Joe Conason

The GOP's murderous new normal

The case of Kyle Rittenhouse, acquitted in the 2020 murders of two men amid chaos on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is ominous for the peaceful resolution of political disagreements. The sense of menace arises less from the utterly misguided 17-year-old shooter, or his complete escape from justice, than from the celebration by Republicans and "conservatives" of Rittenhouse and even of the killings he perpetrated.

This telling moment heightens the feeling of apprehension provoked by recurring threats and incidents of actual violence emanating from the far right and then justified, usually with indignant enthusiasm, by Republican elected officials at the highest level. The anger and hatred that have long simmered within that party are rapidly devolving into homicidal rage.

Consider the matter of Rep. Paul Gosar R-AR), who posted a video that depicted him murdering his colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attempting to kill President Joe Biden with swords. Gosar's fantasy bloodbath resulted in his censure. (This offensive cartoon wasn't even original, ripping off an identical 2016 meme that showed "Donald Trump" attacking "Hillary Clinton.")

While Gosar's own siblings warn that he is mentally ill, their diagnosis doesn't excuse him, or Republicans who voted to shield him from censure. No public official in this country is entitled to promote deadly mayhem against his or her opponents, even as "symbolism" or "humor," without being held accountable.

READ: Calls to expel 'traitorous' Madison Cawthorn grow after he warns of 'bloodshed' and lies about 'rigged' election

All but two House Republicans voted to excuse Gosar's glorification of political violence. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy remained silent for several days, until he finally issued a weak statement claiming that he had spoken with Gosar, who "took the video down and made a statement that he doesn't support violence to anybody."

Not only did McCarthy fail to utter a word condemning Gosar's behavior, but he promised the day after the censure vote that if Republicans win the House majority next year, both Gosar and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another apostle of barbarism, on the lookout for Jewish space lasers, will be restored to the committee seats forfeited by their gross misconduct. "They may have better committee assignments," said McCarthy.

With his courting of white nationalists and adoption of neo-Nazi symbols, Gosar is a figure whose extremism would have embarrassed Republican leaders not so long ago. Only two years ago, in fact, McCarthy was sufficiently shamed by the actions of Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who openly sympathized with neo-Nazis, that he stripped King of committee rank almost as soon as he succeeded Paul Ryan as Republican leader in January 2019. He basked in the praise of those who had excoriated Ryan for ignoring King's appalling record, which McCarthy gladly then described as "reckless ... wrong ... and nothing associated with America."

What has changed in the past few years is the accelerating acceptance of violence among Republicans since the defeat of former President Donald Trump and his encouragement of sedition and insurrection by his followers, who now form the Republican Party's boiling base. For McCarthy, it is no longer possible to act with decency and principle against the neo-fascist element in his caucus if he ever wants to be speaker of the House.

READ: 'The Republican Party’s been taken over by crazy people': GOP hysteria intensifies

That is why the minority leader, at first humiliated and infuriated by Trump's instigation of the Capitol riot, has refused to cooperate in the Congressional investigation of that grim and terrifying day. McCarthy is a leader only in one respect: he leads in Republican cowardice.

The signals of peril flash constantly: At a public event in Idaho, where a man asked when he could "kill these people," meaning Democrats, and was applauded loudly; at school board meetings across the country, where "concerned parents" threaten to murder public officials and their families; at the homes of election officials who answer the phone at night and hear obscenely menacing words.

Far worse than the hateful conduct of the Republican rabble, however, is the justification of it by Republican officialdom — and their attacks on officials who seek to investigate and discourage those threats. They have in the front of their minds the example of Mike Pence, the former vice president whose execution by a ravening mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" seemed entirely possible on January 6 — and the recent remarks by Pence's old boss, who justified the cries to hang him by his beloved mob as "common sense."

When political violence becomes the new normal, it will come for them too. But that's what accounts for Kevin McCarthy's cowardice. For all the bluster and the filibuster, he's sweating with fear. So, trying to protect himself, he joins the mob. It is a familiar story that never ends well.

