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

Saving Not Just Our Roads And Bridges, But Democracy Itself

Talking about the challenges faced by the United States and its allies in a world always ambivalent about democracy, President Joe Biden said a few words the other day that bear directly on his own confrontation with authoritarian forces at home. What he aimed to explain is more important than any specific aspect of his infrastructure proposal or the debate over how to pay for that big bill's cost.

"It is absolutely clear," said the American president, that this era "is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies," by which he meant China and Russia but not only those major rivals. "That's what's at stake here. We've got to prove that democracy works."

Proving democracy works is no longer an abstraction for a civics classroom. At the moment, that phrase has a very specific meaning: Can we maintain, improve, and modernize the nation left to us by the greatest generation, now that we are painfully aware of its disrepair? Can we provide a decent livelihood to our people – all our people – and preserve an environment that sustains and nourishes them? And can we do all that in a political system that is free, competitive, transparent, and fair?

The Chinese and Russian autocrats, and their smaller imitators, openly mock those aspirations. China's leader Xi Jinping argues that only a party-led dictatorship can achieve high living standards and development. So does Putin, with less candor. The dictators are eager to test their power against our principles. And thanks to the partisan myopia of the Republican Party, now infected with a yearning for its own would-be dictator, we are in danger of failing that challenge.

To anyone who has observed American politics over the past three or four decades, Biden's warning is indisputably apt. Our political system suffers from a gravely diminished capacity to achieve important public purposes – let alone the massive national investment required to rebuild our physical infrastructure. When every major decision becomes an occasion to achieve partisan victory, rather than national progress, a closely divided America will remain paralyzed.

The chief vector of this paralytic illness has long been Mitch McConnell, the highest ranking Republican. Ten years ago, he could imagine no purpose more compelling than to end Barack Obama's presidency after a single term. While Democrats aimed to modernize the health care system and provide universal coverage, Republicans conceived their role as wholly negative and behaved accordingly.

They acted like termites – and that is exactly what they are threatening to do with Biden's infrastructure plan today.

Well aware of what polls show about infrastructure –and health care, for that matter – the Republicans offer lip service to popular preferences. Many Republican elected officials will endorse public works, improved transportation, safer water systems, even carbon reduction. They may then pretend to "negotiate" with Biden, but they won't vote for a program that he proposes or that Democrats can support.

What makes their reflexive opposition so dispiriting is that the Republicans know very well how desperately the nation needs the physical and economic revival offered by the Biden program. Whatever they mean by "America First," their political opportunism always puts America last.

The contradiction between Republican rhetoric and the party's termite behavior is drawn even more starkly when framed in a global context. While Beijing surely poses economic, diplomatic, ideological, and perhaps even military challenges to America and its allies, the Republican response is almost hysterical -- as if the "Chicom" hordes were about to literally invade our shores. Their answer to the coronavirus pandemic wasn't action to save American lives, but a racially tinged blame campaign aimed at the Chinese.

Yet if the Republicans believed their own warnings about China, they would find ways to support Joe Biden's infrastructure plan rather than trying to block him. For the past four years, their own president laughably and limply failed to address this enormous problem. The opportunity to now rise above petty partisan concerns, defend democratic values, and build the future is historic – and history will condemn every politician who fails again.


To find out more about Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Behind The Latest ‘Border Crisis’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Did Our Top Officials Lie About China — And Russia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Real 'Infrastructure Week' Is Coming -- And May Last A Decade

Soon enough, America will once again mark "infrastructure week" — except that next time, the catchphrase popularized by former President Donald Trump might become more than a late-night-comic's punchline. Now that President Joe Biden and Democratic congressional leadership have enacted the American Rescue Plan, providing $1.9 trillion to support families, health care and education needs, their anticipated next step is the fulfillment of Trump's unkept promise to rebuild the country's transportation, energy and environmental systems.

Whether Trump ever intended to actually create or even propose a real infrastructure program is as mysterious as anything else about his state of mind. He was once a construction executive, after all, and he did sincerely try to put up that idiotic border wall.

