Ian Reifowitz

The GOP's Dr. Seuss distraction is vastly different than the 2009 stimulus derailment strategy — here's how

We're not in 2009 anymore. President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP)—which passed with only Democratic support—makes that clear. In 2009, also in the midst of a terrible crisis, we enacted a very different economic package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The differences in content between the two are stark.

The current one is more than twice as large, delivers money directly to people who need it (rather than fruitlessly seeking bipartisan support, in part by including tax cuts which are far less effective in terms of impact), and is strikingly more progressive, more so than anything proposed by a president since LBJ, according to Ezra Klein—in particular in its approach to poverty. But equally stark is the difference between the Republican response this time versus 12 years ago.

Despite newly elected President Barack Obama's inclusion of various elements Republicans should have supported, his 2009 stimulus package faced sustained and ruthless attacks from conservative politicians and, just as importantly, the right-wing media. At the time, the "de facto leader" of the Republican Party was Rush Limbaugh, whose audience size beat that of all his radio rivals. His assaults on the Obama stimulus package are representative of those put forth by the rest of the right-wing media ecosystem.

Day after day, the host attacked Obama's plan—at a time when the president was immensely popular, more so than Joe Biden at a comparable point in his presidency. The Obama stimulus itself was broadly popular when it was enacted on Feb. 17, 2009, although it did not garner quite as much support as Biden's plan does right now. Conservatives like Limbaugh made it their business to turn the American people against the bill, and not just by criticizing it on the grounds of small-government ideology. They had a good deal of success, in part because of flaws in the ARRA, but also because they were laser-focused on poisoning the discourse around it.

In addition to lying about the specifics, Limbaugh race-baited his listeners by slamming the ARRA as a "welfare payment"—a racially loaded term that conservatives going back to Ronald Reagan used as a dog whistle, to evoke stereotypical images of Black people supposedly not working while being supported by the government. The host linked the Obama plan to welfare in different ways, on numerous different broadcasts, and mentioned how "civil rights coalitions" supported the push to "redistribute" money by "taking it from you" (given that his audience was overwhelmingly white, we know who "you" referred to). He went after the bill for sending money to ACORN—which advocated for low-income folks and people of color, and worked to increase voter registration—despite the fact that the group got no money from the ARRA. Limbaugh also speculated baselessly that Al Sharpton and his group got stimulus funds.

The host also lied about the ARRA giving tax credits to "illegal aliens"—which did not happen. Additionally, he characterized the Obama stimulus as an "effort to buy votes," and then immediately played an exchange of the president talking with a Latino student. In this and other similar segments, the host's goal was to paint the plan as seeking to help those Black and brown people whom he depicted as wanting to avoid work. As Limbaugh told it, the ARRA was another plank in a race war fueled by Obama's "rage"—and inspired by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bringing it all together on June 22, 2009, the host spewed the following racist claptrap: "Everything in the stimulus plan, every plan he's got is reparations. … Redistribution of wealth, reparations … whatever you want to call it, it's reparations."

Although today's Republicans are employing different tactics in opposing Biden's plan, some habits are hard to break. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham went after a provision aimed at helping Black farmers who suffered a century of systemic discrimination after the Civil War, using the same language as Limbaugh: "In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven up to 120% of your loan if you're socially disadvantaged, if you're African American … some other minority. But if you're (a) white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness! That's reparations!" House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, who hails from the same state, called Graham out: "He ought to be ashamed of himself. He knows the history in this country and he knows what has happened to Black farmers," and added that his fellow South Carolinian ought to "go to church … Get in touch with his Christianity."

Graham didn't attack the overall bill in race-baiting terms, however. I'm not suggesting that's because the 2021 version of the Republican Party has grown more enlightened on race since it fell under the sway of Donald Trump. It's because the circumstances around the American Rescue Plan are different from those in play in 2009. Republicans haven't stopped using racially or culturally divisive attacks as a way to distract from the unpopularity of their policy positions. It's just that, with over half a million deaths that have affected all communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even they don't think it's a winning move to attack Biden's relief bill on the same sort of race-baiting grounds, or with the same level of intensity, as they did Obama's ARRA package.

Republicans can't even successfully go after the ARP as "big government" overreach or for increasing the national debt, because they supported multiple COVID-19 bills last year that in total spent even more, not to mention their having busted the budget on Trump's Rich Man's Tax Cut in 2017. The last thing Republicans want to do is remind voters that they blew a trillion-plus dollar hole in the national debt and sent just about half of that money to the richest 5%, while Biden's bill will put 70% of its money into the pockets of the bottom 60% of Americans by income.


Democrats must make sure voters don't forget that. New York. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's messaging nailed it: "We should shout it from the rooftops that we are passing historic legislation that will reboot the economy and end the pandemic. They're always ready to help a big corporation or a rich person, but when a working family needs help, the Republicans tell them to drop dead."

Even Republican mayors—32 of them in fact, from states ranging from Oklahoma to North Carolina to Indiana to Arizona to Michigan—signed on to support the Biden plan. Directly countering lies from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about "blue state bailouts," Republican Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan, stated: "This isn't because of some gross mismanagement or some bad contracts that were signed or historic deficits. This is about addressing the needs of a global pandemic that are really (for) the same constituents they serve in D.C. that we're serving here at the local level."

For multiple reasons, including the fact that their current leader, aka Mr. Former Guy, supported the main element—a check going out to most Americans—the Republican response to the American Rescue Plan has been "more muted" than 12 years ago, and that includes the response from Trump.

The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Twice) actually slammed his once and possible future ally McConnell over his opposition to those very checks. Republicans can't seem to get on the same page when it comes to the specifics of the ARP, so it's hard for them to condemn it in a coherent way. Sen. McTurtle has issued a few statements rebuking the relief package, but it's nothing compared to 2009.

Rather than go hard after the ARP in the way Limbaugh had done with the ARRA a dozen years ago, Trump all but ignored it at his biggest and best opportunity: CPAC. He devoted only two sentences to the bill during a speech lasting an hour and a half, instead spending much more time talking about the election, impeachment, and those who truly demonstrated, in the words of Luca Brasi, their "ever-ending loyalty." As for those who didn't, they could sleep with the fishes as far as Trump—who has himself been accused of acting like a mafia boss—was concerned.

Instead, Trump and his party made a decision to attack Biden in a very incoherent way. This is not to suggest that they don't know what they are doing, but rather that what they are doing is not going to work. They are banking on people, when they vote in 2022, somehow not remembering how bad the situation was when Biden took office, so that Republicans can then say that the ARP didn't really do all that much, or wasn't necessary in the first place—as Moscow Mitch just claimed on Thursday—or was just a bunch of progressive ideas (yeah, and people like those ideas). Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi is actually trying to take credit for the bill, even though he (and every other Republican) voted against it. Talk about incoherence. You know their attacks are pretty weak when they sound like this one, from Texas Sen. John Cornyn: "Unfortunately, there's going to be a sugar high because free money is very popular … So this may be temporarily popular, but it's going to wear thin over time."

If you have to say twice that the bill is going to be popular, then maybe you've got a political problem here, senator. Republicans are already trying to "pre-deny" credit for the coming boom to Biden's policies—even as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's analysis found that the American Rescue Plan would increase economic growth in our country by an impressive 3% over previous estimates, and would add over 1% to worldwide economic growth. That's a Big Fucking … oh, forget it, everyone else has already used that line. It is a BFD, though.

There were a couple of other echoes of 2009 coming from conservatives. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee issued a statement in early February criticizing the increased child tax credit that ended up in the final bill as "welfare assistance." Chris Hartline, National Republican Senatorial Committee spox, went off about Democrats not caring if stimulus checks went to undocumented immigrants. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has made similar complaints, and also carped about ARP money going to incarcerated prisoners.

However, there are two problems for The Man Who Threw His Own Daughters Under The Bus: first, his proposed amendment would have blocked 2 million American citizen children from receiving stimulus checks just because their parents are undocumented. As Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority whip, noted: "These American kids should receive this relief just as other American kids do." Second, the previous COVID-19 stimulus checks—the ones with the Orange Julius Caesar's name on them—also went out to prisoners, something Cruz absolutely knew before the December COVID-19 bill was passed. Did he utter a peep about it when that bill was under discussion? I think you know the answer.

So, although conservatives have made their pro forma condemnations of the ARP, what they are actually spending the bulk of their time and energy screaming about these days reveals their fundamental strategy. Their goal is not to rile up their voters about what the president is doing—which will help just about every American—but instead distract them with totally unrelated culture war issues.

Do Fox News viewers even know about the American Rescue Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that passed the Senate? They might not. The network, like most right-wing media, has largely ignored the Covid-19 relief legislation, instead fixating on silly culture-war controversies involving Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. In the days leading up to the Senate vote, the network was far more concerned with the availability of Dr. Seuss's Scrambled Eggs Super than it was with any aspect of the bill itself.

Want to guess how many times Fox mentioned Dr. Seuss just through March 3? Not one fish, and not two fish. Try 60 times, as counted by The Washington Post. Beyond the cancel culture crap, the Party of Trump has one arena of actual policy that it seems to think is worthy of more time, attention, and vitriol than COVID-19 relief: the great danger they insist is posed by transgender athletes. To his eternal credit, Florida (Man) Rep. Matt Gaetz combined two manufactured controversies in a single bank shot when, at CPAC, he quipped: "Mr. Potato Head was America's first transgender doll and even he got canceled." I haven't seen anyone get this worked up about Mr. Potato Head since this guy yelled at his little nerdy buddy.

