The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Taking The Measure Of Joe Biden, Correctly

America's political media — and especially our "punditocracy" — suffer from myriad defects. They love simple answers and often seem hostile to complexity. They tend to obsess slavishly over the latest polling data. And they suffer from a chronic amnesia that erases not only historical context but even very recent events from their narrow minds.

Marking the end of President Joe Biden's first year in office, the media consensus followed a predictable and familiar framing. After 12 months, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing, his legislative agenda incomplete and his approval ratings in steep decline, Biden was all but declared a failure — with no clear way forward.

That depiction of his presidency is no doubt puzzling to Biden because it omits so much of what has happened since his inauguration and almost everything that occurred in the four preceding years. Did Biden end the pandemic, with all its damaging effects on our economy and society? No, and neither could anyone else, least of all his predecessor. But he has done a great deal to ameliorate its worst effects — and has achieved that much against an ultra-partisan opposition willing to sacrifice the nation for its own advantage.

Let's first consider the obvious — or what ought to be obvious.

During the 2020 campaign, then-President Donald Trump warned that America would stumble into "a depression" if Biden won. That would have been worse than the economic conditions caused by Trump's erratic and sometimes ruinous policies, but things were already bad. High unemployment induced by the pandemic (and Trump's mishandling of it) showed no signs of abating quickly. Markets were in turmoil. Further decline appeared inevitable, and economists predicted that we wouldn't return to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment for several years.

Yet now we can see how wrong Trump was. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, employment and markets have smashed previous records repeatedly during the past year. And with a remarkable six million jobs created in a single year — a record high for any president in memory — those gloomy forecasts about post-pandemic recovery are in the dustbin. The economy is now effectively at full employment, with wages rising rapidly for the first time in decades.

A significant drag on those wage increases is inflation, which the Biden White House underestimated initially. But supply chain woes and price hikes are a global problem, not a consequence of Biden policies — while America's astonishing growth is unmatched elsewhere in the world.

Both the national economy and the conditions of life in America would be far better if Biden didn't face concerted resistance to his vaccination campaign and other efforts to defeat the pandemic. Republican officials and media figures who are themselves vaccinated have cynically — even monstrously — discouraged their constituencies from getting the jab. Evidently, they are willing to accept mass death so they can blame it on Biden. Nevertheless, the administration has succeeded in inoculating over 200 million Americans and saved many of them from a painful, untimely death. If Trump were still president, many more would be dead.

Voters who profess to be "disappointed" with Biden might try harder to recall the horror of the administration he ousted, in a hard-fought campaign that Trump and his minions refuse to concede to this day. Unlike Trump, who accomplished so little of value during four years despite his party's complete domination of Congress when he entered the White House, Biden passed the historic infrastructure program that had been promised — and got 20 Republican senators to vote for it.

Although no Democrat could have restored the "normal" political order that Trump and his Republicans have so eagerly destroyed in a single year, Biden has worked hard to uphold standards we once took for granted. He has ousted the gang of crooked and unethical officials Trump appointed and ended the abuse of basic government functions like the census. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will release their tax returns this year, because unlike Trump, they have nothing unsavory to conceal.

"Unlike Trump" is what matters most in this era of peril to the republic and the world. That's the real choice, rather than measuring this president against some impossible wishlist. Biden could hardly be more unlike Trump than he is — and we are more secure and prosperous thanks to him.

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 Twisted Roots Of Republican Insurrection

With the passing of a year since the attempted coup and insurrection of January 2021, the question that remains unanswered for many Americans is how our country came to its current peril. Why is the nation now confronting such an extraordinary degree of polarization, so many threats to democracy, and the prospect of partisan violence or even civil war? The obvious answer is to pin these woes on Donald Trump alone, who certainly deserves plenty of blame. But that would be wrong.

The former president, whose fascistic tendency was identified in this space when he first announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, didn't suddenly appear from nowhere. Trump was and is the expression of an authoritarian and malevolent spirit that has gained increasing influence within the Republican Party over the past three decades. Although the Nixon administration's antidemocratic excesses were an early warning, the first sign that this would become an irreversible trend could be seen in the rise of Newt Gingrich — now one of Trump's most implacable and aggressive attack dogs.

When Gingrich came to power in the House of Representatives in the early '90s, he first overthrew the old-line Republicans whose worldview permitted cooperation and compromise with Democrats for the nation's good. Nobody in Republican leadership before Gingrich would ever have considered something like defaulting on the national debt — a dishonorable and extremely dangerous tactic — for partisan advantage.

But to Gingrich, such extremist maneuvers were entirely justified by his ultra-right ideology, which depicted Democrats not as political competitors but as blood enemies. To advance that ideology within the GOP he created an organization called GOPAC, which taught right-wing candidates how to deploy a lexicon of slurs describing their Democratic opponents, and liberals more generally, as "sick," "pathetic," "radical," "socialist" and "traitors," among a long list of other insults. His smear campaign bore a distinct resemblance to the Gothic horror mythology of the QAnon cult — as when he blamed a mother's murder of her two children on the Democratic Party. (Actually, she turned out to be the daughter of a "Christian" Republican leader who had sexually abused her.)

It was an extraordinarily destructive and even nihilistic approach to politics, but it worked. As longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has gleefully noted so many times, hate is the most powerful motivator in politics — and by harnessing hate, the Gingrich Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, and never looked back.

From that day until today, the Republican attitude toward governance has veered between authoritarian and insurrectionary. It's authoritarian when a Republican occupies the White House, as we observed when the George W. Bush administration declared the "unitary presidency" with unlimited powers during time of war, specifically the war on terror. And it's insurrectionary when a Democratic president is in power, as we saw when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that his only purpose was to deny Barack Obama a second term.

