GOP betrays the country by endorsing a failed coup, yet wants to lecture Biden on national security?

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but historically those who’ve sanctioned and supported domestic rebellion against the United States government have not been allowed a public platform in government to continue spreading their policy views to a wider audience. Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason following the Civil War with Congress even going so far as to impanel a jury for his prosecution, and he remained under indictment until President Andrew Johnson issued a general amnesty in 1868. Afterwards he remained popular in the defeated South, contributing to the deliberate falsification of the war’s origins that eventually became enshrined by the heirs of the Confederacy as the “Lost Cause.” But his participation in the legitimate U.S. machinery of government was understood to be forfeit. 

And those who don’t actively incite insurrection but otherwise betray their country aren’t afforded any deference in matters of national security either. Aldrich Ames, the former CIA case officer who chose to work for the Soviet Union, disclosing the names of both U.S. officers and Russian sources and thus directly causing their deaths at the hands of the KGB, is not, as far as I am aware, regularly consulted on foreign policy matters by the State Department. John Anthony Walker Jr., who sold inside information about our country’s nuclear submarine capabilities to the Soviets, was not thereafter permitted to critique our nation’s naval tactics at meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Yet somehow the incoming Republican Congress—the majority of whom on Jan. 6, 2021, voted to illegally disenfranchise the majority of the American electorate; several of whom have voiced or lent their support to groups planning armed rebellion against our democratic government; and still more who have made common cause with those who violently attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6—seem to believe it still has some legitimate standing to criticize the current administration on matters of national security. For example, the newly elected Republican House majority has vowed to conduct investigative hearings about the process by which President Joe Biden ended our two-decade involvement in Afghanistan. Some of the very same voices involved in supporting and spreading Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that resulted in the Jan. 6 insurrection seem to believe that their criticism of President Biden’s manner of withdrawal of troops from the Afghanistan theater merits serious consideration by the American public. All of those harboring this astonishing misconception are, unsurprisingly, members of the Republican Party.

But they are grievously mistaken. By willfully aiding and abetting an attempted coup aimed at usurping a legitimately elected U.S. president—and thus attempting to overthrow a legitimately elected U.S. government—current Republicans have quite simply forfeited any standing they once may have had to criticize that president on any matter affecting this nation’s security. Not only have they forfeited that right, but any attempt by them to assert it—in staged, circus-like “hearings” or otherwise—should be met with the complete scorn it deserves.

What Republicans seem unable to collectively grasp, even at this point, is the sheer enormity of the treachery that their party committed on Jan. 6, 2021. Not only did the vast majority of them stand silently by while their party’s leader plotted and incited a violent uprising specifically engineered to thwart the peaceful transfer of power, but many of them were also directly involved in the plot itself. As the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks final report indicates, Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, for example, was instrumental in Trump’s attempt to subvert any action by the Department of Justice to forestall the planned coup through the appointment of a sympathetic seditious-minded lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, to the post of attorney general.

Perry, who purportedly sought a pardon from Trump after committing this act of treachery, appears to have been well aware that was he was doing was illegal. For someone with Perry’s military background, however, it was even worse than that. There is fundamentally little difference between an attempt to erase a legitimate, democratic U.S. election and participating in an armed assault against one’s country. To put it in terms that Perry—formerly a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard—might understand? He could scarcely have acted with greater disdain for his country had he crossed the DMZ into North Korea at the 38th parallel and trained his weapon on American troops. 

And that’s the problem here: the lack of any acknowledgement—or even cognition—of just how profoundly and depravedly un-American Republicans’ actions on Jan. 6 actually were. A majority of the GOP caucus, 147 House Republicans in all (most of whom are still sitting members of Congress), stood up right after having been assaulted by a violent mob of thousands that their own leader had spurred on against them and voted to disenfranchise over 80 million American voters. Those 80 million Americans justifiably expected their supposedly “sacred” votes would be legitimately counted. Republicans unilaterally declared that no, they should not be counted, for no legitimate reason other than their desire to keep Donald Trump in power.

My parents were among the votes that these Republicans sought to disenfranchise. My father is a former Marine. The idea that a cadre of wingtip-clad fops in suits would try to erase the votes he served this country to protect is literally so appalling that it’s beyond his comprehension. It would be beyond comprehension for the same soldiers who fought and died against impossible defenses just to secure and retain a narrow strip of beach in Normandy, France. Those soldiers died to preserve the very institutions of our democracy that were so blithely and carelessly disregarded by Republicans, and so casually desecrated on Jan. 6.

No, this was no ordinary betrayal, no ordinary expression of disapproval. It was a wholehearted, concerted, and collective effort by Republicans to attack this country’s foundation, one that brooks no excuses or justifications. It is a stain on the Republican Party that will last for generations. Maybe they didn’t all realize it at the time, but that’s exactly what it was, and it should continue to haunt every single one of those Republicans who has since tried to evade it, justify it, or otherwise explain it away.

This may be hard for some Republicans to face. It was only a few short decades ago that Republicans painted themselves as the party of national security while simultaneously painting Democrats as “soft” on defense. Those were times when the media worked hand in hand with Republican administrations to instill the myth of Republican supremacy in all matters properly allotted to the provenance of the so-called "daddy" party. They were times when people like former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, surfing the serendipity of the horrific 9/11 attacks, could darkly warn liberals and others that they ought to "watch what they say," lest they run afoul of Republicans' innate, heartfelt patriotism.

But that time is past. It went away for good when Republicans hitched their star to Donald Trump.  The real moment of cognitive dissonance came in 2017, when Republicans found themselves faced with a stark choice. They could accept the fact that the man they'd just made their president had solicited and accepted the assistance of Vladimir Putin to get himself elected, or they could compartmentalize, rationalize, and deny that fact into oblivion, in effect accepting such treachery as their "new normal." In reality, they didn't make this decision wholly by themselves; they clicked on their soothing Fox News for comfort and reassurance. But winking at the perfidies of Donald Trump was one thing; it was enlisting in full-throated support of an insurrection against American democracy, parroting the Big Lie, and continuing to foster the corrosive poison of election denial that served to really seal the deal. 

For that reason, Republicans have disqualified themselves from “investigating,” “critiquing,” or “criticizing” this president on any matter regarding national security. How can a political party that has sought to destroy democracy be heard to criticize the very measures intended to preserve it? Republicans don’t like how the administration handled the Afghanistan withdrawal? Think they can criticize it? They just no longer have that right, or the moral authority to do so.

Sorry, Republicans, but you threw out your right to criticize this president on such matters when you tried to overthrow the U.S. government. Your protestations, your criticisms, your “investigations” fundamentally do not matter, because coming from you, they are less than worthless. As a thought experiment, just imagine if a Democratic president, supported by a Democratic Congress, had attempted to subvert an election in this way, by voting to disenfranchise a clear majority of Americans after a violent, failed coup. Would Republicans give them the time of day and allow them to air a collection of vindictive conspiracy-mongering allegations against a legitimately elected president, or about national security and military matters? 

No, they’d be laughed out of the hearing room. As any Republicans—who have the temerity and sheer gall to criticize this administration on any matters involving the security of the American people—rightly should be.

Democratic strategists launch ‘war room’ project to investigate and unmask GOP House inquisitors

If Hunter Biden’s alleged substance abuse issues, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s COVID-19 strategy and alleged relationship to China, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ immigration policies are fair game for exploration in House Republicans’ planned, upcoming Benghazi-style show trials, then it only seems fair that Rep. Jim Jordan’s alleged enabling of sexual predators, the ties of Rep. Paul Gosar and others in the Republican Party to virulent white supremacist organizations, even Rep. Matt Gaetz’s alleged afterparty cocaine antics get similar scrutiny. After all, the American people certainly deserve to be fully apprised of the character of the people most responsible for these hearings in order to best make an informed judgment.

Although they won’t have the ability to issue the subpoenas themselves, there is nothing stopping Democrats or their agents from researching public records or conducting detailed interviews with folks who have first-hand knowledge of the sterling character qualities of these House Republicans, all of whom appear so intent on highlighting their own moral authority in these hearings. It might also prove useful to understand exactly who funds their campaigns to satisfy American citizens that there are no hidden interests motivating them in their official duties.