Just look at a snapshot of Fox News' website after the ARP passed compared to that of CNN. The latter has the vitally important piece of legislation at the top, over the entire three-column page. The former leads with the Meghan Markle/Piers Morgan clash, and its largest mention of the president is in an article about how his "handlers" are, wait for it, "hidin' Biden." Yep, they're still going with that campaign calumny about the guy who trounced Trump being somehow infirm.

Anything to avoid reality.

Why are Republicans following this strategy? After being fed political junk food for so long—especially by the demagogue who has led their party going on five years now—it's the only thing their voters want to imbibe. These kinds of culture war attacks "unif[y] the party but expands it into the area we need to—the suburban moms, the college educated men that we struggled with in 2020, there's common ground with these constituencies," according to Mercedes Schlapp, who worked for the twice-impeached president. Republican strategist Matt Gorman added that such tactics represent "a cultural touchstone for folks that shows where a party's priorities are." Famed Republican pollster Frank Luntz thinks they are "definitely" a good way to excite the right-wing base.

Daniel Cox, a researcher at the American Enterprise institute who has done extensive research about the topic, found that "concerns about cultural influence, political power and status are really overwhelming other ideological concerns on the right. Traditional conservative principles, whether it's commitment to a strong national defense or support for limited government, do not animate Republican voters." Other Republicans offered similar opinions.

Even the recently deceased Limbaugh typically used to tie his race-baiting attacks to larger ideological questions or at least policies under discussion in the moment—not that that's praise, mind you. Now, however, the Party of Trump can't even bother to do that, as per POLITICO: "Today, much of the fracas doesn't even involve Biden, or his administration, or his policy agenda. Instead, it involves things like corporate decisions around kids' toys."

In the end, as Ron Brownstein pointed out, Republicans were unable to "ignite a grassroots backlash" against Biden's COVID-19 relief package. One Democratic pollster, Nick Gourevitch, saw a lack of passion behind the Republican attacks on the bill: "It doesn't seem like they are even really trying." Brownstein reported that, off the record at least, a number of Republicans agreed.

For their part, the Biden White House is more than happy to put its actual policy accomplishments up against the trash the other side is throwing out there.

One of the criticisms leveled at Obama—including by Barack himself—was that he didn't always do a great job advertising his own achievements to voters. The 44th president acknowledged: "We did not always think about making sure we were advertising properly what was going on," and added that his White House should have taken more "victory laps." His veep, now the 46th president, appears to have learned the lesson well, as evidenced by the primetime address he delivered Thursday night.

Democrats think they have a winner with the American Rescue Plan, and it looks like they know how to tell the story of what they've accomplished.

The most recent polling shows not only that the American people favor the bill, but also that there's a significant class divide that portends even more danger for the Party of Trump. Overall, 41% of Republicans like the ARP, which is bad enough for them. However, among the quarter of Republicans who are lower income, that percentage is 63%.

Here's the analysis from Daily Kos' Kerry Eleveld: "This GOP divide along class lines gives Democrats a real opening to both win back some blue-collar voters as well as remind some Trump voters why they were never sold on the Republican Party to begin with (thereby discouraging them from turning out next year)."

It's easy to say that, come the next election, the bullshit will win out over substance. We are Democrats, after all, which means we often see the glass as half-empty when it comes to electoral politics. But that's not always how it plays out. Republicans may hope that if they just yell and scream about other, unrelated topics, voters in 2022 will forget that Biden's relief plan significantly helped just about every American finally get past this devastating pandemic.

It's up to all of us to help Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and the rest of the Democratic Party make sure voters remember who did that for them.

Progressives are right to push President Biden to cut military spending

Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution reads: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." The person who holds that office thus takes the brunt of responsibility for defending our country. While it's not his only responsibility as president, Joe Biden knows full well that no other part of his job is more important. Fulfilling it, however, does not require spending money unwisely, in particular if doing so means shortchanging other national priorities in areas ranging from infrastructure to health care to education. That is the message progressives in Congress want to make sure the 46th president hears.

When he took office a month ago, Biden inherited the military spending policies of The Man Who Lost An Election And Incited An Insurrection To Overturn It. As per The Hill, in 2017, U.S. military spending was $610 billion, whereas in the current fiscal year it stands at $748 billion—representing a jump of 22.6%. Nondefense spending, by comparison, stands 15% below that of defense spending.

Would it surprise you to know that the Orange Julius Caesar, unable to feel satisfied with the increased dollars spent under his watch, couldn't resist lying about it? "We've totally rebuilt the military." (To quote Shermer High School's John Bender: "Totally?") Spending on defense, according to Donald Trump, "used to be 'million.' And then, about 10 years ago, you started hearing 'billion.' And now you're starting to hear 'trillion,' right?" To correct the pathological prevaricator, we still aren't spending a trillion each year, and we've been hearing "billion" as far back as the Defense Department has tabulated total annual spending figures, i.e., starting in 1948. But what's a decade or seven for someone with no interest in facts?

Given Trump's much bigger lies—including The Big Lie about having lost the election—one can say that exaggerating about military spending is more on the order of a white lie by comparison. On the other hand, all of his lies are white lies, in that each one is told in the service of whiteness.

But now Biden is president, so let's talk about military spending going forward rather than the past—imagined or otherwise. Before we get into the specifics of that spending, please take a look at how our country's defense budget compares to that of other countries—I'm loath to call them competitors because, when it comes to spending, there's really no comparison.


During the presidential campaign, Biden promised to "end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure … (and) bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS." From 9/11 through October 2019, our country has spent $778 billion on the war in Afghanistan, along with another $44 billion in reconstruction costs in that country. The true final tally—even in dollars, let alone the human cost—is much harder to calculate.

In the current fiscal year, spending in Afghanistan appears to be around $15 billion, down from previous years thanks to an already planned drawdown in troops that was supposed to culminate in the removal of all U.S. military personnel by May 1. This withdrawal is linked to a U.S.-Taliban agreement signed last year. However, recent violence has led the Biden administration to indicate that it will likely not abide by that timeline. Additionally, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came out specifically against removing all U.S. troops by the May deadline.

John Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson, stated: "The Taliban have not met their commitments. As you know, there is a looming deadline of early May ... but without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces and, by dint of that, the Afghan people, it's very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement." One hopes that these words represent an attempt to bring pressure to bear rather than anything more definitive, and that the Taliban does live up to its side of the bargain in the end so that Biden can bring home as close to 100% of our troops as possible.

Either way, it does not appear that truly large savings on our military spending in Afghanistan are in the offing, given the already relatively low current amount. Nevertheless, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it begins to add up to real money, as the saying goes.

On Iran, the previous administration's brainless unilateralism was on full display, as the U.S. in 2018 pulled out of the nuclear deal negotiated under President Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly, President Biden is going to try and revive it. Additionally, he reversed his predecessor's pronouncement from November—also unilateral—that the totality of United Nations sanctions against Tehran were back in force. Certainly, improved relations with Iran as part of a deal that puts them further away from being able to develop nuclear weapons is a good thing in and of itself—although Thursday's U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria, which Biden authorized in retaliation for previous violence the groups committed, show that achieving such improvements will not be simple. Additionally, although it's hard to quantify, one would think having better relations with Iran would produce some savings on military spending as well.

Within the broad category of defense spending, there are some areas that might well require increases, given the changing nature of the threats we face. While we may not need as many tanks, nuclear missiles, and planes as we once did, cybersecurity is clearly an area where the U.S. has not done enough in the last few years. The recent devastating SolarWinds hack emanating from Russia—not China, as Putin's Puppet President falsely claimed, contradicting his own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—that breached multiple government agencies along with over 100 businesses made that failing clear.

President Biden is responding on the cybersecurity front. First of all, he spoke directly to his counterpart in Moscow: "I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens, are over." He added: "We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people." Doing more than just talking, Biden's COVID-19 relief plan contained more than $10 billion to address the cyber threat. Additionally, the new administration announced it will be enacting other measures through "executive action." The need to spend more money on cybersecurity only further increases the importance of finding savings elsewhere in spending on defense.

Then there's the Space Force. No, I'm not kidding. After Trump created it in late 2019, Daily Kos' SemDem offered a brilliant takedown: "There are more than enough reasons why Space Force is a bad idea, starting with the fact that its mission was an afterthought to the primary reason, which, much like his vanity border wall, only exists to serve Trump's ego."

It appears that Biden will resist calls to simply return the functions of Space Force back to the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army—out of which it was carved in the first place. There still may be savings to be found, given that the current budget allocated over $15 billion to what is now the sixth branch of the Armed Forces. In addition, hopefully he'll undo Trump's last-second move of Space Force's command center from Colorado—which he lost and where a Democrat beat an incumbent Republican in a Senate race—to Alabama, where Trump won and where a Senate seat flipped in the opposite direction. Whether the move was motivated by politics and a desire by Trump to enact revenge on a blue state is something I'll leave to you to decide. The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board noted that the move to Alabama "will cost billions over time."

In terms of our federal budget, military spending as a share of all discretionary spending—that refers to spending not set by law, such as Social Security—dwarfs that of any other individual area. In fact, military spending equals all those other areas put together.


Furthermore, it's important to make clear that military spending is far from the only kind of spending that protects the security of our country. Spending money on diplomacy protects our country. Spending money to combat climate change—at home and abroad—protects our country. Foreign aid protects our country. Democrats have long understood this, while Republicans—as on so many other issues—typically fail to see the big picture. As Daily Kos' Squire for You cogently argued, "Democrats are the party of national security," and we need to "reframe" the entire debate around the topic.