But like so many other notions connected with his presidency, "infrastructure" never amounted to anything, its failure owed to his own incapacities, his corrupt administration and his party's ideological fixations. While he watched TV and munched fries, his transportation secretary greased her own family's company — and his other appointees attempted to misuse the "infrastructure" concept to neuter environmental regulations and sell off public lands.

Still, Trump had the right impulse. As he surely knew, rebuilding all the things that have helped make America great, from roads and bridges and ports to electrical grids and broadband networks, is exceptionally popular. No survey ever taken on the topic has showed anything but wide, enthusiastic public support for very large expenditures on such projects, from Republicans, Democrats and independents. In 2019, Gallup's Frank Newport wrote, "Every bit of polling evidence I have reviewed shows that Americans are extremely supportive of new government infrastructure legislation," a point he reiterated last December. Infrastructure schemes have drawn sufficient congressional support to pass in some form during almost every recent administration.

Certainly, Biden understands this fundamental fact of American politics well, as he demonstrated by adopting the slogan "Build Back Better." He hasn't been in this business for a half-century without learning anything. What he also knows, however, is that the negligence and half-measures of decades past have left our systems in terrible condition, requiring an enormous investment over the coming decade to make any progress toward modernization.

Almost routinely, the American Society of Civil Engineers warns us that the nation's infrastructure systems overall deserve no better than a grade of "D+" or "woefully inadequate." Nothing has improved over the years, and we have endured a long series of disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to Frozen Texas, that have demonstrated how accurate that dismal engineering assessment is. Not long ago, the World Economic Forum pointed out that the United States ranks 13th in the world in the quality of its infrastructure, falling behind our competitors. (Trump was right about that, too.)

When natural disasters occur and essential defenses fail — like the Texas power grid or the New Orleans levees — we receive a dual warning about our future in a world of climate change. We need new and more resilient structures for transportation, energy production, water distribution and environmental protection — and we need to create those facilities while reducing carbon throughout the economy. Biden and his allies in Congress understand the intertwined problem, which is why his plans address both priorities.

Will Republicans sign up for an ambitious plan to build a 21st-century America? The president can and will remind them — and their constituents — that his vision will create millions of well-paid jobs and sustain economic growth for years to come. Building national capacity, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system, has been the American way from the very beginning.

Neither full employment nor patriotic duty is likely to persuade the current Republican leadership in Congress, whose mentality on such matters tends to resemble that of a termite. Fortunately, the Democrats can push through a mighty infrastructure bill under the reconciliation rules, again without a single Republican vote if need be.

That would be a political gamble, but the result could be a Democratic reign as long and fruitful as the period that followed the New Deal. It's a bet worth making before the next election.

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 Dr. Seuss Would Have Despised His Right-Wing 'Defenders'

It is hard to imagine anything more exhausting than the constant indignation of so-called conservatives, who somehow sustain a state of rigid, barking anger over the direction of American culture. To them, every advance for human rights represents the imminent end of civilization, and every small effort to assuage historical injuries signals the twilight of liberty.

These crank crusades always have multiple objectives, both political and commercial. On the political side, the Republicans are desperate to distract us from the roaring successes of President Joe Biden's administration, whose program of vaccine production and distribution and pandemic relief legislation are about to rescue the nation from former President Donald Trump's lingering disasters. And on the commercial side, there is nothing like a cultural jihad to separate fools from their money.

The propaganda phrase of the moment is "cancel culture," a terrifying phenomenon manifested just this week in the supposed liquidation of Dr. Seuss. If you believe what you hear on Fox News Channel, the late author of dozens of classic books beloved by children and adults alike — and many other works of art in film and cartooning — is on the verge of being censored, erased, and vilified. Who is doing these terrible things? According to Fox and various other right-wing outlets, this assault is the work of "them," a suitably vague category that encompasses liberals, tech companies, Democrats, and probably Joe Biden himself.

Of course, if you believe what you hear on Fox News, then you are, by definition, a dupe.

