so you knew it was serious. The book included lessons on the importance of saying "please" and a Laura Richards poem, "In which we which learn to sit still." That this was heralded as an "important" book can only be attributed to the fact that Bennett had earned his stripes as a "serious" conservative. Newsweek practically sighed with gratitude: "Maybe this is just what the country needs."

And then there was Newt Gingrich (PhD, Tulane). After having been denied tenure at West Georgia College, Gingrich eventually won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1978. He injected into the increasingly conservative Republican Party the slashing political style we all recognize now. Democrats were not simply the opponent, they were "radical" and "traitors." Pundits and columnists of the 1990s raised their collective eyebrow over Gingrich's style even as they soberly reminded their readers that Gingrich had a doctorate and had been a college professor. A 1995 New York Times profile noted that he compared himself to, "Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Churchill, and De Gaulle." But it also noted that while Gingrich "came to congress in 1979 as a 35 year-old history professor," he often used "hyperbole, absolutes and distortion to make his points, and he can be careless with facts and numbers." While perhaps these are just tools of the trade in politics, they make one unseriousas a scholar. But Professor Gingrich has dined out for years now on his farcical reputation as a "serious" conservative.

Like Gingrich, today's elite-educated conservative politicians continue to get a pass when it comes to the basic ethical standards of real scholars, especially the moral obligation to be true to the evidence and facts. Ironically, toward the end of that long day of sedition last week, this principle was articulated poignantly by another conservative, one known more for his religion and wealth than his academic credentials. Mitt Romney (Harvard, JD/MBA), looking exhausted and shaken, pleaded with his fellow Republican senators, "The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth." Sadly, Hawley, Cruz, Cotton, et al., will likely continue to spread lies to keep their conservative base shored up. Their seriousness lies in the danger of their politics, but they themselves are not "serious" conservatives.

Charles J. Holden is a professor of History at St. Mary's College of Maryland. His most recent book is Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump's America (UVA Press, 2019), co-authored with Zach Messitte and Jerald Podair.

Trump's pardoned allies may not be 'safe' as they think: legal scholar

The Constitution endows the President with the "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States." Pardons have generally been granted after conviction and sentencing, but since Ford pardoned Nixon, there is precedent for pardoning someone who has not even been charged with a crime. Lawyers call this a "pre-emptive pardon." But is any kind of pardon valid when riddled with corruption? The question would appear to answer itself.

A close analogy would be a contract with the government infected with a conflict of interest because the procurement officer's daughter's father-in-law owns a stake in the counter-party. Lawyers would say that such a contract is void ab initio, lawyerspeak for void and of no legal effect.

Trump recently pardoned 26 individuals. Among them were the four paid assassins of 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys 8 and 11. The four assassins worked for an outfit called Blackwater. Blackwater's guiding spirit is Erik Prince, a close Trump ally and the brother of his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Michelle Goldberg, writing in the New York Times, called the Blackwater war crimes pardons the "most disgusting." Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska called the pardons "rotten to the core."

Included in the spate of pardons is a convicted Trump family member (his daughter's father-in law), and three convicted political cronies, who would be prime candidates to testify against him should the Russia probe get new legs after Trump leaves office.

More pardons are strongly rumored to be in the on-deck circle in the final days of the Trump administration. Trump may pardon Julien Assange, the guiding spirit of WikiLeaks, who knows whether someone associated with Trump gave him a trove of emails, which the Russians hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the private servers of Hillary Clinton. Also on the pardon horizon are Trump's older children, his lawyer and close associate Rudy Giuliani, as well as the big enchilada, Trump himself.

But are the pardons void from the start when corrupt, and intended to abuse public power for the private benefit of the President? I say private benefit, because the triumvirate of pardon recipients, Manafort, Flynn and Stone, are potential witnesses against Trump after he leaves office. And then there is the family member and the political cronies.

The Supreme Court held in 1878 in Throckmorton v. United States that "fraud vitiates everything." By "fraud," the Court did not mean the kind of phony fraud Trump and his lawyers are alleging is sufficient to overturn the election That's a nice try. The Supreme Court meant fraud established by clear and convincing evidence solidly grounded in factual support. The principle that fraud vitiates all is a venerable one, and has been reaffirmed over centuries of English and American law. Fraud would embrace within its bosom corruption and conflict of interest.

Suppose a President corruptly pardoned someone. Suppose a President accepted a bribe in exchange for a pardon. The Constitution says that bribery is a "high crime and misdemeanor" for which a President can be impeached and removed from office. The President could be removed, but would the pardon be good? I would argue not, and so would many lawyers I know. Such a pardon would be a fraud on the Constitution he swore to "preserve, protect and defend."

The Constitution also defines treason as another "high crime and misdemeanor" for which a President could be impeached and removed, so could a presidential pardon of the President's confederates in a treason conspiracy conceivably stand? I would argue not, and so would many lawyers I know.

Corruption is defined as betraying a public trust for personal benefit. Isn't the pardoning of a potential witness against you, a corrupt act by a President? Or pardoning a close relative? Need a personal benefit be a cash payment, or can it also be something else of personal value? The act of pardoning a potentially cooperating witness may in itself be an obstruction of justice even if the pardon is valid. But isn't the pardon null and void under the doctrine of "fraud vitiates everything?"

If the President pardons someone corruptly, he may in contemplation of law be really pardoning himself. Here, there is no clear authority because no President has ever tried it before. But limitations on self-pardon come from a number of legal sources.

First, there is the venerable English principle, which requires no discussion that "no man shall be the judge in his own cause." And certainly not Donald Trump.

Then, the Constitution speaks of the President's "power to grant reprieves and pardons." Madison and Hamilton could have used the words "confer" or "give", had they wanted to, but they chose the word "grant." Under settled legal definitions, the term "grant" comprehends "everything that is granted or passed from one to another." Napoleon may have crowned himself emperor, but the President of the United States cannot "grant" a pardon to himself.

In addition, the Constitution specifically bars the President from using the pardon power to prevent his own impeachment and removal. It adds that any official removed through impeachment remains fully subject to criminal prosecution.

The provisions, read together, would make no sense if the president could pardon himself because if he did, he would not be subject to criminal prosecution after impeachment, the very remedy the Constitution explicitly preserves.

Are self-pardons OK? How about unlimited preemptive pardons? The two questions may seem unrelated, but they are not. Presidents who assume they can pardon any and all federal crimes they themselves may have committed while in office will know from the time of their inauguration that they are above the law, not the servant of the law. The Supreme Court has rejected this argument whenever it has been presented.

Curiously, almost all the pundits, constitutional lawyers, and members of the professoriate are laying down their arms, largely conceding that the President has broad powers to pardon anyone in the world, with the possible exception of himself. But are they giving too much away?

Of course, the issue of whether corrupt pardons stick, will only arise if Biden's Attorney General tries to indict a pardoned wrongdoer. But don't rest so easy, Manafort, Stone and Flynn. And, don't be so certain, Donald Trump, either. You may not be so safe as you think.

James D. Zirin, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor, is the author of Plaintiff in Chief-A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.

Is the Republican Party fascist? An expert explains the 7 themes that dominate fascism movements

Writing in the Washington Post four years ago, journalist Michael Kinsley gave this blunt assessment of the man about to become president:

"Donald Trump," Kinsley wrote, "is a fascist."

Four years later, it's fair to ask: Is the Republican Party fascist?

It's an incendiary question. It's also a serious one. Even after the assault on the U.S. Capitol, eight Senate Republicans and 138 Republican members of the House of Representatives still voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election. It is just the latest example of a party that is well to the right of most conservative parties in the democratic world.

That alone wouldn't make the Grand Old Party fascist. The word itself is hard to characterize. As one of Adolf Hitler's biographers has put it, "trying to define 'fascism' is like trying to nail jelly to the wall."

But it's also real, as I learned working for an English-language newspaper in Rome in the mid-1980s. There, I attended a neo-fascist rally in the Piazza del Popolo complete with searchlights and elderly men, all wearing the same berets, a sign, my interpreter told me, that they once belonged to Benito Mussolini's infamous Blackshirts.

While no two fascist movements are entirely alike, during fascism's heyday in the 1920s and 30s, they shared several common themes. All of those themes are present in today's Republican Party.

Fascists are anti-democratic

All inter-war fascist movements took part in elections with one goal in mind: to destroy democracy and create a one-party state.

That's happening today in Poland, in Hungary, in Turkey.

Here, it is the idea that only Republicans can legitimately win at the ballot box. While this goes to the heart of the attempt to overturn November's presidential election, the claim isn't new.

The same was said of Barack Obama's elections (he wasn't really born in this country) and Bill Clinton's victories (he only won because of Ross Perot's third-party candidacies). If the elections aren't legitimate, neither are the presidencies. The same strategy will be used to undermine Joe Biden.

More than that, Republicans believe only they deserve to win. As far back as 1984, Ronald Reagan declared the GOP is "America's party.''

Such thinking leads in one direction. If Republicans are "America's party" then Democrats are the "anti-America party." From there it's a small step to believing that only Republicans can legitimately win at the ballot box, that Democrats only win by cheating. If saving the country from such a party means resorting to strategies like voter suppression — or violence — so be it.

Never mind that this turns the American experiment in self-government on its head. If democracy means anything, it means your side sometimes loses.

That simple fact ought to be clear to every American. Yet it, and Wednesday's attempted insurrection, did not stop Congressional Republican diehards from voting to reject the electoral votes of several states for no reason other than the fact that they didn't like the outcome of the presidential race.

Fascists attract followers with the "big lie"

For Mussolini the big lie was the "mutilated victory" after World War I, a stain that would be wiped out by establishing an Italian empire in the Mediterranean.

For Adolf Hitler the big lie was the "stab-in-the-back," that the "November criminals" caused Germany's defeat in the same war, a stain that would be wiped out by getting rid of the Weimar Republic.

For Trump one big lie isn't enough. He has two of them.

Trump's first big lie was what he called "American carnage," a fantasy America overrun by crime, drugs and illegal immigrants.

Whether the crisis is real or not is beside the point. The national rebirth, the liberation will be achieved by one man: the party's leader. He, and he alone will restore the nation to greatness. Or, as Trump declared: "I alone can fix it."

Trump's second big lie is that he won a landslide in the 2020 election — a victory that a new batch of "November criminals" has conspired to deny him and his followers. That was the message of his "Save America" rally on Wednesday, which immediately preceded the attack on Congress.

However, this comparison involves more than individuals. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler could have come to power without the help of established conservative politicians. Both men were tolerated because they brought with them large numbers of voters for whom these older parties had lost any appeal. Once in office, these politicians reasoned, the fascist leader wouldn't know what to do. He would be their prisoner. Meantime, they could draw from his well of new voters to hold onto power. As one right-wing leader said of Hitler: "We are hiring him."