Progressives have been speaking out about the necessity of adjusting our spending priorities away from the military and toward other priorities—separate from the emergency needs created by COVID-19—that have been neglected for too long. Given that $7.4 billion of excess military supplies have been transferred to police departments since 1997 through the 1033 program, one can certainly argue that some of that spending may have been unjustified in terms of military necessity. Just maybe.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, presented the basic progressive perspective: "The disconnect between our defense spending and the threats Americans actually face has never been wider. It's long past time to rethink and refocus how we spend our money to protect this country because military and nuclear weapons alone, as we've seen, are not enough to protect us."

Progressives in the House are singing the same tune: "It is a top issue for the [Congressional Progressive Caucus]," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Chair of the CPC, a week ago. "This is a really important moment for us to move forward on cutting out waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon." Here's the CPC's broad policy stance on military spending:

The Progressive Caucus is fighting to rein in bloated Pentagon spending, end America's unauthorized forever wars, and rebalance our priorities abroad through robust investments in diplomacy, sustainable development, and humanitarian assistance. The United States spends more today on the military than at any time in our history—while at the same time, the Trump Administration has hollowed out essential diplomatic and humanitarian infrastructure. At the Progressive Caucus, we believe Congress should reduce conflict and foster peace—not issue blank checks for endless wars. By adopting a new global security posture that balances defense, diplomacy, and development aid, we can advance the goal of peace, rein bloated spending, and create greater economic prosperity for families here at home.

In terms of numbers, Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have led the push to cut military spending by 10% across-the-board—with military pay exempt from that cut. Their effort last year garnered support from about half of Democrats in each house of Congress—although notably two of the senators who got on board were now-Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the current majority whip. Who heads the Senate's Budget Committee in the new Congress, you might ask? That would be Sanders.

Rep. Lee condemned the bloat in military costs born during the Trump years, in particular compared to the levels of spending on nonmilitary needs. "Wasteful defense spending does not make our communities safer—it only weakens our ability to respond to crises, and in recent years, that wastefulness has only increased." Regarding the specific amount she'd like to see cut, Lee commented: "Ten percent is low. That's the floor."

Obviously, our country faces military threats that must be addressed. It's also important to note that blowback from our actions around the world sometimes creates new threats, or exacerbates existing ones. Beyond the moral implications of U.S. military policy, it is clear that we need to shift our spending to some degree from our current approach. We cannot keep throwing billions of dollars at the same old military programs, and we absolutely cannot continue to shortchange other priorities both within the area of defense and in the rest of the budget. We need to invest in the American people, and work toward making our society a place with more justice and greater opportunity for each of us. The progressives are right on this issue. President Biden needs to listen to them.

Assassination, secession and insurrection: The crimes of John Wilkes Booth, Jefferson Davis — and now Trump

Donald Trump broke new ground as the first president—the first American, period—to be impeached twice. However, thinking of him solely in those terms fails by a long shot to capture how truly historic his crimes were. Forget the number of impeachments—and certainly don't be distracted by pathetic, partisan scoundrels voting to acquit—The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Twice) is the only president to incite a violent insurrection aimed at overthrowing our democracy—and get away with it.

But reading those words doesn't fully and accurately describe the vile nature of what Trump wrought on Jan. 6. In this case, to paraphrase the woman who should've been the 45th president, it takes a video.

Although it's difficult, I encourage anyone who hasn't yet done so to watch the compilation of footage the House managers presented on the first day of the impeachment trial. It left me shaking with rage. Those thugs wanted not just to defile a building, but to defile our Constitution. They sought to overturn an election in which many hadn't even bothered themselves to vote.

What was their purpose? In their own words, as they screamed while storming the Capitol: "Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!" Those were the exact same words they had chanted shortly beforehand during the speech their leader gave at the Ellipse. He told them to fight for him, and they told him they would. And then they did.

Many of those fighting for Trump were motivated by a white Christian nationalist ideology of hate—hatred of liberals, Jews, African Americans, and other people of color. Most of that Trumpist mob stands diametrically opposed to the ideals that really do make America great—particularly the simple notion laid down in the Declaration of Independence that, after nearly 250 years, we've still yet to fully realize: All of us are created equal. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was but another battle in our country's long-running race war.

As Rev. William Barber explained just a few days ago: "White supremacy, though it may be targeted at Black people, is ultimately against democracy itself." He added: "This kind of mob violence, in reaction to Black, brown and white people coming together and voting to move the nation forward in progressive ways, has always been the backlash."

Barber is right on all counts. White supremacy's centuries-long opposition to true democracy in America is also the through-line that connects what Trump has done since Election Day and on Jan. 6 to his true historical forebears in our history. Not the other impeached presidents, whose crimes—some more serious than others—differed from those of Trump not merely by a matter of degree, but in their very nature. Even Richard Nixon, as dangerous to the rule of law as his actions were, didn't encourage a violent coup. That's how execrable Trump is; Tricky Dick comes out ahead by comparison.

Instead, Trump's true forebears are the violent white supremacists who rejected our democracy to preserve their perverted racial hierarchy: the Southern Confederates. It's no coincidence that on Jan. 6 we saw a good number of Confederate flags unfurled at the Capitol on behalf of the Insurrectionist-in-Chief. As many, including Penn State history professor emeritus William Blair, have noted: "The Confederate flag made it deeper into Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, than it did during the Civil War."

As for that blood-soaked, intra-American conflict—after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, 11 Southern states refused to accept the results because they feared it would lead to the end of slavery. They seceded from the Union and backed that action with violence. Led by their president, Jefferson Davis, they aimed to achieve through the shedding of blood what they could not at the ballot box: to protect their vision of a white-dominated society in which African Americans were nothing more than property.

Some, of course, will insist the Civil War began for other reasons, like "states' rights," choosing to skip right past the words uttered, just after President Lincoln's inauguration, by Alexander Stephens, who would soon be elected vice president of the Confederacy. Stephens described the government created by secessionists thusly: "Its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."

In the speech he gave at his 1861 inauguration, Lincoln accurately diagnosed secession as standing in direct opposition to democracy.

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

Davis, Stephens, and the rest of the Confederates spent four long years in rebellion against democracy and racial equality. In 1865, Lincoln was sworn in for a second term. On the ballot the previous year had been his vision, laid out at Gettysburg, of a war fought so that our country might become what it had long claimed to be, namely a nation built on the promise of liberty and equality for every American. Lincoln's vision won the election. He planned to lead the Union to final victory and, hopefully, bring that vision to life. Instead, John Wilkes Booth shot the 16th president to death.

Why did Booth commit that violent act, one that sought to remove a democratically elected president? Look at his own written words: "This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered (it) one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation."

As author and Washington College historian Adam Goodheart explains, Booth was "motivated by politics and he was especially motivated by racism, by Lincoln's actions to emancipate the slaves and, more immediately, by some of Lincoln's statements that he took as meaning African Americans would get full citizenship." When Booth opened fire, his gun was aimed at not just one man, but at the notion of a multiracial, egalitarian democracy itself.

Trump may not have pulled a trigger, bashed a window, or attacked any police officers while wearing a flag cape, but he shares the same ideology, motive, and mindset as his anti-democratic, white supremacist forebears. They didn't like the result of an election, and were ready and willing to use violence to undo it. Secession, assassination, insurrection. These are three sides of a single triangle.

I hope, for the sake of our country and the world, we never have another president like Donald Trump. I hope we as a people—or at least enough of us—have learned that we cannot elect an unprincipled demagogue as our leader.

A person without principle will never respect, let alone cherish, the Constitution or the democratic process. A person without principle can only see those things as a means to gain or maintain a hold on power. A person without principle believes the end always justifies the means.

That's who Trump is: a person without principle. That's why he lied for two months after Election Day, why he called for his MAGA minions to come to Washington on the day Joe Biden's victory was to be formally certified in Congress, and why he incited an insurrection on that day to prevent that certification from taking place. His forces sought nothing less than the destruction of American democracy.

For those crimes, Trump was impeached, yes. But those crimes are far worse than those committed by any other president. Regardless of the verdict, those crimes will appear in the first sentence of his obituary. They are what he will be remembered for, despite the cowardice of his GOP enablers. Forever.

'Like I'm banging my head against the wall': Doctor sounds off on vaccine rollout disaster

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout in the U.S. is not going well in the majority of states. On Dec. 14 in New York City, Sandra Lindsay became the first American to receive the coronavirus vaccine, ostensibly just one of 20 million scheduled to do so by the end of 2020. Instead, only 3 million Americans had gotten the shot by then, and that number was only up to 4.6 million by Jan. 4. That's barely a one-quarter of the number of doses that had been shipped by then, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Now, in mid-January, almost 1 million doses are being administered per day.)

Dr. Fauci didn't mince words: "(N)o excuses. We should have gotten 20 distributed, and 20 into the arms of people, (and) by 20, I mean 20 million." There's no glib, "WTF" sort of phrase that properly captures how enraging this failure is. The New York Times editorial board called it "an astonishing failure—one that stands out in a year of astonishing failures."