Others appear to agree. As reported by Heidi Przybyla and Jordain Carney for POLITICO, Democratic strategists have launched a “war room” that’s dedicated to exploring, highlighting and publicizing the character and connections of the very Republican inquisitors (and their colleagues) who will be inflicting this investigation-o-rama upon the American people.

RELATED STORY: GOP holds first press conference after midterms and says it only wants to talk about Hunter Biden's laptop

As Przybala and Carney write:

The newly relaunched Congressional Integrity Project initiative, details of which were shared first with POLITICO, will include rapid response teams, investigative researchers, pollsters and eventually a paid media campaign to put congressional Republicans “squarely on the defense,” founder Kyle Herrig said in an interview.

The “multimillion dollar” effort is designed to create an effective counter-narrative that will be impossible for anyone to ignore (except, perhaps, Fox News).

It’s designed to serve as the party’s “leading war room” to push back on House Republican investigations, Herrig said in an interview. He added that the project would “investigate the investigators, expose their political motivations and the monied special interests supporting their work, and hold them accountable for ignoring the urgent priorities of all Americans in order to smear Joe Biden and do the political bidding of Trump and MAGA Republicans.”

The project (which, according to POLITICO, has been cleared by Democratic House leadership) will “immediately” target the chairpersons and lead participants of these investigations. That laudable goal notwithstanding, there appears to be no reason for this project to limit itself to merely unmasking Republicans on the Oversight Committees alone. Hunter Biden, for example, is a private citizen whose name Republicans (like Gaetz, for example) have seen fit to drag through the mud at every turn.

RELATED STORY: Let's look at the case against Hunter Biden and his laptop: A photo essay

Likewise, Fauci holds no elected post in government. If Republicans intend to score their political points at the expense of intruding on these people’s privacy and personal lives—or cast unfounded aspersions on their alleged motivations—they would appear to have forfeited the right to protest any counter-investigations and publication of the foibles of their own colleagues and associates: 

As the old saying goes, “What’s good for the goose …” 

One of the leaders of the project, Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse, emphasized to POLITICO that their group will employ “every tactic available” in order to ensure that we Americans, forced to witness these spectacles, will have a clear picture of these Republican interrogators and their motivations. The project will also employ the services of former Obama administration officials, as well as senior aides and advisers from President Joe Biden’s transition team and former Senate office.

As Przybyla and Carney explain:

The Congressional Integrity Project is also aiming to raise funds for a paid media campaign, including dedicated websites, digital ads, mobile billboards, newspaper ads and, occasionally, TV ad buys. Its public opinion research will be shared with like-minded organizations and congressional allies to contrast GOP investigations with issues the American public cares most about, project leaders said.

Their overall goal is to ensure that the Republicans’ planned inquisition prompts a voter backlash from Americans dismayed at these pointless, staged fiascos, and specifically seeks to ensure there is no repeat of Republicans’ colossally wasteful, two-year “Benghazi” debacle.

So, by all means, let the games begin. No doubt there are some families of Ohio State alumni, at least, who might express an interest. 

As Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock prepares for his Dec. 6 Senate runoff against Republican Herschel Walker, Warnock and the people of Georgia need all the help we can give. Click here to donate $3 or more to Team Warnock today!

This really is the ‘most important election in our lifetime,’ and Democrats need to explain why

The next two national elections will probably decide the fate of the American republic. And that means specifically whether our country continues to operate as a democracy dedicated to the preservation and expansion of human rights, or whether it descends into a quasi-fascist autocracy, seeking to limit and curtail those same rights and freedoms under the thumb of white, evangelical-oriented, right-wing minority rule. Whether one result or the other prevails will obviously depend on which party does a better job at motivating its voters to get to the polls. 

Donald Trump has made it clear that he will soon announce his 2024 candidacy. His campaign, modeled on the likes of Hungarian fascist Viktor Orban, will be premised on racism and fear of the LGBTQ population, with a heavy focus on “law and order.” Trumps intends to use the police, the military, and white supremacist groups to intimidate and suppress voters who might be disinclined to support him. Assuming Trump is not prosecuted and imprisoned by the Department of Justice for his actions relating to the Jan. 6 coup attempt, Republicans will once again fall in line behind him. (And neither Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis nor any other Trump clone wannabe will be able to mount a credible challenge to him, for whatever negligible difference in policy that might make.)

Whether President Joe Biden will run for reelection in 2024 is unknown, so there is little use speculating on the outcome of that election at this time. But Republicans have already confirmed that if they obtain control of the House of Representatives in 2022, they will immediately pursue bogus impeachment show trials and pointless, theatrical Benghazi-style “investigations” nonstop through 2024. The investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection will be shut down and there will be no further inquiry into either Trump’s wrongdoing or the enabling actions of any of their own caucus’ members.

In that event, the face of the GOP will be the current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but its primary movers will be the Trump-loyal faction led by the likes of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, and the plethora of other racists and “Christian” white supremacists on the Republican side. While their actual power may be limited by the (hopefully) continued Democratic control of the Senate, their role is essentially to pave the way for Trump’s reelection, not to actually pass legislation.

The corrupt conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has already clearly signaled its intent to operate as an arm of Republican policy. The court will continue to do this by curtailing the power of the executive (when in Democratic hands) to work on behalf of Americans’ interests; countenancing the gerrymandering of continued white minority rule, eliminating protections previously provided in the Voting Rights Act; and, most recently, signaling its willingness to abide by the overthrow of legitimate elections when that overthrow favors the Republican Party. Fortunately the pointed and visible abandonment of its own legitimacy by that court (through its repeal of Roe v. Wade, through its arbitrary extension of access to deadly firearms, and through its hobbling of the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which were accomplished within a period of one week) has alerted millions of Americans to the fact that not only their form of government, but the way they actually want to live their lives is now in serious peril.

As noted by Josh Marshall writing for TalkingPointsMemo, three “generic ballot” polls released in the last two days have shown a remarkable upswing for Democrats since the Supreme Court’s blunt and ham-handed assertion of its political biases last June.

[T]hree new congressional generic polls have come out over the last 24 hours, two of which give the Democrats a six point advantage and one of which gives a 4 point margin. One of those 6 point margins is actually a Republican Party poll.

Various other midterm metrics continue to move slowly but perceptibly in Democrats’ direction. As we’ve discussed at various points over the last few weeks, the House especially is still very much an uphill battle for Democrats. But this trend makes me think Democrats holding the House in November is definitely possible and getting more likely. Not remotely a lost cause.

Marshall notes that the polling signifies an unusual disconnect with the electorate; despite their fairly sour feelings about inflation, the economy, and President Biden’s performance, they are apparently equating the Republican alternative to the (thus far) very unwelcome return of a Donald Trump, whose star has been substantially dimmed by the findings of the Jan. 6 investigation.

… And that’s definitely not the norm. The new Morning Consult poll suggests that the January 6th hearings are seriously souring independents on Donald Trump. And that shift is, in turn, showing up in the generic ballots numbers.

At least according to this one poll, the weight of the January 6th hearings is pushing voters to see the midterms more as a choice between Republicans and Democrats than a referendum on the President or the state of the country generally.

So Americans, despite their famous disconnect from politics (particularly during the summer months), have been paying attention. At least enough Americans to potentially make a difference in what originally looked to be an imminent Democratic wipeout in 2022, although it is still early for such predictions.

Along those lines, professor and author Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, has some sage advice for Democrats: If 2022 indeed represents the most critical election in our nation’’s history (as it seems to be by just about any objective assessment), then the Democrats need to explain that to voters, clearly and loudly.

As Danner writes in an essay appropriately titled We’re in an Emergency—Act Like It!a confluence of factors, all ultimately traceable to Donald Trump, make the coming election unique.

The 2022 election will be the first held in the shadow of an attempted coup d’étata nearly successful and still-unpunished crime against the state. It will be the first held after a Supreme Court decision that not only uprooted a half-century-old established right but that threatens the rescinding of other rights as well. And it will be the first in which it is clear that, from Republican legislators’ relentless efforts to change who counts the votes, the very character of American governance is on the ballot.

Danner acknowledges the obvious: Every recent election seems to warrant the cliche of “the most important of our lifetime.” But there is more than enough evidence, he believes, that in the case of 2022 this characterization is not hyperbole in terms of its potential impact on American lives and those of their children and grandchildren.