No rules or customs that had applied under Bush would be available to Obama, and any underhanded tactic would be employed to regain power. The usual courtesies and decencies were abandoned, as we know from decades of experience. Even respect for wartime service went down the drain, as Republican draft dodgers spit on the decorations of Democratic war heroes like John Kerry and the late Max Cleland. So Trump felt free to mock the sacrifice of the late John McCain and other veterans. This is the legacy of Gingrich and of Karl Rove, the Bush White House political mastermind who conceived a political system so thoroughly controlled by the Republican Party — by whatever means necessary — as to render all opposition merely symbolic.

Indeed, many of the Trumpian tropes that make most Americans retch can be traced back to that earlier era of disgrace. When Trump's evangelical followers proclaim that he was chosen by God to rule, they are merely parroting what they once told us about George W. Bush (whom they now despise). The Republicans and their echoes in media and the pulpit are purveyors of propaganda, without shame or scruple.

Yes, Trump and his minions represent a clear and present danger to democracy, but they didn't emerge from nowhere. Their brand of cancer has been growing in the Republican Party for a generation or more — and with all due respect to brave dissenters like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), it will not be excised merely by defeating him.

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 Do Republicans Keep Killing Their Own?

As the omicron variant threatens to inflict yet more suffering and death, it is maddening to realize how easily this next wave of the coronavirus could have been avoided or certainly mitigated if only more Americans had been fully vaccinated. And confronting that terribly obvious truth raises the most enduring enigma of the pandemic: the campaign by right-wing Republican leaders, in both politics and media, to herd their sheeplike followers into a suicidal rejection of vaccines.

The anti-vaccine campaign, a paranoid mindset once relegated to the kook fringes of American life, has been adopted in whole or in part by the Republican Party along with its media subsidiaries. They have taken that campaign well beyond any libertarian objection to coercive government, publicizing fake statistics to exaggerate the very minor perils of vaccination while promoting (and sometimes profiting from) medications that are more likely to kill than cure.

It is a crusade rife with contradictions at every level. As president, Donald Trump was responsible for financing the "Operation Warp Speed" effort to bring forth vaccines as rapidly as possible and could even claim some credit for its success. As soon as they became available, prominent conservatives such as Rupert Murdoch, the superannuated Fox News boss, went abroad to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Murdoch soon ordered all of his employees to either get vaccinated or submit to daily COVID-19 testing, despite the anti-vax propaganda constantly emanating from his network.

The weird hypocrisy of the inoculated vaccination opponents even enveloped anti-vaccine publicist Robert Kennedy Jr., when the invitation to a Christmas party at his home urged those planning to attend to get vaccinated. While he keeps fabricating scary statistics about mortality among the vaccinated, Kennedy himself refuses to disclose his own vaccination status, as if this is a matter of principle. So do his pal Tucker Carlson and many of Carlson's Fox colleagues.

It is reasonable to assume that all of these misleaders are, in fact, fully vaccinated and boosted, like any other moderately intelligent person. So why are they encouraging their followers to reject vaccination and risk death?

The bloody consequences of their demagoguery are starkly illustrated in real statistics as well as charts and graphs. Invariably displayed in shades of red and blue are the data showing that Republicans are succumbing to coronavirus at far higher rates than Democrats. Analysts can select any variety of geographic or political criteria to measure the rates of infection and death, but the answer is always essentially the same.

Today, according to the invaluable health analyst Charles Gaba, the rate of new infections in the most Republican areas of the country is nearly three times higher than in the most Democratic areas. The death rate in those reddest counties is nearly six times higher than in the bluest counties. Those same numbers can be plotted along lines of vaccinated versus unvaccinated, and of course they match almost perfectly.

Which again raises the unanswered question of why the Republicans have so eagerly adopted the anti-vaccine ideology once confined to a sideshow of barking crazies and grifters. Why are they fighting to ban vaccine mandates — even for health care and nursing home workers? Why are they promising to protect and even reward workers who refuse vaccination? Why are they forcing schools to abandon masking, vaccination, and other protective measures?

Why, as we surpass the morbid milestone of 800,000 dead, are they doing everything in their power to ensure that we will have to bury many more? The most plausible answer is so disturbing and so criminal that it is hard to believe, even hard to articulate.

But given the circumstances, it is equally hard to imagine any alternative explanation -- keeping in mind that the principal advocates of this insanity are themselves fully vaccinated.

Maybe the Republicans are seeking to keep death rates high in the hope that voters will blame President Joe Biden, who promised to stem the pandemic when he ran for president. Maybe they don't mind sacrificing their own sheeplike followers. They are betting that enough Americans will stupidly avoid vaccination, and more than enough will ignore the real causes and effects of that stupidity.

Right now they are winning that bet — and our country is losing.

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 Plot Against Democracy, In A Sickening Slide Show

It is easy to understand why Mark Meadows fears testifying before the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack about his role in former President Donald Trump's attempted coup against the United States. The former White House chief of staff played a central role in that seditious conspiracy. Would he perjure himself to protect Trump?

Unfortunately for Meadows, who clearly isn't the brightest bulb, he surrendered a truckload of evidence implicating himself and others in the plot before he decided suddenly to stop cooperating with the select committee. After incriminating himself, perhaps he'll take the Fifth. Too late.

Even before the committee subpoenaed Meadows, copious evidence of his participation in Trump's plot had emerged, — notably his fraudulent efforts to alter the election outcome in Georgia, where, along with Trump, he personally sought to coerce the state's lead elections investigator and pressured the secretary of state to "find" an additional 11,780 Trump votes.