The bargain made by Italian and then German, conservatives was clear: They chose the fascist option. They knew what they were doing, and they did it anyway.

That same reasoning led Republicans like Mitch McConnell to back Trump's bid for the White House. The "adults in the room" would keep him in line. They didn't, and they couldn't.

Even with Trump headed out the door, the same cynicism explains why congressional Republicans jumped on board the effort to reject Biden's legitimate victory — and why some stayed on board even as a pro-Trump mob forced them to shelter in place and then flee the House and Senate chambers. Since more than a few of them have their own presidential ambitions, they don't really want to keep Trump in the White House. They do want to keep his voters, so they can replace him. That is why Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley chose to stick with their protest of the Electoral College vote.

To be fair, some Republicans have stood up to Trump's subversion of democracy. Unsurprisingly, however, their numbers grow the further away they are from the center of national power. While local elections officials bravely carried out their responsibilities, while state officials refused to "find" votes that would tip the results in Trump's favor, some Congressional Republicans also refused to go along with this blatant power grab. Most striking was the decision of former Republican defense secretaries who joined their Democratic counterparts to warn against use of the U.S. military to thwart the will of the American people.

Yet, these examples at the federal level have been few and some are "profiles in courage" only for the most opportunistic of reasons in the Republican civil war that is sure to come.

Fascists celebrate violence

Mussolini was handed power in Italy thanks to the violence and general chaos brought on by his paramilitary Blackshirts. Hitler's stormtroopers used the same tactics in Germany.

The Proud Boys, along with other right-wing groups pledged to back Trump, have not yet become the equivalent of the Squadristi or the Sturmabteilung. And Trump boasting that he would like to "punch" protestors at his rallies may have once seemed like little more than preening.

But these appeals to violence are dangerous. Republicans have done nothing, practically speaking, to stand up to them, even as the level of violence around Trump rallies escalated.

There is an equally disturbing parallel development. As violence spiraled out of control in early 1920s Italy, the police and army moved toward collusion with the Blackshirts in their battles with opponents.

Here, most local and state police officers faithfully carry out their duties every day, not knowing if they will come home that night. Some don't. Capitol Hill Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, died at the hands of Trump supporters while he defended this nation's elected leaders.

Yet around the country, others in law enforcement have shown an affinity for right-wing groups, particularly a shared antipathy toward equal justice protestors. More troubling are reports of growing infiltration of police agencies by the far right.

Whether because of this embrace or because they misperceive the threat, local and state law enforcement authorities seldom have taken action against right-wing paramilitaries, even in the notorious invasion of Michigan's statehouse last year. Escalating provocations went unchecked. The contrast between that and the treatment meted out to often peaceful demonstrators is too obvious to ignore, and was crystallized by the ineffectual preparation for and response to Wednesday's assault — which, it bears repeating, was a violent attempt to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty.

Fascists reject established values and objective facts

Fascists dismiss notions like rationalism, egalitarianism, and scientific enquiry — in short, a fact-based world.

The examples of Trump breaking norms and rejecting reality when it suits him are so numerous that there's no point rehearsing them. What's surprising is that anyone has been surprised at how the rest of the GOP was so quick to parrot what Trump aide Kellyanne Conway infamously called "alternative facts."

The rot was evident in the earlier George W. Bush administration, when an aide told writer Ron Suskind that Republicans no longer inhabit the "reality-based community."

"That's not the way the world really works anymore," this aide told Suskind in 2002, "and when we act, we create our own reality."

The problem with this thinking, of course, is that reality — whether it's global warming, or a pandemic, or the results of an election — cannot be wished away.

Fascists have no time for women's rights

Women are crucial to the fascist ideal as wives of virile fascist men and as the bearers of the next generation of fascist boys and girls. But as for equality between the sexes? Forget it.

Fascist states in the 1920s and 1930s classified single women as second-class citizens. Married couples were pressured to have large families; married couples without children had to pay a tax penalty. Mussolini's Italy outlawed contraception, and both his regime and Hitler's banned abortion. Nazis called the operation "racial treason."

Of course, not all abortion opponents are fascists. But all fascists oppose abortion.

The point, again, is that, with the exception of Poland's Law and Justice party, today's GOP is an extremist outlier when it comes to the issue of women's rights among western conservative parties. The same is true of both Law & Justice and the Republicans when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

Fascists abandon their mass of followers once in power

Although fascists build their movements on the backs of middle- and working-class voters, they're quick to abandon them in favor of alliances with the nation's elites: business leaders, bankers, etc. They will still pay lip service to their base; the demands of their new friends, though, come first.

Mussolini attracted support from industrialists such as the auto giant Fiat, and the tire manufacturer Pirelli. The chemical giant I.G. Farben and other German industrialists quickly fell in line shortly after Hitler came to power. In return, both men guaranteed a workforce unprotected by labor unions and one that could be harshly disciplined.

Republicans are long practiced at claiming to champion "Main Street" while their policies overwhelmingly benefit Wall Street, often to the detriment of the "real Americans" they claim to represent.

The 2017 tax cut, the only substantive legislative achievement of Trump's presidency, is a case in point. Just a year earlier, he had promised to cut the taxes of working Americans at the expense of the wealthy. What Americans got was the biggest corporate tax cut in their history at the price of an additional $1.5 trillion of debt over 10 years.

Fascists thrive in a power vacuum

No fascist movement achieves power without help from its opponents. During the inter-war years, men and women were drawn to the fascists once they decided that politicians were more interested in their own petty squabbles. They were either unable or, worse, unwilling to solve the threats plaguing their lives of ordinary people, climaxing with the Great Depression.

The pull of the far right is evident, today, and so are many of the same problems: joblessness; a widening gap between rich and poor; crime; racial and ethnic tensions; poor health care and educational opportunities; threats from across the globe (then, the march to another world war; now, a pandemic).

Republicans could work with the incoming Biden administration to deal with these crises and restore faith in American democracy. Instead, they seem bent on further undermining that faith, thinking it will set them up to grab power later on.

Before this past week, too many in the GOP seemed too willing to choose the fascist option. Now they have seen what it looks like and where it leads. The question Republicans must answer is simple: Will they choose fascism anyway?

Here's the psychology behind election denial

Surveys taken several days after the presidential election show that most Republicans believe Trump really won the election. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll reported on November 18, fifteen days after the presidential election, that 52% of Republicans thought Trump won. Later surveys indicated that between 70% and 80% of Republicans do not buy reports of Biden's victory. They think the election was rigged and claim enough fraud occurred to tip the balance.

Why do so many Republicans refuse to acknowledge overwhelming evidence that confirms Joe Biden's victory? Millions of Republicans continue to accept myths about a stolen election. Facts do not influence their judgment. Evidence does not shake beliefs.

Obviously, the President and the national media influenced the thinking of many Republicans. Donald Trump frequently asserted that he won. Trump insisted that a mysterious disappearance of ballots and manipulation of tallies indicate fraud. Commentators on Fox News, Newsmax, and other media back the president's specious claims. But there may be an explanation from the field of psychology that explains defiance of the facts as well.

University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson cited the idea when pointing to a rumor that spread across the Internet in 2011. The message claimed the world would end at 6 PM on May 21, 2011. After the projected date passed without a calamity, several people refused to recognize they'd been duped. "How many folks acknowledge that they were mistaken when the ensuing facts stare them in the face?" Peterson asked. Some do but many do not, he stated. "People will go to great lengths to maintain consistency among their beliefs, even when they prove to be blatantly wrong."

Christopher Peterson based this interpretation on research by a famous psychologist who conducted groundbreaking investigations in the 1950s. Leon Festinger developed the concept of Cognitive Dissonance, which suggested why some people hold firmly to beliefs when confronted with contradictory evidence. An investigation that helped launch his theory related to a group of people that believed a Chicago woman's prophesy that a great flood would destroy the world on December 21st. When the disaster did not occur, many followers did not acknowledge they had been misled. They accepted the cult leader's explanation that God spared them because of their devotion, commitment, and action. Rather than change their minds, those true believers became more intensely faithful. They attempted to persuade others, trying to broaden membership in the cult.

Leon Festinger followed up this study (published in a book, When Prophesy Fails) with several experiments that demonstrated the significance of Cognitive Dissonance. When confronted with contradictory information, Festinger observed, individuals often feel uncomfortable. Their personal beliefs or hopes are contradicted by hard facts. People reduce that dissonance (inconsistency) by avoiding situations or information that intensifies their discomfort. Especially when individuals have deep convictions and take significant actions in support of them, they are reluctant to question cherished ideas. If they are associated with a large group of people committed to the belief, their fidelity often becomes more severe. They find comfort in numbers.

Cognitive Dissonance appears to be a factor in the persistence of belief and loyalty displayed by many Republicans despite hard facts that indicate Joe Biden's substantial victories in the Electoral College and the popular vote. Over a period of four years, members of Trump's base enthusiastically accepted untruths disseminated by the admired leader. They were not inclined to challenge Trump's controversial statements and misrepresentations.

Now, after Trump's stunning defeat at the polls, they are hearing the president and his enablers on television, radio, and the Internet claiming information reported in the national media is false. To accept facts reported outside the partisan bubble can, indeed, produce the kind of emotional discomfort Festinger described. Many Republicans are acting in ways Festinger would predict. When dealing with the clash between internal beliefs and external realities, they adhere to beliefs.

Furthermore, as Festinger showed, Trump's hard-core supporters discover comfort in numbers. They proselytize, hoping to expand the size of their group and build an impression that favored ideas enjoy widespread acceptance. During the weeks of extensive media attention to Trump's fruitless legal and rhetorical efforts to deny Biden's victory, true believers among the president's followers tried to shore up their cause. They shared favorite reports on websites about supposed mischief in the tabulation of ballots, trying to legitimize claims that Trump and his enablers had been making in the national media.

Psychology cannot provide all the answers to the intriguing question of why so many Republicans refuse to change their minds in the face of abundant factual evidence that contradicts their ideas about the presidential election. But insights developed long ago by Leon Festinger and other social scientists may explain, to some degree, why this puzzling behavior occurs.

What was the worst pardon ever? This historian says you'll be surprised

Political Pundits and television talking heads have been speculating widely and wildly about who Donald Trump will pardon before he leaves office on January 20, 2021. Will he pardon Rudy Giuliani? Paul Manafort? Steve Bannon? His children? Himself?