American voters have not confronted so grave a choice since 1860. Now as then, two dramatically different futures are on offer. By undermining the right to privacy, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision not only allows government to force women to carry pregnancies to term—as more than half the states will likely soon do—but foreshadows a country in which a state or the federal government can deny people contraception or indeed the right to love or marry whom they choose. By limiting the regulation of firearms, the Bruen decision ensures that increasing numbers of Americans, including children in classrooms, worshipers in churches, and marchers on the Fourth of July, will die in shootings. By calling into question how votes are counted—or whether they should matter at all—the January 6 coup and the persistent “Big Lie” behind it augur a country where the candidate fewer Americans voted for not only can become president (as he did in 2000 and 2016) but can be awarded the electoral votes of a state not as the choice of its people but as a diktat of its legislature.

Danner’s point is that 2022 will be the election that either ushers in and validates a new era of Republican racist autocracy in this country or substantially slows that trend down: “If any election cried out to be nationalized—to be fought not only on the kitchen-table issues of inflation and unemployment but on the defining principles of what the country is and what it should be—it is this November’s.” His advice to Democrats is to make this point crystal clear to voters, again and again.

Danner emphasizes that this is how Democrats should be framing these midterms:

If you don’t want a government that can force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term—vote! If you don’t want a government that can deny you contraceptives—vote!! If you don’t want a government that can tell you with whom you can make love and whom you can marry—vote!! If you don’t want a government that will do nothing to protect your child from a troubled teenager with an assault rifle—vote!! If you don’t want a government that can ignore the people’s voice at the polling place—vote!! If you don’t want a government that will do nothing about rising temperatures and the danger they pose to all of us—vote!

But beyond this “negative framing,” Danner stresses that the Democratic Party must put itself on the line with exactly what it will do for Americans in order to turn back the Republican assault on their rights: Not only that they will do these things, but how they will do them. That involves a bold, no-nonsense—however scary for some—commitment to eliminating the filibuster with the addition of at least two Democratic senators. It also involves holding the House to continue passing legislation that is so fundamentally important it cannot morally be subject to any arcane Senate procedure designed in an era of comity that no longer exists and never will again.

And every Democratic candidate needs to repeat, over and over, whether they’re running for the House, the Senate or anything else, that when Republicans are taking away our basic rights—such as the right to be protected from mass shooters, the right to control our bodies, buy contraceptives and marry who we want—voting Democratic is the only way to stop them.

Danner wrote his essay before the surprise announcement of a deal on climate and budgetary matters between Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Biden administration. Assuming that deal goes forward, it will restore some of the credibility with their base the Democrats have lost due to Manchin’s (and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s) past obstruction, and that is helpful. But it is one thing to point out some modest Democratic success, and another to point to the bare fact that if Republicans take over either legislative branch the future is going to be a lot different than the one most Americans want for themselves, their children, and their country.

And yes, Americans may reject that. As a country we may go right on staring into our smartphones, willing to sacrifice our democracy while complaining mightily about the cost of a gallon of gas. That’s certainly our right. But we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned.

Far-right Marine Le Pen pledges submission to Moscow, reminding us what Trump 2.0 would look like

In the span of a few weeks, the tilt of the geopolitical world has shifted so quickly that perhaps Americans just haven’t had enough time to digest how fortunate they are Donald Trump did not win the 2020 election. Doubtlessly the Ukrainians are aware, and those living in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are as well because their very lives would have been entirely forfeit or at grave risk right now. But given the soothing comfort of its giant pick-up trucks, guns, and doorbell cameras, it might be asking too much of American culture to pause and consider the alternative reality we could all be living in.

Still, many—both in this country and elsewhere—would gleefully embrace that reality with open arms. Even as Vladimir Putin’s appalling army systematically rapes, tortures, and beheads helpless civilians in its murderous invasion of Ukraine, the Russian dictator has found a fawning ally in the French far-right, with the re-emergence of Marine Le Pen. Last week, Ms. Le Pen drew 23% of the vote in France’s splintered election, forcing a runoff on April 24 between herself and French President Emanuel Macron, who garnered approximately 28%.

On Wednesday, Le Pen—apparently unperturbed by what is now aptly characterized as a genocidal campaign by Russia to eradicate the Ukrainian population—pledged to effectively abandon the 70-year-old NATO alliance in order to ratify Putin’s brutality, should the French people vote her into the presidency. 

PARIS — Rejecting a “herd-like conformity” with the Biden administration, Marine Le Pen, the French far-right candidate for the presidency, said Wednesday that France would quit NATO’s integrated military command if she were elected and would seek for the alliance “a strategic rapprochement” with Russia.

As reported by Roger Cohen for the Washington Post, Le Pen’s rationale for accommodating Putin’s aims echo the same sentiments espoused by Donald Trump, who, according to former aides, was also intent on appeasing Putin by withdrawing the U.S. from the NATO alliance had he managed to be re-elected. This brand of Putin-envy appears to be particularly common among more autocratic, fascist-leaning politicians who have traditionally applauded the Russian despot as exemplifying what they call “strength” and resolve. In reality, they admire and envy the lack of any real constraints on his power, which they all shamelessly covet. We now see the end product of that lack of constraints playing out in Ukraine.

As Cohen observes, Le Pen’s agenda, to the extent she has one, mirrors Trump’s in all its essentials. 

Dismissing multilateralism, blasting Germany, criticizing the European Union, relegating climate issues to a low priority, attacking “globalists” and maintaining a near silence on Russia’s brutal assault in Ukraine, Ms. Le Pen gave a taste of a worldview that was at once reminiscent of the Trump presidency and appeared to directly threaten NATO’s attempts to arm Ukraine and defeat Russia.

The similarities between Le Pen and Trump were evident in the first days of the latter’s administration. As James Traub observed in a column written for Foreign Policy, Le Pen’s xenophobic brand of so-called “populism” (by now simply a more pleasant word for “fascism”) and the race-baiting lies she espoused to support it were simply more glib and soothing in their delivery than Trump’s general penchant for crudeness and bombast:

Le Pen repeated Donald Trump’s canard that Barack Obama had “banned” immigrants from Iraq; denied, despite vast evidence to the contrary, that her supporters routinely fire off racist and homophobic tweets; and claimed, wrongly, that immigrants can automatically gain French citizenship through marriage. And then there were the Trumpian delusions: that a policy of “economic patriotism” penalizing French companies that move abroad would not raise the cost of French products but rather would foster a “virtuous circle” boosting growth and employment.

As Traub points out, Le Pen’s calculated delivery of her trademark nationalism and bigotry largely stems from her need to distance herself in the French public’s eyes from her ultra-radical and unabashedly antisemitic father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front party she now leads. Still, Le Pen and Trump appear to be cut from basically the same cloth, even where Le Pen will, as Traub puts it, “demonize Muslims with a gracious smile instead of a vicious Twitter tirade.” Both are adept at cynically manipulating their public through fear of the “other.”  Both display an instinctive aversion to the very idea of cooperation between nations, which they perceive only as a means to undercut their own aspirations for control and power.

Both are also intolerant of any dissent. Just as Trump encourages his rabid base to attack journalists and protesters at his rallies, Le Pen exhibits a similar hostility against perceived political enemies:


🇫🇷France🇫🇷 A protester holding a picture of Le Pen and Putin shaking hands was tackled and dragged outside by security mens during a press conference in Paris.#MarineLePen #FrenchElection #EmmanuelMacron #Paris

— Zaid Ahmd  (@realzaidzayn) April 14, 2022

Le Pen is currently expected to lose the run-off election, mainly because the majority of those who originally voted for the far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon will be unable (at least in theory) to stomach a Le Pen victory. And even if she wins, the NATO alliance will most likely remain standing, albeit with France as a thoroughly diminished and unreliable presence.

But suppose the 2020 U.S. election—which Trump may have lost simply because of his dismal handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—had gone the other way. What would have been left of American strategic power and influence in this world would have withered and died on the vine in brutally short order, probably from the moment Putin sent troops into Ukraine. It’s impossible to know how much resolve to assist Ukraine would have existed among the remainder of NATO, but without a credible leader, it’s difficult to imagine how that response would have been effective. The world has never seen a nuclear-armed pathology like Putin invade a peaceful neighboring country for wholly irrational reasons, wielding his nuclear capability as a threat against any country that dares to oppose him, and even worse, vowing to continue his efforts until he is stopped. History suggests that such countries will not stop until they encounter an immutable opposing force.

