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The Republican onslaught against democracy is upon us — and we must act

This morning at 9:00 am, an "Open Letter in Defense of Democracy" was published, simultaneously, by The New Republic and The Bulwark (see here and here).

The letter was co-signed by around 40 public intellectuals across the political spectrum, from Noam Chomsky and Adolph Reed to prominent former-neoconservatives Max Boot and Mona Charen.

It was drafted by me along with two collaborators: Todd Gitlin and William Kristol.

A few years ago I am pretty sure that neither Todd nor I ever imagined collaborating with Bill, just as I am pretty confident Bill never imagined collaborating with either of us. Indeed, a couple of years ago I locked horns with Bill at a New School conference.

And yet the threat to liberal democracy has never been greater in our lifetime. Each of us has been sounding the alarm in our own way for some time. And as the situation darkened, some e-mail exchanges became a one-off conversation which became a regular Zoom meeting which eventually became a collaboration and a friendship.

The Open Letter is one outcome of this friendly collaboration, an effort for us to reach beyond our normal comfort zones, and to see if we could bring together a range of friends and collaborators from left to right in support of a general statement about the importance of democracy. The statement locates Trumpism and the Republican Party as twin dangers to U.S. democracy, and it calls for serious voting rights legislation and a broader effort to defeat these twin dangers.

From its opening words, the Letter enacts a kind of "common front" among people who disagree about much but who are steadfastly committed to liberal democracy as the best and most legitimate political arrangement for expressing and acting on disagreement. Some of our signatories have long been aligned with the anti-war movement and with the Sanders wing of the Democratic party. Some have been aligned with the more centrist Obama-Clinton-Biden wing. Some were supporters of John McCain or Mitt Romney, and some—most notably Bill Kristol—were supporters of George W. Bush and of Ronald Reagan before him. (It's a pretty diverse list. Check it out.)

And yet we have come together behind the Letter, which has a pretty clear political message. And we have brought together two very different journals, the New Republic and The Bulwark, behind this effort—and it is virtually unprecedented to see such a collaboration between journals such as these. We have not checked our differences at the door. And yet we have come together precisely because we regard these differences as important, and we believe that if the forces of Know Nothingism, racism, and reaction associated with Trumpism prevail, we will all suffer. Our political differences are real. And our joint commitment to democracy is grounded in those very differences.

Many who will read this will be angry about what some of our signatories have said or done in the past. This is understandable. And I hope that it will not get in the way of seeing that the current battle over democracy is very real, the stakes are very high, and some of those with whom you have strongly disagreed in the past are now allies in this struggle.

Many who will read this will believe that it is impossible to talk about democracy without talking about the global climate crisis or the inequalities of global capitalism or the scourge of racism. This is understandable, and I share these concerns. And at the same, I know that there are others to my right—as well as to my left—who think about these things differently than I do, and who are nonetheless fellow citizens who are engaged in their own processes of rethinking, and who wish to join now in defense of democracy. Now is not a time to slap away a handshake—and, to be clear, a handshake is not a marriage vow, it is simply but crucially a form of friendship borne of common experience.

The struggle against the injustices of capitalism remains important to many. So too the struggle against environmental degradation and racism and sexism.

And the best way to further these causes is through education, advocacy, social movement organizing, and participation in electoral politics.

And each of these things—education, advocacy, movement organizing, and participation in at least minimally free and fair elections—is now threatened by the Republican onslaught against democracy.

And so my collaborators and I believe it is important to come together with all of those who are willing to join in defense of democracy.

This does not require us to like all of those with whom we join—though we have made some real friendships through this collaboration—nor does it require us to forget about their pasts or our own pasts.

It simply requires us to acknowledge the ethical and political importance of coming together, across differences, to defend the things that we value in common.

Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best, at another moment when some very different people came together to oppose the tyranny of their time: "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: "Democracy in Dark Times"(1998); "The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline" (2003), and "Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion" (1994).

How Fox News is prepping its audience for fascism

Since well before Donald Trump's election, Fox News has served as one of his movement's most powerful and effective propaganda outlets. In numerous ways both large and small, Fox News has mainstreamed fascist and authoritarian talking points, circulated Trump's thousands of lies and massaged, minimized or falsified the events of Jan. 6 and the ongoing coup against American democracy.

On a near-daily basis, Tucker Carlson and other Fox News hosts amplify white supremacist lies about the "Great Replacement" — even if they don't use that precise term — claiming that white people are the victims of a genocidal plot to "replace" them with nonwhites. New public opinion research shows that this type of white supremacist stochastic terrorism has been internalized by tens of millions of white Americans — specifically white Republican and Trump voters — to such an extreme that many of them are willing to condone or participate in acts of political violence in to overthrow Joe Biden's presidency and American democracy.

More than 700,000 people have died in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic -- and this is a low estimate. More than a million Americans are expected to die before the virus is brought fully under control.

Public health experts have documented the direct role that Fox News and other right-wing media have played in encouraging their audience to not be vaccinated against the coronavirus. This is part of a much larger pattern of behavior, in which Fox News has consistently fueled and amplified coronavirus denialism. In total, Fox "News" has been a public health threat, and bears both direct and indirect responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Because Fox News has such pernicious influence control over its public that it has caused discord, chaos and other forms of dysfunction — almost certainly including interpersonal violence — within families, among friends and across entire communities. When and if American democracy finally succumbs to authoritarianism, its obituary should include Fox News for helping to kill it.

For almost a decade, Jen Senko has been documenting the personal impact of Fox News on the American people. In her 2015 documentary "The Brainwashing of My Dad," she showed in painstaking detail, how Fox News and the right-wing propaganda machine transformed her father into an angry, paranoid, bigoted, political extremist. Her father is only one of the millions of Americans who have fallen under the spell of Fox News and the right-wing hate machine — and by doing so became the base of support for Republican fascist movement.

In her new book, also called "The Brainwashing of My Dad," Senko continues to explore the damaging influence of Fox News and the larger right-wing echo chamber in America's worsening democracy crisis.

In this conversation, Senko details how Fox News functions like a type of cult that uses anger and fear to seduce and control its audience. She also explains how right-wing media creates an alternate universe that offers meaning, community and friendship for the confused, alienated and lonely people — predominantly older white men — who are its primary audience. Senko shares more personal anecdotes about how Fox News and its allied media have destroyed loving relationships,. She also warns that Fox News is priming its audience for political violence to support Donald Trump and the Republican-fascist ongoing coup attempt.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

With your documentary, you tried to warn the American people that Fox News and the right-wing media are an extreme danger to the country. But here we are several years later, with America's democracy crisis continuing to escalate as the right has increasingly embraced fascism. How do you feel watching this disaster?