It is customary for an outgoing President to grant 11th hour pardons, sometimes to surprising recipients. But Donald Trump is anything but customary, and thus that pardon-guessing game offers a goldmine of interesting and in some cases alarming speculation regarding who and why.

This Christmastime gift giveaway shows us just how valuable a presidential get-out-of-jail card can be. Plus it gives a president opportunities to accomplish multiple personal and political goals.

Of course, not all presidential pardons are created equal. To be sure, justice and mercy are worthy and occasional goals. But the end-of-term pardons often reveal other, less savory objectives. Some pardons seem to be given in exchange for money (directly or as tax-free donations to a presidential library fund or other cause of interest for the outgoing president), some to settle scores, some to reward partisan loyalists.

The president's pardon power is broad and derives from the U.S. Constitution. The only two areas where the pardon power is forbidden are a) in cases of impeachment; and b) for state, rather than federal, offenses. The question of a pardon prior to an indictment or finding of guilt was decided in the case of the Nixon pardon in 1974, when Gerald Ford granted his predecessor a "full, free, and absolute pardon" even before Nixon was charged formally with a crime (he was, however, named an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a criminal case that landed several people in his administration in jail).

The intentions of the Framers of the Constitution gave the newly invented president the pardon power to ensure justice and, as Alexander Hamilton noted a few years after the adoption of the Constitution, "restore domestic tranquility of the commonwealth." But not every Founder was in support of giving the president this absolute power. George Mason, a convention delegate from Virginia, warned that a president might "make dangerous use of it" by pardoning crimes in which he might be a co-conspirator.

The early pardons were indeed used to ensure mercy and to quell hostility towards the new government, which was in the early stages of gaining legitimacy. But it wasn't long before the pardon power met with controversy.

James Buchanan, the president who presided over the pre-civil war breakup of the union, pardoned Brigham Young and other Mormons who had been involved in revolutionary acts against the government in the Utah territory. Buchanan was justly concerned that Young and the Mormons intended to break away from the U.S. and form their own "theocratic nation." As part of a compromise, Buchanan delivered pardons and Young and his followers ceased their revolutionary activities.

Just after the Civil War, Andrew Johnson issued a Christmas Day 1868 pardon to most Southerners. Johnson wanted to go easy on the Confederates, while members of Congress called for punishment against the rebels. To make matters worse, Johnson pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, who helped John Wilkes Booth escape. It all became too much, a great backlash occurred, and Johnson lost virtually all support from Congress en route to being the first impeached President.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding pardoned Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. Debs had run for president several times, even getting nearly a million votes in 1920, but called on Americans to resist the draft in World War I. Debs was imprisoned and even ran for president from prison, his fifth and final run at the White House. Harding granted Debs a full pardon, which ran against popular opinion.

On Christmas Eve 1971, Richard Nixon pardoned labor boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had been convicted of fraud and bribery. Nixon was trying to woo labor voters to the Republican Party, and openly courted Teamsters prior to his 1972 bid for reelection. Hoffa disappeared four years later following a meeting with known members of the mob. In 1982 he was legally declared dead.

To many, Gerald Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon ranks as the worst ever. Ford was suspected of agreeing to a deal with Nixon that called for Nixon to resign in exchange for a pardon. Over time, the consensus view is that there was actually no deal, and Ford granted Nixon a pardon to both "get Watergate behind us," and out of concern for the health of the former president.

Other modern questionable pardons include Jimmy Carter's pardon for all those who evaded the draft during Vietnam War, Bill Clinton's pardon for his half-brother Roger, who was convicted on drug charges, Clinton's controversial pardon of donor Marc Rich, who had been convicted of tax fraud (Rich's ex-wife was a mega-donor to the Democratic Party), George W. Bush's pardon of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief-of-staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who had been convicted of perjury and obstruction for lying about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Barack Obama's pardoning of Private Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of releasing classified documents, and Donald Trump's pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was an anti-immigrant Arizona official who supervised harsh treatment of immigrant detainees under inhumane conditions. Other notable Trump pardons include one for Mike Flynn, his National Security Advisor, who lied under oath, and former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of committing war crimes.

The only person NOT to accept a presidential pardon was George Wilson, who in 1829 was found guilty of robbery of the mail. Without giving an explanation, Wilson refused the pardon. The Supreme Court finally rendered a judgment on this and ruled that it was Mr. Wilson's right to reject a pardon. He was executed by hanging not long afterward.

By the numbers, modern presidents have varied widely in the number of pardons they granted. FDR (who was elected four times) granted the most (2,819). His successor Harry Truman was also pardon-happy, issuing 1,913. Ike granted 1,110. From then on, presidents greatly reduced the number of pardons granted. In descending order, Kennedy issued 472, Clinton 396, Reagan 393, Ford 382, Obama 212, GW Bush 189, and GHW Bush 74.

Perhaps the most intriguing pardon was by Harry Truman, who in 1952 commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo, who tried to assassinate Truman over the issue of Puerto Rican independence.

Is Donald Trump contemplating, and could he issue, a self-pardon? On June 14, 2018 he announced "I have the absolute right to pardon myself." But can he do so legally? It is unclear, as no president has ever issued a self-pardon (none felt the great need to), so it has never been tested in court. The two central problems of a self-pardon are 1) that it allows someone to be the judge in his own case; and 2) that it puts a president above the law. A self-pardon violates both of these essential elements of our jurisprudence. The closest thing we have to a judicial precedent stems from 1974, when the Department of Justice issued a memorandum on this question. The acting Deputy Attorney General Mary C. Lawton asserted that a president could not issue a self-pardon. Such memoranda are considered in the Department of Justice to have the force of law. Thus, under current ruling, President Trump could not issue himself a pardon. Thus one can answer the question by saying that the President absolutely, unequivocally, probably can't issue a self-pardon.

A pardon for family members is another matter altogether. There seems no legal reason why he couldn't (but many legal and moral reasons why he shouldn't) give "the best Christmas present ever" to his family: a full, free, and absolute pardon!

Would a Trump self-pardon be the worst pardon ever? Probably, but until and if Trump does give himself a pardon, we would argue that the all-time worst presidential pardon ever was granted by George H.W. Bush to former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger was about to face trial in the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, where Bush had served as Reagan's vice president. Part of the case against Weinberger involved the use of entries from his diary relating to the making of decisions that led to illegal activity in both Iran (selling arms to terrorists) and with the Contras (illegally funding a rebellion against the government of Nicaragua). Vice President Bush had already testified under oath that he had no knowledge of these activities, but Weinberger's diaries said otherwise. They contained material that deeply implicated Bush in the decisions, and could have been used to put the former VP on trial for perjury. On Christmas Eve 1992 (Christmas eve is a very popular time for Presidents to issue pardons – for obvious reasons), Bush granted Weinberger a pardon. Thus, in pardoning Weinberger, Bush was able to keep is activities secret, and in effect give himself a pardon. Was this the first presidential self-pardon? In a way, yes.

The way to end the abuse of presidential pardons is to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding self-pardons and pardons for a president's family members. One might also pass an amendment allowing the Congress 30 days to vote approving a presidential pardon with a majority of both Houses having the ability to prevent a pardon that seems to them inappropriate. Pardons do have a positive role to play. But their checkered history calls upon us to make a few minor adjustments to move closer to the ideal.

The horrifying American roots of Nazi eugenics

Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a co-called "Master Race."

But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics movement's campaign for ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.

California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the Twentieth Century's first decades, California's eugenicists included potent but little known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate and Polytechnic benefactor Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, as well as members of the California State Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stamford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics' racist aims.

Stanford president David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood" in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.

In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.

Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics movement came from California's quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as the Pasadena-based Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations--which functioned as part of a closely-knit network--published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and propagandized for the Nazis.

Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the Victorian age. In 1863, Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, theorized that if talented people only married other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton's ideas were imported into the United States just as Gregor Mendel's principles of heredity were rediscovered. American eugenic advocates believed with religious fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas, corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.

In an America demographically reeling from immigration upheaval and torn by post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early twentieth century. Elitists, utopians and so-called "progressives" fused their smoldering race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They reinvented Galton's eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent: populate the earth with vastly more of their own socio-economic and biological kind--and less or none of everyone else.

The superior species the eugenics movement sought was populated not merely by tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to lifelong segregation and sterilization programs to kill their bloodlines. The grand plan was to literally wipe away the reproductive capability of those deemed weak and inferior--the so-called "unfit." The eugenicists hoped to neutralize the viability of 10 percent of the population at a sweep, until none were left except themselves.

Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 "Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder's Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population." Point eight was euthanasia.

The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in America was a "lethal chamber" or public locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used textbook, Applied Eugenics, which argued, "From an historical point of view, the first method which presents itself is execution… Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated." Applied Eugenics also devoted a chapter to "Lethal Selection," which operated "through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency."

Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to forty percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Other doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect.

Nonetheless, with eugenicide marginalized, the main solution for eugenicists was the rapid expansion of forced segregation and sterilization, as well as more marriage restrictions. California led the nation, performing nearly all sterilization procedures with little or no due process. In its first twenty-five years of eugenic legislation, California sterilized 9,782 individuals, mostly women. Many were classified as "bad girls," diagnosed as "passionate," "oversexed" or "sexually wayward." At Sonoma, some women were sterilized because of what was deemed an abnormally large clitoris or labia.

In 1933 alone, at least 1,278 coercive sterilizations were performed, 700 of which were on women. The state's two leading sterilization mills in 1933 were Sonoma State Home with 388 operations and Patton State Hospital with 363 operations. Other sterilization centers included Agnews, Mendocino, Napa, Norwalk, Stockton and Pacific Colony state hospitals.

Even the United States Supreme Court endorsed aspects of eugenics. In its infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough." This decision opened the floodgates for thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes's words in their own defense.

Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German officials and scientists.

Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler's race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.

During the '20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany's fascist eugenicists. In Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. "There is today one state," wrote Hitler, "in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States."

Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of the American eugenics movement. "I have studied with great interest," he told a fellow Nazi, "the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock."

Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenic leader Madison Grant calling his race-based eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race his "bible."

Hitler's struggle for a superior race would be a mad crusade for a Master Race. Now, the American term "Nordic" was freely exchanged with "Germanic" or "Aryan." Race science, racial purity and racial dominance became the driving force behind Hitler's Nazism. Nazi eugenics would ultimately dictate who would be persecuted in a Reich-dominated Europe, how people would live, and how they would die. Nazi doctors would become the unseen generals in Hitler's war against the Jews and other Europeans deemed inferior. Doctors would create the science, devise the eugenic formulas, and even hand-select the victims for sterilization, euthanasia and mass extermination.