And Trump would not have delivered that force. A mercurial buffoon with no grasp of (or interest in) foreign policy or even a basic understanding of what NATO stands for—and against—might have been cajoled into reluctant action by an exasperated military. But the sheer weakness of that position would have been evident to anyone paying attention. And Putin, for all his now glaringly apparent flaws, pays attention.

Law professor Alan Rozenshtein, writing for Lawfare, described the “nightmarish” scenario that this country would have faced if Trump were still in office:

From this perspective, it is sobering, if not downright terrifying, to think of how Trump would have handled this current crisis, had he won in 2020. Consider first the question of loyalty. Trump’s infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which he responded to the Ukrainian president’s request for more Javelin anti-tank missiles (which have proved vital for the Ukrainian defense) by asking for Ukrainian help in digging up dirt on his main political rival, betrays a disloyalty to the national interest whose geopolitical implications are now all too clear.

Nor is it clear that Trump would even feel that it was his responsibility to rally the world to confront Russia, as the Biden administration has skillfully done. After all, Trump’s response to criticisms of his administration’s early missteps in handling the coronavirus pandemic was to say “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Why expect that he would feel different about a war half a world away, or that he wouldn’t simply have delegated weighty foreign policy decisions to informal advisors, thereby maintaining distance and plausible deniability, as when Rudolph Giuliani effectively ran the White House’s Ukraine policy. Even worse, given Trump’s personal affinity for Vladimir Putin, which he reiterated even as Russian forces entered Ukraine, is the very real possibility that Trump would have supported Russia’s invasion.

The world we all still live in—the world of liberal democracies with a legitimate transfer of power untainted by autocratic, fascistic propaganda, coercion, and repression—is now sitting atop a knife-edge, susceptible to one misguided election by an apathetic, self-absorbed and frankly historically ignorant electorate. Racist demagogues like Le Pen and Trump are perfectly willing to push us off into the abyss simply to realize their dreams of power—the rest of the world be damned. They are both aided by a radicalized base that sees no problem with simply watching the world burn if only to validate its own delusional, stoked-up grievances.

In 2020 we dodged a bullet. But that gun is still pointed at us. If Democrats can’t wake Americans up to that reality, no one else is going to. 

Editor’s Note: This story’s lead image has been changed.

Republicans are preparing another ‘Contract on America’ with the aid of … who else?

There are few people in modern political history who have done as much damage to our democracy as Newt Gingrich. As the prototypical, ideological Republican “bomb-thrower” who first came of age during the Reagan “revolution” in the 1990s, Gingrich ushered in and patented an era of hyperpartisan viciousness and crass, unrelenting political rancor that finally reached its apotheosis in a GOP now firmly under the thumb of Donald Trump. As a co-author of the Republican Party’s infamous 1994 Contract with America (a revenue-gutting, deregulatory attack on government programs recast by President Bill Clinton as a Contract on America), Gingrich established the standard legislative template for all future attempts by conservatives at governance (actually “non-governance”) while in the process turning the “government shutdown” deficit-scolding and brinksmanship into routine tactics for Republicans whenever a Democrat occupies the Oval Office.

Gingrich was and still is a nasty piece of work. He is notable for creating a smear lexicon that he encouraged Republicans to adopt in which Democrats were routinely labeled with such pejoratives as “sick,” “decay,” “corrupt”and “traitors,” while Republicans were urged to self-describe their proposals with noble-sounding words like “caring,” “principled" and “common-sense.” He was a primary motivating force behind the churlish, politically driven impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Facing a broadly based public backlash against both his party’s policies and his own abrasive personality, Gingrich was forced to resign as House speaker in 1998 and left Congress altogether the following year, spending his time as an erstwhile pundit on the conservative media circuit and regurgitating his ideas in high-priced speeches and insular, right-wing think tanks.

By all standards of human decency that should have been the denouement of all things Gingrich, but because the Republican Party as it stands today has few if any purported “thinkers” able to formulate even an excuse for public policy, he remains relevant as their “go-to” man. The benighted cruelty and criminal incompetence of the Trump administration offered Gingrich as an éminence grise, a chance to reaffirm his bona fides, and he immediately signed on to parroting Trump’s requisite Big Lie about election fraud. So when relatively hapless Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy needed help in preparing his minions for the 2022 elections, Gingrich was a natural choice. As reported by Jeff Stein and Laura Meckler for the The Washington Post: 

Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and other members of House Republican leadership are also involved in the project, which is not expected to launch until the spring or summer.

As McCarthy himself told Breitbart last week, his Gingrich-inspired project for the midterms already has a working title: “We’ll come out with a Commitment to America … We’ve been working on policy.”

In today’s Republican-speak, “working on policy” translates into looting the country for profit; initiating pointless and distracting “Benghazi-style” investigations to harass, smear, and intimidate Biden administration officials and otherwise occupy the media, and exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by dividing and polarizing Americans as much as possible.

Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and “oversight” of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules.

Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election all but assured that Republicans now intend to present themselves as the party of education, if by “education” you meant the deliberate stoking of racial resentment among white parents and parents otherwise exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The party that featured anti-teacher smears as part of its national convention, consistently and deliberately downplayed teachers’ health and safety during the pandemic, and has spearheaded a longstanding effort to privatize and eliminate public education now seeks to portray itself as a defender of our public schools, specifically by way of appealing to parents of school-age children. Except the only “parents” it seems to want to pander to are the types of parents who enter school board meetings unmasked, screaming about their “freedoms” while complaining loudly about teachers who dare to provide students with historical context for this nation’s unique and long-standing embrace of virulent racism.

As Stein and Meckler point out, however, beyond pandering to disgruntled parents, there is little that Republicans can actually do to further degrade our public schools, as much as they might want to:

McCarthy has released a “Parents Bill of Rights” that would not make big changes in education but would send some new mandates to school districts, some of which duplicate actions that are already routine or covered by existing rules and laws ...

The document also asserts that parents have a “right to be heard.” School boards almost uniformly allow for public comment, though some have shut meetings down because of disruptions including screaming and threats of violence.

The curious love-hate relationship between Republicans and what they like to simplify in broad, ridiculous brush strokes as “Big Tech” is another “policy” area Republicans plan to exploit. But this is largely a matter of insider baseball barely comprehensible to a GOP rank and file thoroughly mesmerized by their smartphones and tablets. The party appears to have no problem with the tech monopolies their own party fostered for decades as long as they amplify GOP lawmakers; it’s only when tech behemoths attempt to place curbs on the GOP‘s now requisite hate speech that Republicans find these mammoth corporations not to their liking. 

It’s difficult to take them seriously, and I frankly doubt anyone in Silicon Valley actually does. It’s also hard to take any anti-China stance seriously beyond its obvious pandering to Trump’s racist base, who appear to still believe that the minuscule possibility the COVID-19 virus originated in a lab somehow absolves Donald Trump of all the subsequent malfeasance in response to the pandemic that cratered his reelection in 2020.

One area where Republicans promise to effect big changes is in eliminating barriers to House members actually killing themselves: “[C]hanging congressional rules, such as by repealing mask mandates, removing magnetic scanners from the floor of the House and abolishing voting by proxy” are all in the works, virtually guaranteeing that their anticipated majority after 2022 winnows itself down a bit through natural selection. But beyond this, assuming they achieve a majority in one or even both chambers of Congress, the actual GOP agenda promises to be fairly threadbare, as any effort to cut taxes any further for the wealthiest Americans will inevitably run into President Biden’s veto pen. And until the Supreme Court effectively guts the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to function, Republicans’ ability to increase pollution though deregulation and accelerate global warming will also continue to be stymied.

In sum there’s not a great deal policy-wise for Gingrich or McCarthy to work with beyond criticizing the nation’s withdrawal from the 20-year Afghanistan war (a debacle that was scarcely mentioned during the two years Republicans enjoyed congressional majorities under Trump). Also, of course, everything about Hunter Biden, from his “mysterious” connection to Chinese businesses to his art deals with the Georges Berges gallery in SoHo. With Gingrich tending the till of an anticipated House majority, President Biden will doubtlessly be impeached … for something. Because the current leader of the GOP, Donald Trump, will demand it.