What they tried to do in Georgia, however, was only a single episode in a much broader set of schemes, now disclosed in a 34-page PowerPoint document that Meadows turned over to the committee. That presentation, heavily decorated with cartoonish "Trump Wins!" graphics, outlines the bogus conspiracy theories advanced after the election by Trump lawyers Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell: for example, that the Chinese Communist Party, through voting machine firms it supposedly controlled, manipulated electronic ballots to ensure a victory for its "ally" President Joe Biden.

No shred of proof exists to support any of these fevered fantasies, nor for the far-fetched legal corollary theories that Giuliani, Powell and other Trump lawyers promoted in courts around the country. They were shot down by judges, everywhere, and both Powell and Giuliani face bar disciplinary action for those ethical offenses, as well as lawsuits filed by the voting-machine firms they smeared. Worse, Meadows and Trump had been informed by Attorney General William Barr that there was no evidence of significant fraud in the election. Can Meadows be certain Barr hasn't already testified to the committee about what he did?

Every citizen who cherishes democracy should read those PowerPoint slides, which illustrate how close we came to losing everything that "makes America great." The presentation confirms the elements of the conspiracy known already and reveals even more sinister aspects that involved the potential use of military force in a planned coup.

Meadows says he received the memo from outside the White House -- presumably via a retired military officer and "information warfare" specialist named Phil Waldron, who apparently met and spoke repeatedly with the then-chief of staff, briefed other top Republicans on Capitol Hill, and advised Giuliani. The memo's justifications and proposals to overthrow the election were reflected in real events that occurred, notably the efforts to suborn then-Vice President Mike Pence.

Indeed, the presentation outlines how Pence was expected to exceed his ceremonial role on January 6 by rejecting electoral votes from states where "fraud occurred," thereby awarding a false victory to Trump. Alternatively, Pence would delay the election certification to permit a "vetting and subsequent counting" of paper ballots only after authorities could "weed out" allegedly "counterfeit" votes, both electronic and paper.

The PowerPoint memo describes the specifics of the military coup advocated by Powell and her former client Mike Flynn, the disgraced national security adviser, pardoned by Trump for his corruption. The document states: "A Trusted Lead Counter will be appointed with authority from POTUS to direct the actions of select federalized National Guard units and support from (Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security) and other US government agencies as needed to complete a recount of the legal paper ballots for the federal elections in all 50 states."

Marshalls would seize the voting machines and ballots from state and local governments and commence a militarized recount under Trump's control. This would all occur within five to 10 days after January 6 — and would, at least in the absurd imagination of the PowerPoint's authors, allow "any US citizen" to "view them and count the ballots themselves." (Nobody seems to have considered how long it would take for anyone watching this spectacle to actually count the 159 million votes cast by eligible voters in 2020, although Trump plainly aimed to disqualify most of them.)

About this plan we need to know much more, which is why the select committee aims to prosecute Meadows and any other conspirators who resist testifying for contempt. Whatever privilege he seeks to claim, the former chief of staff voided that by giving this document and many others to the committee as well as publishing a memoir. He is still withholding thousands of pages of text messages and other evidence from the committee.

More importantly, Meadows undoubtedly knows more about who devised these schemes, who was supposed to execute them — and whether anyone presented them to Trump, for whom a slide presentation was undoubtedly the only means to command his attention for a few dozen pages.

The plot to overturn the 2020 election, in all its dimensions, represents the most serious transgression against the United States since the Civil War. That enormous crime must be fully exposed and its perpetrators prosecuted if the rule of law is to have any meaning.

The Republican Party'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.

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.

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.

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.

New Documents Highlight Trump's Deadly Pandemic Deceptions

While public attention remains raptly focused on the House committee probing former President Donald Trump's attempted coup and the Capitol insurrection, another investigation is compiling proof of his catastrophic failure to prevent hundreds of thousands of American deaths in the coronavirus pandemic.

New documents released this week by the House Select Coronavirus Subcommittee show that the Trump White House distorted and concealed vital information about the virus for purely partisan purposes — and that those political decisions caused avoidable suffering and mortality on a massive scale.

According to the documents released by congressional investigators — and reported byThe Hill on Nov. 12 — Trump officials repeatedly interfered with efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide guidance to the public about the pandemic. Later those political aides sought to hide or destroy the evidence of their interference to block CDC messages about the disease.

The motive behind their obstruction of CDC's career scientists was to put Trump's political self-interest above public health. True information about the likely spread and impact of the pandemic conflicted with Trump's relentlessly and falsely optimistic claims about the threat it posed.

An early example occurred on February 25, 2020, when Nancy Messonier, then director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, held a press briefing on the impending peril of the pandemic. Messonier calmly and correctly informed reporters that by then the spread of the novel coronavirus was no longer avoidable, which meant that immediate public health measures would need to be implemented.

By informing the public of the reality of a public health emergency about to erupt, Messonier infuriated Trump. Two days later, the president embarked on his campaign to downplay the pandemic, bury accurate scientific information, and spread his "rosy scenario" of lethal nonsense. His remarks, replete with lies, still reverberate:

"It's going to disappear," Trump said at a Black History Month event. "One day — it's like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows. The fact is, the greatest experts — I've spoken to them all. Nobody really knows."

None of that was true and, as he later admitted, he knew it then. Moreover, the experts in his own administration knew it and had informed him that this virulent illness would not just "disappear." But he didn't want to hear it and he didn't want anyone else to hear it either. The White House ordered the CDC to stop any public briefings until June 2020, leaving Americans confused and uninformed during the pandemic's confusing early months.

