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When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many pundits and political observers were eager to expunge the nation’s brutal and long-running history of stark racial oppression. They spoke of a “post-racial” society freed from the divisions of tribe, healed of the deep wounds that ached and bled along the color line for centuries.

Even those who were less sanguine about the disappearance of racism — myself included — believed that the election of the nation’s first black president signaled a new era of greater racial harmony and understanding. Surely, a nation ready to be led by a black man was ready to let go many of its oldest and ugliest prejudices.

But that was a very naive notion. It turns out that Obama’s election has, instead, provoked a new civil war, a last battle cry of secession by a group of voters who want no part of a country led by a black man, no place in a world they don’t rule, no home in a society where they are simply one more minority group. Call those folks “Tea Partiers.”

The ultraconservatives who have taken over the Republican Party are motivated by many things — antipathy toward the federal government, conservative religious beliefs and a traditional Republican suspicion of taxes, among them. But the most powerful force animating their fight is a deep-seated racial antagonism.

Don’t take my word for it. Democracy Corps, a political research and polling group headed by Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, has published a report from a series of focus groups conducted with segments of the Republican Party — moderates, evangelicals and Tea Partiers.

The report confirms that Republicans, especially the Tea Partiers, “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority. The race issue is very much alive.” It also notes that “Barack Obama and Obamacare is a racial flashpoint for many evangelical and Tea Party voters.”

Tea Partiers believe that the Democratic Party is intent on expanding the social safety net in order, basically, to buy votes. They see “Obamacare” as a sop to that alleged 47 percent of lazy Americans who don’t want to work, don’t pay any taxes and live off government handouts. And, of course, those lazy Americans are, in their view, voters of color.

One focus group participant actually described the mythical America he pined for this way:

“Everybody is above average. Everybody is happy. Everybody is white. Everybody is middle class, whether or not they really are. Everybody looks that way. … Very homogeneous.”

Democracy Corps isn’t the only research group that has ferreted out the racial antagonism at the heart of Tea Partiers’ radicalism. Writing in The New York Times, journalist Thomas Edsall shared portions of an email exchange with political scientist Christopher Parker, co-author of Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America. Parker said that “reactionary conservatives” believe “social change is subversive to the America with which they’ve become familiar, i.e., white, mainly male, Protestant, native born, straight. ‘Real Americans,’ in other words.”

None of this should come as any great surprise. In 2010, a New York Times poll of Tea Partiers found that more than half said the policies of the Obama administration favor the poor, and 25 percent thought that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public. Their racial paranoia has long been clear.

If anything has been surprising, it’s been the potency of their hatred, the irrationality of their tactics, the venom in their backlash. But, as they see it, they are fighting for their way of life — their control, their power.

This is an existential battle, and they’re willing to burn down the country to save it from people of color. That’s why they’re willing to risk defaulting on the nation’s debt for the first time in history.

The only whiff of good news is that Tea Party supporters tend to be older than average. Their cohort is diminishing and will be replaced by a younger voting bloc whose members don’t hew to their antediluvian views.

But the Tea Partiers are going to be with us for a while, and it’s going to be a wild ride.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Andrew Aliferis via Flickr

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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