The actual event that provoked all the outrage over Dr. Seuss has nothing to do with Biden, Democrats or any other favorite Fox villains. The Seuss estate, which oversees the 60 books and other properties he left to posterity, decided to pull a half-dozen of them because their content includes dated and offensive stereotypes.

When you remember that his first book was published more than 80 years ago, that dissonance seems almost inevitable. The estate's decision, a sensible response to changing standards, was plainly designed to protect both the Seuss brand and the memory of Theodor Seuss Geisel as a liberal humanist. It is the opposite of "canceling" Dr. Seuss. And anyone who wants to read the old titles can still find them.

The Seuss non-scandal is a fine example of misdirection and distraction, and a powerful indication that Republicans really have nothing to say for themselves. This time, the consequences are harmless, mainly the further enrichment of the Seuss estate as gullible Americans flood Amazon with orders for his books, which they evidently fear are about to be torched by "the radical left."

The irony is that Dr. Seuss was himself a lifelong Democrat whose advocacy of liberal causes dated back to the New Deal, when he drew scores of blistering cartoons for the left-leaning daily New York newspaper PM, usually on the subject of Republican perfidy. He despised Hitler, Mussolini, Charles Lindbergh, and the original "America First" movement; he deplored racism and anti-Semitism; and he served patriotically in the war against fascism. He would have low regard for the Trumpists who are now misusing his good name.

While Dr. Seuss avoided the kind of moralizing that repels young readers, his stories and poems often grappled with contemporary issues, from authoritarianism (Yertle the Turtle) and racial equality (The Sneetches) to environmental degradation (The Lorax) and even materialism (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!).

What his books were really about is learning, everything from vocabulary words to personal and societal integrity. He wasn't afraid of change or changing his mind, which is why it seems likely that, were he alive today, he'd want to revise or withdraw offensive content he created so long ago. After World War II, he came to regret his own racially charged contributions to anti-Japanese propaganda, which is said to be why he dedicated Horton Hears A Who! — an allegory about the U.S. occupation of Japan — to a Japanese friend.

In short, the right-wing pundits and personalities leaping to "defend" Dr. Seuss now could learn a lot from reading him. Being who they are, they probably won't.

But you and your kids still can.

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.

Republicans Want No Independent Probe Of Jan. 6 Insurrection

Despite all the lamentations over the Republican Party –- the respectable party that supposedly existed before you-know-who ruined everything – it would be more honest to admit that the grand old party wasn't so grand even back when.

To take one timely example, Republicans have always resisted investigation of their leadership failures, even when the security of the nation was at stake.

At this moment, the constitutional imperative is to investigate, reveal, and respond to the forces behind the violent seizure of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Dealing with the threat that horrendous incident now symbolizes ought to be a vital interest of both major political parties -- whose legislators were nearly lynched by a ravening mob -- as well as anyone who hopes to bequeath a democratic republic to our heirs. That is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed a bipartisan national commission modeled on the panel that investigated the 9/11 attacks.

But after the 9/11 attack occurred on George W. Bush's watch, despite many warnings that aroused no action by him and his appointees, both Bush and Congressional Republicans felt an overwhelming urge to cover up. They tried to shut down the 9/11 Commission before Congress even passed the enabling legislation. They tried to rig the investigation by putting that old reprobate Henry Kissinger in charge. (He stepped aside because he didn't want to disclose his unsavory business affairs.) They tried to withhold information and then they tried to suppress the report's contents. Ultimately none of those manipulations succeeded, and a semblance of the truth emerged.

Fortunately, the president responsible for the January 6 disaster is no longer in office and cannot control the multiple probes that will embarrass and perhaps ruin him. But Republicans still wield power in Congress, especially the Senate, and they again appear determined to obstruct an independent investigation, with subpoena power and all other necessary resources, that must be mounted to protect us from another attack from within.

It's bad enough that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who has publicly articulated his clear understanding of what happened – is undermining Pelosi's effort with his usual partisan shenanigans. If McConnell wants to do his duty, he can raise any objections in private discussion with the Speaker and work out a deal. His public posturing is unhelpful.