Following Messonier's press briefing, the White House seized direct control of all public communication regarding the pandemic. Trump aides refused many requests from CDC to resume briefings, replacing them instead with the infamous White House coronavirus task force TV show starring Donald Trump. Anne Schuchat, then a CDC deputy director, told the House subcommittee that she stopped watching the White House briefings because they delivered "unhelpful" conflicting messages.

Around that time, Trump political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services were enforcing his falsely cheery propaganda campaign. They didn't want US scientific agencies releasing "negative information" that conflicted with Trump's optimistic claims, and specifically insisted on altering the CDC's weekly morbidity and mortality reports. An email showing that HHS political appointee Paul Alexander had demanded that CDC halt publication of scientific facts, because they might hurt Trump's reelection campaign, was intentionally deleted to conceal the interference.

None of that was true and, as he later admitted, he knew it. Moreover, the experts in his own administration knew it and had informed him that this virulent illness would not just "disappear." But he didn't want to hear it and he didn't want anyone else to hear it either. The White House ordered the CDC to stop any public briefings until June 2020, leaving Americans confused and uninformed during the pandemic's confusing early months.

Following Messonier's press briefing, the White House seized direct control of all public communication regarding the pandemic. Trump aides refused many requests from CDC to resume briefings, replacing them instead with the infamous White House coronavirus task force TV show starring Donald Trump. Anne Schuchat, then a CDC deputy director, told the House subcommittee that she stopped watching the White House briefings because they delivered "unhelpful" conflicting messages.

Around that time, Trump political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services were enforcing his falsely cheery propaganda campaign. They didn't want US scientific agencies releasing "negative information" that conflicted with Trump's optimistic claims, and specifically insisted on altering the CDC's weekly morbidity and mortality reports. An email showing that HHS political appointee Paul Alexander had demanded that CDC halt publication of scientific facts, because they might hurt Trump's reelection campaign, was intentionally deleted to conceal the interference.

How many lives were lost by this ruthless sanitizing of the pandemic truth? Deborah Birx, the former Trump health adviser who became familiar from her appearances on the White House task force, told the House subcommittee last month behind closed doors that she estimates the cost of Trump's oblivious inaction at 130,000 excess deaths.

"I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range," Birx said in excerpts of her testimony released by the subcommittee (chaired by the dauntless Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina).

No person who can accept the truth doubts the culpability of Trump in hundreds of thousands of American deaths, or the responsibility of his malignant gang and his media echo chamber in the pandemic disaster of 2020. Their lies are still broadcast from the all-vaccinated studio of Fox News and other right-wing outlets. But the final report of the House subcommittee promises more revelations — and at last a detailed accounting of the deadly legacy of Trump and his accomplices.

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.

Trump's 'Executive Privilege' Is Just Another Big Lie


When Donald Trump was president, he informed us with his know-it-all ignorance that the Constitution gave him "the right to do whatever I want." And he acted as if that despotic canard were true, committing crimes that led to his impeachment not once but twice.

Now Trump insists that even though he is no longer president, the Constitution allows him to conceal the evidence of crimes perpetrated by him and his mangy entourage – specifically, the documents and testimony demanded by the House Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection. He has "ordered" all of his gang, including former White House strategist and campaign manager Steve Bannon, to defy the committee's subpoenas. His lawyers claim in federal court that "executive privilege" should protect him from coughing up all the information sought by the committee.

That claim deserves to be dismissed outright by Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is hearing the case. What we have learned in recent days about Trump's coup plotting only underlines the importance of the material. His assertion of impunity lacks any substance.

As a legal doctrine, "executive privilege" is meant to shield presidential deliberations and discussions from undue exposure that would hinder the functioning of the presidency. It is a vague standard that infamously was subject to abuse by Richard Nixon as his final and futile line of defense against the Watergate investigation.

In United States v. Nixon, the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling on July 24, 1974, rejecting Nixon's executive privilege argument, forcing the surrender of his White House tapes and other incriminating materials, and resulting, just over two weeks later, in Nixon's resignation in disgrace. The high court's unanimous decision meant that no person, not even a president, is above the law and that in the absence of a compelling military or diplomatic need for secrecy, especially during an inquiry into high crimes, no president could assert an absolute right to confidentiality.

Flash forward to the perils of the moment, as Congress investigates the violent coup against the certification of Trump's duly elected opponent, Joe Biden. Even as more and more evidence emerges of a desperate scheme against the Constitution, Trump's lawyers pretend that the machinations of the coup plotters should remain exempt from congressional scrutiny. They have derided the January 6 probe as an "invasive Congressional fishing expedition" and warned that upholding the committee subpoenas "would harm the institution of the presidency."

The arguments of Trump's third-tier attorneys are simply nonsense. First, Trump isn't president anymore, so he no longer enjoys whatever privilege may attach to that office. President Biden, the incumbent president who does possess executive privilege, already has rejected Trump's pleas and ordered the release of any relevant documents under the control of the National Archive or other government agencies.

Second, the plotters included a motley assortment of private citizens, including Bannon, the deranged Rudy Giuliani, and his sidekick, the convicted (and Trump pardoned) felon and former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik. During the crucial days leading up to January 6, this outfit operated from suites in the capital's plush Willard Hotel, not the White House itself -- and their enormous expenses were paid by the Trump campaign, not the government. Political campaigns are not covered by executive privilege.

Finally, and most importantly, whatever degree of executive privilege may be construed from the Constitution cannot be used to protect presidential crimes. That was the essence of the Supreme Court decision that made Nixon turn over his smoking tapes to a special prosecutor, and it applies with equal force at least to Trump's seditious conspiracy against the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power.