READ: Ocasio-Cortez gives an impassioned speech blasting Kevin McCarthy after Gosar's ‘incitement of violence

The murder rate rose in Republican cities, too

Fort Worth Police at the scene of a violent crime.

If you're worried by the rise in violent crime — a real and troubling phenomenon — don't ask Republicans for solutions. All they can offer is a blame game that relies on dubious cherry-picked data. To get their message, just glance at Breitbart.com, the home of hard-right hackery: "Violent Crime Surges 25 Percent in 2021 With Democrats in Washington." You can find dozens of similar headlines across right-wing platforms, which invariably announce "skyrocketing crime rates in Dem-run cities." (Stay tuned for grainy video of a disturbing attack.)

Then there's former President Donald Trump himself, the loudest presidential loser in history, blathering fantastical statistics that are meant to show how dangerous life is in America now that he's gone.

Such assertions may momentarily satisfy the two-minute anger ritual that substitutes for critical thinking among the Republican base. Whenever something bad is happening, it can only be the result of a conspiracy implicating Democrats, immigrants, minorities, immigrants and minorities in cities — and preferably all of the above. Rising crime fulfills both the cynical strategy of Republican politicians and the primitive emotions of their voters.

But should you wish to understand what's actually happening, not only in major cities but in towns and counties of every size, then it's worth examining data beyond the Republican talking points.

Murder rates are indeed going up in cities around the country. And because most cities are governed by Democratic mayors, it is accurate to say that violent crime rates are rising in "Democrat-run cities." But, as the Republicans parroting that line of propaganda know, it's also accurate to say that violent crime is rising in "Republican-led cities."

While the murder rate has gone up in Chicago and Detroit and Philadelphia, all run by Democrats, the murder rate has likewise gone up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; in Fort Worth, Texas; in Fresno, California; and in Miami, Florida. Every one of those cities is run by a Republican mayor and overseen by a Republican governor.

Jacksonville, Florida, is known as the "murder capital" of the Sunshine State — and has had a Republican mayor for the past six years. Fort Worth survived its most violent year in the past quarter century in 2020, with a murder rate that nearly doubled from the previous year. Betsy Price has been the city's Republican mayor for the past 10 years.

The point is not, of course, that Republican mayors are culpable for the shocking upsurge in violence that beset their cities last year — nor were they probably responsible for the sharp drops in crime that the entire country experienced over the past two decades. The underlying causes of crime rates, whether trending up or down, have puzzled criminologists, cops and other honest experts for many years.

Equally inaccurate is the claim that "defund the police" — a wrongheaded and confusing slogan briefly popular in the aftermath of George Floyd's 2020 murder — has sparked the growing number of urban killings. But the data show clearly that the same trend is evident across cities, whether they increased or decreased police funding. Even stupid slogans don't kill people.

Guns do kill, however — and among the suggestive statistics of the pandemic is the alarming national flood of firearms purchases. While most crime remains relatively low compared to previous decades, gun violence is way up. The National Rifle Association might tell you that more guns make us more safe, but life doesn't actually work that way.

The extremes on both sides of this issue are misguided. We would almost certainly be safer with more and better-trained police as well as fewer and better-tracked guns. Still, the plain fact is that we don't yet know for sure why the rates of the worst violent crimes went up over the past year or so.

What we do know — and what someone should tell Trump whenever he opens his mouth to exacerbate racial polarization — is that the sharp increase began in 2020. Yes, that was during his presidency. So, you could write a headline blaring: "Homicide Rates Increased 53 Percent in Major Cities Between 2019 and 2020," and that would be true, too.

Would that claim prove anything? Not really. Except that on issues of public policy, the former guy and his little partisan echoes should pipe down.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

A pedophile's best friend is a Trump Republican

Of all the lurid nonsense circulating among conspiracy-addled Republicans, none of their theories is viler than the libel of child sexual abuse that began under the rubric of "Pizzagate" and became the basis of the cult ideology of QAnon. So successful was the smear campaign begun by followers of Donald Trump that millions of deranged people now believe those gothic horror tales targeting the likes of Hillary Clinton, Chrissy Teigen, and Tom Hanks, with the connivance of Republican politicians in search of Jewish space lasers.