Of course, all of this will be happening in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Republicans at both the federal and state levels have all but ensured will continue at least through 2023. That’s the real wild card since any actions the GOP takes to further exacerbate the pandemic will be seen in light of what happens after omicron. The political fallout from a continued COVID-19 pandemic is unknowable at this point, but Republicans have already amply demonstrated they are completely incapable of formulating any policy response to it. So the focus for Gingrich and McCarthy will not be on policy, but on constant personal attacks and smears on Democrats and the demonization of the Biden administration. This has always been Gingrich’s modus operandi, and it is perfectly suited to a modern Republican Party that has long since abandoned any pretense of governance or concern for the well-being of Americans.

The first Contract on America  essentially fizzled out with Gingrich, its proponent and co-author, blithely leaving the field and the cultural wreckage he wrought behind him. Contract on America 2.0 simply promises to pick up where he left off, albeit with a GOP even more morally bankrupt than in the 1990s. Any American concerned for the future of this country should hope that Gingrich’s second bite at the apple proves equally poisonous to himself and the party that spawned him.

This immigrant police officer has proven to be more of an American than any of the Jan. 6 terrorists

It’s hard to overstate the body blow delivered to the entire right-wing project in the form of the four battle-scarred police officers who testified about their brutal experiences combating the mob of insurrectionists who Donald Trump unleashed against this country’s institutions on Jan. 6, 2021. Much as the nation’s armed forces, who the conservative multiverse leaps to lionize on every possible occasion, the country’s police represent its natural allies, their useful, quasi-military attack dogs against those Black people and brown-skinned immigrants who are the source (and ultimately the target of) nearly all their grievances. It’s a key component of their “us vs. them” philosophy, in which they reassure themselves who is a “real” American and who is not. 

So it’s understandable that the spectacle of these police officers not only impugning the Jan. 6 mob’s actions as criminal but as fundamentally un-American, literally describing them as “terrorists,” evoked such a visceral negative reaction among the right. That interpretation, one which not only right-wing media, but nearly the entire Republican Party has struggled mightily since Jan. 6 to preempt, strikes at the very heart of the conservative mindset. And it’s even more intolerable—galling, even—when that inescapable conclusion presents itself in via an immigrant police officer and Iraq war veteran.

When he got off the plane at New York City’s JFK airport in 1992, setting foot in the country that would eventually become his home—the same country that he would sign up to defend and would send him to Iraq for 545 days—Aquilino Gonell had no idea he’d one day be assigned to protect the U.S. Capitol. Or that 30 years after he came to the U.S., he’d be testifying in front of a congressional panel and television cameras about injuries and attacks he’d sustained in an unprovoked, vicious attack on the foundation of his adopted country’s democracy.

Gonell didn’t know that he’d be called upon to explain, in vivid detail, the barrage of physical blows, hurled objects, racist taunts, and screaming insults disparaging his loyalty to this country that he’d receive at the hands of an all-American mob, bent on killing members of Congress. A mob that a cynical, criminal thug of a president incited into attacking the Capitol for the sole purpose overturning a fair and lawful election in his favor.

The sergeant, now 43, could not possibly have foreseen that after immigrating from the Dominican Republic, he’d ultimately prove himself to be a far better, far more genuine American than millions of others who proudly boast of their citizenship and supposed loyalty to this country, somehow deemed more sincere simply by virtue of their being born here.

James Hohmann, writing for The Washington Post, patiently explains the difference between Aquilino Gonell and the thousands of so-called Americans who found time to take the day off from their busy schedules on Jan. 6 to put on their little baseball caps, pack up their metal pipes, rebar, tasers, mace, and bear spray, and and point their shiny $40,000 pickup trucks into the heart of this nation’s capitol for the purpose of inflicting violence and terror on the American people and its representatives.

Barbarians who ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 called Aquilino Gonell a “traitor” and told him he’s “not even an American.” Those slanderous words wounded the Capitol Police sergeant, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, as badly as the pole someone attacked him and fellow officers with, which was flying a U.S. flag. But Gonell is a bigger patriot than Donald Trump and all the insurrectionists incited by the then-president — combined. He is the one who truly understands — and embodies — what makes America great.

Of the four wounded officers who testified before the congressional select committee to open up its investigation into the attacks of Jan. 6, it’s impossible to say whose testimony was the most affecting. All of them, speaking in unsparing, sometimes truncated and often bitter language, vividly described what transpired that day as the rabid crowd of thousands descended on them, furious that they’d encountered resistance to their well-laid pans for carnage. As Officer Daniel Hodges explained, the officers were constrained by the fact that none of them could know whether the attackers were armed with live weapons (doubtlessly many were), or had set up pipe or other bombs primed to detonate (someone had), and for that reason they could not use their own weapons, since a firefight would inevitably lead to a mass slaughter.  More importantly, as they were vastly outnumbered by the mob, if a firefight broke out the police were likely to lose, leaving the Capitol and everyone in it open to attack.

"There were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms and a couple hundred of us, maybe. So we could not -- if that turned into a firefight, we would have lost," Hodges told the committee. "And this was a fight we couldn't afford to lose."

As Hohmann reports, Gonell, like his fellow officers, described the onslaught and what he experienced.

He described experiencing hand-to-hand combat like “something from a medieval battle,” scarier than any of the 545 days he served in Iraq. The invaders, chanting “Trump sent us,” used hammers, knives, batons and shields. Gonell was punched, pushed, kicked, shoved and bear-sprayed.

Each officer’s testimony provided unique insight into the barbaric nature of the Trump-inspired mob, the blatant racism, unconstrained hate, and the sickening, plainly gleeful and eager exercise of violence displayed to the nation on Jan. 6. Officer Harry Dunn’s testimony in particular explicitly revealed the explicit, virulent racism of that mob, collectively taunting him with a vile racist slur to punctuate and amplify attacks on his person. No officer’s testimony was anything less than wrenching, riveting and disturbing. All of them performed heroically under unbelievable odds, and the trauma each of them has endured was obvious.

But the irony of Gonell, a naturalized American citizen, defending this nation’s Capitol against a braying crowd of self-styled “true Americans” who told Gonell he was “not even an American,” many inspired by xenophobia and Trump’s race-baiting vitriol towards immigrants, is inescapable.

Gonell only stopped working when his right foot swelled so much that it wouldn’t fit in his shoe and his limp became so painful he could hardly stand. Surgeons fused fractured bones in his foot. He recently learned he’ll need surgery on his left shoulder. He also suffered injuries to both hands and his left calf. Now, he’s back on duty, but to his chagrin, deskbound until he can complete more physical therapy.

Hohmann makes the point that immigrants often turn out to be better Americans than many who were privileged enough to be born here, simply because they better understand the value—and fragility—of what democracy really is. That may be why events like the attempted insurrection on  Jan. 6 resonate with Sgt. Gonell. It may also be, as Hohmann points out, why some of the key witnesses against Trump during his first impeachment trial were also immigrants (two of whom, Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch, emigrated from autocratic regimes in Ukraine and the USSR).

Unlike the thugs who attacked the seat of our democracy on Jan. 6—whether they did it out of sheer malice, race-fueled hate, or blind ignorance—Sgt. Aquilino Gonell acted to protect, rather than destroy, the foundation of that democracy. As Hohmann observes, unlike the thugs who attacked the Capitol, Gonell actually took an oath to defend and protect this country: not once, not twice, but three times. And unlike many insurrectionists who were formerly in the military and law enforcement, who have dishonored and defiled their oaths to defend and protect the nation, its citizens, and its Constitution by abetting or participating in the Jan. 6 attack, Gonell has faithfully kept his oath, putting his own body on the line not only in Iraq, but on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

So which of these folks represents the true American ideal?  Which represents the “real” Americans, as the Jan. 6 insurrectionists are so fond of calling themselves?

It’s really not that hard of a question to answer.