Judge Chutkan has indicated she may impose minor limitations on the select committee's subpoenas. But she mocked the Trump lawyer's absurd suggestion that Congress has no legitimate purpose in probing the events that led to an insurrectionary attack on the Capitol. Whatever trifling boundaries she may impose on the select committee's subpoenas won't matter much, so long as she acts swiftly.

In due course this matter will land on the docket of the Supreme Court, where the justices—three appointed by Trump--will have the opportunity to prove that they are authentically nonpartisan and unbiased, as Amy Coney Barrett and Samuel Alito have recently tried to persuade us. If they fail, history will scorch their reputations beyond repair.

If Biden's Program Fails, Who Deserves The Blame?


Enormous, highly popular public investments of nearly three trillion dollars are awaiting imminent action on Capitol Hill. Despite the drama of clashing caucuses and egos among the Democrats, it seems that in the end they will come together for an historic achievement. Yet there is a good deal of punditry about the consequences should President Joe Biden's signature bills remain stalled and potentially expire.

Read Now Show less

No, Kyrsten Sinema Is Not Like John McCain

I don't know Kyrsten Sinema, but I did know John McCain. Not at all intimately, to be sure, but just enough to say -- despite her pretensions and the fantasies of her flacks that she is the reincarnation of the war hero in a purple wig -- that Kyrsten Sinema is no John McCain.

Lately Sinema has advertised herself as a "maverick," by which she means that she flouts the positions and policies of her party's leadership, and is supposed to pair her with McCain, who sometimes strayed from the Republican party line. Her most notorious attempt at imitation occurred last year with a gesture on the Senate floor marking her vote against a minimum wage increase. Her coy mimicry of the admired war hero was synthetic, leaving an unpleasant odor in its wake. When McCain delivered his bold "thumbs down" on gutting Obamacare, he was protecting Arizona's working families – not betraying them.

Why Sinema behaves so erratically these days is mysterious to many pundits, in part because she simply refuses to talk with journalists. Her Sphinx act would have been impossible for McCain, who frequently and happily discussed in detail why he acted and voted as he did -- or almost any topic that a reporter might bring up.

Sinema may not hate journalists—who knows?—but she plainly doesn't want to hang out with them. Like I said, she's no John McCain.

Indeed, I first met the late senator when he approached me at a Washington dinner to say a few nice words about a recent TV appearance where I had expressed views he certainly did not share. I had no problem reaching him for an interview in the years following that friendly introduction – and he was even more easily available to those who covered him regularly. Candid and thoughtful, he saw engagement with the press as a vital part of the job. He loved being known as a "straight shooter," a nickname he aimed to deserve.

There could hardly be a sharper contrast with the squirrelly Sinema. A political reporter who has covered her for the New York Times recently wrote that she's "one of the most elusive senators on Capitol Hill," noting that she "doesn't engage with Washington reporters in a serious way." She also doesn't engage with reporters in an unserious way, again unlike McCain, who had a sense of humor, too. She applies the same arrogant disregard to her constituents, with whom she doesn't deign to meet in public.

Her secretive style wouldn't have impressed McCain, famed for hosting what the Arizona Republic called "his free-for-all town hall sessions." Just enter "McCain" and "town hall" in a search engine to see video of what those were like.

Sinema's shifting ideological colorations display a kaleidoscopic, almost dizzying opportunism – which isn't quite the right look for a politician emulating McCain. Yet there was an episode in McCain's career that invites comparison with the way she operates now.

In 1991, following the crisis that bankrupted the savings-and-loan industry, McCain was one of five US senators investigated for intervening with regulators on behalf of Charles Keating, a crooked financier whose Lincoln Savings & Loan went under at a cost of $3.4 billion. Like McCain, the other four – including Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), Don Riegle (D-MI), Alan Cranston (D-CA) and John Glenn (D-OH) – had taken big donations from Keating. Keating had also provided the McCain family with free flights and hospitality at his Bahamas estate on three occasions as well as various other favors.

The Senate Ethics Committee investigated "the Keating Five," ultimately issuing wrist slaps, but the public hearings and news reports were nevertheless damning. Here was a clique of politicians who looked as if Keating had bought them rather cheaply.

The emerging image of Sinema -- who opposes lower prices for prescription drugs after taking nearly a million dollars from the Pharma lobby and has become a darling of K Street – is no more flattering. So far, Sinema shows no signs of the remorse that overcame McCain, who publicly flagellated himself for "the worst mistake of my life" and later fought for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms that Republicans opposed.

So when Sinema postures as a rebel and invokes McCain, don't get distracted by the superficial pretense. McCain learned from his mistakes. Sinema hasn't learned from the real McCain. But, like I said, she's no John McCain.

What Merrick Garland Must Do Now

The coming weeks will be the most consequential of Merrick Garland's life — not just for the attorney general himself but for our country. Garland will have to decide, presumably with the support of President Joe Biden, how to address the looming authoritarian threat of former President Donald J. Trump and his insurrectionary gang. His first fateful choice will be how to deal with Stephen K. Bannon, the fascism-friendly, criminally pardoned former Trump senior adviser who has defied a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6.

That panel has issued a contempt citation of Bannon, which will reach the floor for approval by the full House early next week. When that resolution passes, as it assuredly will, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will ask the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to open a prosecution of Bannon, which could ultimately cost him a year behind bars and a fine of $100,000. (Trump won't be able to deliver a pardon, as he did last January to save Bannon from prison for defrauding gullible Trumpists in a "build the wall" scheme.)

