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Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

In 1916, amid the carnage of World War I, the great German-Polish socialist Rosa Luxemburg wrote that humanity was facing a choice between socialism and barbarism.

Earlier today, speaking at the George Washington University, Bernie Sanders noted that we live in a time of rising authoritarianism, citing the regimes of Putin, Xi, Orban, Duterte and Trump as indices of the growing threat. His speech was billed as offering his definition of socialism, which, a la Rosa, was said to be the alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism.

Socialism as Sanders proceeded to define it is indeed an alternative to oligarchy and authoritarianism. What his speech left hanging was whether his socialism was in fact socialism.

In 2015, as his campaign was just taking off, Sanders came to a different D.C. university—Georgetown—to deliver what was also then billed as his definition of socialism. Before a crowd of wildly cheering college students, he reeled off a series of social democratic proposals—the universal right to health care, to college education and the like – with constant reference to the great American leader who did indeed lead the successful war against barbarism in the 1940s: Franklin Roosevelt. His speech was so FDR-centric that I wrote at the time:

Throughout the 1930s, Republicans claimed that Franklin Roosevelt was really a socialist. Today, Bernie Sanders said they were right.

Then, as today, Sanders referenced Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union speech – FDR’s last great speech—in which Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights. Today, Sanders formally proposed “a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights,” which included a right to a living-wage job, to “quality health care,” to “a complete education,” to “affordable housing,” to “a clean environment” and to “a secure retirement.”

As if citing Roosevelt were not enough, Sanders also cited Harry Truman, whose efforts to create a Medicare for All program in the 1940s were thwarted by conservatives and the medical profession. He quoted Truman, talking about his critics, at length:

Socialism [Truman said] is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.

Nor did Sanders’s talk simply identify socialism with the social democratic reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal. It also contained two crucial omissions.

First, even as Sanders cited Roosevelt and Truman, but he also did not cite any avowed American democratic socialists, save, in passing, Martin Luther King Jr. He made no mention of his great hero, Eugene V. Debs. Nothing on Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party’s candidate for president in each of FDR’s four elections. Nothing on A. Philip Randolph or Bayard Rustin or Michael Harrington. No reference to Thomas’ line when asked if Roosevelt had actually carried out the Socialist Party’s program. “He carried it out,” Thomas said, “on a stretcher.”

Second, Sanders also omitted his own more socialistic proposals. His speech skipped over some groundbreaking social democratic reforms that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both advocated in the course of the campaign, including dividing corporate boards between shareholder and worker representatives. He made no mention of an American version of the Meidner Plan – a 1970s proposal never quite implemented in Sweden that would gradually transfer the ownership of corporations, through the yearly payment of profits in the form of stock to their employees’ organizations, to their workers.

In short, Sanders’s socialism, as he defined it, is an expansion of America’s semi-demi-welfare state to include more economic rights. It’s an effort to make us a more functional social democracy—which, of course, is no small proposal and by American standards, a great leap forward. But he could have made the same proposals and labeled them neo-Rooseveltian liberalism without straining historical accuracy.

How, then, did his speech depart from his 2015 Georgetown outing? Chiefly, in noting that the world had grown more dangerously authoritarian and xenophobic in the intervening years—a discussion that Sanders also cast in a neo-Rooseveltian light. Twice in his talk, he cited Depression-era rallies at Madison Square Garden: the first, the infamous pro-Nazi rally of 1939; the second, FDR’s election eve speech of 1936—surely, Roosevelt’s most radical oration—in which FDR sounded the anti-oligarchic and anti-authoritarian themes that Sanders is sounding today. This speech, too, Sanders quoted at length:

We had to struggle [Roosevelt said] with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

No line in Sanders’ speech drew a louder spontaneous standing ovation than that one—the one about welcoming their hatred. And it wasn’t Bernie’s line; it was FDR’s.

Sanders’ conflation of democratic socialism with the progressive reforms of an FDR is at some level eminently understandable. Social Security is indeed a social democratic program, as is Medicare; their shortcomings, as Sanders surely realizes in seeking to bolster the first and universalize the second, is that they’re not social democratic enough. In running as a democratic socialist who seeks to complete and update FDR’s agenda, Sanders straddles the very fuzzy border between social democracy and American left liberalism. There, coming from the socialist side, he meets Warren, coming from the liberal side, and a growing number of their fellow Americans.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Salem, Oregon, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

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Mark Meadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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