We'll never know how many people in the U.S. will have died or suffered long-lasting harm because we are failing to hit vaccination benchmarks. Yet from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Great Lakes to the Gulf, we all want to know why we're in this position. Certainly, some of the blame goes to The President Who Tried To Overturn An Election He Lost: Donald Trump refused, for almost a week, to sign the COVID-19 relief bill with over $8 billion earmarked for vaccine distribution—essentially because he was angry about being ignored. Thus, that money couldn't be spent on ramping up the vaccination process for seven extra days—while we all watched the sociopathic Orange Manbaby throw a president-sized tantrum. Prior to Dec. 27, the federal government provided a piddling $340 million for the rollout. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti noted, "The federal government can't tell the local governments and state governments to do something and not give us aid."

It's yet another depraved action for which Trump has the blood of Americans on his hands—albeit not on his conscience, as that would require him to have one in the first place. Unsurprisingly, Trump is refusing to accept any responsibility. Again. Instead, he's blaming the states.

Beyond what the soon-to-be-former occupant of the White House did, the vaccine rollout's failures result from thousands of decisions made at the federal, state, and local level by people who, unlike the Insurrectionist-in-Chief, actually have good intentions. Broad reviews of those decisions, and their impact on the delay in vaccinating people, have been written elsewhere. Rather than write another one, I spoke at length with one New York City physician who takes care of patients directly, and who also has significant administrative responsibilities at an ambulatory (outpatient) facility that largely serves Americans of color, most of whom are lower-income.

This doctor, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, is in charge of securing vaccine doses for their facility, to be administered to health care workers and other eligible staff members. Their facility is not a federally qualified health center (FQHC), which means it has to apply and be formally approved in order to receive the vaccine for its employees; most non-hospitals fall into this category. The physician's experience in seeking approval to receive and administer the vaccine has been, in short, a nightmare. "The whole process has been so stressful and is taking so long," the doctor says. "I want to protect my staff, and I have been working really hard to make that happen, but it is beginning to feel like I am banging my head against the wall."

Non-FQHC facilities seeking the vaccine in New York City must apply to the Citywide Immunization Registry (CIR), while those outside the city go through the New York State Immunization Information System (NYIIS). Non-FQHC facilities throughout the city and state have faced huge hurdles, according to the physician. Their NYC facility, after a month of waiting—while calling or emailing almost daily in pursuit of updates or an explanation for the delay—finally had its application accepted, but then was unable to order the vaccine for another week, due to a problem with the CIR computer system.

The doctor ordered the vaccine about a week into January. As of this writing, they have still not yet been informed when it will arrive. Who knows when they will actually be able to get shots in people's arms? The physician adds: "My staff is getting very antsy; everyone wants to know when we will be getting the vaccine, but I have nothing to tell them. Every day, we email the CIR and get uninformative and evasive responses."

The facility has locations across the state; outside of the city, things are even worse. Six weeks passed before those other locations learned that their applications had been accepted by NYIIS. Like the facility in the city, it remains unclear when those locations might actually receive doses of the vaccine. It's not just New York: Other cities and states are also dealing with delays and problems in getting the vaccine widely administered.

The CIR and NYIIS are significantly understaffed, and admittedly, the holiday season didn't help. Given the COVID-19 crisis, it is an open question as to whether staff should have been asked to continue working over those holidays and/or over weekends—with proper compensation, of course. New York City and state alike would've needed financial help to pay those workers—help that did not arrive in time, thanks to the whims of a certain Individual-1.

Independent doctors' offices and freestanding medical facilities face additional barriers to acquiring the vaccine for their employees. "The process has been extremely difficult, opaque and time-consuming," the clinic doctor relates. "I cannot imagine how an organization smaller than ours would ever be able to do it."

They can't, they won't, and they don't. As the physician I spoke to explained, many of these smaller facilities simply won't bother to apply for various reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Many facilities are already short-staffed because of COVID-19, so they don't have the staff to deal with the application process and/or to administer the vaccine, as well as comply with the incredibly stringent post-vaccination reporting requirements;
  • Facilities don't have appropriate storage, particularly cold storage, for the vaccine;
  • The minimum number of doses a single facility can receive—the 100 doses in a Moderna box—far exceeds the number of employees at most of these facilities, leading to concerns about wasting doses that are needed elsewhere.

On that last point, there's another concern. Initially, there was some confusion about whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo's threat—to slap a $100,000 fine on any hospital that doesn't use all doses issued within seven days—also applies to smaller health care facilities and practices. Numerous physicians and health care administrators told The New York Times that this lack of clarity and fear of financial penalties discouraged smaller facilities from applying if they didn't have enough eligible staff to receive vaccinations. Given that the minimum number of doses a facility can order is 100, what happens if a facility only has 50 eligible employees, or 20?

Cuomo seems to have since "softened" the threat of a large fine, and clarified that facilities can send excess vaccine doses back to the state; given storage requirements—the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -70° C—that still may present difficulties for many facilities.

If employees at smaller facilities can't get vaccinated at work, they will further burden any alternative delivery system—systems that currently are unable to handle the load they already have. Many local health departments have set up vaccination sites for health care workers, but these sites are few and far between, and appointments are difficult to get. And, how will already understaffed facilities cope with employees missing time to chase down their shots? The questions go on and on.

The New York City doctor's experience tracks with the broader failure of the city and state's vaccination rollout. Seventeen days in, barely 88,000 NYC residents had been vaccinated—1% of the population in a city as hard hit as any place in the world, where the current positive test rate stands at almost 1 out of 10. Scarily, vaccinating large numbers of people is only going to get harder, as The New York Times reports.

The pace is worrying some experts. "I do feel concern," said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University. Despite months to prepare, there still seemed to be a steep learning curve when it comes to "the nitty-gritty of how do you get it from the freezer to the arm as quickly as possible," she said. "I think there are growing pains as people are picking up how to do this."

The first phase should have been the simplest, she added. "We've started out with the easiest populations, an almost captive audience: nursing homes and hospital workers — you know who they are and where to find them."

The problems faced by non-hospitals, as reported by the NYC doctor, are echoed in the Times' analysis.

"We feel forgotten," said Dr. Kerry Fierstein, a pediatrician and chief executive of a company that runs pediatrician offices, mainly on Long Island and in New York City. "If you're owned by a hospital, you've probably been vaccinated, but if you're completely unaffiliated, you don't know when you'll get vaccinated."

More broadly, the barriers non-hospital employees face in getting access to the vaccine mirror and exacerbate larger health care and societal inequalities in the U.S. relating to race, education, and class—inequalities that are particularly acute for COVID-19. In many cases, physicians in medical practices are able to be vaccinated at the hospital where they admit patients, but only as individuals. Think of the medical assistants, phlebotomists, and front desk workers at these facilities—all of whom interact with patients directly—as well as the cleaning staff and others who are also at risk. None of them can get the vaccine at work until their facility goes through the onerous process described above, actually gets approved, and decides to follow through and order the vaccine (then receives it). These workers, along with home health aides and others working for agencies, are also more likely to be women, and more likely to be Black or brown.

Lower Black and brown vaccination rates are a particular concern due to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on those communities. The lower rates result in part from long-standing (and well-founded) mistrust of the medical establishment and the government when it comes to vaccines and other health issues.

The doctor I spoke to suggested that, in order to get more Black and brown health care workers to take the vaccine, we need to offer it to them in their own workplaces, delivered by medical providers and staff with whom they feel comfortable discussing their vaccine hesitancy—people they know and trust: "I have had conversations with individual staff members who were hesitant about getting the vaccine. I was able to take the time and answer their questions—after which almost all of them decided to be vaccinated with us, because they know and trust me and our organization. They would not feel comfortable being vaccinated at a large, unfamiliar, and impersonal venue." Just one more reason to offer the vaccine in workplaces whenever possible.

Hopefully, New York and the other cities and states will share information and learn from one another about what went wrong—even as they're working feverishly to vaccinate people. "It's gone too slowly, I know, for many of us," acknowledged California Gov. Gavin Newsom shortly after New Year's. "All of us, I think, want to see 100% of what's received immediately administered in people's arms. That's a challenge."

On Jan. 5, Cuomo introduced a revised vaccination plan for New York, conceding that the existing approach wasn't working. The new plan has three components: First, vaccinate all staff and residents in nursing homes, over a two-week period. Next, a push to get hospitals to vaccinate their health care workers; and finally, "special efforts" created by the state to directly deliver shots to all eligible New Yorkers. These efforts include drive-through vaccination locations and pop-up locations in houses of worship and community centers. There's also a special focus on social equity, and making sure that Black and Latino New Yorkers get their shots.

The situation remains fluid as of this writing. Multiple rounds of changes have been issued in recent days. Taken together, they have broadened the eligibility criteria for receiving the vaccine to include all New Yorkers over the age of 65, those who are immunocompromised, and some essential workers—including K-12 teachers!

The clinic doctor remains frustrated by the continued delays in getting their facility's staff vaccinated, and it's not clear how much the revised distribution approach will help non-hospital health care workers access the vaccine more quickly ... if at all. As for whether Cuomo's new plans address these concerns and improve the overall vaccination situation in New York? Only time will tell.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Even the election dubbed 'the fraud of the century' doesn't compare to Trump's 2020 attempted election theft: historian

The Fraud of the Century is a book by historian Roy Morris Jr., about the 1876 election that put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House over Democrat Samuel Tilden. If Donald Trump had gotten his way, the 2020 election would be a shoo-in to claim that title for the 21st century. Despite his bogus assertions, victory was not stolen from him by President-elect Joe Biden, Black voters in big cities, or anyone else who Twitter or OANN tells him to rail against. Instead, it's the impeached president who is trying to subvert the will of American voters and steal a second term. The parallels between Trump's unsuccessful attempt to do so and events that occurred after Election Day in 1876 are quite striking.