During the Reich's early years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler's plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort. California eugenicists republished Nazi propaganda for American consumption. They also arranged for Nazi scientific exhibits, such as an August 1934 display at the L.A. County Museum, for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

In 1934, as Germany's sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe upon returning from Germany ebulliently bragged to a key colleague, "You will be interested to know, that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought.…I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people."

That same year, ten years after Virginia passed its sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia's Western State Hospital, observed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."

More than just providing the scientific roadmap, America funded Germany's eugenic institutions. By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 -- almost $4 million in 21st-Century money -- to hundreds of German researchers. In May 1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 to the German Psychiatric Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, later to become the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler's systematic medical repression.

Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute's eugenic complex of institutions was the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a single room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of $317,000 allowed the Institute to construct a major building and take center stage in German race biology. The Institute received additional grants from the Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the Institute, once again, was Hitler's medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin's organization became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.

Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.

Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society declared of Nazism, "While we were pussy-footing around…the Germans were calling a spade a spade."

A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades, American eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity. The Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level. On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS OVER THREE YEAR PERIOD TO KWG INSTITUTE ANTHROPOLOGY FOR RESEARCH ON TWINS AND EFFECTS ON LATER GENERATIONS OF SUBSTANCES TOXIC FOR GERM PLASM.

At the time of Rockefeller's endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of that Institute continued both directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer's early tenure. In 1935, Verschuer left the Institute to form a rival eugenics facility in Frankfurt that was much heralded in the American eugenic press. Research on twins in the Third Reich exploded, backed up by government decrees. Verschuer wrote in Der Erbarzt, a eugenic doctor's journal he edited, that Germany's war would yield a "total solution to the Jewish problem."

Verschuer had a long-time assistant. His name was Josef Mengele. On May 30, 1943, Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. Verschuer notified the German Research Society, "My assistant, Dr. Josef Mengele (M.D., Ph.D.) joined me in this branch of research. He is presently employed as Hauptsturmführer [captain] and camp physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anthropological testing of the most diverse racial groups in this concentration camp is being carried out with permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler]."

Mengele began searching the boxcar arrivals for twins. When he found them, he performed beastly experiments, scrupulously wrote up the reports and sent the paperwork back to Verschuer's institute for evaluation. Often, cadavers, eyes and other body parts were also dispatched to Berlin's eugenic institutes.

Rockefeller executives never knew of Mengele. With few exceptions, the foundation had ceased all eugenic studies in Nazi-occupied Europe before the war erupted in 1939. But by that time the die had been cast. The talented men Rockefeller and Carnegie financed, the institutions they helped found, and the science it helped create took on a scientific momentum of their own.

After the war, eugenics was declared a crime against humanity--an act of genocide. Germans were tried and they cited the California statutes in their defense. To no avail. They were found guilty.

However, Mengele's boss Verschuer escaped prosecution. Verschuer re-established his connections with California eugenicists who had gone underground and renamed their crusade "human genetics." Typical was an exchange July 25, 1946 when Popenoe wrote Verschuer, "It was indeed a pleasure to hear from you again. I have been very anxious about my colleagues in Germany…. I suppose sterilization has been discontinued in Germany?" Popenoe offered tidbits about various American eugenic luminaries and then sent various eugenic publications. In a separate package, Popenoe sent some cocoa, coffee and other goodies.

Verschuer wrote back, "Your very friendly letter of 7/25 gave me a great deal of pleasure and you have my heartfelt thanks for it. The letter builds another bridge between your and my scientific work; I hope that this bridge will never again collapse but rather make possible valuable mutual enrichment and stimulation."

Soon, Verschuer once again became a respected scientist in Germany and around the world. In 1949, he became a corresponding member of the newly formed American Society of Human Genetics, organized by American eugenicists and geneticists.

In the fall of 1950, the University of Münster offered Verschuer a position at its new Institute of Human Genetics, where he later became a dean. In the early and mid-1950s, Verschuer became an honorary member of numerous prestigious societies, including the Italian Society of Genetics, the Anthropological Society of Vienna, and the Japanese Society for Human Genetics.

Human genetics' genocidal roots in eugenics were ignored by a victorious generation that refused to link itself to the crimes of Nazism and by succeeding generations that never knew the truth of the years leading up to war. Now governors of five states, including California have issued public apologies to their citizens, past and present, for sterilization and other abuses spawned by the eugenics movement.

Human genetics became an enlightened endeavor in the late twentieth century. Hard-working, devoted scientists finally cracked the human code through the Human Genome Project. Now, every individual can be biologically identified and classified by trait and ancestry. Yet even now, some leading voices in the genetic world are calling for a cleansing of the unwanted among us, and even a master human species.

There is understandable wariness about more ordinary forms of abuse, for example, in denying insurance or employment based on genetic tests. On October 14, America's first genetic anti-discrimination legislation passed the Senate by unanimous vote. Yet because genetics research is global, no single nation's law can stop the threats.

Edwin Black is the author of "IBM and the Holocaust" and "War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race," from which the following article is drawn.

Expert explains why 'systemic conservatism'  continues to prevail in the US

On the Sunday after the November 3rd presidential election, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, congratulated President-elect Joe Biden but insisted that the overall election was an endorsement of conservative principles. He pointed to the gains Republicans made in the House, though they are still in the minority, and the failure of the Democrats to capture control of the Senate, at least so far. Romney found further evidence in the Democrats' inability to flip GOP-controlled statehouses.

Romney, however, is mistaken in his basic assertion. First of all, Biden won by more than 5 million popular votes, nearly 4 percent more than Trump's total. The president-elect obtained the highest number of popular votes in the nation's history. Biden's margin of victory, contrary to Romney's claim, is not a mandate for conservatism. Rather, at the very least, the election was a referendum on President Trump's leadership, which of course Trump used to promote conservative ideas concerning tax cuts for the wealthy and the relaxation of business and environmental regulations.

No presidential election outcome reflects any single issue and it remains for the experts to crunch the numbers and analyze the ingredients that secured the Biden-Harris victory. Yet we already have sufficient evidence that the majority of the American people favor progressive positions on many issues. Surveys by Gallup, Pew, and other reliable organizations consistently show that a significant majority of Americans favor "Medicare for All," tighter gun safety restrictions, and the freedom of women to have abortions in most situations. A number of states, including Florida, have voted for the $15 minimum wage. Last but not least, polls show that a majority of Americans believe that racial discrimination continues to exist and should be addressed. These are progressive not conservative principles, and are sustained by the Biden-Harris victory.

Nevertheless, Romney is correct in one sense. In the United States what I call "systemic conservatism" continues to prevail. I draw this phrase from our reawakened realization of "systemic racism," and the two are related. By systemic conservatism I mean the institutional barriers created by the founding fathers to limit popular democracy. One obvious example is the Electoral College. Presidential candidates have to win a majority of electoral rather than popular votes. Had it been otherwise we would not have a President George W. Bush or Donald J. Trump. The Electoral College consists of the number of votes each state has in the U.S. House and Senate (except for the non-state of Washington D.C., which has three electors). The choice of an Electoral College to decide the presidency resulted from efforts of small state and slave state delegates at the Constitutional Convention to ensure their ongoing power. Most troubling, under the three-fifths compromise slave states increased their electoral votes. They did so by securing the constitutional right to count 60 percent of their enslaved people for purposes of representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

In addition, the Senate created rules to frustrate a majority of its members. Until the 1960s, southern senators used the filibuster rule, which allowed unlimited debate in the absence of a supermajority vote, to frustrate attempts to pass civil rights legislation. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used this rule to thwart progressive legislation for the past ten years. Even if the Democrats wind up gaining two seats in Georgia, resulting in a Senate tie, they will need sixty votes to enact legislation unless the filibuster rule is changed. And if they manage to do so, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court can still overturn that legislation.

The federal system has often blocked the effects of progressive policies initiated at the national level, The post-Reconstruction Jim Crow era that lasted into the 1960s saw the southern states eviscerate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in a variety of ways. Even when the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in schools in 1954, southern states adopted so-called freedom of choice plans to sidestep the court's ruling for another two decades. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation was instrumental in combating the Great Depression, but it had to be administered through the states. This gave states, particularly in the South, the opportunity to reinforce racial segregation within these programs and also ensure that agricultural subsidies benefitted plantation owners to the detriment of their tenant farmers and sharecroppers, a disproportionate percentage of whom were African American.

Progressive change does happen within our political system but it faces serious obstacles. The abolition of slavery and the extension of citizenship and voting rights to African Americans required a Civil War. It took the Great Depression to achieve Social Security, minimum wages, and anti-child labor laws. The Civil Rights Movement was necessary to re-enfranchise African Americans and people of color as was the Women's Suffrage Movement that extended the vote decades earlier mainly to white women. Democratic Party victories following the 2008 Great Recession provided for a short time the majorities needed to move incrementally toward universal health insurance.

There is also ample precedent within the federal system of states serving as laboratories for progressive policies, as was the case in Wisconsin during the early twentieth century. Under the leadership of Governor Robert M. LaFollette, Wisconsin joined government officials together with academic advisers to create a reform agenda that was copied throughout the nation In the early 2000s, Massachusetts under the leadership of Governor Mitt Romney created a system of statewide health insurance that became the model of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. However, in 2020, with most state legislatures in the hands of Republican majorities, the prospects for reform measures bubbling up from the bottom to the top of the political mainstream are dim.

Just as President-elect Biden will have to confront systemic racism he will also have to deal with systemic conservatism. It does not look like he will have the necessary legislative majority to achieve his programs. At best, incremental rather than sweeping change is more likely.

How conservative demands for 'patriotic' history education echo the KKK's culture war fight in the 1920s

During the lead-up to the election, President Trump and other right-wing populists have attacked American historians who question traditional – some would say outdated – narratives of American history, meaning those that stress unthinking patriotism and unquestioning national pride. Hoping to energize his political base, Trump convened the 1776 Commission, a panel tasked with developing a "patriotic education" curriculum that will supplant alleged "left-wing indoctrination" of innocent schoolchildren. His initiative reflects a larger backlash against multiculturalism and historians who expose the darker corners of American history while urging their students to create their own historical narratives through open-minded inquiry. One of Congress's most strident conservative voices, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill to strip federal funding from school districts that teach the 1619 Project, an ambitious attempt to reframe American history around issues of slavery, racism and Black contributions to national life. Rising to this bait, conservative outlets have renewed their longstanding assault on the radical historian Howard Zinn, who died ten years ago, as a symbol of everything wrong with historians who dare question traditional narratives.