Worse than McConnell are the House and Senate Republicans who insist on pretending that the attack didn't really happen, or that some mythical entity was responsible – or, in the most insulting version, that Pelosi is to blame for lax security at the Capitol. Never mind that she was almost assassinated by Trumpist thugs, and that McConnell was equally responsible for overseeing the Capitol Police and Sergeants at Arms.

Such absurd assertions, uttered by the likes of Jim Jordan and Ron Johnson, only show that these Republicans, just like their Bush administration forebears, are mostly interested in concealing the culpability of the Dear Leader. Although Donald Trump is gone from the White House, he resides in the cowardly hearts of almost all the Republicans on Capitol Hill – and they know the last thing he wants is an honest bipartisan investigation. As Harold Meyerson noted in The American Prospect, it is hard to imagine that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is keen to testify about the angry conversation between him and Trump on January 6 – when the president gloated over the assault on the Capitol after McCarthy begged him for help.

There lies the real difference between Republicans then and now. Back in 2001, and on earlier occasions when Republican presidents were implicated in national security scandals, there was a plausible assumption that most Republican representatives and senators would do what was necessary, however reluctantly and unhappily, to uphold their constitutional oath. They would, at long last, put country over party.

For these Republicans, however, party comes first -- and party means nothing more than Trump, who can humiliate them and betray the country as he wishes. ("America First" is just another big lie, perhaps the biggest.)

If Democrats want a real investigation of January 6, they cannot rely on Republican good faith.

While Texas Froze, Feckless Republican Leaders Failed Again

Within hours after a catastrophic winter storm crippled the Texas power system, leaving millions to freeze in the dark, the Lone Star State's politicians did what Republicans always do: They hunted up a scapegoat.

She was thousands of miles away and had absolutely no role in the Texas disaster, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a proponent of clean energy, so they made do with the outspoken Bronx Congresswoman. Besides, blaming AOC fit perfectly with the impertinent falsehood that Texas Republicans seized on to explain their own failure, which was that renewable energy had shut down in bad weather, just as the oil and gas industry always predicted.

It was a politically pleasing explanation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott loudly proclaimed on Fox News, but it had one big flaw. It's a ridiculous lie that only a simpleton would believe. Following the usual trajectory of right-wing disinformation, Abbott's falsehood was instantly repeated by his fellow Republicans and spread swiftly on social media. But it was swiftly and easily debunked, much to the governor's embarrassment. A day later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick admitted that blaming solar and wind was wrong and unfair.

As Patrick noted, the power crash in Texas had little or nothing to do with wind turbines, which provide only a fraction of the state's energy in winter. Those machines froze in the sub-zero temperatures, but so did the natural gas plants and pipelines that supply a far larger proportion of electricity to Texans. So did water pipes that are also critical to the system.

In fact the restoration of power began on February 17 with solar energy, according to the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – the nonprofit entity that operates the largely deregulated electric grid across most of the state. "We had quite a bit of solar generation online," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's director of system operations. "When the solar generation was online, we started trying to bring back a lot of the load."

Speaking of ERCOT, that hapless outfit was teed up as the next scapegoat when the effort to blame solar, wind, and the Green New Deal fell flat. And no doubt the loosely managed energy system that organization represents is liable for much of this deadly fiasco. But the truly responsible parties include Abbott, his clueless predecessor Rick Perry, and the energy industry they have allowed to run wild for many years. After all, ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Service Commission, which under Republican governors has exercised no real oversight at all.

Much of the trouble can be traced to the ideology of the oil industry, shared by Texas Republicans, which denies climate change and rejects regulation by state or federal authorities. So the state's grid and electric utilities did little to prepare for an emergency of this magnitude – and lax regulators required nothing more. Texas also insisted on having its own energy grid, unconnected to neighboring states, because that allowed the state and the utilities to avoid federal rules.