Unless Garland instructs him not to do so, the U.S. attorney will commence that prosecution. If Garland fails to allow the prosecution to proceed, he will cripple the constitutional order and rule of law in the United States that he claims to uphold.

There is no conceivable basis in law for Bannon's refusal to testify about Jan. 6 and surrender relevant documents in his possession. His cocky assertion of "executive privilege" is entirely hollow for several reasons. He hasn't worked in the White House since 2017. He cannot claim to be following Trump's constitutional orders. And since Trump is no longer president, he no longer possesses the power of executive privilege, which only the sitting president, that is, Biden holds. And Biden rejected Trump's privilege claims over his documents and ordered that they be turned over to Congress.

Beyond all that, any such privilege claim is wholly void against an investigation of high crimes by public officials, as established in the Watergate case. Indeed, that exception would be especially salient and powerful in confronting a criminal conspiracy against the Constitution.

"Sloppy Steve," as Melania Trump called him, was a central organizer of the Jan. 6 events in Washington and predicted the night before the Capitol Hill insurrection that "all hell is going to break loose" on "one of the most historic days in American history." Well, the investigators want to know all about just what he knew and when he knew it.

Garland has a profound responsibility to act expeditiously and forcefully to curtail Bannon's lawless defiance of Congress. Dithering is unacceptable, and the attorney general should ask the district court to expedite this docket. Just as Trump sought to conceal the truth in the Russia investigation and both impeachment inquiries, he is now seeking to cover-up what actually happened on and around Jan. 6. He obstructed those probes through assertions of privilege and felonious misuse of the pardon power, among other tactics.

That obstruction cannot be allowed to happen again. If the Justice Department proves too paralyzed to handle Bannon's defiance, then Pelosi can invoke the "inherent contempt" power to have him arrested. Although nobody has been busted under that authority for more than a century, that's no reason not to do it now. There's always an open cell in the D.C. jail.

Garland's fateful responsibilities extend beyond the House subpoenas. As evidence of constitutional crimes mounts around the former president, so too does the duty of the attorney general to demonstrate that no one, emphatically including Citizen Trump, is above the law.

We now know that Trump demanded that the Justice Department elevate his election fraud lies on at least nine occasions, according to a new report from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He urged the department's top officials to "say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the (Republican) Congressmen." That was a brazen violation of federal law, which prohibits any official from attempting to "deprive or defraud" Americans of a fair election process. He broke the same law when he threatened Georgia officials if they failed to "find" enough votes for him to win the state.

And there remains a gigantic file of evidence, gathered by former Special Counsel Robert Muller, showing that Trump obstructed justice 10 times during the Russia investigation. Were he not a sitting president at the time, his conduct would have warranted multiple felony indictments. As former national security officials Mark Medish and Jonathan Winer write in a new article for Just Security, "Granting a president carte blanche to obstruct justice is at odds with the rule of law and America's founding principles, which abhorred arbitrary rule of tyrants."

Upholding the law is essential, regardless of threats of violence from Trump's fanatics or warnings that future Republican regimes will carry out vengeance. The phantom specter of payback is not a legal category. Surrender to the seditionists is not an option under the law. Garland, the whole world is watching.

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.

Tell The Truth About The Coup -- Or Go Directly To Jail


Overturning the results of a national election is not the kind of crime that any single conspirator can perpetrate -- not even the most powerful man in the world. To mount an attempted coup against the constitutional order was the work of many dirty hands. Just ask Donald Trump, whose aggressive and lawless attempt to nullify his defeat can now be seen as a multi-layered putsch that secretly involved many individuals and organizations over a period of several months – and extended far beyond the array of thugs and misfits who assaulted the Capitol on January 6.

It will surprise nobody who has been paying attention that these covert actors emerged from the far right, which has posed a chronic threat to democracy for decades and finally consolidated its control of the Republican Party under Trump. The most effective response to that threat must occur on at least three levels: identifying every perpetrator; holding them all accountable by every lawful means, including criminal prosecution; and erecting every legislative and political bulwark to prevent any repetition of their crimes.

Like their boss Trump, these co-conspirators are habitual offenders. Fortunately, many of them also share his tendencies toward self-exposure, bluster, and hysterical excess. But others are deceptive, manipulative and ruthless, also like Trump.

For months following the outrages of January 6, attention was focused on those directly involved in that day's insurrectionary violence – the QAnon fanatics, the neo-fascist Proud Boys, the paramilitary Oath Keepers, and the angry, alienated Trumpsters who followed along. More than a few have prior criminal records, and most will be apprehended and punished.

But lately we have gotten a glimpse at the schemers whose weeks and months of planning led to those traumatic hours on Capitol Hill. We are beginning to learn that Trump and his shock troops never intended to accept an election that he didn't win, and how they plotted to subvert it.

In the Washington Spectator, Anne Nelson shows that a key hub of the coup was the Council for National Policy, which has existed since the Reagan era as a kind of Central Committee for the right-wing, primarily evangelical but also secular. Investigative reporting by Nelson and others has revealed that CNP leaders and affiliates in both Washington and contested states were activated as early as August 2020 in a coordinated effort to discredit the election, which they apparently expected to lose.

Notable on the long list of CNP members who organized that "Stop the Steal" campaign during the period leading up to Election Day and beyond included convicted felon Ali Alexander, a close associate of Roger Stone; Charlie Kirk, whose Turning Point student group brought busloads to the capital on January 6; Ginni Thomas, spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the center of a web of far right organizations; and Cleta Mitchell, a prominent Republican elections lawyer who joined the cries of "fraud" voiced by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

Nelson outlines how the Trump campaign actually sought to steal the election with pressure campaigns in the contested states, especially Georgia, where Cleta Mitchell participated in Trump's notorious phone call pressuring state officials to "find 11,780 votes" that would undo his defeat. When Georgia officials—Republicans at that--rejected that bullying overture from the White House, Trump turned to the Justice Department – and to law professor named John Eastman, an eminence in the conservative Federalist Society. In another illuminating essay published by the Washington Spectator, former State Department official Jonathan Winer explains Eastman's radical legal theory, under which GOP state legislators could simply proclaim "fraud," toss out the popular vote, and anoint Trump.