One question the Jan. 6 committee should ask every police officer injured during the insurrection

The response of the Washington, D.C. Capitol Police to the events of Jan. 6 has been closely examined and debated from practically the first moments of the insurrection itself. There have been credible accusations that the police deliberately responded sluggishly or with intentional forbearance given that the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol were almost entirely white. There is also strong evidence that some of the Capitol officers willingly abetted the insurrectionists by allowing access to the Capitol building at critical times during the event. There has been credible evidence indicating that some in the Capitol police hierarchy were aware of the insurrectionists’ plans to attack Congress beforehand and still did nothing to prepare against the attacks.

All of these assertions deserve to be fully investigated. But one thing remains absolutely undeniable: the Capitol and D.C. police were the only thing standing between the insurrectionists and the elected representatives and senators trapped in the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Had it not been for the presence and efforts of most of these officers, many of the Trump-supporting thugs who violently smashed their way through glass doors for the sole purpose of finding these officials would have inflicted violence on those same officials. Absent the police, some of these representatives and senators would almost certainly have been killed or otherwise assaulted by the members of this uncontrolled mob.

One other thing is clear: about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers suffered injury in their efforts to repulse the attack on Jan. 6. Some of them were so gravely injured, both mentally and physically, that they may never return to work as police officers. Others find themselves now disabled from injuries inflicted during the melee on that day or stricken with PTSD more reminiscent of the wartime experience of Vietnam or Iraq veterans who have seen close combat. 

Many of those injured as a result of the events at the Capitol will doubtlessly be called as witnesses by the select committee now formed to investigate the cause of the insurrection.They will be asked about the extent of their injuries, and how they received those injuries. So here is one simple question that members of that committee should ask each and every one of these officers, preferably at the close of their testimony:

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

I’m quite certain the answer of each of these officers will be “no.”

This weekend the Washington Post ‘s Peter Hermann highlighted the extent of injuries sustained by several officers defending against the attacks. As Hermann reports, these officers were “bludgeoned with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical irritants.” Others were struck, often in the head, by thrown objects. One who was knocked unconscious could “barely walk, barely talk” in the days following the attacks, and is still out of work, having suffered a severe concussion. Several officers now suffer from ongoing neurological problems after being assaulted with such objects:

Some officers who were assaulted Jan. 6 experienced different or worsening symptoms in the weeks and months that followed, indicating they may have suffered injuries more severe than had initially been believed, in particular undiagnosed head trauma, according to a therapist who has seen hundreds of D.C. officers. She thinks others who emerged exhausted and sore may not have reported injuries, or even recognized they needed medical care.

One officer, Brian Sicknick, succumbed to two successive strokes one day after being assaulted and pepper-sprayed by the Trump mob. Two officers have committed suicide as a result of mental and physical trauma sustained during the attacks. One turned in her weapon, fearing that she would use it on herself. According to their union, several officers present that day are unlikely to ever return to work due to physical injuries they sustained.

Other scars are less visible but no less real. One Black police officer, repeatedly vilified as a “n-----” by Trump’s supporters, screaming it in his face as they assaulted him, has undergone marked changes in his personality. Others have sustained emotional trauma that has impaired their ability to function and impacted their relationships with their spouses and families.

Officer Michael Fanone is already familiar to many. Beaten unconscious by the Trump-incited mob, he has spearheaded a personal effort to obtain recognition for the sacrifices of his fellow officers. Fanone’s post-hospitalization course is emblematic of other officers injured that day: debilitating headaches, nausea, and dizziness symptoms common to post-concussion survivors, along with cognitive impairment, nervousness, and anxiety more akin to sufferers of PTSD. For his efforts in defending the Capitol, Fanone was rewarded by Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, who refused to shake his hand. when the two met in an elevator (Clyde had previously referred to the Capitol attacks as a “tourist visit”).

Another officer, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a veteran of the Iraq war, was interviewed by Hermann for the Post article:

Gonell fought on the Capitol’s West Terrace. He said he and his colleagues were called unpatriotic, scum, traitors and un-American. He didn’t know he had been struck with a speaker until he saw himself on a video.

After the riot, Gonell powered through his injuries and insisted on working through the Jan. 20 inauguration, hiding his limp and shoulder pain and ignoring a doctor’s advice to take it easy. He stopped only after Biden was sworn in, when his foot had become dangerously swollen and he could no longer stand.

All of these injured officers have something in common: they were all injured as a direct result of a mob incited by Donald Trump to attack the Capitol. While these policemen and women were subjected to the full fury of the mob, Donald Trump (who had falsely reassured the rioters that he would be present alongside them during the assault) simply sat watching them being beaten, enthralled, in front of his television set for literally hours. Far from doing anything to stop the mayhem that he had incited, he encouraged it by refusing to do anything at all, even coyly tweeting at one point that the attackers were “very special.”

In his open letter to all members of Congress, Officer Fanone wrote that the “indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful.” 

"As the physical injuries gradually subsided, in crept the psychological trauma. In many ways I still live my life as if it is January 07, 2021. I struggle daily with the emotional anxiety of having survived such a traumatic event but I also struggle with the anxiety of hearing those who continue to downplay the events of that day and those who would ignore them altogether with their lack of acknowledgement. The indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful."

At the time Fanone was referring to the fact that Republican members of the House and Senate refused to acknowledge the viciousness and extent of the assault or even the reason it occurred. Since that time, Republicans have even attempted to ascribe some sort of heroism or justification on the part of these insurrectionists. Trump himself has called them “great people,” and a “loving crowd.”

So, after each officer testifying before the committee sets forth—in painstaking detail—the extent and cause of his/her injuries sustained at the hands of the Trump mob, the committee members will have an opportunity to simply remind Americans that all of those officers’ injuries stemmed entirely from one man’s malice, depravity and complete indifference to their fate. An indifference that he has never once even tried to hide or disguise by the slightest expression of sympathy or appreciation for their sacrifice.

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

That, at the very least, should leave an impression.

The admission of Republican failure that hovers beneath every racist coronavirus slur

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Republicans, encouraged by the twice-impeached, former one-term president, have persisted in using the phrase “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” to describe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these same Republicans have insisted, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as opposed to originating in an animal host. Last April, as the pandemic spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S., the GOP sent a detailed, 57-page internal memo to its 2020 election candidates, specifically urging them to blame China at every turn when faced with questions about the administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

Of course, the predictable result from repeating this theme was a marked upsurge in violence directed towards Asian Americans. The link between Trump and the GOP’s anti-China rhetoric and such violence prompted President Joe Biden, in one of his first official acts upon taking office, to ban such pejorative terminology from our federal agencies and their public documents. Still, despite the well-documented consequences to Asian Americans, elected Republican officials—such as Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted only last week—continue to trot out the racist slur.

While the connection between this rhetoric and acts of violence is obvious, it’s important for Americans to remember why Trump and the GOP made this conscious, collective decision in the first place. Blaming China  was more than a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the pandemic itself,; as employed almost exclusively by Republicans, it was a deliberate attempt to distract from the administration’s wholly botched response.

From the very start the “Chinese virus” appellation was intentionally amplified by American right-wing media. It’s a slur which almost revels in its senselessness. To be clear, even if the virus actually had man-made origins—even if the virus been created in Xi Jinping’s basement with a vintage Gilbert chemistry set—from a practical standpoint, the precise origin of the virus, be it bat, bald eagle or Beijing lab, is essentially irrelevant.  Whether the virus originated in China, Kenya, or Wyoming is distinct from the question of how the global community has responded to it, which is what ultimately matters.

Medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in Wuhan China, February, 2020.

That distinction is what Trump’s favorite slur tries to obfuscate. The tragic reality is that the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was atrocious compared to nearly every other developed nation in the world. It was so bad it turned this country into a pariah nation, a cautionary tale of what not to do in a public health crisis.

And that abysmal response, whose ineptitude and human cost will doubtlessly fill the history books for the next hundred years as an example of what failed, indifferent government policies can lead to, was due almost entirely to an abdication of responsibility towards the American public by one of this country’s two major political parties. Republicans were the ones responsible for electing, abetting and encouraging an Executive uniquely and pathologically unsuited to addressing the catastrophic implications of a global pandemic. Republicans  were the ones who stood by silently, while our public health infrastructure and pandemic response capabilities were being gleefully dismantled by the the Trump administration. And Republicans of every stripe must bear the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of that failure, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Only recently, as the nation finally begins to extricate itself from this calamity, is a reckoning of sorts coming forth. The most up-to-date estimates place direct blame on Donald Trump for approximately 400,000 of the deaths that have occurred to date due to COVID-19. There is literally no president in American history whose malfeasance resulted in so many deaths of U.S. citizens.