Then there's real life, in which actual, detestable pedophiles and other sex offenders can depend on their reliable defender Kenneth W. Starr to shield them from the punishment they deserve. Yes, it's that Ken Starr, the Savanarola of sexual propriety, who is the pedophiles' best friend.

What we have learned in recent days about the sanctimonious Starr, from his alleged sexual infidelities to his zealous defense of the late Jeffrey Epstein, not only strips away his pious pretensions as sheer hypocrisies but also raises serious questions about his conduct that must still be answered.

A former public relations executive named Judi Hershman opened the latest inquest into Starr's iniquities on July 13 when she published an essay on Medium titled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" that detailed, among many other things, her own illicit affair with the former independent counsel. Her account of an episode with the borderline Kavanaugh and his uncontrollable temper when they both worked for Starr on the Clinton prosecution, as well as her disillusionment with the misogynistic Starr, is worth reading. Yes, that Ken Starr, who, she says, took her hand and "placed it on his crotch."

Hershman recalls Starr's attempt in 2010 to deceive her into "counseling" Epstein, whom he whitewashed as "a very wealthy, very smart businessman who got himself into trouble for getting involved with a couple of underage girls who lied about their ages." He explained that "everyone deserves representation" and that the very smart businessman had "promised to keep it above 18 from now on." By then Epstein had raped scores of underage girls, and thereafter continued to do so.

Hershman writes that at the time, it didn't occur to her that Starr himself would be lying about Epstein, or that he might have been involved in executing the "secret and egregious sweetheart deal" that allowed the very smart businessman to evade justice for so many years.

But according to a new book by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who first blew the lid off that deal, Starr was zealously committed to the Epstein defense. Her earlier reporting led to the dismissal of Alex Azar, the U.S. Attorney in Florida who signed off on that agreement, from former President Donald Trump's cabinet.

In Perversion of Justice, Brown writes that Epstein brought on Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, his longtime associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis, because of their connections in the Bush Justice Department. Starr's campaign on behalf of Epstein included a "brutal" smear of a female prosecutor and an insider lobbying effort at the department's Washington headquarters.

Apparently, Starr has a strangely protective attitude toward molesters and rapists, even when he isn't being paid big money to defend them. A few years after his crusade on Epstein's behalf, he and his wife sent a letter to a county judge urging leniency for Christopher Kloman, a retired school administrator and friend of the Starrs who pled guilty to molesting five girls at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. They thought he should be sentenced to community service, but the judge instead gave him 43 years in prison.

Americans first glimpsed the dark side of Starr's character when he published the salacious Starr Report (co-authored by Kavanaugh) that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. They learned more about him when he was booted from the presidency of Baylor University for covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women on campus, including a gang rape by football players. With his partisan fanaticism and his bogus religiosity, he was a natural for Trump's impeachment defense.

Considering the smears perpetrated against Hillary Clinton in recent years, it is ironic indeed to review the unsavory conduct of a man who spent so much public time and money attempting to frame her for crimes she didn't commit as first lady. But these revelations about Starr should evoke more than bemused contempt.

What Julie Brown's book demands is a full investigation of an authentic conspiracy to pervert justice by Republican prosecutors and lawyers, including Starr. The Justice Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees must not let them get away with it.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

There's only one way to exit the forever war honorably

The courage of President Biden's decision to bring our troops home from Afghanistan should not be underestimated. But neither should that withdrawal be mistaken for the end of the "forever war" that the United States and its NATO allies have endured there for so long. We will leave, but the Afghans aren't going anywhere -- and our responsibility for what happens there won't disappear either.