Beyond the different circumstances and outcome, in both cases what mattered most was that our election system allowed for state officials to inject themselves into the process in ways that invited partisan corruption—something both parties engaged in with equal gusto in 1876. This time, however, it was only one side—the Trump team—issuing those corrupt invitations.

First, a little background: In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant decided not to run for a third term (which he could have done, as the 22nd Amendment wasn't adopted until 1951). At the Republican National Convention, frontrunner James G. Blaine led on each of the first six ballots but could not garner a majority. Ohio Gov. Hayes, who came in sixth on the first ballot and actually fell to seventh by the fourth ballot, emerged as a compromise candidate. Hayes finally eked out a victory on the seventh ballot, winning a mere five delegates more than necessary—out of almost 800.

By 1876, the (white) leadership of Hayes' party had grown tired of Reconstruction. The Radical Republican Party of the 1860s was fast fading into the past. The significant, albeit incomplete, steps toward full freedom and equality that Black Americans had taken since the end of the Civil War, along with the political power they'd won, were already being rolled back in much of the South, and were highly vulnerable in the rest of the region. Without federal troops on the ground to help enforce Black rights in the midst of a hostile and powerful white majority, those rights and that power would soon disappear completely in the former Confederate states.

The Democratic nominee was New York Gov. Samuel Tilden. Tilden played a leading role in bringing down Tammany Hall's William "Boss" Tweed and his organization, as well as thwarting the fraud and theft perpetrated by the Erie Canal Ring. He then parlayed his reputation as a reformer into the Democratic nomination. Tilden, however, was no progressive. On economic issues, the Democratic Party of his day was dominated by business interests and led by so-called Bourbon Democrats such as Tilden and, later, President Grover Cleveland.

On racial issues, Tilden ran in 1876 on a party platform that demanded an end to both Reconstruction—condemned as "the rapacity of carpet-bag tyrannies"—and the federal enforcement of equal rights for Black Southerners. Those rights largely still existed only in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida—three states where federal troops remained, and where white segregationist Democrats did not yet dominate. Tilden, in other words, was directly allied with Jim Crow segregationists. In fact, Southern Democrats engaged in widespread voter intimidation and violence during the campaign; the notorious Hamburg Massacre, carried out by white supremacist terrorists referred to as "Red Shirts," had taken place in South Carolina just months earlier, on Independence Day.

Back to Election Day. By late evening, it looked like Tilden would become the next president. His lead in the popular vote was substantial—he ended up winning 51%-48%, and remains the only candidate to win over 50% of the popular vote and not become president. Tilden had already locked down 184 electoral votes, one shy of a majority, and the chair of the Republican Party decided that the time had come to empty a bottle of whiskey, as his services no longer appeared to be required.


Before Tilden could declare victory, however, three states—Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida (a list that should sound familiar)—were "too close to call." I can't even write those words without a bleary-eyed, jacketless Steve Kornacki popping into my brain.

Into party headquarters strode Daniel Sickles, a top Republican, who calculated that if Hayes could just sweep those remaining three states, his party would come out on top. One might call him the Nate Silver of his day—or one might just call him a guy with a pencil who could do three-figure addition. There are other things one can call Sickles, such as the first American to be acquitted of murder on the grounds of temporary insanity: He knocked off his wife's paramour, who just happened to be the son of the guy who wrote our country's national anthem. Talk about historical connections.

In any case, once Sickles put out the message on behalf of his incapacitated-by-whiskey party leader: Hayes could still win. And so the four-month post-election saga began.

Over those four months, election integrity was nowhere to be found on either side. Republicans and Democrats alike tried to bribe and steal their way to victory, with dollars flowing like water and ballot boxes apparently winding up in the water. In that regard, the election of 1876 looks nothing like 2020, where numerous independent election monitors have stated that widespread voter fraud simply did not occur.

Although both sides committed widespread chicanery in 1876—in South Carolina, for example, turnout came in at a robust 101% of the number of eligible voters—it was racist voter suppression that proved most decisive, according to Columbia University historian and widely acknowledged expert on the Reconstruction era Eric Foner. "This election was flawed from top to bottom," Foner says. "There was violence throughout the South against African American voters to try to … make it impossible for them to vote. If there had been a fair election in the South, there's no question, Hayes would have won by a large margin."

There were actually four states where electoral votes remained up for grabs. In addition to the aforementioned and disputed three, the appointment of a single elector from Oregon was challenged by Democrats because he was a federal employee, something forbidden by the Constitution. Each of the four states' Democratic and Republican officials simply nominated their own slate of electors. They did so not on the basis of any objective counting of votes, but instead out of their simple desire to win. In Florida, the Democrats "determined" that Tilden had won by a razor thin 94-vote margin, but in reality, we'll never know the actual vote count. In the end, Congress had to decide which sets of electors were the rightful ones.

More than two months after the election, a compromise was struck, and Congress created an Electoral Commission—something never mentioned in the Constitution—and gave that body the power to decide which candidate would receive the disputed Electoral College votes.

The Democratic-controlled House appointed five members, as did the Republican-controlled Senate, and each party selected two Supreme Court justices. Those four justices chose the final "independent" member from among their remaining colleagues; and, after he was elected to the Senate, the justices chose his replacement—a Republican. He voted with the other seven Republicans right down the line, and the Commission awarded all 20 of the outstanding electoral votes to Hayes, giving him 185 to Tilden's 184, and making him president. Congress signed off on this ridiculous decision just two days before Inauguration Day, capping off the most drawn-out election in our history. At every step, partisanship ruled the vote-determination process.

The so-called Compromise of 1877 contained another, unwritten element. As previously noted, the Democrats were on record as wanting the remaining federal troops in the South to be withdrawn. It's no coincidence that the only ex-Confederate states where Hayes even had a chance of winning were ones where federal troops were still deployed as occupying forces. Democrats—the party of the Klan at the time—knew that if Hayes as president brought the removal of those troops, that was a bargain well worth taking … and they sold out Tilden. But far more importantly, the compromise marked the last step in the federal government's total abandonment of approximately four million African Americans living in the South. Both parties shook hands, and together, they ushered in the Jim Crow era and all of its cruelty.

What happened with the election of 1876—and which resembles most what Trump has been haplessly trying to do since Election Day—was the utter partisanization of the process of states certifying which candidate won. The kind of professionalism and upholding of oaths we've seen this year from election officials were nowhere to be found in the post-Election Day Hayes-Tilden clash.

The aforementioned Roy Morris wrote that Hayes—who came to be known as "His Fraudulency" or "Rutherfraud B. Hayes"—ended up in the Oval Office because of a decision issued by an appointed body, whose members acted in a manner "every bit as partisan and petty as the shadiest ward heeler in New York City or the most unreconstructed Rebel in South Carolina."

We in 2020 are extremely fortunate that some Republican officials refused to put party first. Although you've likely heard of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, there are other, lesser known Republicans like Aaron Van Langevelde, one of four members of the Michigan State Board of Canvassers, who also deserve great credit for rejecting Trump's baldly partisan entreaties.

A better method of electing presidents would not contain the vulnerabilities that ours does. It would not have chokepoints where partisanship and a willingness to steal victory can, at the very least, cause chaos and confusion and, with the involvement of enough corrupt individuals, actually swing the results. As Michael Li from the Brennan Center for Justice notes, "It's easy to laugh at the Trump challenges, just because they've been so out there. But what's scary, is you step back from that a bit and see how many people were willing to go along with it until fairly deep in the process." Too many are still "going along with it" as of this writing.

Top Republicans such as Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and others, have made another flawed comparison: Namely, that the crap the Orange Julius Caesar has been pulling since Nov. 3 is really no different from the recount and related legal challenges Al Gore pursued in 2000. There is, however, no comparison. Barry Richard, who in 2000 represented Gore's GOP opponent George W. Bush, clearly summarized why: "There (are) not a lot of similarities. In 2000, there was clearly a problem with the defective ballots. Nobody was claiming fraud or improprieties. It was all about how we made sure everybody's vote counted."

More broadly, Gore didn't level any of the ridiculous voter fraud charges of the kind Trump's team has made this time around—did you hear the one that Borat sequel star Rudy Giuliani spit out about the food trucks that supposedly smuggled in votes in Detroit? What, did they slip a ballot inside each Coney dog?

What Gore did was simply ask for the votes to be counted properly in a single state where there really were problems with the mechanics of counting—hanging chads, anyone?—and where the margin between him and Bush came down to less than a hundredth of a percent—537 votes out of six million cast, to be exact. Plus, winning that state's electoral votes would've given Gore the presidency. Yes, it took a while, but he never questioned the integrity of the votes, merely whether he or Bush got more of them.

The convoluted, undemocratic Electoral College system that allows popular vote losers like George W. Bush and the Orange Menace to become president is a travesty. Within it, however, the one thing that's supposed to operate without too much controversy is that voters decide which candidate receives the Electoral College votes awarded by each state. Once the counting of votes is complete, certification should be relatively uncontroversial, with state officials simply signing off on the verdict rendered by voters (though Trump will surely attempt to complicate things).

In the weeks since Election Day, however, we've all seen The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote (Again) do his damnedest to corrupt that certification process and steal the presidency. Although he has failed, if he ever opened a history book and learned what happened after the election of 1876, that may well have given him hope that he might succeed.

This time, thankfully, it appears that history will not repeat itself.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas).