The president and his ideological peers are likely unaware that their goals, motivations, and methods recall those used by patriotic groups and such populist, right-wing organizations as the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

Peaking in around 1923, the American Legion, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Klan, and other groups sponsored a wave of bills designed to impose a simplistic, triumphalist vision of American history on students. Like today's conservative culture warriors, they insisted that the "proper teaching" of American history could reverse the perceived decline of traditional values, blunt the appeal of left-wing radicalism, sever immigrants' attachments to their former countries, and replace multiculturalism with good-old-fashioned Americanism.

This loosely coordinated campaign, like its 2020 counterpart, reflected broader concerns for the future of a country in flux. As is the case today, many 1920s-era Americans imagined that previous generations were more homogenous, more virtuous, and more patriotic than themselves. To their minds, divisions, struggles, and persistent inequalities were errant stitches, best ignored, on a broader tapestry of national greatness. In 1923, California's state commissioner of secondary schools, A. C. Olney, in recommending appropriate American history textbooks, warned against assigning authors who treated "old and dead" controversies such as the Civil War "in such a way as to perpetuate animosities." From this perspective, the purpose of studying the past was not to pursue broader truths or to appreciate the contributions of diverse groups, but rather to unify present-day Americans behind celebratory interpretations of historical events.

National unity struck seemed like a matter of national survival, as it does for many 2020 conservatives. World War One-era calls for 100% Americanism, backed by federal laws such as the Espionage and Sedition Acts, silenced dissent and inflated fears of un-American immigrants and heterodox opinions. The post-World War One dread of communist infiltration sparked a full blown Red Scare marked by harassment, vigilante violence, and deportations. Fears that multiculturalism would overwhelm traditional American values helped inspire the 1921 Emergency Immigration Act and 1924 National Origins Act, laws that restricted immigration from so-called undesirable ethnic groups.

Militant hyperpatriotism, Red baiting, nativist rhetoric, and anti-diversity campaigns fueled the right-wing backlash against American historians then as well as now. The Klan, in particular, hoped to exploit education reform (a term used here in a value-neutral way) to broaden its popular appeal while undermining perceived threats to white, Protestant dominance. The 1920s-era Klan was a prominent social organization that claimed a membership of four million, probably an exaggeration but one it could make with a straight face. Unlike its Reconstruction-era predecessor, it furthered its agenda through political pressure, economic boycotts, intimidation, and harassment rather than naked violence, although violence and threats of violence remained part of its toolkit. Its anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, "pro-American" program resonated with white Protestants who feared losing social and economic status during a tumultuous time.

KKK Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans advocated the creation of a federal department of education that could oversee "the re-Americanization of our common Republic." Local Klan chapters marched behind parade floats depicting little red schoolhouses, the symbol of sturdy, old-fashioned Americanism. Klansmen distributed American flags and Bibles to public schools, lobbied school boards to fire Catholic teachers, and introduced bills requiring public schools to hire public-school graduates as teachers, thereby undercutting Catholic parochial schools. With limited success, the Klan pushed its influence onto college campuses in an attempt to shape history curricula. Their most notable victory came in Oregon, which in 1922 passed the Klan-backed Compulsory Education Act. The law, aimed at destroying parochial schools that the Klan denounced as undemocratic, required all students to attend public schools (the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down the law).

A crucial element of the Klan's education program, one it shared with other right-wing groups, was stifling American historians whose interpretations clashed with their own. For California's A. C. Olney, that meant histories that treated "any part of the American history in a disloyal or unpatriotic manner" or minimized "the best patriotism of American tradition." Olney's use of "the" in "the American history" was no accident; many traditionalists used this defiantly singular construction to imply that there was only one correct version of their nation's story.

Today's culture warriors would recognize and even parrot perspectives from the 1920s, including that of Wisconsin state senator John Cashman, who declared in 1923 that "un-American professors can do more harm in ten months than a hundred ship loads of reds could do in ten years." That same year, two years before Tennessee's Butler Act banned the teaching of evolution, Cashman sponsored a bill to ban history textbooks that "cast aspersions upon the heroes of the American Revolution or the War of 1812." A good American history class, he argued, "tells the truth from an American point of view," thereby driving "anti-American propaganda" from the schools and enabling children to mature into patriotic adults. Cashman's bill passed easily and was signed into law.

New York, Oregon, and other states considered copycat bills targeting "anti-American propaganda." California legislators introduced a bill making it a fireable offense for history teachers to criticize the Constitution or the Founding Fathers. In Arkansas, a Klan-dominated state legislature passed a law requiring all college students to take a course in American history and government not as a path toward greater enlightenment, but rather as a means of engineering what they saw as the right kind of education: one that instilled blind patriotism.

President Trump and his allies would no doubt applaud these measures, some of which are still on the books. Like twenty-first-century traditionalists who want only to learn a (singular) truth about the past, early twentieth-century critics spread fundamental mistruths about the study of history. Rather than accept that a historian's individual interpretation of documents and events are key to their craft, 1920s-era traditionalists cried for "strictly unbiased" texts without ever explaining what those would look like. While denouncing biased texts, they, much like President Trump's 1776 Commission, pressured American historians to present positive interpretations of the past. "The young of today should be taught that there has been and is more virtue than vice, more strength than weakness, more noble aspirations than ignoble deeds, in the transcending story of American life," the Marshfield (WI) News-Herald opined. "Our greatest men have had their faults," seconded Judge Wallace McCamant of Oregon, national chairman of the Committee on Patriotic Education, "but why cast the spotlight upon the flaws while, at the same time, leaving the more important features in darkness?"

Decades later, the multiculturalist revolution of the 1960s rewrote American history by incorporating a wider range of voices into in increasingly fractured national narrative. In the ensuring years, Black people, women of all races, and ethnic minorities have assumed ever-more prominent positions in both textbooks and classrooms. Their stories, and the more complex and nuanced views of history they have inspired, banished Judge McCamant's one-dimensional version to the historical dustbin.

Or so the historians argue. Beyond the realm of academia exists a yearning to restore that simpler story, along with its message of inevitable progress, (Protestant) white male dominance, and traditional American values.

Whether for ideological or political ends, President Trump and other conservative culture warriors are waging this same battle for restoration, using the same tools as the 1920s-era Klan: intimidation, bullying, and public shaming. Whereas this harassment once involved boycotts and cross burnings, it now exists on social media and the internet, where armies of outrage, inflamed by such sites as Infowars and such groups as Campus Reform, denounce history teachers whose heterodox interpretations clash with their own. Honest debate and intellectual freedom are not their aims. Instead, similar to the past century's Klansmen and their allies, they seek to either coerce universities into firing supposed radicals or, barring that, to bludgeon them into silence. Should they succeed, their victory will strike a blow against diversity, tolerance, and multiculturalism – precisely the goals of a century earlier.

The fate of President Trump's 1776 Commission hangs in the electoral balance. What is certain is that, even should the president lose his re-election bid, the right-wing populist campaign that he helped recharge, a movement with deep roots in our past, will keep attacking historians whose professional interpretations clash with their own understandings of American history.

Terrorism expert details the rise — and fall — of Trump’s death cult

Editor's note: an update to this story has been added to reflect developing news as of November 20, 2020.

In 1978 cult leader Jim Jones convinced 909 of his brainwashed followers in Jonestown, Guyana to drink cyanide-laced Kool Aid and kill themselves. Since that shocking collective suicide, the term "drinking the Kool Aid" has become a metaphor for anyone who has been seduced by someone else to do something irrational or self-injurious.

Flash forward to 2020, when Republican senator Bob Corker fretted of Trump's takeover of the Republican Party: "It's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it? It's not a good place for any party to end up with a cultlike situation." It is widely accepted even by many Republicans that Trump launched a cult-like movement, one that in this case called on his followers not to drink Kool Aid, but to inject disinfectant to "knock it [Coronavirus] out" and to seek medically unproven and potentially lethal treatments with hydroxychloroquine. As the head of an anti-science cult, Trump openly mocked and attacked medical scientists and encouraged his followers to avoid the advice of his own CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and frontline doctors and nurses. These medical professionals, it should be recalled, pleaded with the public to help them in their desperate fight to save lives by simply wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

In leading the resistance against the CDC guidelines designed to protect the American public, Trump convinced millions of his devoted followers to potentially die for his cult of personality in what history may record as a metaphorical "drinking of the hydroxychloroquine." While Trump--in a reversal of President Harry Truman's bold acceptance of presidential responsibility "the buck stops here"--weakly proclaimed "I don't take responsibility at all" for the fact that America lost approximately a quarter of a million lives to the ravages of this pandemic on his watch, history will record that much of the death stemmed from his far reaching, cult leader-like decisions.

Trump's War on the CDC and the Truth

Trump's litany of lethally misguided decisions began in January when his economic adviser Peter Navarro presciently warned him in a memo that COVID-19 could take more than half a million American lives and cause nearly $6 trillion in economic damage. The somber threat assessment of up to half a million lives lost, which tracks with current trajectories for the pandemic, seems to have sunk in. In February Trump was recorded in an interview with legendary author Bob Woodward acknowledging the unprecedented threat the virus posed to both the population he was sworn to protect...and the economy. In the unprecedentedly frank interview Trump did something he has still not done publicly: he honestly acknowledged the real threat to millions of Americans the lethal virus posed stating "this is deadly stuff," adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times "more deadly" than the flu.

Soon thereafter the consensus among medical professionals came to be that wearing masks was the best means for preventing the spread of this "deadly stuff" (i.e. airborne viral droplets). Using high-speed video one study found that hundreds of droplets were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the speaker's mouth was covered by a damp washcloth. Surgeons and other medical professionals had been wearing medical masks to stop the spread of germs for decades, so it was no-brainer to call for them to be worn in the COVID-19 crisis, just as they had been by doctors fighting Ebola in Africa.

As the head of a cult of personality that his son in law Jared Kushner openly admitted launched a "hostile takeover" of the Republican Party, Trump could have, in February, donned a MAGA mask or an American flag mask and channeled John F. Kennedy's bold call for patriotic sacrifice by proclaiming to his diehard followers "Ask not what your mask can do for you, but what your mask can do for your nation!" Trump's devoted followers openly proclaimed in interviews that if he told them to don a mask they would. Trump could have also done as South Korea's president did and boldly launched a federal, unified, top down, nationwide emergencyresponse that involved a government-enforced mandatory use of face masks, a strict ban on social gatherings, and a highly effective national Coronavirus tracing program that led to the strictly enforced quarantining of South Koreans who tested positive for the virus. In systematically implementing these central government policies on a nationwide basis, South Korea, with a population of almost 52 million, was able to limit its COVID 19 deaths to a remarkable 464 deaths as of October 31 (that translates to fewer than 3,000 deaths in America with a population of 330,000 instead of the current toll of 250,000 deaths and climbing).