But Trump didn’t act alone. The death toll was increased exponentially due to the sycophancy of a Republican establishment lined up behind him, adopting his cues as the pandemic’s impact continued to worsen. Every Republican  at the state and federal level who acquiesced to the former administration’s malfeasance either by parroting lethal anti-masking propaganda, forcefully advocating reopening businesses in the name of “personal freedom,” or hawking phony cures and ridiculous conspiracy theories is complicit.

The August 2020 Sturgis motorcycle rally, encouraged by South Dakota’s Republican Governor, Kristi Noem, was linked to 260,000 US COVID-19 infections, according to one study.

So the appeal of the slur to Republicans, however irrelevant to the actual harm caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is easy enough to understand, because it serves as an ready distraction from the blame they so richly deserve for allowing a public health crisis to become a calamity. The entire approach by the Trump administration was intended to abandon any leadership role of the federal government, and thereby escape blame for any failure to stop it. As pointed out by Josh Marshall, writing for Talking  Points Memo,  this exercise in blame avoidance was intentional, a key to the administration’s overall strategy when faced with its own ineptitude.

From the very start of the Pandemic in the first weeks of 2020 the Trump administration consistently sought to disclaim responsibility for things that would be genuinely difficult and could have challenging or bad outcomes. Push the tough tasks on to others and if it goes badly blame them. This frequently went to absurd lengths as when the White House insisted that states short on ventilators at the peak of the spring surge should have known to purchase them in advance of the pandemic. Over the course of the year Trump spun up an alternative reality in which the US was somehow still operating under the Articles of Confederation in which individual states were responsible for things that have been viewed as inherently federal responsibilities for decades or centuries.

But the impetus wasn’t ideological. It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad. Nowhere was this more clear than in the months’ long crisis over testing capacity. Since the administration was actually hostile to testing in general and couldn’t solve the problem in any case they simply claimed it was a state responsibility.

As Marshall points out, the one constant during Trump’s entire botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—from the first warnings of an incipient health crisis through and including Trump’s final day in office—was “to put it off on someone else so the White House didn’t get the blame.”

Attributing the pandemic to China or Wuhan, or the rally staple “Kung flu?” That was always a calculated part of Trump’s attempt to avoid blame, one which immediately filtered down to the state level and was adopted by Republican officials equally eager to dodge blame. Even following a year of racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans that resulted from this distraction campaign, most House Republicans still refused to condemn Trump’s rhetoric. 

As detailed by Alex Samuels, writing for FiveThirtyEight, the vilification of China had its desired effect among the Republican constituency.

Ultimately, blaming China for the pandemic didn’t help Trump win reelection in 2020, but unfavorable views of China are at a record high among Americans.1 And there are signs that Americans, especially Republicans, blame China for the spread of the coronavirus. A November Economist/YouGov poll found, for instance, that 64 percent of all registered voters and 86 percent of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that China was responsible for the pandemic.

The key word for Republicans here was “responsible.” Republicans recognize that Donald Trump and those GOP officials that adopted his strategy throughout this crisis were ultimately responsible for the U.S. sustaining a higher death toll from this virus than any other country in the world. As Samuels notes, that fact practically compels them to find a scapegoat for their own failure, with any blowback inflicted on Asian-Americans a secondary consideration at best.

[T]he experts I’ve talked to think that if people uphold a specific worldview by delegitimizing another group, the framing of diseases will always be political — no matter how apolitical we think diseases are. That’s because racism itself is a disease, and as Roger Keil, a political scientist at York University, told me, “[I]t seems to spread sometimes like a virus.” Keil compared it to watching a video online: “For every video that links the disease to Chinese people, there will be 10 or 1,000 people watching, so it’s normalized,” he said. “It’s terrible, but that’s how racism spreads.”

The Trump administration knew the implications of COVID-19,from the outset and that it presented his prospects and those of his minions with a truly daunting, existential crisis. The China scapegoating began immediately and continued throughout the rest of Trump’s tenure, heedless of whatever harm such scapegoating would have on millions of Asian-Americans. Republican leaders willingly followed his lead and have continued to do so up to this day. But every time one of them utters the words “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus,” what they’re really doing is dodging their own responsibility for the worst response to a major public health crisis in this nation’s history.

Don’t worry, Republicans! Trump will be on the ballot in 2022

There are so many memorable quotes from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather series that be can be applied to our current political environment. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” comes to mind, for example.

But there is a lesser known quotation, specifically from The Godfather Part II, that seems uniquely suited to the way Democrats ought to be viewing the circus of abject Trump tongue-bathing currently underway in Orlando at CPAC. It’s a line Michael Corleone delivers to his adopted brother Tom Hagen early on in the film, reflecting a strategy he learned from his father, Don Vito Corleone, but one he applied to friend and foe alike. He advises Hagen to “try to think as the people around you think,” noting that “on that basis, anything is possible.”

A grandiose, egotistical and sociopathic carnival barker with no demonstrable features of human empathy, one with a sordid, shady and criminal past, leaving two impeachments, a single term, and a record of abuses (including the deaths of over a half million Americans) in his wake. For all intents and purposes, this person now wields complete control of the Republican Party, with the power (and intention!) to create or destroy individual careers in that party with a single expression of his disapproval or distaste.

And now his very presence, his likes and dislikes, are being slavishly catered and accommodated in the expectation that he will save that party from irrelevance, simply through the force of his own erratic personality.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re witnessing an unprecedented moment in the country’s  history. One of our political parties has willingly allowed itself to become subservient and beholden to a cult of personality—not just any personality, mind you, but one with a distinct, unmistakable character and history.

So if we want to follow Vito Corleone’s advice, we should try to put ourselves in the positions of Republicans and try to divine exactly what it is they are thinking.

Perhaps, to that end, its most useful to start with what they’re not thinking. They’re clearly not motivated by any high-minded fealty to the country, conservative principles or the Constitution. Other Republicans have survived for over a century paying homage to those things without abjectly prostrating themselves before a figure like Donald Trump. Nor in the last hundred years has a president with so many glaring failures (loss of the House, loss of the Senate, and loss of the general election) continued to hold sway over the Republican Party. 

In fact the cult-like devotion among elected Republicans that we are witnessing with Trump points to only one cause—these Republicans are operating solely out of self-interest, and that self-interest is being driven, for the most part, by fear: specifically, fear of being primaried by someone more closely aligned with Trump, but also fear of what certain of their constituents will do to them if they do not continue to display their fealty to Trump.

For most of them that calculation is purely political, and it goes something like this: By aligning closely enough to Trump, Republicans hope to retain the base of constituents that put them into the office in the first place. They won’t grow that base, but it will be enough to secure reelection. That was the 2020 thinking; although Republicans lost control of the Senate, the margins were not as great as some predicted, and in the House they even gained a few seats. Many voters, disgusted by Trump but still loyal to the Republican Party, chose to keep their Republican senators and representatives even as they voted for Joe Biden.

But these same Republicans saw what happened in January’s Georgia special elections. Trump was nowhere on the ballot, and two GOP incumbents in what had long been considered a very “red” state promptly went down. They went down because of substantial and significant voter participation by people of color, which is why the upsurge in passing voter suppression has been such an urgent imperative in Republican-dominated state legislatures since that election. They went down because Trump himself had cast doubt on the integrity of the election itself, prompting a small but not insignificant number of Republican voters to sit the special election out.

Without Trump on the ballot, any conclusion that could be drawn from either the 2020 general or the Georgia special election would remain murky for Republicans. But faced with this inconclusiveness, the party as a whole has collectively decided to cast its lot with Donald Trump.

Just one short week ago, now-former Georgia Sen. David Perdue thought he might run for Senate again in 2022, for the seat that ex-Sen. Kelly Loeffler lost to Sen. Raphael Warnock. Following the lead of his party, he went down to Mar-a-Lago to pay homage to the dethroned and embittered Orange Ozymandias and secure his blessing.

It didn’t work out well. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump didn’t want to talk to Perdue about 2022. Instead, the one-term president wanted to enlist him in his vendetta against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whom he blames for declining to falsify the results of the 2020 election in his favor.