Here's how Biden can win back Obama-Trump voters: analysis

With the election barely a week away—and the fate of our democracy hanging in the balance—it's time for closing arguments. Turning out the base is vitally important, and it's right that most progressive attention is focused there. But I would like to take a different tack, and make sure we collectively leave no stone unturned.

Although there are relatively few undecided voters, the ones who voted for President Obama and then for Trump—and, in some cases, for Democrats in the 2018 midterms—are numerous enough to make a difference in close states that could swing the election: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

It's tempting to say: Who needs them? The answer? Joe Biden. I want to reach out to Obama-Trump voters and convince them to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket, as well as Democrats straight down the line.

Of course, COVID-19 and Trump's general unfitness are of primary importance for every type of voter, and Biden has to lead with those topics overall. Nevertheless, there are other issues and themes that Democrats must emphasize as well when targeting these voters specifically.

We know quite a bit about Obama-Trump voters thanks to survey data, which I summarized in my recent book. Most of them "expressed high levels of anger toward non-whites and foreigners," even though they voted to elect the first African American president. This might seem counterintuitive, yet the data shows, for example, that a quarter of the white voters who disapproved of interracial couples nonetheless cast a ballot twice for Obama—whose own parents were an interracial couple.

Reaching out to Obama-Trump voters does not in any way mean accepting or, even worse, playing to any kind of racial resentment. Barack Obama never did that. Doing so would represent a clear violation of our most fundamental progressive values. Nevertheless, we can and should try to win votes where we can while always remaining true to those values. We can do what Obama did so well, namely get those voters to prioritize interests other than their perceived racial grievances. That's the opposite of what race-baiting demagogues like Trump do.

For example, we know that a decent chunk of Obama voters overall "expressed varying degrees of white racial resentment while also overwhelmingly embracing liberal positions on issues such as taxation and the existence of climate change." These are the Obama-Trump voters who are most likely to choose Joe Biden.

Likewise, the Obama-Trump-2018 Democratic voters held strongly progressive positions on health care, the environment, and gun control. However, they took a somewhat less progressive stance on immigration—although a majority nonetheless supported DACA, and there was little daylight on that issue between them and the Obama-Trump voters who went Republican in 2018—and were less progressive still on a border, as well as race and gender issues.

On a related note, the graph below also shows those who voted for Obama in 2012, then sat out 2016, before coming back to the Democrats in 2018. Compared to Obama-Trump-2018 Democrats, those voters look more like the Democratic base, i.e., those who voted for Obama and Hillary Clinton, in particular on health care and the environment. It's worth noting that support for two economic issues garnered almost universal support among all three groups: raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour (it doesn't appear they asked about a higher level) and raising taxes on millionaires. Those two issues don't appear in the graph, but were discussed in the article from which it came.

Voters who voted for Obama in 2012, then Trump in 2016.

To be sure, Biden has been talking about health care, the minimum wage, millionaire's taxes, and climate. Now is the time for him to powerfully hammer home the differences on these vital issues between him and the Man Who Lost The Popular Vote. The large numbers of early voters, especially among Democrats, actually makes such an approach even more strategically valuable now than even a couple of weeks ago.

To any undecided Obama-Trump voters reading this, I'll say the following: Vice President Biden and Sen. Harris will enact economic policies to help the bottom line of middle- and working-class voters who are doing everything they can to make ends meet. The Democrats will make the wealthiest—the richest of whom have increased their net worth by an obscene amount during the pandemic—pay their fair share. Furthermore, a Biden White House will raise the minimum wage so that a full-time job pays a living wage.

Trump's policies, on the other hand, pad the bottom line of millionaires and billionaires, and do little to nothing for the vast majority of Americans. Because he doesn't want you to be thinking about that fact when you cast your ballot, he constantly spews lies aimed at scaring you about Black and brown people.

The Democrats will build on Obamacare, making it more affordable and accessible. The Republicans want to destroy it and return us to the days when having a preexisting condition—like, for example lung damage caused by COVID-19—makes it practically impossible to get health coverage. Joe Biden will fight to protect our environment, to keep it clean, safe, healthy and, in a word, livable—creating huge numbers of jobs in the green industries of the future in the meantime, while also taking care of workers during the transition. The Orange Julius Caesar stands instead with polluters who don't care that their actions harm the health of the American people, not to mention their own employees. Big picture: Trump and the Republicans will fight only for those at the top, while Biden and the Democrats will fight for every American. That's why you should vote Democratic.

In reaching out to these Obama-Trump voters, Biden cannot ignore racism—either its prevalence in our society, in Trump's policies, or in his rhetoric—when appealing to Obama-Trump or other undecided/persuadable voters who may not be, despite our fondest wishes, across-the-board progressives. In fact, those voters need to hear how race intersects with economics, in particular when it comes to Trump's campaign message, because explaining that will only further convince them to vote Democratic.

Prof. Ian Haney López has explored this issue in depth. His research—which included extensive surveys designed to test various messages—is laid out in his recent book Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America. The book makes clear exactly what is the most effective way to talk about race and economic issues. Since its publication, López has continued his work, creating a whole array of material as part of his Race-Class Academy, which seeks to explain "how together we can beat dog whistle politics by building cross-racial and cross-class solidarity." Here's the guts of his message:

Certain politicians exploit racist rhetoric to divide and distract, while they rig government and the economy for themselves and their big money donors. They get richer, we get poorer—and the power of government is turned against communities of color.

But we can fight back and win. Here's the most powerful movement-building message today:

When we come together to reject racism as a weapon of the rich, we can make sure that the government works for all of us, of every race and color.

A team led by López put together a series of 12 short videos that present the race-class message. The videos were created recently enough to incorporate COVID-19 and its effects. The first set examines how the economic elites use racism as a class weapon. The next set demonstrates how more limited, standard progressive messages—such as the race-blind, class-only approach, and the class-blind, "call out racism" approach—are not the most effective ways to gain widespread support for progressive candidates and policies. The third set explains in depth the race-class message itself. The final video argues that we now have the best opportunity in our history to create a sustained cross-racial alliance of voters—what López calls "race-class solidarity"—to not only defeat Trump and the economic elites he serves, but to create lasting change and achieve both racial and economic justice. The videos all together take 25 minutes, and I encourage you to watch them all.

Race-Class Academy 1.1 - Dog whistle politics youtu.be

López tested the race-class message against the other progressive messages mentioned above, as well as the racial fear message used by those, like Trump, who practice dog whistle politics. The race-class message proved to be the most appealing one not only to whites, but to Latino and Black voters as well. Most recently, in a New York Times op-ed that focused on how to win over Latino voters, Prof. López argued:

As Mr. Biden makes his own pitch, he should see Hispanics not as a monolith but as America in microcosm. Some Latinos view themselves as whites, others as people of color, and still others minimize the importance of race in their lives. Typically, this diversity among Hispanics — and in the multiracial Democratic coalition more generally — is seen as a major challenge for Democratic strategists. But our research suggests there's a way to build common cause that speaks persuasively across the spectrum of class and race. By pointing to Mr. Trump's strategic efforts to stoke division, Mr. Biden can better make the case that our best future depends upon joining together.

As for Biden making the case, just about a month ago, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, he specifically addressed Obama-Trump voters. He acknowledged that "an awful lot of people in this county" voted for the Obama-Biden ticket and then voted for Trump in 2016. Biden continued: "I know many of you were frustrated. You were angry. You believed you weren't being seen, represented or heard. I get it. It has to change. And I promise you this, it will change with me. You will be seen, heard and respected by me. This campaign isn't about just winning votes, it's about restoring the basic dignity in this country that every worker deserves."

Elsewhere in the speech, Biden contrasted his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as well as his plans on taxing the rich, health care, and more, with those of Trump: "Trump's tax cut for the wealthy is going to cost billions of dollars a year and whose hide does it come out? It comes out of your hide. The simple truth is that Donald Trump ran for office saying he would represent the forgotten man and women in this country. And then once he got in office, he forgot us. Not only did he forget them, the truth is that he never really respected us very much."

These are powerful words, and important sentiments. Biden and Democrats need to keep on emphasizing their stark differences from Trump and the Republicans on these kinds of bread-and-butter economic and public health issues in order to identify exactly whom each candidate and party truly cares about. This is, as the former vice president has stated repeatedly, a campaign where one side represents Scranton and the other Park Avenue. Biden must also highlight how Trump and his ilk use racist dog whistles to divide middle- and working-class voters along racial lines—and distract them from the reality that his real interest is helping those at the very top.

That's how we bring those Obama-Trump voters and other undecideds—as well as the Latino voters whom we need to win overwhelmingly—into the Democratic column, and bring an end to the most destructive presidency in our country's history.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Sexist Tomi Lahren tweet about masks perfectly illustrates why Biden is crushing Trump among women

Female voters really don't like the impeached president. According to CNN, the five most recently conducted live interview polls found Joe Biden leading Trump among women by an average of a whopping 25 points—with the gap sitting at an even whoppinger 34 points in CNN's own poll. If that trend holds, we're talking about double the recent margins among women achieved by Hillary Clinton against Trump four years ago (12 points), as well as those of President Obama in 2008 (13 points), and 2012 (11 points).

There are more reasons for Biden's spectacular edge among female voters than there are tubes of self-tanner in the Orange Julius Caesar's bathroom. But two of them—misogyny and his utterly anti-scientific response to COVID-19—are intimately intertwined. These delusions came together recently in a single tweet from one of his minions.