Right now, I'm very, very frustrated. When I made the documentary, I was naïve. I thought to myself, "I'm going to save the world. I'm going to save America." It was cathartic for me to make "The Brainwashing of My Dad."

Now the American people are like the frog in the boiling water. It was lukewarm at first, nice and comfy, and they were all just splashing around a little bit. Then the water gets hotter, and they don't notice. By the time they notice, it's too late and they're boiling.

Given all that has happened and is happening with Trump and the Republicans, my feelings are now panic and despair. I always still have a seed of hope. There are many more people now who did get the message that I was trying to explain about Fox News and where the country was headed. I also have hope because it seems that more Americans are organized to resist.

What do people outside Trump World and the MAGAverse — or who are just generally in denial about the existential threat the country is facing — not understand about what's happening?

Too many people still do not seem to get that what the Republicans and Trump are doing to undermine democracy was long in the planning. It is all like an octopus and it has many tentacles. The head of the octopus is the media.

As fast as perhaps the FBI can catch those who are working to betray the country and commit treason, Fox News is everywhere. There truly is a vast right-wing conspiracy, as Hillary Clinton described it back in the 1990s. This is true whether you like it or not.

Basically, a bunch of oligarchs, evangelicals, racists, mega-corporations and right-wing libertarians got together and planned how they could get rid of government and any policies that serve the public good. What they want is no public schools, no libraries, no post office, no Social Security, no public health option. These right-wing forces want privatization across the board so that they can make as much money as they want, unrestrained, and won't have to pay taxes. Then these same forces got control of the media, and could inject their message right into the public's collective mind.

This right-wing movement also did other things too, such as running for school boards and in other local elections. They used gerrymandering and created a panic about nonexistent voter fraud. But it is the right-wing media that drives the campaign. What shocks me the most is that most Americans still do not understand the big picture.

In your documentary, you showed in painful detail how Fox News and the right-wing machine literally changed your father's personality into a person you no longer recognized. Other Americans have experienced this — perhaps millions of them. What is your dad an example of? How do we understand what Fox News and the right-wing echo chamber did to him as representative of a much larger phenomenon?

My father was seduced by the anger and the excitement. People know that something's wrong, that the system is rigged somehow, but they don't give much thought to how. My father was also retiring from his job, and he found the right-wing media. This gave him something to occupy his mind and thoughts.

Now, suddenly, there's all this excitement in his life. There is some right-wing media person telling him that the government is in his personal business too much. There are very persuasive big personalities pushing my father's buttons and those of the audience in general. And you know what? That feels good. There is an addictive quality to anger like that. It was exciting for my father. It also provided him a group to belong to.

I believe that a lot of white men feel like, "Well, what am I supposed to do? And who am I?" They needed help in figuring themselves out, and the right-wing media and that world provided it. Too many such men developed a victim mentality, telling themselves, "I'm a victim, I'm mad, I've always wanted to fight back."

How was Fox News and the right-wing media machine able to take people such as your father and get them to a point where they would support a coup or political terrorism or conspiracy theories like QAnon? Were they always prone to such behavior or did Fox News and the right-wing machine make them that way?

On Twitter, a lot people will say to me, usually Democrats or liberals, "Oh, these people, they were always like that. They're just finding a port to park their boat in now." I do not believe that is necessarily true.

My dad hadn't been racist. He hadn't been anti-"illegal immigrant." After listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, he got brainwashed. When I made the documentary, I did not know if I believed in brainwashing. Now I know that brainwashing does exist, it is real.

There's the brainwashing that happens through force, what we were all familiar with from movies. But what Fox News and the larger right-wing are doing is brainwashing by stealth. I believe this to be more insidious. There's only one type of information going into the brain. There's isolation. There is repetition. That is how they brainwash their public.

I feel like there has been a massive brainwashing campaign, something unlike anything we've ever seen before in this country. That's what's happened in America through Fox News and the right-wing media and movement.

Through your website and other outreach, many people have contacted you about how Fox News and the right-wing media machine have impacted their relationships. What are some of the common themes you are seeing?

One of them is anger. The relative, the loved one, the friend, whoever it may be, suddenly is angry more and more, it's their predominant mood. These people also become very argumentative. Many of these people who are watching Fox and are part of the right-wing echo chamber are incapable of having conversations that somehow do not turn to politics. They become obsessed with this new right-wing way of thinking. It becomes the person's mission. It is all of who they are.

What are some personal stories that jump out at you?

A woman recently shared with me how her husband was a good, sweet guy and a really quiet person. Right before Trump ran for office and became president, he started watching Fox News and his personality completely changed. He would yell at her and their child more. He would criticize her, his wife, because she was a Democrat, yell at her, yell at her kid, start criticizing her. The husband was becoming emotionally abusive.

The woman who reached out to me was afraid that it was going to traumatize her child and that she might have to leave her husband. She was really sad about it because she had once been very much in love with him.

Another person who contacted me lost several members of her family to COVID. Her father still wouldn't get the vaccine. He got COVID, and still wouldn't get the vaccine — or said he wouldn't — and he died because Tucker Carlson and other people on Fox News were telling people like him not to get vaccinated.

What is going on, emotionally and cognitively, where someone would listen to a person on TV who is telling them to do things that will cause them personal harm, that will hurt their family members, friends and other people they care about?

They're not thinking rationally. The part of their brain called the amygdala has been hijacked. That is the fight-or-flight part of the brain. When it is activated, the cerebral cortex is not functioning 100 percent. These people are responding from panic. In that moment, they go to the source that they have learned to trust. That source, in this case Fox News, is telling them, "You can only trust us." That source is angry all the time. It tells its public that the government has screwed them over and the politicians that have screwed them over. The response to Fox News and the right-wing machine actually becomes something physiological.

How does Fox News make friends with its viewers? Because what Fox News and other right-wing propaganda outlets are doing on a fundamental level is establishing an intimate relationship with their public.

There is a feeling that there is an in-group and an out-group. Fox and other parts of the right-wing media make their audience feel special, like they are in on something special. It is a very seductive feeling. Being part of a tribe makes people feel safer. That dynamic is also an example of groupthink.

Many Fox viewers and people who consume that right-wing media just want to belong to the group, to think the same way as everyone else in the group. You trust your people. You don't want to doubt them. They are your friends.

Are the people who watch Fox News awake, or are they asleep?

I think they're in a trance. They are definitely not awake. They're almost on autopilot. They are going to accept anything they are told by Fox.

Why would anyone listen to Fox News, or the right-wing echo chamber more generally, telling them to hurt people, to engage in violence? Why would a formerly reasonable person listen to these commands? What has gone wrong with them?