Biden surely knows there will be bad prospects for the government in Kabul when our troops go, even though we will continue to finance its army and air force. Most Americans, who devote little attention to what happens in Afghanistan, probably don't know how limited the reach of that regime is today (which is why our veterans sometimes call it #Forgotistan). After two decades, $2 trillion and the loss of more than 2,000 of our troops, it scarcely rules over more than the capital itself. The Taliban and other hostile forces control the rest.

That obviously doesn't bode too well for the future, and as Biden also knows, his Republican critics will blame him should the Kabul regime fall. They will conveniently forget that his predecessor not only insisted on an Afghan withdrawal but also set a departure date too abrupt to be met.

No doubt Donald Trump will join that chorus, turning around and shamelessly attacking Biden for "abandoning" Afghanistan, because that's what he does. So will figures like Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military strategist whose insights lured us into Iraq, a far worse disaster than Afghanistan. Graham now predicts that pulling out will result in terror attacks -- but the biggest threat to America is from white supremacists within our own borders, a menace he denies. We don't have to occupy another nation to fight extremist enemies here or abroad.

Biden's critics will also forget the most salient fact about the Afghan war, which is how it began. I will confess to supporting the initial invasion following the 9/11 attacks, because I regarded the destruction of al-Qaida and the punishment of the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden as essential to American and world security. Like many others who endorsed the war in its earliest stages, I have long believed that the administration of former President George W. Bush -- obsessed with overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- ensured failure at the start.

Yet honesty compels me to say that those few who opposed the U.S. action back then may have been right all along. After such a long and costly misadventure, it isn't certain that what once seemed imperative was ever prudent, or just. What could have been done and what should have been done are no longer relevant -- except to the Afghan people, who have suffered gravely without any end in sight. More than 150,000 of them have died in the war, with almost a third of the dead civilians.

Those Afghans were innocent of the terrorist violence that struck our cities on Sept. 11, 2001, and that level of death and destruction seems like a high price compared with what happened on 9/11, a day I remember too well. While most of the Afghan dead were killed by the Taliban, that doesn't absolve our responsibility. We also owe a deep and permanent debt to the veterans who served -- the great majority of whom want us to bring their brothers and sisters home.

Discharging that debt will oblige us to rescue as many Afghans as we can from the vengeance of the Taliban, especially but not only those who served alongside our troops. For years now, Taliban assassins have murdered Afghan interpreters and others who assisted allied forces. They ought to have gained asylum here, but the Islamophobic prejudices of the Trump administration put obstacles in their way.

Now that must end. The United States should grant "immediate refugee status to all Afghan nationals that have helped us in the last 20 years," says Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat. "We can't let them be targets." Gallego, a Marine veteran of Iraq, is painfully aware of how Iraqis who worked with U.S. troops there were later hunted down by Islamic State group killers. He is right to demand that we start protecting the Afghans left behind.

We can hope that Afghanistan fares better than expected, but hope won't save any lives. Already the Taliban, which has not improved with age, is assassinating those who might dissent from its medieval ideology. If and when its mullahs regain state power, they may well kill many thousands more -- unless we welcome them to this country.

There is no other honorable exit from the forever war.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Behind the latest 'border crisis'

The frightening story of a "crisis" at the U.S. border with Mexico, with an "overwhelming surge" of destitute and possibly disease-bearing humans, is now repeated constantly by Republicans and their eager echoes in the mainstream media. But what interest beyond partisanship is served by that narrative? What would serve us all far better is to understand the background of these events so that panic and prejudice don't distort our response.

On Thursday evening, President Joe Biden provided sorely needed context to the latest "border crisis" when asked whether the latest increase in migration is due to his kindly image — and his reversal of the cruelest immigration policies of his predecessor.

"I guess I should be flattered that people are coming because I'm a nice guy," Biden said, without quite laughing. Noting that a roughly similar "surge" occurred at the border during the winter of 2019, he asked acidly, "Does anyone suggest there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy?"