In a moment of unvarnished candor, Perry suggested that avoiding federal regulation was worth all this week's unnecessary mayhem. Of course, the supposed Texas allergy to "federal interference" didn't discourage Abbott or the Texas Congressional delegation from begging for Washington's help – which was immediately forthcoming from a magnanimous President Joe Biden.

If the fatal farce in Texas seems all too familiar, then you may be noticing an eerie resemblance to the botched pandemic response of the Trump administration. The impulse of Republicans in government is not to govern but to shift responsibility and try to affix blame, almost always on "liberals" or "socialists" or some other partisan goblin. What they seem utterly unable to provide are honest leadership and real solutions.

You can keep electing these inept bozos, but don't expect any better results. This is what they do, because this is all they can do.

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.

They Fear Trump More Than They Love America

Despite the compelling facts and arguments mustered by the House impeachment managers during their presentation to the Senate, it is depressingly clear that Donald Trump almost certainly will escape conviction for encouraging, inciting, allowing, and then praising his mob's assault on the U.S. Capitol.

A courageous handful of Republican senators will vote to hold him accountable, but the rest remain deeply fearful of the former president and his most violent followers. The timeline of his conduct on Jan. 6, which proved his perfidy beyond any doubt, surely proved his guilt — as some will no doubt privately confess. What they also learned, however, is just how far Trump will go to punish any politician who places loyalty to the Constitution over fealty to him. He will enforce the Fuhrer principle, and they will bow down.

Over two days of exposition, the House impeachment managers showed how Trump spent months creating an atmosphere of paranoia and violence that led inexorably to the Jan. 6 attack. He has long encouraged physical intimidation of adversaries (always by other people, not him), and his thuggishness intensified during the election year: He acclaimed the Michigan "militia" gang that took over the state capitol, and he applauded the "patriots" who tried to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off a Texas highway. They did nothing wrong, he said.

So the deadly violence that concluded his presidency should have surprised nobody. In the months and years to come, we will learn much more about the specifics of Trump's involvement with the forces behind the Capitol insurrection, from the "Stop the Steal" movement — invented by his longtime political consigliere Roger Stone — to the paramilitary Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Those two groups, especially the Proud Boys, are also closely associated with Stone, who insists that all his political activism is "peaceful." We shall see what the Proud Boys say about all that when they're facing serious prison time.

Meanwhile, the Republicans sitting in judgment of Trump have seen just how merciless he can be toward even his most loyal lackeys when his dictatorial ambitions are thwarted. The most compelling proof of guilt put forward by the House managers concerns how Trump acted when the attack was under way. He refused to call off his followers — who believed they were acting on his orders. And he brushed aside the pleas for help from his fellow Republicans, besieged inside the Capitol and in the gravest peril.

When he learned that Mike Pence was in grave danger, Trump showed no trace of concern for his vice president, whose obsequious servility had become a national joke. No, Pence had committed the unforgivable offense of honoring his patriotic responsibility over Trump's interests and desires. With due diligence, Pence had established that he could not overturn the election on January 6 by rejecting the electoral ballots sent by the states. It was a decision that almost cost him his life, as the Trump thugs roamed the Capitol hallways screaming, "Hang Mike Pence!"

Rather than determine whether the vice president (and his wife) were safe, Trump only pursued his obsession with stopping the electoral certification. He called Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and Tuberville cut the call short, explaining to Trump that the mob was approaching and the cops were trying to escort Pence to a safer place. Within minutes of Trump learning that such deadly mayhem had broken loose on the Hill, he tweeted out a vicious attack on the vulnerable vice president.

Yet now, knowing what they know about his character and conduct, the majority of "conservative" senators are still serving Trump. A handful of them have even violated their oath of impartiality to meet with his incompetent attorneys and advise them.

This is the craven behavior that allows dictators to triumph. Whatever comes, history will despise the cowards who let Trump escape judgment.

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.

Destroying Conservatism Will Be Marjorie Taylor Greene's Only Achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind Trump's Words, A Criminal State Of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Republicans: No More Fiscal Hypocrisy, Please

Nothing is more predictable than Republicans complaining about budget deficits and federal spending — as soon as a Democrat enters the White House.