Because they are in such a rage. They are primed to take that next step. They're in such a rage because they believe, in their heart of hearts, that the 2020 election was stolen away from Trump. They really believe that their country is being taken over illegitimately.

Mix that in with the rage that they already have, where for example they truly believe, "Democrats are horrible, they're the devil's spawn. Anything that's wrong in my life is because of them. Now they're stealing the election, they stole my guy who speaks to me, who's like me." They're just ready to fight.

Trump accuses Bill Barr and Mark Zuckerberg of stealing Pennsylvania election in angry letter to WSJ

Former President Donald Trump accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his own former Attorney General William Barr of helping to steal Pennsylvania's election in 2020 in an angry letter written to the Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Trump took issue with a WSJ editorial published on Monday that accurately claimed Biden defeated Trump by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

"Well actually, the election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven't figured out," Trump claimed. "Here are just a few examples of how determinative the voter fraud in Pennsylvania was."

The former president then went through a series of previously debunked claims about "fraud" in Pennsylvania's election, which also included two claims about Barr and Zuckerberg.

"Attorney General Bill Barr ordered U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain to stand down and not investigate election irregularities," Trump complained in one part of the letter. "Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook poured over $17 million to interfere in the Pennsylvania election, including $5.5 million on "ballot processing equipment" in Philadelphia and $552,000 for drop boxes where the voting pattern was not possible."

Trump also cited standard claims about "phantom" voters of the kind that were debunked in the Arizona "audit" of the 2020 race, as well as "numerous reports and sworn affidavits attested to poll watcher intimidation and harassment, many by brute force."

Read the whole letter here.

Dr. Birx admits the truth about Trump's crime against humanity

Is playing politics with a deadly pandemic a crime against humanity? The Brazilian Senate thinks so, and has backed a report calling for charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of COVID-19.

The committee that prepared the report had originally called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and mass homicide against the indigenous people of Brazil as well but those charges were removed by the larger Senate before the vote. Whether the crimes against humanity charges will be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation and adjudication is unknown. If they are, it will be a first.

The 1,300-page report also calls for eight other charges against Bolsonaro, including misuse of public funds and spreading fake news about the pandemic as well as falsification of documents and incitement to crime, which they referred to Brazil's top prosecutor, an ally of the president who is unlikely to prosecute.

Brazil's death toll is huge — second only to the United States — with over 600,000 deaths and counting. That nation's first wave was monstrous, with mass graves and overwhelming hospital overload. When the second hit, medical facilities were so ill-prepared that they ran out of oxygen. Bolsonaro's response has been to tell people to "stop whining" about "the little flu." He refused necessary lockdown measures from the beginning and relentlessly pushed snake oil cures like hydroxychloroquine. He has disparaged vaccines, masks and other public health measures.

Brazil is a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it could theoretically agree to hear the case should it be forwarded to them. The law seems pretty straightforward, according to this analysis by Jen Kirby at Vox:

A crime against humanity exists "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

Kirby spoke with David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, who told her that the "catchall nature" of the last part of the statute was deliberate:

It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute. It's hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that's fair game.

Bolsonaro defiantly says that he is guilty of "absolutely nothing" despite his decisions to allow the virus to spread through the country in pursuit of "herd immunity" which basically translated to "let 'er rip." And he has continued to spread disinformation. Just this week, Facebook and Youtube removed a video in which the Brazilian president falsely claimed a link between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS.

You will no doubt recall that Bolsonaro and Donald Trump were great friends and kindred spirits during Trump's term. They saw eye to eye on many things, but perhaps on nothing so much as the proper response to the pandemic.

In March of 2020, as the virus was starting to spread quickly, the Brazilian leader visited Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago, and that became one of the earliest Trump super-spreading events when Bolsonaro's press secretary tested positive for the virus after meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others. Bolsonaro came away from the meeting inspired by Trump, telling his health minister "that life was normal at Mar-a-Lago, everything was cured, and that hydroxychloroquine was the medicine that was supposed to be used. From that time on, it was very hard to get him to take the science seriously."

We all saw the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's reaction to the pandemic in real-time.

They both downplayed the virus and were obsessively concerned with the economic fallout, leading them to lean on scientists to fudge the numbers. Both of them were constantly out in public exposing themselves and others to the virus and they each recommended unscientific cure-alls while ignoring the public health recommendations that actually mitigated the worst of the virus. Trump really wanted to take credit for the vaccines, but has been forced to downplay that achievement due to skepticism among his followers, while Bolsonaro just comes right out and says they don't work. Their record in the pandemic is astonishingly similar.

Here in the U.S., the task of investigating what happened with the pandemic has fallen to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has kept a pretty low profile these last few months. But on Tuesday they took the testimony of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 coordinator. According to the New York Times, Birx reiterated her earlier shocking claim that at least 130,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because the administration refused to do everything it could to ensure the nation followed the public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But in her testimony this week she also said that as the pandemic wore on into the summer and fall, the administration became distracted by the presidential campaign and pretty much lost interest in the crisis. In other words, a lot of people died so that Donald Trump could get elected.

When asked if she felt Trump did everything he could to save lives, Birx replied, "no."

She also complained about the malign influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who caught Trump's eye on Fox News and was brought in to push the idea that the country should seek "herd immunity," just as Bolsonaro had tried to do in Brazil. Birx testified that Atlas even brought to the White House the three physicians who later authored the "Great Barrington Declaration," which called for deliberately hastening herd immunity. Trump was all in:

Bolsonaro and members of his family are under fire for corruption as well and there is a good chance he may face jail time as well as a tough re-election campaign next year. And then there is the little matter of the crimes against humanity charges that could be before the International Criminal Court.

His good friend and inspiration, Donald Trump, is in a similar situation — although he has three more years to try to make everyone forget his terrible response to the pandemic. Trump needn't worry about the ICC, of course. The U.S. isn't a signatory. The powers that be thought signing on to it might result in U.S. troops being accused of war crimes. I doubt they anticipated that a U.S. president might be accused of facilitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. Donald Trump has always been a very lucky guy in that way.

McConnell backs GOP candidate who called for 'total cleansing' and allegedly threatened to blow his wife’s 'brains out'

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday endorsed Herschel Walker, who is being strongly backed by Donald Trump in his 2022 run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Politico reports.

Saying that Walker, a retired NFL player, "is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate," McConnell ignored the allegations against Walker, including from his now-ex-wife who said that when they were married he repeatedly threatened violence against her.