The full picture of this plot – not a theory but a real and very sinister conspiracy – has yet to be fully exposed, but we know that months before January 6th, the CNP and its allies were working to mobilize state legislators to discard actual votes and install fake electors. To uncover every aspect of the coup means thwarting the coverup that Trump is orchestrating, as he orders his former staffers to invoke imaginary "executive privilege" and avoid testifying before House and Senate investigators. Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows and all the conspirators must be compelled to testify and produce documents – or go to jail.

Why Biden’s Approval Ratings Will Rise Again

When President Joe Biden announced his new plan to mandate vaccinations and additional strong measures to curtail the spreading coronavirus, he was refreshingly brisk and blunt. It was a speech that marked an important step toward restoration of American political sanity.

"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We've made vaccinations free, safe and convenient," the president said. And then he sounded the bass note: "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us."

Evidently the president now realizes that the great majority of this country's citizens — after enduring the lockdowns, wearing the masks, taking the shots — are frustrated and yearning for effective action against the pandemic and its human accomplices. They see no reason to tolerate collusion in the spread of a deadly disease that has killed hundreds of thousands and threatens to kill many more with surging variants. They are ready to crack down on the selfish, stupid minority who cannot be bothered to protect their neighbors or themselves.

Does that sound angry? Until now, most expressions of rage, not to mention violent threats and acts, have come from the opposite direction. Everyone has seen viral videos of outrageous misconduct and vile assaults from the opponents of masking and vaccination, encouraged by right-wing media outlets that confuse "freedom" with promiscuous infection. This week, millions watched a disgusting person intentionally cough on a woman and her daughter in a grocery store because they were masked. Happily, that person's employers at SAP watched it too, and fired her sorry ass.

Yes, Americans have seen enough of that literally sickening behavior. When Biden said, "our patience is wearing thin," he was putting it mildly. He knows, because recent polls have suggested that patience with him was beginning to diminish too.

While the chaotic U.S. departure from Afghanistan may have influenced the dip in Biden's approval ratings, his deeper problem was the raging wave of coronavirus infections and deaths brought on by the Delta variant. The high ratings he enjoyed since taking office owed much to his deliberate and determined offensive against the pandemic; when he was perceived to falter over the past few months, his numbers slipped. Meanwhile, public support has been rising for vaccine mandates and a tougher approach overall.

The trend first became obvious in California, as so many trends do. The recall campaign against Gov. Gavin Newsom, it should be emphasized, caught fire when he was caught flouting his own COVID-19 regulations at a fancy Napa restaurant. The latest surveys, however, show Newsom pulling ahead because of his own government's vaccination mandates — and because he has rightly warned against the "anti-vax Republican government" that would take over if voters boot him. He has saved his political career by putting vaccine mandates at the center of his administration. If the election were held today, he would likely win by as much as 20 percent, perhaps more.

Even before Biden announced his own new suite of policies, the vaccination rate was steadily increasing again, largely thanks to public and private sector mandates that have gained traction since early summer. By overwhelming majorities, the public approves of those requirements at work and at school — and the result is that vaccine hesitancy has been steadily diminishing, with polls showing resistance at its lowest level since the question was first asked.

The most bracing moment in Biden's speech came when he informed the governors of Texas and Florida, and any others who might follow them, that his administration will financially and legally bolster any school district they attempt to intimidate from protecting teachers and students. In that instant, he confronted the toxic bullying by Republicans who want to prolong the pandemic for partisan gain — and showed who is tougher.

What Americans want from their leaders is usually simple enough. They want compassion, common sense, decency, and above all strength of conviction. In a word, they want the kind of leadership that Biden is providing. His numbers will soon rise again as the infection numbers fall.

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

Looking Right Through Kevin McCarthy

Of all the Republican politicians who have ascended to leadership in Congress during the past few decades, none is a duller and more obvious hack than Rep. Kevin McCarthy. The House minority leader possesses none of the villainous charisma of Newt Gingrich or the ruthless greed of Tom DeLay, the ideological fervor of Paul Ryan or the puppyish desire to please of Eric Cantor, the louche cynicism of John Boehner or the predatory criminality of Dennis "Coach" Hastert.

Nobody expects the transparently empty McCarthy to stand up for principle of any kind. It is giving him a lot to call him a small-minded partisan, an assiduous corporate fundraiser, and a mediocre climber for whom ideas and ideals are so much grist for the Fox News mill. His far-right rivals in the GOP caucus, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, allow him to hold power because they can manipulate him so easily. His theme song should be "Mr. Cellophane" from the musical Chicago.

Weak in both intellect and character, McCarthy embodies the most banal defects of his predecessors — and so it is that he presides over the final stages of Republican decay, as the party formed to preserve the Union and democracy degenerates into an instrument of fascist insurrection.

As a perfectly hollow hack who first rose under Boehner's tutelage, McCarthy makes the hack Boehner now seem like a big man. McCarthy was against Trump's big lie before he was for it. After denouncing Trump, he ran with his tail between his legs to Mar-a-Lago, parroted the big lie and backed a lawsuit to overturn the election results in two states. Then he denied supporting Trump's claims of election fraud and grudgingly admitted that President Joe Biden had won. And then, within hours after the January 6 attack on the Capitol that clearly terrified him, he nevertheless voted against certifying the Democratic victory in two states — after he had told a reporter that he knew Biden was the legitimate victor.