As this tweet makes abundantly clear, in the deluded mindset of Trumpworld's denizens, wearing a mask is: a) a sign of weakness, and b) a sign of, somehow, being a woman—which is itself seen, by them, as equivalent to weakness. If that sounds absurd to you, it's a pretty solid indication that you are: a) not deluded, and b) neither Trump nor one of his minions.

Tomi Lahren may not be valuable enough to the cause to merit two hours of The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote's time—not to mention the Medal of Freedom to boot. Still, she has 1.7 million Twitter followers, was dubbed a "rising media star" by the New York Times, and hosts a show on Fox Nation. In this single tweet, she managed to encapsulate the stupidity, misogyny, and hatefulness of Donald Trump.

She also makes crystal clear why women voters are overwhelmingly supporting Joe Biden.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Here are 2 key elements Biden needs to highlight from the Trump tax bombshell

The first presidential debate is sure to be a bananarama full of bonkers. As anyone who has been watching the current presidency already knows, Joe Biden will have to deal with a torrent of lies and personal attacks from The Man Who Lost the Popular Vote—often packaged together in the same word salad jumble of an answer.

But one thing we didn't know—until about 48 hours ago—was that the entirety of Trump's decades-long tax scam, as well as his utter failure as a businessman, would be laid out in The New York Times. As Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wrote, "it's worse than anyone could've imagined." Worse for Trump, but perhaps better for the American people … if it helps sink him further in the polls.

In terms of the debate, there's one effective way for Biden to talk about this issue.

The key is for the former vice president to boil down the whole sordid story into two central elements, each of which connects to one powerful emotion Biden wants evoke in voters. The first targeted emotion should be anger. Biden should emphasize—as he's already done in ads—the injustice of Trump living a life of luxury while getting away with paying little to nothing in income taxes. This should be a straightforward, relatively simple thing for Biden—who grew up in modest circumstances himself—to accomplish.

The second element connects to voters' fear. Trump owes what finance experts soberly refer to as a shit ton of money, and most of it will come due in a would-be second presidential term. Having a president who is that compromised should scare the bejeezus out of every American, as Paul Krugman explained.

Personal financial trouble has always been a red flag when it comes to filling sensitive government positions, because it's an open invitation to corruption.

So the confirmation that the nation's chief law enforcement and national security official — whose business empire already offers many opportunities for undue influence — is drowning in debt is chilling.

[...] So now we have a deeply indebted business owner with every incentive to engage in malfeasance — except that in addition to running his business, he's running the United States of America.

To be clear, Biden should not have to carry the ball by himself tonight on Trump's tax shenanigans. This is a topic of vital importance, and no matter what else moderator Chris Wallace had planned to focus on, he needs to address it.

After Wallace (hopefully) brings up that question, and Trump offers whatever flailing response he can muster, Biden will have his chance.

There are very few undecided voters at this point in any campaign. That's especially true when one candidate is a sitting president, and it appears to be even more true this time than usual. Frankly, the most effective way to motivate undecided voters is to either to piss them off or to scare the shit out of them.

Biden needs to seize the opportunity provided by the latest bombshell about Trump's tax scam, and do both.

Trump rarely mentions his one major accomplishment -- because people don't like it

Remember the GOP Tax Scam? Have you noticed that neither Donald Trump, nor any the Republicans who voted for it, are out on the campaign trail touting the single major piece of legislation that resulted from their party's two-year trifecta—when Republicans held the presidency alongside majorities in both houses of Congress? That says everything about how they operate. Their entire politics are bait-and-switch.

The bait, especially with Trump—although he's far from the first Republican to follow this blueprint—is screaming about Black and brown people. The switch is what they actually spend their political capital on. In Trump's case, it was the Rich Man's Tax Cut of 2017. As the latest data—analyzed by David Cay Johnston—demonstrates, that tax scheme overwhelmingly benefited the people who needed the least help.

Shocking, I know.

Johnston laid out the information in great detail, but here are the guts of it: "The Trump/Republican tax savings were highly concentrated up the income ladder with hardly any tax savings going to the working poor and only a smidgen to the middle class." Gee, no wonder Trump isn't crowing about that tax cut at his rallies.

As for the pre-COVID-19 economy under Trump, more broadly? Again, the record is not a good one.

The first data showing how all Americans are faring under Donald Trump reveal the poor and working classes sinking slightly, the middle class treading water, the upper-middle class growing and the richest, well, luxuriating in rising rivers of greenbacks….More than half of Americans had to make ends meet in 2018 on less money than in 2016, my analysis of new income and tax data shows.

Johnston found that households earning less than $50,000 saw their overall incomes drop by an average of $307 per household between 2016—the last year of President Obama's second term—and 2018—the first full year the Trump Rich Man's Tax Cut was in effect. That's just under 87 million Americans. I loved Johnston's plain-spoken summary of the situation: "That 57% of American households were better off under Obama contradicts Trump's often-repeated claim he created the best economy ever until the pandemic."

So The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote's big fat cat tax cut did nothing for the middle or working classes. What did Trump do in that case? Promise to pass one that will, of course. In January, he assured us we'd have the details in 90 days. "We're talking a fairly substantial ... middle-class tax cut," said the Orange Julius Caesar. In February, the White House talked about a "Tax Cut 2.0," and Treasury Secretary Larry Kudlow mused about how "we'd love to have a 10% middle-class tax cut."

When might we see it? Will they stick to the target date of 90 days? Not so much, according to Kudlow: "It will come out sometime in September." Well, folks, September is almost over.

Whatever you can say about Trump, he's a good enough marketer to know you can't sell a loser. And his 2017 tax scheme is one. The most recent polling we have on it comes from the spring of 2019, and it's not pretty.


Gallup did its own poll, and reviewed some other contemporaneous, high-quality surveys. Here's what they had to say at the end of April 2019:

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is not turning out like President Donald Trump and the Republicans hoped it would -- at least, based on the public opinion data we have to date. Americans remain more likely to disapprove than approve of the law, with 40% approval and 49% disapproval in Gallup's latest update. Other recent polls confirm that the tax reform law is viewed more negatively than positively -- including surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center (36% approve/49% disapprove), Monmouth University (34% approve/43% disapprove), and Economist/YouGov (34% support/40% oppose).

Even though they rarely, if ever, tell the truth about it on the campaign trail, the one thing you can always count on Republicans doing when they get their hands on power is sending more and more money up the economic ladder, through changes to the tax code. That's what they did under Ronald Reagan—when he had a Republican Senate and effective control of the House, thanks to conservative "Boll Weevil" Democrats siding with the GOP. They did it again under George W. Bush, and once again under Trump. And Since Republicans can't actually run on their record of passing tax cuts for the rich, they come up with other "wedge" issues.

Trump is doing exactly that with his own special brand of turbo-charged race-baiting. Let's help Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as well as Democrats all over the country, make sure the American people have the facts about who is really on their side.

Voting alone is not enough. Can you get 10 friends who live in battleground states to commit to vote for Joe Biden? Sign up to become a vote mobilizer with MoveOn's Mobilize to Win campaign, and use your personal network to help fuel a big blue wave of record-breaking turnout.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

If Adams and Jefferson can change the number of justices, so can the Democrats

The Supreme Court didn't always have nine justices, and that number is not set in the Constitution. The number of justices has been changed on multiple occasions throughout our nation's history, each time for a similarly partisan reason—namely to give one party more influence over the court's membership. And the first back and forth over the number of justices was a struggle between two of our most prominent Founding Father presidents.

Let me lay out a scenario: On Election Day, let's say the American people defeat an incumbent president, and give control over both houses of Congress to the party of the president-elect. In a lame-duck act that completely contradicts the very recently expressed will of the people, the incumbent's party then takes action clearly designed to limit the incoming president's ability to shape the Supreme Court going forward. Shortly after inauguration, the new president and his party take steps to reverse that action, steps that include changing the number of seats on the Supreme Court.

This may seem like a prediction of what might happen in the coming months, but what I've just described happened over two centuries ago.

A mere 19 days before the end of his presidency, John Adams signed into law the Judiciary Act of 1801, which reduced the number of Supreme Court seats from six to five—by mandating that the next vacancy go unfilled—and also created 16 new circuit court judgeships. These became known as the "midnight judges" because, as the legend goes, President Adams was processing and signing off on the appointments of these new judges all through his last night in the White House. Then, with his signature not yet dry on the parchment, he decided to make like a tree and got out of there.

An outraged Thomas Jefferson took office and set out to undo what Adams had done. The new Democratic-Republican majorities in Congress sent a bill to the new president's desk that repealed his Federalist predecessor's last-ditch attempt to control the future of the judiciary. Thus, Jefferson changed the number of seats on the Supreme Court back to six, and undid the creation of the new Adams judgeships. As well he should have.

This historical example reminds us that changing the number of seats on the Supreme Court requires only a simple act of Congress. In fact, that number was changed on five other occasions as well. As for why, political scientist J.R. Saylor wrote in the Baylor Law Review that the party in power enacted each of these changes in order to either "purge the Court of … justices making decisions objectionable to an incumbent of the White House or to a dominant party majority in Congress," or to "'pack' the Court in order that the policies of the government in power would be upheld as constitutional."

In an echo of our current situation, the most recent of these changes involved a reactionary president who went against the expressed will of the people. Southern white supremacist Democrat Andrew Johnson, an accidental president if ever there was one, had the opportunity to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 1866, but the Republican Congress—the liberals of the day on racial issues—eliminated the open seat through legislation. Johnson was unable to fill the seat before leaving office. In 1869, after Republican Ulysses S. Grant—the pro-Reconstruction president whose administration destroyed the existing Ku Klux Klan—took office, his Republican allies added back the ninth seat in the name of democracy.