Nobody is suggesting that, although the Trump partisans complaining about Biden's border policies are trying their demagogic best to hide the truth about what happened then and what is happening now. The Republican impulse to stoke bigotry for political gain is as predictable as the annual pilgrimage of migrants fleeing violence and privation.

Writing in The Washington Post on the day of Biden's press conference, a trio of academic researchers — Tom K. Wong, Gabriel De Roche and Jesus Rojas Venzor — laid out the evidence that the recent increases are seasonal, not political, based on data published by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Their analysis showed that the rising number of migrants arriving at the border during the first five months of fiscal year 2021 closely matched the trend for the same months in fiscal year 2019. The difference was the number of migrants who didn't show up or were turned back in fiscal 2020 and are coming now.

After looking at not only those recent numbers but data for every year dating back to 2012, they "found no clear evidence that the overall increase in border crossings in 2021 can be attributed to Biden administration policies." Instead, they discovered that these migrations are seasonal, owing to the simple fact that as winter turns into spring and summer, the southern deserts are simply too hot and deadly for humans to cross on foot.

If the bulge in migration is so predictable, then the next question is why the Biden administration was unprepared to handle it. And the apparent answer is that it tried but its efforts were thwarted by Trump and his pathetic refusal to recognize his election defeat.

When the Trump White House and its minions across the government declined to cooperate with the Biden transition teams, many predicted that the costs of that irresponsible attitude would eventually come due. And now we're seeing the human cost every day, as unaccompanied children look to cross the border and seek asylum in a country unprepared to receive them.

As NBC News reported on March 24, Biden aides warned their counterparts in Trump's Department of Health and Human Services — which is responsible for migrant children — that many children would be coming to the border shortly and that the facilities to shelter them were insufficient. The Biden team, experienced and competent, sent that message to the Trump officials as early as December. Not only did they anticipate the arrival of Central American kids but they knew that Trump had closed down shelter space as part of his no-tolerance, family-separation approach to immigration.

It was a disastrous mistake. And what made matters far worse was that Trump's HHS officials simply ignored the warnings and did nothing until time ran out. They also brushed off the concerns of nonpartisan HHS staff, who issued the same warnings internally. According to one official who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, "It was irresponsible of the Trump administration not to listen to us when we were throwing up red flags."

Now the Biden administration has to clean up their mess, including their absolute failure to address the underlying causes of migration. They are trying to improve the bad situation at the border as rapidly as possible, and they will need to fashion more effective policies going forward.

But there's at least one thing they know for sure: Trump's cruel attitude toward immigrants accomplished nothing, except to bring misery to innocent families and dishonor to the United States.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Why did the United States' top officials lie about China — and Russia?

Before Merrick Garland took office last week, the new attorney general surely understood that he would face a difficult and almost-overwhelming set of problems — including reconstruction of the Justice Department after the ruinously partisan rule of his predecessor William Barr; overseeing hundreds of federal prosecutions of Jan. 6 insurrectionists; and dealing with the scandal detritus of the Trump regime, which may eventually involve indictments of the former president, his associates and even members of his family.

But this week, we learned of still more troubling issues that may require Garland's attention, when the department of homeland security and the director of national intelligence released declassified reports on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. The classified versions of those reports were on the attorney general's desk when he arrived for his first day of work, and what they indicate is the worst U.S. intelligence scandal since the fabricated reports that justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence summarized the views of the nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies concerning foreign interference in the 2020 election. They found that yet again, Russia undertook strenuous measures to assist Donald Trump and his campaign, with the express purpose of keeping him in power. Law enforcement officials and counterintelligence analysts gathered substantial evidence showing that the Kremlin's spy apparatus, both military and civilian, used Trump's network of associates — including Republicans in both the House and Senate — to spread false stories about Ukraine, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. And as the report stated, the directive came from the top: "We assess that President Putin and the Russian state authorized and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US presidential election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US."