"I'm going to blow your f'ing brains out," Cindy Grossman, Walker's ex-wife, told ABC News her then-husband said to her as he pointed a pistol at her head, the AP reports. She was forced to obtain a protective order against him. Her sister in an affidavit said Walker"stated unequivocally that he was going to shoot my sister Cindy and her boyfriend in the head."

In that same July article the AP reported "Walker, now 59, has at times been open about his long struggle with mental illness, writing at length in a 2008 book about being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, once known as multiple personality disorder."

CNN adds that Walker "has been particularly prolific and specific in his election-related dishonesty."

Two days before the January 6 insurrection, Walker tweeted "America needs a total cleansing" that only Donald Trump "can do with the help of TRUE PATRIOTS."

Walker has falsely claimed Joe Biden did not get even 50 million votes, when he won the White House with over 81 million. And on January 6 Walker tweeted that the election had been "stolen" and called on Donald Trump "to find out who these people are as they do not look like MAGA!"

In addition to McConnell's endorsement, Politico reports "Walker has also received endorsements from GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Steve Daines of Montana, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Graham has played a key role in helping to guide Walker's candidacy."

The word ‘evangelical’ is now 'bound to' MAGA Republicans: pastor

Being a card-carrying liberal or progressive and being a practicing Christian are by no means mutually exclusive. But as a rule, Christians who identify as left-of-center politically are most likely to be Catholics or Mainline Protestants — not fundamentalist evangelicals. The word "evangelical," in fact, is often associated with far-right MAGA Republicans. And Ryan Burge, a Baptist pastor and political science professor, examines this trend in an essay published by the New York Times on October 26.

Burge, in his article, cites a recent Pew Research poll which found that White supporters of former President Donald Trump were more likely to identify as "evangelical" than they were before 2016. The word "evangelical" has an increasingly negative connotation among Trump critics, but Pew found that it has a positive connotation in the minds of Trump supporters.

According to Burge, many Republicans are identifying with the word "evangelical" for political reasons more than religious reasons.

"The number of self-identified evangelicals has likely not increased over the last few years because evangelicals have been effective at spreading the gospel and bringing new converts to the church," Burge explains. "What is drawing more people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is more likely that evangelicalism has been bound to the Republican Party. Instead of theological affinity for Jesus Christ, millions of Americans are being drawn to the evangelical label because of its association with the GOP…. Many Americans who have begun to embrace the evangelical identity are people who hardly ever attend religious services."

Burge emphasizes that some of the Republicans now identifying with the word "evangelical" aren't really evangelicals; they're Catholics or non-evangelical Protestants — or in some cases, non-Christian people of faith such as Hindus or Muslims. Trump himself is not an evangelical; he was raised Presbyterian and comes from a Mainline Protestant background, although he has never been known for being very religious.

The Christian Right and the Republican Party have been joined at the hip since the early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan allied himself with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., the Moral Majority, the Rev. Pat Robertson and other far-right Protestant fundamentalists — a trend that made conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater (Sen. John McCain's role model) cringe, as he thought the Christian Right was terrible for the GOP and terrible for the conservative movement. But the Christian Right/GOP alliance continues in 2021, and Trump has been more than happy to reinforce it. In fact, Trump has been aggressively supported by Falwell's son: former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr.

"In the 1970s," Burge observes, "only 40% of White weekly churchgoing evangelicals identified as Republicans; in the most recent data, that number has risen to an all-time high of 70%. The evangelical coalition of 2020 may not be in agreement about which religion is the correct one or even if religious devotion is necessary to identify as an evangelical. But on Election Day, they speak with one voice — in full-throated support of the Republican candidate."

Some MAGA Republicans fear they’re too 'focused on conspiracies' to win elections

Republican lawmakers have spent the greater part of the year drafting controversial pieces of legislation influenced by former President Donald Trump's false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

While the vast majority of Trump loyalists were in support of his efforts to overturn the election, some are now concerned that the whole conspiracy has gone a bit too far, reports Politico. Hogan Gidley, who worked as the 2019 - 2020 Press Secretary for Trump's White House, has worked to distance his group from those that continue to circulate false claims.

"People are going to do whatever they want, and I can't answer for any of those other groups," said Gidley.

Gidley, who is now overseeing the Center for Election Integrity at the right-leaning America First Policy Institute also expressed concern about how ongoing audits, discussions of "machine rigging" and plots of foreign election intervention could lead to a decrease in voter turnout.

"But as it relates to election integrity and voter protection, it is vital that we help states get these simple, popular security mechanisms in place to ensure honesty for the 2022 midterms," Gidley said, adding, "I want to make sure that the data we gather and the information we share is built on solid ground as opposed to sinking sand."

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) also expressed concern about the ongoing conspiracy theories and how they are taking away from the party's political goals.

"When my fellow Republicans are focused on the wrong things, when they're focused on conspiracies about secret algorithms on voting machines, and they're focused on ideas there is a group of ballots printed in China snuck in the back door of the board of elections — all those things are easily disproven," said LaRose. "But a focus on those things distracts from what I consider the real concerns about election integrity."

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R), who appeared before the Senate to give his testimony on Tuesday, October 26, also detailed how serious and damaging misinformation could be for the Republican Party.

"That's the biggest mistake Republicans are making in state legislatures and Democrats are making in Congress," Adams said. "When you do this on a one party basis, the other side thinks you're trying to cheat them, and you can't make policy that way."

While Trump is still verbally expressing his disapproval of the election outcome and making efforts to advance his political agenda, some Republicans believe it's time to focus more on the future. Speaking at "Meet the Press," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made his stance clear.

"I'm of the view that the best thing that President Trump could do to help us win majorities in 2022 is talk about the future," Blunt said. "[B]etter off to talk about the future than to focus on the past in every election."

'Pure ambition': Why Kyrsten Sinema is determined to remain 'a woman apart from her party'

During the Joe Biden era, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has been a frequent source of frustration to the more progressive Democrats — who often find themselves wondering what her end game is in stalling the Build Back Better agenda. But in an article published by Politico on October 27, Phoenix-based journalist Hank Stephenson (who co-founded the Arizona Agenda newsletter) emphasizes that Sinema isn't all that hard to figure out: She views herself as an "independent" and is pushing her own brand rather than a Democratic Party brand.

Stephenson explains, "Chaos isn't a bad way to describe her impact in Washington right now; she's not only holding up her own party's biggest national priority, but she's famously unclear about her reasons why. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the other most-intransigent Democrat, can't stop talking about his motives. Sinema isn't even calling her friends. She's rocketed into the national zeitgeist as an enigma, one of the least understood politicians in Washington."

The journalist goes on to say that in Arizona, however, political figures who have known Sinema for a long time have a better understanding of her motives.