The 800-pound gorilla when it comes to the history of adding seats to the Supreme Court? Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his famous "court-packing" scheme, which, on the face of it, ended in failure when Congress rejected it. However, Roosevelt achieved his goal anyway, because Justice Owen Roberts—in the "switch in time that saved nine" (color me impressed if you know the source of that cliche)—changed his position on the constitutionality of New Deal economic legislation, including laws setting a minimum wage and the National Labor Relations Act. The switch, as law professor John Q. Barrett notes, "took the air out of the Court-packing balloon." Ultimately, FDR's threat of adding seats to the court rendered the action itself unnecessary.

That brings us to today, and the open seat on the Supreme Court held, until last week, by one of the most impressive people in American history, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a lawyer, she convinced SCOTUS that gender discrimination was unconstitutional before, some years later, joining the nation's highest court and continuing her fight for equality. Of course, the question of how and when to fill the seat held by Justice Ginsburg is directly connected to how and when the seat held by Justice Antonin Scalia was filled only a few years ago. For your reading pleasure, I'll give you the recap from Daily Kos' own Hunter.

When [Scalia] died in February of 2016, Senate Republicans discovered a heretofore unidentified, now-infamous caveat to President Barack Obama's constitutional powers: Black presidents aren't allowed to fill vacant Supreme Court seats during an election year. The Senate refused to even consider the nomination of Merrick Garland, who was put forward by Obama for the role; instead, the seat was simply left vacant for the duration of Obama's term. When Republican Trump was installed as president the next year, the Senate swiftly confirmed his own conservative nominee.

That nominee was Neil Gorsuch, and his seat is the one that was stolen. What Sen. Mitch McConnell did was the unjust act that broke the system. By comparison, a Democratic Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court in February 1988, less than a year before Ronald Reagan's second term ended.

Yes, that Senate had previously rejected Reagan's first nominee, Robert Bork. Even now, supposedly reasonable Republican pundits like Ross Douthat and Bret Stephens still wrongly point to Bork's rejection as the event that kicked off the current back and forth on court nominations. They seem to forget that the Senate has said "no" to multiple other nominees, including two who were rejected in both 1969 and 1970 because of their ideologically extreme views—the same reason Bork was not approved. In Kennedy, Reagan still got a justice confirmed by a Senate controlled by the opposing party less than a year before a presidential election.

No, the clear act that crossed the Rubicon occurred in 2016. Never before had the party that controlled the Senate simply ignored a nomination made by a sitting president from the other party, and then held the seat open until they had won the presidency and could fill it themselves. People throw around the word "unprecedented," but it has a real meaning: something that has never been done before. It's also worth noting that the word "precedent" (Roe v. Wade is one that's in serious jeopardy right now) has great significance when we are talking about the Supreme Court.

McConnell's unprecedented actions created the McConnell Rule; Moscow Mitch claimed he was following a nonprecedent that he called the "Biden Rule," which was really just a 1992 speech then-Sen. Joe Biden gave on the Senate floor. While Biden did encourage then-President George H.W. Bush to wait to put forward a SCOTUS nominee until after that year's election, it was a speech about a hypothetical seat, and little more. Furthermore, Biden stated he had no problem with Bush nominating someone after Election Day if that hypothetical opening became a reality, and added that "action" on that nomination could proceed at that point.

For McConnell to claim Biden's speech justified his refusal to hold hearings for Garland was, in a nutshell, a flat-out lie. What McConnell did in 2016 did bears no resemblance to the remarks made by Biden in 1992—who was only one senator, by the way, and not even his party's leader at the time.

And now, in 2020, McConnell is changing the McConnell rule—completely violating it, actually. He blathered something about how this time really is different from 2016. According to McConnell's twisted logic, via the 2018 midterms, the American people chose Republicans to pick justices over the next two years. Never mind that only one-third of Senate seats were up for grabs—including only nine held by Republicans, compared to 26 seats held by members of the Democratic caucus, many running in states Trump had won two years earlier. I'll let Montana Sen. Jon Tester—a Democrat who won in one of those red states in 2018—respond: "They won a mandate in 2018? They lost the frickin' House. They're making excuses for something that they know is totally corrupt." The American people agree.

One of the more brilliant pieces I've seen recently comes from Stuart Thompson at The New York Times. He published an op-ed this week constructed entirely of statements that Republican senators made in 2016 to justify not considering the nomination of Merrick Garland. I'll share just a few.

Here's Texas Senator Ted Cruz: "For 80 years it has been the practice that the Senate has not confirmed any nomination made during an election year, and we shouldn't make an exception now." And Mitchy McTurtle himself: "The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let's give them a voice. Let's let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be." Finally, here's Iowa's Joni Ernst—conveniently up for reelection this year, and locked in a race that looks very much like a toss-up: "And if the decision is made that we have a Democratic president, that's a decision we will live with."

And then there's Lindsey Graham.


"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination." pic.twitter.com/quD1K5j9pz
— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) September 19, 2020

As for Mitt Romney, he may not be a hypocrite on this matter, having not been a senator in 2016, but he's definitely a coward.

Are the actions taken by Trump, McConnell, and their Republican Senate lackeys within the rules laid out by the Constitution? Yes, they are. Nevertheless, this kind of rank hypocrisy—of Republicans doing one thing when it gives them more power, and then doing literally the opposite thing when that would give them even more power—represents an abuse that cannot go unaddressed in a healthy democracy.

Starting with the election of 2000, and including most of our national elections since then, the Republicans have been the minority party as Democrats have consistently won more popular support. Yet, because of the vagaries of the electoral college, the overrepresentation of rural and white voters in our Senate (Americans of color are more disproportionately underrepresented now than at any point since 1870), and the extreme gerrymandering opportunity seized upon by Republicans after they did well in a lower-turnout midterm election in 2010, the GOP has continued to enjoy a degree of power that far exceeds the level of support they earned from American voters.

If The Man Who Lost The Popular Vote fills the seat that belonged to Justice Ginsburg, there will be five conservative judges on our highest court, all appointed by men who became president after getting fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. That's enough by itself to provide a majority decision on any case brought before the Court. Them's the rules, as they say. Trump himself justified his plans along similarly thoughtful lines.


"When you have the votes, you can sort of do what you want," Trump tells Fox of comparisons to Obama/Garland.
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) September 21, 2020

There is a point, however, at which the rule of a numerical minority over the majority becomes incompatible with democracy. It becomes illegitimate. Although that's reason enough to act, if Democrats win the White House and Senate and add seats to the Supreme Court, they will merely be doing the same thing Republicans did: playing by the rules and exercising the power the Constitution provides them. After all, when you have the votes, you can sort of do what you want. Looking at it another way, at some point, after a bully pushes you around long enough, you're justified in fighting back.


If Trump and McConnell get their way, and Democrats then win big in November, they will have no choice but to stand up for democracy by adding two seats to balance the Supreme Court. Even this would not fully redress Republican misdeeds—which would require replacing Justice Gorsuch with Merrick Garland as well—but it would be something they could do by eliminating the filibuster and simply enacting legislation. Furthermore, I believe a majority of the American people could be convinced to support such a step, recognizing it as a proportional response. As Paul Waldman argued in The Washington Post, the Democrats can absolutely justify such actions by making "Look what you made us do" their "guiding mantra."

But maybe it doesn't have to come to that. It would be better for our country if it didn't, if the two parties could figure out a better alternative. The best outcome would be to use this opportunity to remember the concept of mutually assured destruction, and engage in disarmament.

If McConnell believes that Biden and the Democrats will win, and would act on expanding the Court—an action that would surely leave Republicans vowing to do the same if they get the opportunity down the road—would he make a deal on a major reform to the way Supreme Court justices are chosen, and how long they serve? Reasonable reform plans have been proposed involving term limits that, for example, would have one justice retire and be replaced every two years. If Republicans don't hold a vote on Trump's nominee before the election, and Democrats win the White House and Senate, Democratic Senate Minority (for now) Leader Chuck Schumer's leverage would only increase.

Such a deal, so long as it included holding off on filling the existing open seat, would be the best outcome. It would provide a way out of the escalating wars between the parties over Supreme Court nominations, wars that would only get worse if that seat were filled by Trump and McConnell's Senate, and Democrats were forced to take appropriate actions in response.

I highly doubt this kind of comprehensive reform will be enacted, largely because Republicans have always operated from one basic principle: What can we do that will give us the most power? And, as I noted Tuesday on France 24, there's really nothing to stop them from moving forward.


Perhaps if Democrats can convince McConnell & Co. that exercising the power they already have before January will cost them more power in the long run, a deal can be struck. Either way, the history lesson from our founders teaches us that the number of Supreme Court justices has, right from the start of our Republic, been subject to change, based on who currently holds the power.

If—and I truly hope for the sake of our system of democracy they do not—Republicans abuse the power they currently hold, and then lose the Senate in November along with the presidency, then Democrats must, in the name of democracy, undo that abuse. In doing so, Democrats would not be setting forth on a radically new path—no matter how loudly hypocrites like McConnell and Lindsey Graham might squeal. Today's Democrats would simply be following the precedent created by their party's founder when he undid a lame-duck attempt to subvert the will of the people.

And they'd be right to do it.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)


Happy Holidays!