As might be expected, the report dismissed the fantasy propaganda spread by Trump's attorneys in the election's aftermath about mysterious communist entities that somehow controlled voting machines — and padded Joe Biden's vote totals from abroad. "We are aware of multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments — including Venezuela, Cuba, or China — owned, directed, or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed, or otherwise manipulated vote counts," it noted, adding that investigations by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security found no evidence whatsoever to bolster those claims. It doesn't name Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani or any of the other legal and media figures who trumpeted those lies, but it doesn't need to.

Debunking those ridiculous characters is amusing and may prove interesting to state bar authorities with ethical jurisdiction over them. But the report's most disturbing implication concerns the behavior of government officials who misled the public and Congress about the role of China — and Russia.

Last summer, as Election Day drew near, the Trump administration's top officials, including the president himself and then-Attorney General William Barr, then-director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and then-national security adviser Robert O'Brien, publicly misled the nation with false claims about alleged Chinese interference.

On two occasions, O'Brien asserted that Beijing's intelligence agencies were seeking to influence voters, even more than the Russians. "(T)he Chinese have taken the most active role," he claimed. Barr said the same thing, citing "intelligence" sources that showed China was superseding Russian as an electoral threat. And so did Ratcliffe, who proved himself to be a partisan Trump crony when he insisted on national television that "China is using a massive and sophisticated influence campaign that dwarfs anything that any other country is doing."

Yet according to the declassified report, there was no Chinese effort that came close to the scale or intention of the Russian campaign for Trump. "We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy intelligence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US presidential election," the report concluded. So those loud warnings from Barr, Ratcliffe and O'Brien — as well as Trump — were knowing falsehoods.

The lies about China were part of a much broader scheme by Trump administration officials and cronies to rig the election, which can be traced back to the Ukraine blackmail scheme that led to the president's first impeachment. But the attempt by the nation's highest law enforcement and intelligence officials to minimize an actual foreign-influence campaign by fabricating a false one steers perilously close to aiding a hostile power.

Was the falsification coordinated by those officials and others? Were they ordered to disseminate the lies by the president? What statutes, if any, are implicated by their misconduct? What sanctions, if any, should be brought against them?

Attorney General Garland needs to learn the answers to those questions if he means to restore integrity to America's law enforcement and counterintelligence agencies — which, in this era, remain vital to our democracy.

Destroying conservatism will be Marjorie Taylor Greene's only achievement

With their cowardly refusal to discipline Marjorie Taylor Greene, the retreat from integrity of the House Republicans is now complete. Only under the threat of sanctions against Greene by House Democrats did Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) even pretend to address the Georgia representative's many offenses against decency, comity, and sanity. And when the Republican caucus met behind closed doors, McCarthy's weak leadership allowed Greene to take over the meeting, which reportedly concluded in applause for her.

What were the Republicans applauding? The gun-toting Greene has not apologized for any of her endorsements of violence, including those spittle-flecked threats to assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She hasn't withdrawn any of her racist slurs against Blacks and Muslims, or her gutter excursions into anti-Semitic fantasy. Only under duress has Greene admitted the reality of the 9/11 attack and the school shootings upon which she had cast paranoid doubt, after inflicting renewed grief on the families of the dead. She didn't apologize to them, either.

Behind closed doors, Greene reportedly told her Republican colleagues that she is sorry for embarrassing them. Her alibi was that she was drawn to QAnon only because she was suffering a "dark period" in her life. Yet that too was a lie. She praised the conspiracy cult on Twitter as recently as December 4.

So this wretched character deserves to be booted off the prestigious budget and education committee assignments that McCarthy had unaccountably awarded her. But with little intellectual aptitude and no interest in policy, she will hardly suffer from that sanction. Instead she now gloats that all the attention to her baneful idiocies is elevating her profile, a boast that is surely accurate. She will bask in attention – and rake in money – from the aggrieved bigots for whom she stands.

There can be no doubt that Greene and others like her pose a continuing threat to democracy, as they proved with bloody ferocity on January 6. In their psychotic fantasies -- as she hinted in her own social media posts -- they would exterminate every Democrat and liberal in America, because "freedom" is only for them and nobody else.