"Back home, some of her oldest allies — as well as critics — have an insight for the Democrats who are trying to corral her," Stephenson reports, "and it's not necessarily a comfortable one: Get used to it…. For them, Sinema is better understood in terms of pure ambition, and the constant triangulation needed to hold office in a purple state that fancies itself charting an independent course, whatever that requires in the moment. Sinema declined to comment for this report."

Sinema has made it abundantly clear that she believes the Build Back Better Act of 2021’s $3.5 price tag is too high, and prominent Democrats — from President Joe Biden to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — have been trying to figure out what cuts it will take to get her on board.

"Progressive activists are furious, with local groups already threatening to fund a primary challenge against (Sinema) in 2024," Stephenson notes. "Some of her old comrades say Sinema would be better off dropping the 'D' next to her name altogether and returning to her roots as an independent. But for those still perplexed about Sinema, her rise offers an object lesson in how to get ahead by flagrantly eschewing loyalty to one's own party."

According to Stephenson, it is "impossible to talk about Sinema without mentioning John McCain, the 'maverick' Republican who represented Arizona in the Senate for more than 30 years and was frequently at war with his own party."

Indeed, Sinema has often praised McCain as her political idol. And she is on very friendly terms with the late senator's daughter, conservative activist Meghan McCain.

Stephenson writes, "Sinema is said to be eager to inherit McCain's mantle as an Arizonan with an independent streak; whether intentionally or not, her ostentatious thumbs down on Democrats' minimum wage boost earlier this year instantly conjured memories of McCain's own rejection of the GOP Obamacare repeal bill…. (But) their temperaments couldn't be more different. Unlike Sinema, McCain would talk to the press for hours at a time. And Sinema doesn't have the fiery, confrontation-loving spirit that leads one to hold court with critics. Agree with him or not, McCain had a way of making people feel heard, even if not convinced. Sinema has always been a woman apart from her party."

'Too much power': Why a recent Joe Manchin quote spells out big trouble for Democrats

As Democratic lawmakers work to reach common ground with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the lawmaker's latest remarks shed light on how the U.S. government's structure is designed to stifle Democratic progress.

Speaking to NBC News reporters on Monday, October 25, Manchin suggested he stands directly in the middle of the political aisle.

"I'm totally out of sync with 48 other Democrats," Manchin told reporters Monday night. "I love them all. And I love all the Republicans."

He continued, "So I'm just trying to survive in a very, very divided Congress in a very divided country."

In a new Washington Post op-ed, opinion columnist Greg Sargent

offers a detailed assessment of Manchin's words and what they really mean. "This is both true and misleading at the same time," Sargent wrote. "Yes, Manchin is smack in the middle of a 'divided Congress.' But the suggestion that Manchin is smack in the ideological middle of our 'divided country' is an illusion, one created in part by our malapportioned Senate."

Using one climate provision Manchin seeks to remove from President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda, Sargent explained:

"Manchin is both well to the right of public opinion on many matters and in a position to decide, single-handedly, what the party representing a majority of Americans can and cannot pass into law. You can see the destructiveness of this dynamic in a new effort by Manchin to water down a critical climate provision — a methane fee — in the big social policy bill Democrats are negotiating.

In short, Manchin's position almost gives him single-handed power to sway legislation since he is directly in the middle of a split Senate. The writer wrote, "The problem, of course, is that Manchin has too much power over this outcome while simultaneously being well to the right of public opinion on the matter."

Manchin's remarks are also representative of another problem, Sargent noted: the illusion he believes he represents. "It's a fiction that Manchin's role as a decisive vote means he's smack in the ideological middle of the country," Sargent wrote. "In fact, this fiction makes the problem worse. It creates the illusion that he represents the true ideological center of public opinion — that the public is evenly divided on these issues, and that the deadlock in the Senate merely reflects that."

World’s worst polluters spending over two times more on border militarization than on climate action

As the climate emergency wreaks havoc and displaces growing numbers of vulnerable people around the globe, the world's richest countries and biggest greenhouse gas emitters are responding in a dangerous manner—by prioritizing border militarization over efforts to mitigate fossil fuel pollution and adapt to a hotter planet.

That's according to Global Climate Wall, a new report published Monday by the Transnational Institute, which finds that rather than addressing the root causes of the climate crisis that is forcing millions of people from their homes, the world's wealthiest nations are investing more in violently repressing migrants.

Although "this is a global trend," the report focuses on the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia. Those seven high-income countries—responsible for 48% of the world's historic GHG emissions—spent an average of 2.3 times as much on arming their borders ($33.1 billion) as on climate finance ($14.4 billion) from 2013 to 2018.

When it comes to the ratio of spending on border militarization versus climate finance, the report spotlights the three worst offenders: "Canada spent 15 times more ($1.5 billion compared to around $100 million); Australia 13 times more ($2.7 billion compared to $200 million); [and] the U.S. almost 11 times more ($19.6 billion compared to $1.8 billion)."

Wealthy nations "have built a 'Climate Wall' to keep out the consequences of climate change" through "two distinct but related dynamics," the report explains:

First, a failure to provide the promised climate finance that could help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change; and second, a militarized response to migration that expands border and surveillance infrastructure. This provides booming profits for a border security industry but untold suffering for refugees and migrants who make increasingly dangerous—and frequently deadly—journeys to seek safety in a climate-changed world.

"Climate finance could help mitigate the impacts of climate change and help countries adapt to this reality, including supporting people who need to relocate or to migrate abroad," the authors write. "Yet the richest countries have failed even to keep their pledges of [a] meager $100 billion a year in climate finance."

At the same time, "border spending by the seven biggest GHG emitters rose by 29% between 2013 and 2018," states the report. "In the U.S., spending on border and immigration enforcement tripled between 2003 and 2021. In Europe, the budget for the European Union (E.U.) border agency, Frontex, has increased by a whopping 2763% since its founding in 2006 up to 2021."

Denouncing the fact that "the richest countries offer only walls" as "more and more people are being displaced by the consequences of climate change," the Transnational Institute looked ahead to COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference that begins Sunday, and stressed that "migrant justice must be at the negotiating table!"

Climate-induced migration—which "is now a reality" that "takes place disproportionately in low-income countries" and is "shaped by the systemic injustice that creates the situations of vulnerability, violence, precarity, and weak social structures"—can stem from singular catastrophic events, such as extreme weather disasters, as well as from the "cumulative impacts" of drought, sea-level rise, or other deleterious environmental conditions that "gradually make an area uninhabitable," the report notes.

While most displaced people in the world today remain in their own country, many cross international borders, the authors point out, and that phenomenon is expected to become more common this century as the impacts of the climate crisis grow more severe, leading to an increase in the global refugee population.