History will show that the above commonsensical steps are exactly what Trump did not do. Instead he chose to divide the nation with an "us" versus "them" approach to masks and social distancing. Trump clearly saw the pandemic as political rather than a health crisis. The calculated tack he pursued played a major role in the fact that America began to lose over 1,300 to the virus in a single day (more than twice the entire number of nationwide COVID 19 deaths in South Korea in 9 months) and to see over 170,000 new cases in a single day. By mid November America was experiencing the daily equivalent of a Jonestown mass suicide or a 9/11-scale mass casualty terror attack three times a week. Under the president's leadership America would see the most Coronavirus cases of any nation in the world and become the global epicenter, even as the unemployment rate ultimately soared to 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. In the epidemiological sense the USA came to resemble the "hot zone" of Congo during the Ebola outbreak and European nations banned their citizens from flying to America.

The president's self serving calculus in deliberately not following the highly effective South Korean model or advice of the medical community and instead undermining his own government's CDC's safety measures was as cold, calculating and cynical as it was immoral. It is patently obvious that Trump saw the virus as a threat to the economy and recent history clearly shows that incumbent presidents who preside over a strong economy get reelected. Anything that would enable the American people to continue to work and keep the economy going, even as morgues and Intensive Care Units were overwhelmed with the dead and dying, was, in Trump's self-interested Machiavellian perspective, legitimate. Trump was cynically prepared to sacrifice the health and lives of millions of Americans on the altar of his ambition to be reelected via a sound economy.

What were the president's subsequent fateful, strictly economy-based decisions that helped lead the USA, which Fox News reported has just four percent of the world's population, to suffer twenty five percent of the world's deaths to the virus that other countries like New Zealand controlled? First, instead of being truthful and urgently warning the American people that COVID 19 was "five times more deadly than the flu," as he acknowledged in his interview with Bob Woodward, Trump deliberately and repeatedly lied about and downplayed its threat. In February, for example, he tried to convince the American people not to be afraid of the deadly virus that would by mid November infect almost 11 million and kill almost 250,000. The president would mislead his nation by describing the deadly pandemic as nothing more than the "common flu" and falsely stating "This is a flu. This is like a flu." Trump repeatedly lied to the American people about the lethality of the contagious virus he had previously been warned about and offered false information such as "You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April." Trump would also prevaricate and say of Coronavirus, "it's going to disappear. One day it's like a miracle, it will disappear" as well as "Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere," and cases are "coming way down."

Trump's Policies That Aided the Spread of the Coronavirus

But Trump's ultimately self-defeating policies went further than simply deceiving the American people and lulling his blind cult followers into a false sense of security as hundreds of thousands of their fellow countrymen died. As America's governors responsibly moved on an ad hoc basis to fill the federal level national leadership void and, in a patchwork fashion, implement CDC guidelines to protect their populations due to the absence of a top-down, nationwide government policy, Trump calculatingly encouraged armed anti-mask and anti-social distancing protestors in Michigan. He cynically called on them to "liberate!" their state from its Democratic governor and openly fight against his own CDC's health guidelines. Taking cues from the president, one group of 13 militiamen who were opposed to the Michigan governor's spring lockdown hatched a plot to kidnap, try and execute her before they were arrested by the FBI.

To compound matters, Trump then irresponsibly carried out a series of cringe-inducing mass rallies in the fall that were later found to have been "super spreader" events where throngs of packed and maskless devotees risked their lives. Fox news would report that after a largely maskless Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma there was a record high surge in Coronavirus cases. Trump's true believers in the rallies blindly showed their devotion to the cult of Trump by proudly ignoring the very social distancing and mask guidelines meant to protect them and their loved ones. Among those who appear to have become infected (and later died) at one of Trump's irresponsibly lethal rallies was former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain who proudly had his maskless picture taken with fans at the Tulsa, Oklahoma rally.

As the high priest of a cult that replaced the Republican Party's self-proclaimed pro-life stance with what could be considered a pro-death stance, Trump's lethal policies of rejecting masks and social distancing and lulling Americans with such recent falsehoods as "we are rounding the corner [on the pandemic]" beautifully" enabled the deadly virus to spread closer and closer to us all. Among the false tenets of Trump's cult was the "nothing is happening here" mantra that there was no skyrocketing death toll just "more testing for the virus."

In addition to unquestioned truths, cults often need an "apostate," "heretic" or "ungodly" enemy to focus their true believers' wrath against. Reverend Jim Jones' cult in Guyana focused its followers fury on the "sinful" American government. Trump soon found a sinister enemy for his followers to focus on, the very American medical professionals who were risking their lives in overwhelmed Intensive Care Units to save patients infected with COVID 19. Far from depicting the previously widely respected medical professionals as frontline heroes in the war on the deadly pathogen, Trump spread a falsehood among his followers that doctors were financially incentivized to lie and exaggerate Coronavirus deaths in order to receive financial bonuses from his government. This easily disproved lie served to undermine his followers' belief in the skyrocketing death toll from the Coronavirus and further incentivize them to ignore the health guidelines of the now distrusted medical professionals. Not since Typhoid Mary, a 19th century cook who consciously infected dozens with the deadly disease, had an American done so much to infect other Americans.

If this were not damaging enough to the American people's health, Trump actively worked to undermine and discredit America's top infectious disease expert, his widely respected Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Trump described Fauci, who polls showed had more support than Trump, as a "disaster" and health care professionals as "idiots." Outdoing the president, his former advisor Steve Bannon had his online show banned from Twitter after he called for Dr. Fauci to be decapitated and his head put on a pike in front of the White House. Fauci, who became the focus of intense and widespread anti-masking sentiment among Trump followers, received so many death threats that he was given FBI bodyguards for his protection. Meanwhile, at his packed maskless campaign rallies Trump mocked his opponent Joe Biden to boos from the audience proclaiming that Biden would do something terrible, "listen to Dr. Fauci" and "listen to scientists."

Blindly accepting the president's anti-medical science preaching was not a huge leap for his cult followers. It will be recalled their party had a history of denialism towards science traceable back to the 1970s when many Republicans rejected the medical community's findings that cigarettes caused cancer (not to mention their more recent rejection of the science behind global warming). But the million-vote question remained; Would the president's falsehoods and anti-Fauci and anti-science approach to the pandemic resonate with those beyond his diehard base who had not drunk the Hydroxychloroquine?

The High Political Cost of Trump's Efforts to Play Down the Virus and Sabotage the CDC.

The signs that Trump's approach was not resonating with those beyond the reach of the Fox evening news echo chamber or his ecstatic rallies began to appear almost as soon as Joe Biden became the Democratic Party's presidential candidate and began to contrast himself to Trump by wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing. One candidate wore his mask as a symbol of his belief in science while the other chose not to and instead promised his followers the Coronavirus would go away any day now. Trump openly mocked Biden for wearing a mask in the first debate and mocked him for "staying in his basement" during the lockdown.

As Trump, his spokeswoman, his former spokeswoman, his head of Housing and Urban Development, his chief of staff, his wife and son, as well as Vice President Pence's staff, several Republican Senate allies, one governor and 130 of his Secret Service bodyguards tested positive for COVID (even as Biden and his staff remained negative), the differences between the contenders' policies and understanding of the real threat the pandemic posed became increasingly glaring. Polls began to show that increasing majorities felt Biden was better suited to deal with the pandemic than Trump who defined himself as an anti-Coronavirus "cheerleader." While Trump created an alternative universe for his denialist followers where he claimed the virus was "disappearing," fifty-five percent of voters listened to the prognostications of the health experts and felt the worst was yet to come. And far from turning on Dr. Fauci, a poll by the Independentreported that he was the only person associated with the Trump administration who saw their approval rating rise.

Sensing that his denialist approach was not reaching the un-converted who were worried about the mounting death toll and spread of the virus as the election approached, a self pitying Trump griped at a rally "With the fake news, everything is COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID. I had it. Here I am, right?" His message that COVID was not a real threat because he had survived it with the support of the best doctors in the world was cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands of American families burying loved ones killed in the pandemic or those who had become infected and suffered terrible "long haul" effects from the virus. As the election loomed Trump's final message remained one of defiance and imperviousness to the facts. At a rally he encouraged Coronavirus fatigue among his followers saying of Americans"They're getting tired of the pandemic — aren't they? You turn on CNN. That's all they cover: 'COVID, COVID, pandemic. COVID, COVID, COVID. They're trying to talk people out of voting. People aren't buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards."

But even if Americans were tired of the pandemic they were not willing to do as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did when he threw in the towel and surrendered to Coronavirus saying "we are not going to control the pandemic." As the election fast approached, a worried Republican pollster captured the unease in the Trump camp stating "I think the polling is picking up everything, which is that the pandemic is overwhelmingly the most important issue facing the country. And right now, that's not helpful to the president." Democratic advisor James Carville captured the mood of voters in 1992 with the phrase "it's the economy stupid" and the key takeaway from numerous polls on the eve of the election seemed to be "it's the Coronavirus stupid." Whether Trump liked it or not the election was going to be a referendum on his handling of the greatest health emergency the nation had seen since the 1918 Influenza pandemic.

Even as Trump held his final rallies, Midwestern states like Wisconsin that had voted for him in 2016 became the global epicenter of the deadly virus that many Trump supporters had previously thought would be limited to New York and other coastal Democrat-governed states. Millions of Americans (including many of the vulnerable elderly who were written off as expendable by Trump followers who were focused on getting young people to reopen the economy at all cost) came to blame Trump for the spread of the virus that he had systematically downplayed. While polls showed Trump was trusted on the economy, a Gallup poll taken less than a month before the election showed that by a margin of 52% to 39%Americans trusted Biden more than the president when it came to the spreading pandemic. To compound matters, in a rejection of his anti-mask campaign that should have served warning to Trump, 90 percent of those polled in October said they wore masks. This boded ill for a president who had made anti-maskism a central tenet of his reelection campaign and boded well for Biden, who wore a mask proudly.

Far from being a rallying point to gain new voters, Trump's instinct to politicize what should have been a unifying medical issue hurt him among the majority of voters who trusted Dr. Fauci over the president. A clear majority believed in the science behind wearing masks and social distancing and an October poll showed that six in ten Americans were favorable to those wearing masks despite Trump mocking them. Despite his best efforts to turn the nation against masks, Trump was going against the majority. Tellingly, by turning such widely approved, commonsensical health measures as wearing masks into a sign of disloyalty to his cult, Trump lost the support of many non-cult voters in highly infected states that had voted for him in 2016, such as Arizona and Wisconsin (these two states flipped to Biden in the November 2020 elections and helped give him the presidency). In Georgia, where the Republican governor emulated Trump by suing the mayor of Atlanta to prevent her from having mandatory wearing of masks, voters similarly flipped the state from Trump to Biden in the November election.