But what these violent extremists are much more likely to destroy is conservatism.

In one of her many defiant public rebukes to her critics, Greene wrote that Pelosi persecutes her because she is "a Christian" and "a conservative." Obviously her brutal style does no credit to Christianity, but it is conservatives who should worry more about her claim to being one of them.

At their best, conservatives are supposed to defend American institutions and values. They are supposed to believe in civility, protocol, manners, and traditional standards. The conservative instinct is to reject excess and uphold personal responsibility. They valued reason and logic over maddening emotion. Or at least those were the things they believed about themselves.

In recent decades, however, that venerable sort of conservatism has increasingly given way to a coarser and uglier version, which is now epitomized by Trump and his followers such as Greene. If she is a conservative, with her crazy theories about a Jewish space laser and her stupid prejudices, then conservatism is intellectually bankrupt and merely a political scrim for fascism.

This was the same danger perceived by William F. Buckley, the framer of modern conservatism, when he sought to isolate the authoritarian and conspiratorial John Birch Society from his movement. With its wild accusations against Dwight Eisenhower and its hatred of democracy, he knew that the society would poison conservatism in its cradle.

Some Republicans, notably including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Senators and Representatives, seem to recognize this peril. The question is whether they have the courage and energy for a sustained fight against it.

Behind Trump's words: A criminal state of mind

Oddsmakers Made A 'Killing' Off Trump Chumps During -- And After! -- 2020 Election

For the senators who will sit in judgment of Donald Trump's second impeachment a crucial question will be his state of mind on his day of rage, January 6, and his weeks of rage leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

Trump's defense cherry-picks a few of his words on that day, pointing out that he used the word "peaceful" while speaking to the White House rally that preceded the insurrection. They ignore that he told them to "fight." Immediately after a Proud Boys rally in Washington that ended with knifings and beatings in the streets, he urged his rabble to come to Washington for a "wild" demonstration to prevent the congressional certification of Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College.

Proving his culpability, however, will depend on more than just his words before the insurrection.

The most powerful evidence against Trump is not what he said previously, but what he said – and what he failed to do – when the furious mob broke into the Capitol, despoiled the building, and howled for the blood of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What did he say then?

Trump is reliably reported to have enjoyed watching the mayhem in real time. In a Jan. 26 appearance on CNN, New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman said that Trump "was watching, enjoying what he was seeing, in part because he was enjoying just people defending him, and in part because... it stopped the certification [of Biden's election]. That was what he wanted to see."

Haberman indicated she had heard that appalling description from her own White House sources, which she is precluded from naming by professional ethics. But, she added, if House Democrats prosecuting the impeachment want to find those witnesses, "I suspect they can find some people who they might be able to try to get to talk about this."

That search might begin with Senator Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican, who dared to criticize Trump's behavior that day and on other occasions. Sasse is a juror in the Senate trial, of course, but he has vital information about those potential witnesses.

Two days after the riot, on Jan. 8, Sasse appeared on the Hugh Hewitt radio broadcast. The Nebraska senator told Hewitt that the then-president had to be held accountable because he had "incited" the mob and failed to send troops when the police were pleading for help.

Pressed by Hewitt, a sedulous Trump enabler, on the president's intentions, Sasse cited his conversations with "senior White House officials" about the events of Jan. 6.

What did the White House aides who were present with Trump as he watched the mob assault the Capitol tell Sasse? Here's what Sasse stated:

"As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren't as excited as he was, as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building. He was delighted."

There is much more to learn about the events and planning that led up to the attack, including the connections of Trump confidants and pardoned felons Roger Stone and Mike Flynn with the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the other gangs that spearheaded the violence that day. We will see further congressional investigations as well as scores and perhaps hundreds of felony prosecutions. And we will need a 9/11-style national commission with investigative authority and subpoena power to map the dimensions of this unprecedented coup attempt.