Despite such projections—and in addition to refusing to pursue adequate decarbonization plans and offering paltry sums of funding to help impoverished nations deal with worsening conditions—rich countries most responsible for the intensification of extreme weather are fortifying their borders to keep out vulnerable migrants who are the least culpable, rather than taking steps to aid climate refugees.

Moreover, the report finds that the "border security industry," which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry driving the climate emergency, is already profiteering from wealthy countries' repressive responses:

  • This militarization of borders is partly rooted in national climate security strategies that since the early 2000s have overwhelmingly painted migrants as "threats" rather than victims of injustice. The border security industry has helped promote this process through well-oiled political lobbying, leading to ever more contracts for the border industry and increasingly hostile environments for refugees and migrants;
  • The border security industry is already profiting from the increased spending on border and immigration enforcement and expects even more profits from anticipated instability due to climate change. A 2019 forecast by predicted that the Global Homeland Security and Public Safety Market would grow from $431 billion in 2018 to $606 billion in 2024, with a 5.8% annual growth rate. According to the report, one factor driving this is "climate warming-related natural disasters growth"; and
  • Top border contractors boast of the potential to increase their revenue from climate change. Raytheon says "demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change." Cobham, a British company that markets surveillance systems and is one of the main contractors for Australia's border security, says that "changes to countries [sic] resources and habitability could increase the need for border surveillance due to population migration."

"This nexus of power, wealth, and collusion between fossil fuel firms and the border security industry shows how climate inaction and militarized responses to its consequences increasingly work hand in hand," the authors write. "Both industries profit as ever more resources are diverted towards dealing with the consequences of climate change rather than tackling its root causes."

"This comes at a terrible human cost," they add. "It can be seen in the rising death toll of refugees, deplorable conditions in many refugee camps and detention centers, violent pushbacks from European countries, particularly those bordering the Mediterranean, and from the U.S., in countless cases of unnecessary suffering and brutality."

Calling the report's findings "very grim," Patrick Bigger, a senior policy fellow at the Climate + Community Project, tweeted, "This is how [to] get climate apartheid and why solidarity must be central to climate policy."

That sentiment was echoed by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who tweeted that "maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

In a video address shared by the Transnational Institute, McKibben explained why it is impossible for wealthy nations to "stop climate change with guns."

"The prioritization of militarized borders over climate finance ultimately threatens to worsen the climate crisis for humanity," the authors of the report explain. "Without sufficient investment to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, the crisis will wreak even more human devastation and uproot more lives."

However, they continue, "government spending is a political choice, meaning that different choices are possible. Investing in climate mitigation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries can support a transition to clean energy—and, alongside deep emission cuts by the biggest polluting nations—give the world a chance to keep temperatures below [a] 1.5°C increase since 1850."

"Supporting people forced to leave their homes with the resources and infrastructure to rebuild their lives in new locations can help them adapt to climate change and to live in dignity," says the report.

"Migration, if adequately supported, can be an important means of climate adaptation," the report adds. "Treating migration positively requires a change of direction and greatly increased climate finance, good public policy, and international cooperation, but most importantly it is the only morally just path to support those suffering a crisis they played no part in creating."

I've witnessed a coup attempt before — and history bodes poorly for America's future

As an eyewitness, I can recall the events of January 6th in Washington as if they were yesterday. The crowds of angry loyalists storming the building while overwhelmed security guards gave way. The slavishly loyal vice-president who would, the president hoped, restore him to power. The crush of media that seemed confused, almost overwhelmed, by the crowd's fury. The waiter who announced that the bar had run out of drinks and would soon be closing…

Hold it! My old memory's playing tricks on me again. That wasn't the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. That was the Manila Hotel in the Philippines in July 1986. Still, the two events had enough similarities that perhaps I could be forgiven for mixing them up.

I've studied quite a number of coups in my day, yet the one I actually witnessed at the Manila Hotel remains my favorite, not just because the drinks kept coming, but for all it taught me about the damage a coup d'état, particularly a political coup, can do to any democracy. In February 1986, a million Filipinos thronged the streets of Manila to force dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile. After long years of his corruption and callous indifference to the nation's suffering, the crowds cheered their approval when Marcos finally flew off to Hawaii and his opponent in the recent presidential election restored democracy.

But Marcos had his hard-core loyalists. One Sunday afternoon, four months after his flight, they massed in a Manila park to call for the restoration of their beloved president. After speakers had whipped the crowd of 5,000 into a frenzy with — and yes, this should indeed sound familiar in 2021 — claims about a stolen election, thousands of ordinary Filipinos pushed past security guards and stormed into the nearby Manila Hotel, a storied symbol of their country's history. Tipped off by one of the Filipino colonels plotting that coup, I was standing in the hotel's entryway at 5:00 p.m. as the mob, fury written on their faces, surged past me.

For the next 24 hours, that hotel's marbled lobby became the stage for an instructive political drama. From my table at the adjoining bar, I watched as armed warlords, ousted Marcos cronies, and several hundred disgruntled soldiers paraded through the lobby on their way to the luxury suites where the coup commanders had checked themselves in. Following in their wake were spies from every nation — Australian secret intelligence, American defense intelligence, and their Asian and European counterparts — themselves huddled in groups, whispering mysteriously, trying (just like me) to make sense of the bizarre spectacle unfolding around them.

Later that same evening, Marcos's former vice-president, the ever-loyal Arturo Tolentino, appeared at the head of the stairs flanked by a security detail to announce the formation of a "legitimate" new government authorized by Marcos who had reportedly called long-distance from Honolulu. As the vice president proclaimed himself acting president and read off the names of those to be in his cabinet, Filipino journalists huddling nearby scribbled notes. They were furiously trying to figure out whether there was a real coalition forming that could topple the country's democracy. It was, however, just the usual suspects — Marcos cronies, leaders largely without followers.

By midnight, the party was pretty much over. Our waiter, after struggling for hours to maintain that famed hotel's standard of five-star service, apologized to our table of foreign correspondents because the bar had been drunk dry and was closing. Sometime before dawn, the hotel turned off the air conditioning, transforming those executive suites into saunas and, in the process, flushing out the coup plotters, their hangers-on, and most of the soldiers.

All day long, on the city's brassy talk-radio stations and in the coffee shops where insiders gathered to swap scuttlebutt, Marcos's loyalists were roasted, even mocked. The troops that had rallied to his side were sentenced to 30 push-ups on the parade ground — a source of more mirth. For spies and correspondents alike, the whole thing seemed like a one-day wonder, barely worth writing home about.