Wasteful fiscal decisions, especially cutting taxes for their wealthiest donors, never trouble these self-proclaimed "conservatives" in the slightest. But let a liberal spend a few dollars on a hungry child's breakfast or a teacher's salary and suddenly their hair catches fire.

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Uncovering The #MAGA Plot Against America

Investigations of the terrible crimes committed against the United States at the Capitol last week had scarcely begun when the usual suspects launched a right-wing cover-up. Rather than blame the motley swarm of #MAGA fanatics, white nationalists and habitual criminals whom we all witnessed storming into the citadel of democracy to stop certification of the 2020 election, they pointed the finger to the antifa and Black Lives Matter movements.

But such a preposterous political alibi, premised on nonexistent evidence, won't stand up to the kind of scrutiny that must now be brought to bear on these momentous events. Long after President Donald Trump's impeachment is over and done, and regardless of whether he is convicted or not, the myriad investigations and trials of the perpetrators of the Capitol insurrection will go on for years. Justice will be done; the truth will be revealed; and the breadth of the assault on our constitutional democracy will stun even the jaded and cynical.

Combining vanity and stupidity, the shock troops who carried out the assault recorded themselves in the process of the attack. Perhaps they believed that they would be pardoned by Donald Trump. Knock, knock. Now the FBI is sweeping them up across the country to face federal prosecution.

More than a few of these individuals have prior convictions for serious crimes. These predicate felons, who exemplify the extremist wing of Trump's movement, are likely to crack under prosecutorial pressure and disclose what they know. And no matter what they expected, Trump probably won't dare to pardon them. He is reported to be upset at the low class of his diehards apparently willing to kidnap and assassinate in his name.

While much of what occurred on Jan. 6 and the days and weeks leading up to the attack still remains somewhat murky, it is already clear that the insurrection was not a spontaneous uprising. The mob that assaulted the Capitol included highly trained fighters who came prepared with tactical gear of all kinds, often superior to the equipment of the police officers trying to hold them back, as well as a communications system. What they needed from the thousands of dupes whipped up by Trump and Rudy Giuliani was an overwhelming physical force to enable an unstoppable rush into the building.

We don't know the extent of coordination, if any, between the White House, various ultra-right members of Congress and fascist gangs like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers that came to Washington bent on bloodshed. The initial clues, however, raise deeply troubling questions. Why were members of Congress escorting groups of Trump supporters around the Capitol on Jan. 5, the day before the attack, when the building was supposed to be closed? Why did the attacking vanguard leave the Trump rally at the White House early and proceed to the Capitol? And why did the Pentagon fail to send National Guard reinforcements in time, despite desperate pleas from the Capitol Police?

The support structure for the demonstration that turned into an insurrection ranged across the Trumpist movement, encompassing figures like Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, and Charlie Kirk, who runs the far-right college outfit Turning Point USA and boasts close ties with Donald Trump Jr. Both of them have tried to erase evidence of their organizing efforts.

Equally intriguing is the role of Ali Alexander, who takes credit for staging the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, whose militant rhetoric set the event's tone and who now seems to have gone into hiding. He has a long history of connections with Trump confidant Roger Stone and Stone's proteges in the Proud Boys. He has also received funding in the recent past from the billionaire Mercer family, which lurks behind many of the nation's most toxic far-right elements. And Alexander says that he worked on the insurrection with at least three Republican members of Congress — Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

Here it is worth recalling that Stone oversaw the "Brooks Brothers riot" in Miami that stopped the vote counting in Miami-Dade County and swayed the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Since last November, he has repeatedly called for Trump to impose martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The events of Jan. 6 represented the worst threat to democracy and the rule of law that we have seen in our lifetimes. The violent authoritarian impulse within the Republican right has metastasized under Trump into a potent and very dangerous force. Uncovering the roots of that threat and isolating its sponsors will be a lengthy and complicated process that will involve the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, state and local law enforcement, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, many committees of the House and Senate, and almost certainly a national investigative commission on the order of the 9/11 commission. And there will be trials.