But concerning Trump's criminal state of mind – his mens rea, as they say on Law and Order – the witnesses are available now for subpoena. Unlike Haberman, Ben Sasse has no professional reason to keep their names secret, and he has a serious moral and constitutional duty to reveal them, especially before the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald John Trump. Perhaps more than anything that anyone else might offer, their testimony will demonstrate the core truth: Trump dispatched a mob of vicious thugs to intimidate Congress, illegally and despicably. He was willing for Capitol police officers to die for him to hold onto power.

And, according to Sasse's account, Trump was "excited" and "delighted."

Almost certainly, the audio of Sasse's statement will be played before the Senate during the trial while the Nebraskan is sitting as a juror. Before that happens, Senator Sasse, now is the time to step forward with a more specific account that includes the names of those Trump aides.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Who will defend military ballots from Trump?

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The White House under a black sky

After months of unscientific experimentation, the president of the United States has completed his transformation into a biological weapon.

Infected with the coronavirus because he rejected the advice of government experts, Donald Trump can no longer evade the consequences of the policy and political choices he has made since last winter. With every wrong move, he brought himself and the country closer to this fateful moment. How many lives his terrible exercise in deception and self-deception will cost remains to be seen, but we now know that he does not hesitate to endanger even those closest to him.

Whatever insecurities have rendered Trump and his followers so resistant to every measure that stems the infection, especially wearing a mask, their selfish recalcitrance was on public display at the first presidential debate. Seated at the front of the hall, members of the Trump family brazenly refused to wear a mask — despite an explicit request from a staffer of the Cleveland Clinic, which was overseeing health and safety at the event.

For a moment during the debate, Trump tried to sound responsible, as he occasionally does. "I'll put on a mask when I think I need it," he told moderator Chris Wallace. But he couldn't resist mocking Biden, whose entire party entered the hall wearing masks and kept them on, except for Biden. "I don't wear masks like him," Trump barked, indicating Biden. "Every time you see him, he's got a mask. You could be speaking 200 feet away from them, and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen!"

Trump's debate performance showcased the only thing his cult cares about

Trump's debate performance showcased the only thing his cult cares about MSNBC

To excuse his rejection of masking, Trump distorted the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top government epidemiologist, who, like every other reputable expert, has urged universal masking and other basic safety measures for many months. His infantile attitude has done untold damage. According to a new study released by Cornell University, which analyzed over 38 million articles in English-language media around the world, the American president is this planet's single most toxic source of misinformation about the pandemic.

Trump's viral spewing of lies and myths about the coronavirus has rendered society helpless to stop the spread of the disease itself. In New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo seized public attention to deliver a strong daily message of masking and social distancing, directly contradicting Trump, the upward curve of infections was "flattened," and many lives were saved. In too many other places, where Trumpian rejection of science ruled, the virus continues to rage.

At first, the president pretended that the virus was a "Democratic hoax" or a mere variation of the seasonal flu. Then, he promised it would go away, "like a miracle," even though he knew and confided to Bob Woodward that it was extremely dangerous and could kill many thousands. Rather than mobilize government against the pandemic, Trump did nothing. Or next to nothing. As the pandemic took hold, he became preoccupied by scientifically questionable tangents, such as hydroxychloroquine, and even his own bizarre speculation that injecting disinfectant might restore health (it is much more likely to inflict death). Trump and his doctors even claimed that he took hydroxychloroquine — which, as his case should now persuade him, does not work.

As the final weeks of this election unfold, we are going to learn in detail how Trump's arrogance, vanity and irresponsibility have endangered hundreds of people around him, from the White House staff to the donors and supporters who attended his most recent events in New Jersey and Minnesota. Let's hope that neither he nor anyone around him suffers the worst effects of the disease — like the late Herman Cain, who died weeks after attending the Tulsa Trump rally defiantly unmasked. But let's not forget that such casualties are only a microcosm of the American carnage caused by this catastrophic presidency.

The sky over the White House is black with chickens coming home to roost, and there is only one way for our country to emerge from the darkness.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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