But it wasn't. Not by a long shot. A coterie of colonels deep inside the Defense Ministry, my source among them, had observed that comedic coup attempt all too carefully and concluded that it had actually been a near-miss.

A year later, I found myself standing in the middle of an eight-lane highway outside the city's main military cantonment, Camp Aguinaldo, ducking bullets from rebel soldiers who had seized the base and watching as government Marines and dive bombers attacked. This time, however, those colonels had launched a genuine coup attempt. No drinks. No waiters. No wisecracks. Just a day of bombs and bullets that crushed the plotters, leaving the country's military headquarters a smoking ruin.

Two years later, the same coup colonels were back again for another attempt, leading 3,000 rebel troops in a multipronged attack on a capital that trembled on the brink of surrender. As a cavalcade of rebel armor drove relentlessly toward the presidential palace with nothing in their way, American President George H.W. Bush took a call aboard Air Force One over the Atlantic about a desperate request from his Philippine counterpart and ordered a pair of U.S. Air Force jet fighters to make a low pass over the rebel tanks and trucks. They got the message: turn back or be bombed into extinction. And so Philippine democracy was allowed to survive for another 30 years.

Message from the Manila Hotel

The message for democracy offered from the Manila Hotel was clear — so clear, in fact, that it helps explain the meaning of tangled events in Washington more than 30 years later. Whether it's a poor country like the Philippines or a superpower like the United States, democracy is a surprisingly fragile construct. Its worst enemy is often an ousted ex-president, angry over his humiliation and perfectly willing to destroy the constitutional order to regain power.

No matter how angry such an ex-president might be, however, his urge for a political coup can't succeed without the help of raw force, whether from a mob, a disgruntled military, or some combination of the two. The Manila Hotel coup teaches us one other fundamental thing: that coups need not be carefully planned. Most start with a handful of conspirators plotting some symbolic attack meant to shake the constitutional order, while hoping to somehow stall the security services for a few critical hours — just long enough for events to cascade spontaneously into a desired government collapse.

Whether in Manila or Washington, coup plotting usually starts right at the top. Just after the news networks announced that he had lost the election last November, Donald Trump launched a media blitz with spurious claims of "fraud on the American public," firing off 300 tweets in the next two weeks loaded with false charges of irregularities and sparking loud, long protests by his loyalists at vote-counting centers in Michigan and Arizona.

When that response got little traction and Biden's majority kept climbing, Trump began exploring three alternate routes, any of which might have led to a constitutional coup — manipulating the Justice Department to delegitimize the election, rigging the ratification of electoral votes in Congress, and the paramilitary (or military) option. At a White House meeting on December 18th, Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security advisor, urged the president to "invoke martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election" and accused his staff of "abandoning the president," sparking "screaming matches" in the Oval Office.

By January 3rd, rumors and reports of Trump's military option were circulating so credibly around Washington that all 10 living former defense secretaries — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Mark Esper, among them — published a joint appeal to the armed forces to remain neutral in the ongoing dispute over the election's integrity. Reminding the troops that "peaceful transfers of power… are hallmarks of our democracy," they added that "efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes" would be "dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional." They warned the troops that any "military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be… potentially facing criminal penalties." In conclusion, they suggested to Trump's secretary of defense and senior staff "in the strongest terms" that "they must…refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election."

To legitimate his claims of fraud, according to the New York Times, the president also tried — on nine separate occasions in December and January — to force the Justice Department to take actions that would "undermine an election result." In response, a mid-ranking Trump loyalist at Justice, a nonentity named Jeffrey Clark, began pressuring his boss, the attorney-general, to write Georgia officials claiming they had found "significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election." But at a three-hour White House meeting on January 3rd, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen balked at this evidence-free accusation. Trump promptly suggested that he could be replaced by that mid-ranking loyalist who could then send the fraud letter to Georgia. The president's own top appointees at Justice, along with the White House counsel, immediately threatened to resign en masse, forcing Trump to give up on such an intervention at the state level.

Next, he shifted his constitutional maneuvering to Congress where, on January 6th, his doggedly loyal vice president, Mike Pence, would be presiding over the ratification of results from the Electoral College. In this dubious gambit, Trump was inspired by a bizarre constitutional theory advanced by former Chapman University law professor John Eastman — that the "Constitution assigns the power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter."

In this scenario, Pence would unilaterally set aside electoral votes from seven states with "ongoing disputes" and announce that Trump had won a majority of the remaining electors — making him once again president. But the maneuver had no basis in law, so Pence, after scrambling desperately and unsuccessfully for a legal justification of some sort, eventually refused to play along.

A Political Coup

With the constitutional option closed, Trump opted for a political coup, rolling the dice with raw physical force, much as Marcos had done at the Manila Hotel. The first step was to form a crowd with some paramilitary muscle to stiffen the assault to come. On December 19th, Trump called on his hard-core followers to assemble in Washington, ready for violence, tweeting: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

Almost immediately, the Internet's right-wing chat boards lit up and indeed their paramilitaries, the Proud Boys and Three Percenters militia, turned up in Washington on the appointed day, ready to rumble. After President Trump roused the crowd at a rally near the White House with rhetoric about a stolen election, a mob of some 10,000 marched on the Capitol Building.

Starting at about 1:00 p.m., the sheer size of the crowd and strategic moves by the paramilitaries in their ranks broke through the undermanned lines of the Capitol Police, breaching the building's first-floor windows at about 2:10 p.m. and allowing protesters to start pouring in. Once the rioters had accomplished the unimaginable and seized the Capitol, they were fresh out of plans, reduced to marching through the corridors hunting legislators and trashing offices.

At 2:24 p.m., President Trump tweeted: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country." On the far-right social media site Parler, his supporters began messaging the crowd to get the vice president and force him to stop the election results. The mob rampaged through the marbled halls shouting "Hang Mike Pence." Hunkered down inside the Capitol, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) tweeted: "This is a coup attempt."

At 2:52 p.m., Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia), a former CIA agent, tweeted from inside the barricaded House chamber: "This is what we see in failing countries. This is what leads to the death of democracy."

At 3:30 p.m., a small squad of military police arrived at the Capitol, woefully inadequate reinforcements for the overwhelmed Capitol Police. Ten minutes later, the D.C. Council announced that the Defense Department had denied the mayor's request to mobilize the local National Guard. While the crowd fumbled and fulminated, some serious people were evidently slowing the military's response for just the few critical hours needed for events to cascade into something, anything, that could shake the constitutional order and slow the ratification of Joe Biden's election.