Ironically, governors such as Ohio Republican governor Mike Dewine who moved quickly and decisively to enact strict measures to enforce lockdowns, social distancing, and mask wearing, instead of downplaying the pandemic with falsehoods and sabotaging the CDC, saw their approval ratings go up. Trump, it seemed, had gambled the lives of millions of Americans on what turned out to be a losing bet that they would in essence not listen to their lying eyes and ears and instead trust his promise that "we are rounding the bend." In retrospect the president should have followed Mike Dewine's path to widespread popularity among undecideds, Democrats and Republicans by being honest with the American people and working to save American lives…instead of his job.

In the end, the Washington Post was to report 82 percent of voters who said the Coronavirus was their most important issue in choosing a president supported Biden, according to preliminary national exit polls. This was all Biden needed to secure an exact repeat of Trump's 2016 electoral college victory over Hilary Clinton (which he repeatedly described as a "landslide"), by a count of 306 to 232 votes. While Trump had needlessly alienated many voting constituencies before the election, including Mexican Americans (describing Mexicans in blanket terms as "rapists") and Arizonians (launching a campaign to degrade the state's beloved senator and Vietnam hero John McCain), it was his unpopular Coronavirus policies that cost him the most support in the tight 2020 presidential election. Simply put, tens of millions refused to drink his cult of death Kool Aid and subscribe to his alternative universe, where the virus would just "go away" and wearing masks to protect themselves and fellow citizens was somehow disloyal to the president, unpatriotic and un-American. For a clear majority of Americans masks remained a sign of collective and personal responsibility, not a sign of being un-American.

There is no way of knowing how many Americans' lives were lost as a result of the president's anti-CDC campaign to stir such fervor among his true believers. A new study, however, shows that universal wearing of masks, if belatedly mandated (as South Korea did), could save 130,000 lives by the end of February 2021. As grieving Americans bury more of their Coronavirus-infected loved ones than were lost in the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom combined, it remains to be seen whether Trump and his loyal cult followers will belatedly assist the CDC in trying to save those 130,000 lives during the remainder of his one term presidency… or whether his self-serving calls for mass suicide by the blind faithful are unquestioningly obeyed as they were in Jonestown. There are, however, worrying signs that Trump will hold more of his super spreader rallies where he has promised to fight to delegitimize the election results and make his claim that the election was "stolen" from him. In fact this process has already begun. On November 14, thousands of maskless Trump supporters organized by the openly racist Proud Boys gathered in Washington for a "Stop The Steal" rally to protest against the supposed stealing of Trump's presidency.

Regardless of whether or not Trump concedes defeat or goes on a pandemic spreading tour to once again rally his true believer base, one thing is abundantly clear. In January 2021 America will have a new president. On November 9thpresident elect Biden channeled President John F. Kennedy by reaching out to the nation with a plea for all Americans, regardless of their political orientation, to wear masks stating "It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. It doesn't matter your party or your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Please, I implore you, wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together." Biden has proposed a plan (available on his website) to follow in South Korea's footsteps and for the first time launch a federal, nationwide, top down program designed to increase tracing, provide more funds for efforts to assist medical facilities and governors in battling the pandemic, and encourage more mask wearing and social distancing (despite Trump's claims Biden has not called for a nationwide lockdown). Biden has also promised to listen to the medical experts and that is perhaps something that the families of almost a quarter of a million families who buried loved ones lost to the pandemic under Trump can take some solace from.

Update November 20. On November 19, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced during the first Coronavirus task force briefing held by the Trump administration in four months that vaccines had been produced by the very medical scientists the president had derided to his followers as "idiots." As the daily death toll in America approaches 2,000 and daily infection rates surpassed 187,000 this came as welcome news to a traumatized nation that lost more to the pandemic than any other country. Dr. Fauci, the target of so much hatred from Trump's cult followers, announced in the widely covered briefing that New York city-based Pfizer and Boston-based Moderna had created vaccines that he assured the American people were safe (here he was pushing back on New York governor Andrew Cuomo's criticism that they might not be safe). Fauci and Vice President Pence, who was far more visible than Trump who showed his utter lack of interest in the pandemic by not attending a Coronavirus Task Force meeting in five months, then announced plans to distribute the vaccine as early as late December, first to health workers who are at far greater risk as they treat infected patients. There is thus cause for hope that the virus that has taken the lives of over a quarter of a million Americans in less than nine months can be treated.

Sadly, the rollout of the vaccine in the largest medical distribution in American history will certainly come too late for tens of thousands of Americans who will continue to die in the pandemic's greatest and deadliest spike yet over the next few months. The global epicenter of the raging virus as of late November is in the Dakotas where Republican governors proudly refused to issue mask mandates and skepticism of the Coronavirus "hoax" (as Trump labelled it) is rife. As a result of a widespread culture of Coronavirus denialism and anger at masks, North Dakota has the highest mortality rate of any state or any country in the world according to Fox News. In the Dakotas Trump's cult of death is taking its highest toll and one frustrated South Dakota nurse wrote that many of her patients dying of the virus were still engaged in denialism about it. She recorded the sad reality of Trump's continuing impact on those who believe their cult leader, not the distrusted medical scientists, as follows:

"I have a night off from the hospital. As I'm on my couch with my dog I can't help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don't believe the virus is real. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that 'stuff' because they don't have COViD because it's not real. Yes. This really happens."

It it not surprising, given his influence among Republicans which is amplified by Fox News pundits such as Laura Ingraham who has attacked governors who issues mask mandates as "Coronavirus crazed tyrants," that counties that voted for Trump have higher infection rates than those that did not.

To compound matters, as the incoming Biden administration---which has proclaimed "there is nothing macho about not wearing as mask. Wearing a mask is a sign of being patriotic"---prepares to take the White House and control of the campaign to defeat the pandemic on January 20, 2021, the Trump administration has refused to assist it out of spite. More than two weeks since his decisive election loss, Trump remains dug in at the White House, refusing to concede and to help his successor deal with the pandemic. Since becoming a lame-duck president, Trump has not only blocked cooperation with the incoming Biden administration, he has remained largely silent on the Coronavirus and instead focused on undermining the integrity of the election results.

A concerned Biden has fretted that, if his administration has no cooperation in preparing to take over the distribution of the vaccine and other health measures before January 20, 2021, "more people could die." But for all the fact that Trump is proactively trying to prevent cooperation between his health officials and the incoming Biden administration, cracks are appearing in his cult. As thousands of Midwesterners see their communities ravaged by what they were told was a hoax and see loved ones die, there is a new sense of skepticism towards Trump's war on the science of defeating the pandemic among many disillusioned former cult members.

Among the disillusioned is North Dakota governor Doug Burgum who broke with his former anti-mask policies as North Dakotans began to become infected and die in the thousands. On November 13, Burgum parted ways with Trump and announced that "the era of individualistic responsibility" for wearing masks and social distancing had ended and he as governor was mandating masks and other social distancing measures designed to protect North Dakotans. It remains to be seen whether this major break with a cult that has been responsible for so many deaths across the nation in 2020 signals a growing rejection of Trump's influence over his followers…or whether it remains an anomaly in a movement that still has the unquestioned loyalty of millions of citizens in the most pandemic-wracked nation on the earth.

Will Trump's last fight be against Howard Zinn -- and America's history teachers?

President Trump's speech at his recent White House Conference on American History slandered both history teachers and historians whose writings foregrounded the role of racial and class conflict in American history. Without evidence, he accused teachers of promoting a "twisted web of lies in our schools," indoctrinating their students in a version of our nation's history that led them to hate America. This was, he claimed "a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words." Referring to the mostly non-violent nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against racist police violence as "left-wing mobs" fomenting "violence and anarchy," Trump again without evidence charged that this "left wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left wing indoctrination in our schools." The first source of this alleged indoctrination named by Trump was the late Howard Zinn, author of the best-selling A People's History of the United States (1980), whom he depicts not as a historian but as a propagandist: " Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history."

This presidential tirade against history teachers and Howard Zinn demonstrates Trump's ignorance of both. American history teachers in our nation's schools do not indoctrinate their students; they educate them via state mandated curricula and textbooks that are at least as respectful of the Founders of our republic as any mainstream politician, and promote democratic citizenship not mob violence. Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States is a work of history not propaganda. Zinn's book does stress the role of racial and class conflict and militarism in the American past, and so is considered too radical to be adopted as an official textbook by most school districts.

Trump gets the reality of school history education completely backwards. Far from being radical or so provocative as to seed leftist mob violence, most history instruction is actually too conservative, so lacking in controversy that it too often leaves students bored. This is why innovative teachers bring Zinn's work into schools, aiming not to indoctrinate but to engage students in authentic historical thought via debates contrasting select chapters from Zinn's iconoclastic history with their official, conventional US history textbooks. There are in Howard Zinn's papers at NYU hundreds of letters from high school students and teachers attesting that history came to life in their classrooms when they used the competing interpretations offered by Zinn and their textbooks to argue about Columbus' bravery as an explorer vs. the brutality of his conquests, Andrew Jackson's democratic politics vs. his responsibility for the Trail of Tears, whether the Mexican American war was an unjust US war of aggression, whether the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to end World War II, and other important, thought provoking debates about American history.

Trump's charge that Zinn makes students feel "ashamed" of their history is false. Zinn had no interest in fostering shame, but rather wrote his People's History to promote critical thinking, especially about class, racial, and gender inequality and war-making in America. Zinn sought to arouse in his readers a quality Trump is famed for lacking, empathy, for the oppressed. Or as Zinn put it, "in a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners." Zinn so admired people's protest movements in their struggles for a more just and democratic America that his People's History valorized those movements. In fact, the book offered dramatic accounts of Americans resisting oppression, a narrative that was at times inspiring, promoting not shame but pride in this ongoing and unfinished struggle for social justice.

It is absurd to think that the president read Zinn's 688 page People's History before knocking itor that he would do so now to see how wrong he is about Zinn. But he could get to know Zinn better without reading a thing.

Zinn's People's History inspired theater events and then a movie, The People Speak, in which famed actors such as Danny Glover, Marissa Tomei, Viggo Mortensen and many others read the words of great American dissenters, from Frederick Douglass to Emma Goldman, to Martin Luther King, Jr. This movie, when aired on the History Channel, attracted some nine million viewers, leaving reviewers impressed with the eloquence of America's radical social activists. Those speeches, and the protest music sung by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Randy Newman, and John Legend fostered greater understanding of the role of dissent in the American past. Had this movie been screened at the White House Conference on American History, Trump's talk about Zinn making students feel ashamed of their history would have been refuted right before his eyes.