Perdue trekked to Trump’s private Mar-A-Lago club in Florida on Friday to play golf with the former president, according to people with direct knowledge who said Trump spent much of their time together railing against Republicans he claimed didn’t do more to overturn his defeat.

AJC reports that Perdue later stated that Trump’s behavior didn’t influence his decision. But that’s not what was reported by other outlets, including The New York Times.

The meeting did not go well, people briefed on it said. Mr. Trump was focused on retribution, particularly against Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican whom Mr. Trump views as having betrayed him.


Trying to navigate a feud between the former president and his state’s sitting governor for the next two years was deeply unappealing to Mr. Perdue, according to a Georgia Republican who knows the former senator.

One of the people briefed on the meeting with Mr. Trump said it appeared to be a factor in Mr. Perdue’s decision not to run...[.]

Let’s hit the pause button for a quick recap. To emphasize, the Republican Party leader is exactly what he was before 2020: an accused rapist and sexual harasser who was twice impeached. One who miserably failed the country in the time of its most dire need and incited an insurrection against the American government. An emotionally volatile, spite-driven figure, with multiple looming legal challenges that might very well end him up in prison. One who, with the assistance of a right-wing media firmly in his thrall, has managed to hoodwink tens of millions of Americans into believing that the election was stolen from him through some murky and fantastical exercise of widespread fraud.

Perdue tried to reason with him, to enlist his support, but he quickly discovered that it’s impossible to reason with such a person, to rise and fall with his whims, with his vindictiveness—whims and vindictiveness that are extraordinarily unpredictable. As unpredictable, in fact, as Trump’s own future.

This is the person in whom the Republican Party has placed both its trust and its future. In effect, through their allegiance, they’re consciously angling to make 2022 another referendum on Donald Trump. Beyond demonizing their usual targets (LGBTQ citizens, undocumented immigrants, and people of color they consider inferior) they have no ideas or policies to speak of—this is what “conservative values” have effectively devolved into.

So that explains what they’re “thinking.” It explains their motivation, and, as Michael Corleone would doubtlessly point out, it reveals their weaknesses, in spades.

President Biden is likely to have the benefit of some strong tailwinds going into 2022. The country will be reopened, and many people will be eager to spend money in ways they have been unable to do over the last year, leading to a huge upswing in the economy. Everyone who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 likely will be by 2022, and in many ways, able to go back to lives we all considered to be normal before the pandemic struck. The change in quality of life for literally hundreds of millions of Americans will be palpable. The COVID-19 relief bill, which will be passed in about two weeks, will have worked its way through the economy, pumping nearly two trillion dollars into the system, relieving state governments and providing aid to millions of those currently—but hopefully only temporarily—unemployed. Since the bill will pass with exactly zero Republican support, the transformation this country undergoes will be solely attributable to the Democratic Party.

In contrast, we will see a Republican Party that has irrevocably tied itself to the failed presidency of Donald Trump, with all the baggage, current and ensuing, that Trump will force upon them as a consequence of that allegiance. Meanwhile the mercurial, unstable, and vindictive nature of Donald Trump himself will only grow worse. His legions of deplorable followers, including Republican elected officials who chose to become followers, will only become more and more radicalized as their futures grow inexorably attached to his failure. Even the slightest effort to acknowledge Biden’s successes will subject them to irredeemable punishment, resulting in ballot box rejection from their base.

Democrats must be out in front, emphasizing their successes, and taking credit for the resulting changes and improvements to Americans’ lives, as they happen, over and over again, ad nauseum. Draw these accomplishments into sharp relief with the presidency of Donald Trump, and particularly the empty platitudes his followers, elected Republicans, will offer in response.

Those Republicans who have now chosen, out of expediency, to tie themselves to Donald Trump should be given no quarter. They are making their bed now, and they should be forced to lie in it.

The Republican Party has chosen to make 2022 a referendum on Donald Trump. If Democrats do their job till then, it absolutely will be ... just not in the way Republicans would have hoped.

I like our chances.

What’s happening to Adam Kinzinger is frightening … and telling

As many Americans are aware, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in inciting the insurrection of Jan. 6. The conservative Air National Guard veteran, currently serving his sixth term in Congress, is one of the few Republicans who declined to fall in behind Donald Trump in the wake of the lethal riots at the U.S. Capitol. He is also one of an even smaller number of Republicans who has gone public in his criticism of Trump, appearing on cable television and late-night news broadcasts to criticize Trump’s actions.

And just like the seven U.S. senators who voted for Trump’s conviction in his second impeachment trial, Kinzinger is now suffering an intense backlash from a Republican Party that is now virtually indistinguishable from a cult.

Yet if you wanted a snapshot of what the Republican Party has become under Donald Trump, you need look no farther than this letter, penned by a cousin of Kinzinger and signed by several members of the congressman’s own family.

The letter reads, in part:

Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God! We were once so proud of your accomplishments! Instead, you go against your Christian principals and join the “devil’s army” (Democrats and the fake news media). How do you call yourself a Christian when you join the devils army believing in abortion! We thought you were “smart” enough to see how the left is brainwashing so many “so called good people” including yourself and many other GOP members. You have even fallen for their socialism ideals! So, so sad!

(all emphasis and errors are the writer’s own)

If the reflexive censure of those senators—a punishment normally reserved by a political party for its most errant members—was insufficient evidence of the GOP’s transformation into an out-and-out cult, then the “shunning” of Congressman Kinzinger by his own family members should put any doubts to rest.

As reported by The New York Times:

As the Republican Party censures, condemns and seeks to purge leaders who aren’t in lock step with Donald J. Trump, Adam Kinzinger, the six-term Illinois congressman, stands as enemy No. 1 — unwelcome not just in his party but also in his own family, some of whom recently disowned him.

At the outset, it should be emphasized that the imposition of such mass censuring is not “typical” behavior for a political party or its adherents in addressing dissident voices within their ranks, nor is it at all typical for a politician’s own family to “disown” him. Rather, this is more akin to what cults do when faced with an “apostate” who questions the cult—or worse, seeks to leave. Cults, not political parties, close ranks and attack the person they perceive as the heretic. Cults, not political parties, attempt to isolate the offender, in order to make an example of him/her to the rest of the cult.

The author of the letter was Karen Otto, Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin, who paid $7 to send it by certified mail to Mr. Kinzinger’s father — to make sure the congressman would see it, which he did. She also sent copies to Republicans across Illinois, including other members of the state’s congressional delegation.

“I wanted Adam to be shunned,” she said in an interview.

Otto’s correspondence to her cousin is particularly revealing, with respect to how Trump’s “cult” is being nurtured and sustained through systemic allusion to Christian religious dogma, specifically of the apocalyptic, white evangelical variety. The use of foundational, textual materials, which serve to separate the cult from those perceived as non-believers, is a hallmark of cults, ranging from Scientology and the Moon Unification Church (or “Moonies”), to more insular, religious and quasi-religious sects such as the Branch Davidians and the Amish, who are known for actually institutionalizing the cruel practice of “shunning.” 

As indicated in Otto’s letter, Trump’s devotees are employing the same type of religious interpretation in justifying Donald Trump’s position as his cult’s leading spiritual figure.

Obviously, you did not hear President Trump’s “Christmas message” to the American people (fake news media did not cover his message) where he actually gave the plan of salvation, instructing people how to repent and ask the Savior into their heart to be “Born Again!”

The implications of what is happening to Kinzinger, and similarly situated Republicans who have publicly opposed Trump, shouldn’t be minimized or underestimated. A politically based cult that can drive people to cast out their own family members, or one that can prompt ordinary politicians to collectively excommunicate their members presents a clear and present danger to democratic institutions. Cults are at their most dangerous when they are under threat from an outside “enemy”; in the case of Trump’s burgeoning cult, the catalyst for that danger here is the inexplicable and confusing loss of an election that the cult leader himself (falsely) guaranteed he had won.

With shockingly few exceptions, members of the Republican Party have allowed themselves to be co-opted by a toxic cult mentality that is now dictating the actions of the party itself. The fact that this mentality is being driven by a powerful but largely unexamined religious fervor in our society makes it even more dangerous. 

This is not at all normal, and we are in truly uncharted waters.

See also: Daily Kos’ La Feminista takes on the Kinzinger family letter