History News Network

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 emergency response 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 it or 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.

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