In nearby Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan had immediately mobilized his state's National Guard for the short drive to the Capitol while frantically phoning Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who repeatedly refused him permission to send in the troops. Inside the Pentagon, Lieutenant General Charles Flynn, the brother of the same Michael Flynn who had been pushing Trump to declare martial law, was participating in what CNN called those "key January 6th phone calls" that refused permission for the Guard's mobilization.

Following a phone call from the mayor of Washington and its police chief pleading for help, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy "ran down the hall" of the Pentagon to get authorization for the Guard's mobilization. After a crucial delay of 90 minutes, he finally called the Maryland governor, outside the regular chain of command, to authorize the Maryland Guard's dispatch. Those would indeed be the first troops to arrive at the Capitol and would play a critical role in restoring order.

At about 4:30 p.m., Trump finally tweeted: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home in love & peace."

Ten minutes later, at 4:40 p.m., hundreds of riot personnel from the D.C. police, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security arrived, along with the Maryland Guard, to reinforce the Capitol Police. Within an hour, the protesters had been pushed out of the building and the Capitol was declared secure.

Just five days later, Dr. Fiona Hill, a senior Russia expert on the National Security Council under Trump, reviewed these events and concluded that President Trump had staged a coup "in slow motion… to keep himself in power."

History's Lessons

Beyond all the critical details of who did what and when, there were deeper historical forces at play, suggesting that Donald Trump's urge for a political coup that would return him to power may be far from over. For the past 100 years, empires in decline have been roiled by coup attempts that sometimes have overturned constitutional orders. As their military reverses accumulate, their privileged economic position erodes, and social tensions mount, a succession of societies in the grip of a traumatic loss of global power have suffered coups, successful or not, including Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States.

Britain's plot was a bit fantastical. Amid the painful, protracted dissolution of their empire, Conservative leaders plotted with top generals in 1968 to oust leftist Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson by capturing Heathrow airport, seizing the BBC and Buckingham Palace, and putting Lord Mountbatten in power as acting prime minister. Britain's parliamentary tradition simply proved too strong, however, and key principals in the plot quickly backed out.

In April 1974, while Portugal was fighting and losing three bitter anticolonial wars in Africa, a Lisbon radio station played the country's entry in that year's Eurovision Song Contest ("After the Farewell") just minutes before midnight on an evening that had been agreed upon. It was the signal to the military and their supporters to overthrow the entrenched conservative government of that moment, a success which became known as the "Carnation Revolution."

However, the parallels between January 6th and the fall of France's Fourth Republic in the late 1950s are perhaps the most telling. After liberating Paris from Nazi occupation in August 1944, General Charles de Gaulle headed an interim government for 18 months. He then quit in a dispute with the left, launching him into a decade of political intrigue against the new Fourth Republic, whose liberal constitution he despised.

By the mid-1950s, France was reeling from its recent defeat in Indochina, while the struggle against Muslim revolutionaries in its Algerian colony in North Africa turned ever more brutal, marked as it was by scandals over the widespread French use of torture. Amid that crisis of empire, an anti-elite, anti-intellectual, antisemitic politician named Pierre Poujade launched a populist movement that sent 56 members to parliament in 1956, including Jean-Marie Le Pen, later founder of the far-right National Front.

Meanwhile, a cabal of politicians and military commanders plotted a coup to return General de Gaulle to power, thinking he alone could save Algeria for France. After an army junta seized control of Algiers, the capital of that colony, in May 1958, paratroopers stationed there were sent to capture the French island of Corsica and to prepare to seize Paris should the legislature fail to install de Gaulle as prime minister.

As the country trembled on the brink of a coup, de Gaulle made his dramatic entry into Paris where he accepted the National Assembly's offer to form a government, conditional upon the approval of a presidential-style constitution for a Fifth Republic. But when de Gaulle subsequently accepted the inevitability of Algeria's independence, four top generals launched an abortive coup against him and then formed what they called the Secret Army Organization, or OAS. It would carry out terror attacks over the next four years, with 12,000 victims, while staging three unsuccessful assassination attempts against de Gaulle before its militants were killed or captured.

The Coup of 2024?

Just as the Filipino colonels spent five years launching a succession of escalating coups and those French generals spent four years trying to overthrow their government, so Trump's Republicans are working with ferocious determination in the run-up to the 2022 and 2024 elections to ensure that their next constitutional coup succeeds. Indeed, if you look back on events over the past year through the prism of such historical precedents, you can see all the components for a future political coup falling into place.

No matter how improbable, discredited, or bizarre those election fraud claims are, Republican loyalists persist in endless ballot audits in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas. Their purpose is not really to find more votes for Trump in the 2020 election, but to maintain at least the present level of rage among the one-third of all Americans and more than half of all Republicans who believe that Joe Biden's presidency is fraudulent.

Since the 2020 election coincided with the new census, Republicans have been working, reports Vox news, to "gerrymander themselves into control of the House of Representatives." Simultaneously, Republican legislators in 19 states have passed 33 laws making it more difficult for certain of their residents to vote. Driven by the white nationalist "replacement theory" that immigrants and people of color are diluting the pool of "real American" voters, Trump and his Republican loyalists are fighting for "ballot integrity" on the principle that all non-white votes are inherently illegitimate. As Trump put it on the stump in 2016:

"I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you're going to have people flowing across the border, you're going to have illegal immigrants coming in… and they're going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it. You're not going to have one Republican vote."

In case all that electoral manipulation fails and Trump needs more muscle for a future political coup, right-wing fighters like the Proud Boys are still rumbling away at rallies in Oregon, California, and elsewhere across America. Just as the Philippine government made military rebels do a risible 30 push-ups for the capital crime of armed rebellion, so federal courts have generally been handing out the most modest of penalties to rioters who attempted nothing less than the overthrow of U.S. constitutional democracy last January 6th.

Among the 600 rioters arrested as of August, dozens have been allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and only three had been sentenced to jail time, leaving most cases languishing in pretrial motions. Already Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz have rallied to their defense, writing the U.S. attorney general to complain about an "unequal administration of justice" with "harsher treatment" for Capitol defendants than those arrested in Black Lives Matter protests.

So, in 2024, as the continuing erosion of America's global power creates a crisis of confidence among ordinary Americans, expect Donald Trump to be back, not as the slightly outrageous candidate of 2016 or even as the former president eager to occupy the White House again, but as a militant demagogue with thundering racialist rhetoric, backed by a revanchist Republican Party ready, with absolute moral certainty, to bar voters from the polls, toss ballots out, and litigate any loss until hell freezes over.

And if all that fails, the muscle will be ready for another violent march on Washington. Be prepared, the America we know is worsening by the month.

Copyright 2021 Alfred W. McCoy

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books). His latest book (to be published in November by Dispatch Books) is To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change.

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