McCarthy has continued this ridiculous dance — both accepting and not accepting Biden's legitimacy — while he obviously covers up the seditious conduct of his extremist members, from Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene to. Matt Gaetz and Madison Cawthorn.

But since his attempts to block any investigation of the conspiracies that led to the Capitol takeover on January 6, have failed, McCarthy has become an even more desperate performer. This week he sought to obstruct the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack by absurdly pretending to be a mob boss, as he made an unconvincing threat against telecom companies if they comply with lawful requests from that panel. Though he didn't specify any consequences, he warned that Republicans "will not forget" when they regain the majority.

Rarely has a politician so obviously exposed such blatant consciousness of guilt. Opening himself to an ethics complaint, which has now been filed against him, McCarthy continues his bad acting, showing his fear that the suspicions and speculations about the gang of loony Republicans in the days before that insurrection are true.

McCarthy led the expulsion of Rep. Liz Cheney from her position as the chair of the House Republican Conference to satisfy his insurrectionist caucus. But there's another reason he purged her. She's got his number. And now she's the vice chair of the January 6 investigative committee. McCarthy has reason to engage in his silly threats, his obvious obstruction of Congress, his false bravado. He's scared. But the more he dances, the more everybody sees right through him.

I tell ya Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane shoulda been my name,

Mr. Cellophane 'cause you can look right through me ...

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 Sedition Caucus, Under Oath

It is an indisputable fact that House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, were at the very heart of former President Donald Trump's coup plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election. While more than hints and clues have pointed to their involvement ever since the January 6 insurrection, their central role emerged this past week when notes of a December 27, 2020, conversation between Trump and the acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen were disclosed.

Informed by Rosen that the Department of Justice could not and would not reverse President Joe Biden's election victory, Trump urged him to "just say the election was corrupt [and] leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen." Moments later, Trump referred specifically to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, founder of the Freedom Caucus and close associate of Mark Meadows, the former Freedom Caucus chair who left Congress to become Trump's White House chief of staff.

Jordan is so far unwilling to say whether he will testify about the insurrection if he is summoned, just as he refused years ago to assist official inquiries into hundreds of sexual assaults on the Ohio State wrestling team in which he was suspected of complicity or worse. But this time, if the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol requests his appearance, either voluntarily or by subpoena, he will have to show up or face legal consequences. So will several other members of the Capitol Hill "sedition caucus" who sought to invalidate Biden's election, including McCarthy and Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, to name a few of the most prominent.

And so will their longtime confederate Meadows, who has already been subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee in the Rosen matter and "may face significant criminal exposure," according to the Just Security website published by New York University School of Law.

Each of these Republican myrmidons has serious questions to answer. Brooks, donning a flak jacket when he addressed the pre-riot Trumpist rally at the Ellipse on January 6 calling for "kicking ass," has claimed immunity, a justification denied by the DOJ. Boebert allegedly gave a tour through the Capitol with unknown persons later identified as insurrectionists in December and January. "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander boasted of concocting a plan to intimidate Congress from certifying the election with Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Jordan was implicated in the coup effort very early, even before Election Day, when he publicly accused Democrats of planning to corrupt the balloting. In the weeks leading up to the insurrection, he plotted with Meadows and Trump at the White House; in the days afterward, he was given the Medal of Freedom by Trump in a closed ceremony there. It is undoubtedly the first time that high honor has been awarded for seditious conspiracy against the Republic.

As the Lincoln historian and former presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal pointed out in a recent Guardian column, members of Congress possess no immunity against a subpoena from a House investigating committee. Moreover, as Blumenthal also noted, there is richly ironic precedent to summon all of these characters, voluntarily or otherwise, in the official Senate probe of John Brown's infamous Harpers Ferry raid on the eve of the Civil War. Leading that investigation was none other than Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis, the traitor who later served as president of the Confederacy (whose battle flag soiled the Capitol hallways on January 6.)

Harper's Ferry was the last domestic insurrection to come under congressional scrutiny — until now. Among the witnesses called to testify about the events leading up to Brown's attack were two antislavery Republican senators suspected by Davis of knowing or aiding him. And it is safe to say that Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and other Democrats on the committee are aware of that precedent.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans named to the committee by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has suggested that Jordan and McCarthy, both of whom spoke with Trump on January 6, should be called — and a very large and rapt television audience awaits her questioning of them.

Meadows, who spent that day and the days preceding the insurrection with Trump in the White House and knows what the former president did and didn't do, will have to face the music. It will not be the last time he's been caught in a coup. In January 2013, when he conspired with Jordan to overthrow Republican House Speaker John Boehner, he was exposed in the failed attempt. He later came to the speaker's office, according to Boehner, got down on his knees, and pleaded, "Will you please forgive me?" Meadows will undoubtedly have another opportunity to get on his knees soon.

These ultra-right Republicans are the face of an authoritarian and frankly nihilist insurgency that began its takeover of the Grand Old Party back when their model Newt Gingrich rose to power as speaker. It is no surprise that this miscreant crew now surrounds their would-be dictator Trump like a praetorian guard, or that they spearheaded his attempt to destroy democracy. But the time is rapidly approaching when they will have to answer for those actions under oath. Of course, Jordan and Meadows and Brooks and Boebert and the other members of the gang can always plead the Fifth Amendment.

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

Murder Rate Rose In Republican Cities, Too

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.