Nothing less will suffice to defend our democratic republic from its enemies, foreign and domestic.

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.

They've Showed Us Who They Are

The assault on the Capitol inspired by President Donald Trump was a tragic event — disturbing to watch on television and leaving many difficult questions in its aftermath. Yet that terrible moment illuminated the national landscape like a flash of lightning.

It is now clear even to those who have pretended otherwise that Trump himself represents a grave danger to national security. He should have been removed last year during impeachment. He should be impeached again so he is ousted immediately and any possibility that he can seek office again curtailed. But nothing that can be done to Trump will disarm his armed and angry followers, who have warned loudly that they will be back.

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Why America Must Hold Mike Flynn Accountable

When Donald Trump finally vacates the White House on Jan. 20, his departure won't exorcise the political demons that have infested the nation over the past four years. The cult of personality that surrounds Trump has combined with his own profound disdain for constitutional norms, fulfilling the worst fears about his rise to power. He will surrender the presidency only after seeking to overturn a legitimate election, while encouraging demands among his followers for "martial law" and a turn toward dictatorship.

Trump is plainly a fascist, surrounded by bootlicking flunkies of like disposition, and he will continue to encourage a fascistic faction in and around the Republican Party.

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Trump And Attorneys Reportedly Discussed Imposing 'Martial Law' To Undo Election

As the end of his regime nears, Donald Trump is conjuring an authoritarian nightmare that would have been deemed preposterous until now. On Friday, according to the New York Times, the president held a tumultuous Oval Office discussion with advisers where he raised the possibility of imposing martial law.

Among those present to mull this seditious conspiracy with Trump were his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani; the attorney and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, who had represented the Trump campaign in election disputes; and Michael Flynn, the retired general, disgraced former national security adviser and convicted felon who has publicly urged Trump to impose military rule. Also in the room were White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who were reported to have objected to the crazed pleas by Flynn and Powell. The Times reported that the meeting concluded without any resolution.

At the same meeting, Trump is also said to have considered appointing Powell as a "special counsel" to investigate election "fraud" -- presumably including the broad array of ludicrous and unsupported allegations she has failed to advance in various courts around the nation. As is so often the case, Trump aims to pervert the legal system by abusing an authority that does not belong to him. Only the attorney general has the legal power to appoint a special counsel, whose very purpose is to limit undue presidential influence over the justice system. The notion of naming a crackpot like Powell to any position reportedly even alarmed Giuliani, despite his own recent spate of deranged claims about the election.

Indeed, Politico reports that Friday's Oval Office meeting devolved into a screaming match between the excitable lawyers Giuliani and Powell, who accused each other of insufficient loyalty to Trump. Both Flynn and Powell have repeatedly implored Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, to impound voting machines in various swing states, and even to rerun the election in those states under military supervision.

Such fascistic daydreams are not about to materialize, so everyone should remain calm. As senior Army officials told Politico over the weekend, the military will play "no role" in resolving any electoral disputes – which ended on Dec. 14 anyway with the Electoral College ratifying Joe Biden's victory.

But should Flynn impetuously attempt to carry out any unlawful action against the peaceful transition of power, perhaps military officers who have sworn to uphold the Constitution will be present to place him under arrest. Considering how persistently he has dishonored the uniform, many of them undoubtedly would relish that opportunity.

Republicans Talk ’Secession," But Who Would That Hurt?

The loudest sound on the American far right today is the angry whining emitted by sore losers who claim their candidate was defrauded but know for a fact that he was simply defeated. Their tune is grating, but their seditious words are troubling, with supporters of President Donald Trump repeatedly warning of "civil war" and even "secession." Fans of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh hear those ominous words every day now.

Presumably, such divisive sentiment is why many "conservatives" are so enamored of Confederate flags and other such symbols of treason. If the democratic process doesn't give them what they want, they threaten bloodshed and the destruction of the nation to which they once pretended to pledge allegiance.

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