Like Howard Zinn, the best history teachers recognize that if students are to be prepared for democratic citizenship, they must learn to think critically about the world, and confront the reality that, as James Baldwin put it, "American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it." Serious study of our nation's past involves understanding not only America's inspiring democratic ideals but its failures to live up to them, and studying the historical struggles on behalf of those ideals. This kind of a critical reckoning with historical reality is far more accurate, humane, and truer to our democratic faith than the flag waving, propagandistic version of the American past touted at the White House Conference on American history.

Robert Cohen is a professor of social studies education and history at NYU, author of Howard Zinn's Southern Diary: Civil Rights, Sit-Ins, and Black Women's Student Activism, and coauthor with Sonia Murrow of Rethinking America's Past: Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States in the Classroom and Beyond (in press).

How two French introverts quietly fought the Nazis

Whenever Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe went into town to do some shopping, they also snuck messages to the Nazi occupation forces.

Suzanne pulled a small note typed on a piece of thin colored paper from inside the pocket of her Burberry overcoat and stuck the message onto the windshield of a German staff car. Lucy gingerly placed another on a cafe table as they walked down the street. Working together, they tucked one inside a magazine for a soldier to discover. Sometimes, Suzanne snuck up alongside a German and, with a trembling hand, slipped a note into his pocket knowing that a bump or a misstep could lead to time in a prison camp.

In 1937, Lucy and Suzanne had left Paris and moved to the island of Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands just off the coast of Normandy. Both were in the their late 40s and ready to start a new chapter of life on the beautiful island after living for so long at odds with the world around them. They fell in love as teenagers, but being lesbian partners in a conservative turn-of-the-century France was sometimes painful. Lucy's father's family was Jewish at a time of growing anti-Semitism. By the 1920s, they achieved some success in Paris as avant-garde artists; they are known today for their Surrealist photography. New gender-neutral artistic names Claude Cahun (Lucy) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne) allowed them to create new identities that crossed the boundaries between masculinity and femininity. They associated with communists and flirted with radical politics.

But Lucy and Suzanne were always the quiet sort. Although they opened their apartment to creative friends and socialized in Parisian cafés, they remained most closely connected to one another. When Paris became too noisy and politically polarized, the women decided to leave it all behind.

The Nazis took control of the Channel Islands in July 1940. This archipelago in the English Channel was the only British soil the German army ever conquered. It was also strategically important because it became the leading edge of Hitler's "Atlantic Wall," a series of fortifications along the European coastline designed to prevent Allied attack. No dissent could be tolerated there.

Working together in the dim light each evening, Lucy and Suzanne wrote subversive messages by pushing cigarette paper, pages torn out of a ledger, or scraps they found on the side of the road into their Underwood typewriter. They tapped out songs and imaginary dialogues designed to undermine morale. Sometimes they made fun of Nazi leaders with bawdy jokes or included a simple summary of forbidden BBC news reports. Written in German in the voice of an anonymous soldier, the notes proclaimed that the troops would pay the ultimate price for Hitler's futile war.

Then Lucy and Suzanne crammed the notes down deep into the pockets of their overcoats and headed out on another mission. They always worked alone.

As the war escalated, the women became more extreme. Lucy snuck out at night and dashed through the cemetery near their house to place crosses with the pacifist message, "For him the war is over" onto the graves of soldiers who had died during the occupation. Inside a church where soldiers worshipped, they hung a banner claiming that Hitler believed he was greater than Jesus.

Back in Paris, Lucy had formulated a vision of resistance she called "indirect action." Art that tried to be revolutionary would not work, but a thoughtful poem, provocative story, or surprising photograph could have a profound effect on its audience, burrowing inside the mind and germinating into a new perspective. This was not propaganda, she claimed, but an attempt to challenge people to think. It was the introvert's way of fighting.

The German secret police hunted them for four years, and during their trial, the chief judge told them why. He accused them of being guerrilla warriors who were more dangerous than soldiers. "With firearms," he claimed, "one knows at once what damage has been done, but with spiritual arms, one cannot tell how far reaching it may be." It was a perfect summary of Lucy's "indirect effect."

These notes might have seemed small and insignificant, but they demonstrated that the Nazis could not colonize the human heart. And Lucy and Suzanne's story shows that quiet, persistent rewriting of the narrative of oppression can be a powerful means of fighting back.

Historian and scholar of the War on Terror says Trump's claim of credit in the fight against ISIS are hot air

Bold Claims of Victory Over ISIS

During the recent vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, Vice President Pence made a bold comment on Trump's role in defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This has been a major bragging point for the administration. Pence boasted

We destroyed the ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] caliphate….You know when President Trump came into office, ISIS had captured an area of the Middle East, the size of Pennsylvania. President Trump unleashed the American military, and our armed forces destroyed the ISIS Caliphate and took down their leader al Baghdadi without one American casualty.

Trump has on numerous other occasions has taken credit for defeating the Islamic State. In his February 2019 State of the Union address, for example, he bragged "When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers."

Trump's statements were not only crafted to take credit for the victory over ISIS, they have been crafted to diminish his predecessor Barack Obama's victories. Trump, for example, said nine months into his presidency in October 2017, "we've done more against ISIS in nine months than the previous administration has done during its whole administration — by far, by far." In March 2018, Trump would make the maximalist statement "on terrorism, in Iraq and Syria, we've taken back almost 100 percent, in a very short period of time, of the land that they took. And it all took place since our election."

But are Trump and Pence's claims to sole credit accurate or are they mere campaign braggadocio?

I am a scholar who formerly worked for the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center and U.S. Army's Information Operations team in Afghanistan. I track and write map-based reports on the Islamic State group and its affiliates. I pay careful attention to where the group has been defeated and is still active and holds territory as part of a University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth project I lead called MappingISIS.com In addition I have published a book on America's war on ISIS and numerous articles. Data I have collected – including from official reports issued by the State Department, the Global Anti-ISIS Coalition, the Pentagon, IHS Conflict Monitor, a think tank that provides data on wars, and other think tanks – show that the president's claims are false: the Trump administration inherited a war from Obama in 2017 that was by all metrics successful in "degrading and destroying" the Islamic State Caliphate of theocracy on every front by the time he became Commander in Chief.

A Caliphate in Retreat Under Obama

The "light footprint" war against ISIS known as Operation Inherent Resolve was launched by Obama in 2014 and was criticized by Republicans because the president chose an unconventional proxy approach to war. This approach leveraged local Kurdish fighters and Iraqi soldiers to fight to achieve America's goals instead of a 2003-11 Iraq War "Shock and Awe" style conventional "big war" with US troops in the vanguard doing the fighting and dying. Despite widespread criticism from Republicans, Obama's unconventional proxy approach worked and, according to Pentagon, State Department, think tanks, Anti-ISIS Coalition and other sources, the campaign achieved tremendous success on all fronts by the time Trump took office in January 2017.

The US envoy to the anti-ISIS Coalition Brett McGurk, for example, stated a month before Trump took office, "in early 2016 . . . about 50 percent of the [Islamic State] territory had been cleared." The Global Anti-ISIS Coalition similarly reported "by November 2016 [two months before Trump took office] Islamic State had lost 62 per cent of its mid-2014 'peak' territory in Iraq, and 30 per cent in Syria." In addition, the widely respected British think tank IHS Markitreportedthat by the final months of Obama's presidency, ISIS territory in Iraq had shrunk from 40 percent of the country to just 10 percent. Pentagon and State Department maps of the war on ISIS from this period further demonstrate that in the two and half years the war was fought under Obama the Islamic State lost its only international border to the world (its strategic resupply border with Turkey) and vast swathes of territory. They clearly show that approximately half of the Islamic State's territory had been liberated by the time Obama left office. See State Department and Pentagon maps from late 2016 below:

2016 US State Department Map Depicting ISIS Losses Under Obama in Light Green and Caliphate [Theocracy] Areas Remaining When Trump Took Office in Dark Green.

2016 Department of Defense Map Showing ISIS Losses Under Obama in Light Green and Caliphate Lands Remaining When Trump Took Office in Orange

(Dark Green Represents Areas Under Assault When Obama Left Office)

Using these maps and multiple sources from the State Department and Pentagon and IHS Conflict Monitor, a think tank that provides data on wars, I have created a map below that dovetails with the 2016 Pentagon and State Department maps above and for the first time delineates territory liberated from the Islamic State under Obama in light green and under Trump in dark green.

Using Pentagon and State Department reports which track the liberation of towns in Iraq I have also created a map that shows that under Obama the Coalition liberated much of Iraq, including half of Mosul (the Islamic State's largest city) and most of the towns of the so-called Sunni Triangle.

(image 4)

A Deadly War of Attrition

Under Obama ISIS also suffered considerable loss in life. A month before Obama left office CNN was to cite the US envoy to the Anti-ISIS Coalition in a report that captured the devastating losses to the ISIS fighting force:

At least 75% of ISIS fighters have been killed during the campaign of US-led airstrikes, according to US officials. The US anti-ISIS envoy said the campaign has winnowed ISIS' ranks to between 12,000 and 15,000 "battle ready" fighters, a top US official said on Tuesday. The figures mean the US and its coalition partners have taken out vastly more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria than currently remain on the battlefield, two years since the bombing campaign began. Last week a US official said the coalition had killed 50,000 militants since 2014.

At approximately the time Obama left the White House in the winter of 2017, General Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, told a symposium in Maryland, "We have killed over 60,000 [ISIS members]."

If accurate, the Pentagon claim of 60,000 militants killed by the time Trump took office speaks to a devastating war of attrition in the two and half years that Obama oversaw the campaign. In July 2016, six months before Obama left office, the assessment that ISIS was being defeated on the battlefield was reaffirmed by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. He noted that "play by play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain—our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqa and Mosul. We're isolating those two cities and effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL's control over them." In addition to losing territory and fighters under Obama the Islamic State lost most of its oil producing capacity in a massive bombing campaign known as Tidal Wave II and its fallback capital and its sanctuary in the Libyan town of Sirte. A Pentagon spokesman reported that the November 2015 bombing blitz destroyed "90 percent" of ISIS's oil capacity.

All of this data clearly demonstrates that Trump's claim to having overseen "100 percent" of the defeat of ISIS is demonstrably false and amounts to nothing more than campaign season hyperbole. According to all contemporary sources on the war, Obama and Biden deserve far more credit for the "degrading and destruction" of the Islamic State caliphate than Trump or Pence have given them in their self-promoting claims.

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