Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogI have been writing Citizenship Politics since September 1996, although it was published as Urban Politics up to September 2020. Initially, my focus was on Seattle and regional politics. Since leaving the Seattle Council, I’ve focused on national political and social trends. The Citizenship Politics newsletter is emailed out up to three times a month. As of April 2021, there are 10,000 subscribers; 70 percent are university faculty at over 250 universities and colleges throughout all fifty states. Subscribers can cancel at any time by replying “Unsubscribe Citizenship Politics” in the Subject Line. If you or a friend do not currently receive it, you can subscribe by scrolling down to the bottom of my home page http://www.becomingacitizenactivist.org and submitting your email address.

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Media Monopolies Amplify Conspiracy Theories

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 3/28/21


mediamonopolies

NBC News

While Congress was in session, the Capitol’s violent invasion illustrates the power of conspiracy theories to grip average Americans.

 

The FBI believes that most who violently broke into the Capitol were convinced that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump. Studies of those rioters (see The inspired terrorists …were your neighbors) concluded they were largely middle-class ordinary Trump supporters who were inspired mainly by extremist narratives and conspiracy theories.

At the heart of any conspiracy theory is that some group secretly controls the government to manipulate our lives. That belief goes back to the beginning of our nation.

 

Past conspiracy theories have shaped national politics

 

One of the earliest significant conspiracy theories was in opposition to President Andrew Jackson’s re-election in 1832.  Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party, was accused of following the Masonic Order’s directions. The Masons are a secret society whose membership at that time consisted mainly of wealthy North-Eastern businesspeople. Many Constitutional Convention attendees, and three presidents, Washington, Monroe, and Jackson, were Masons.  Conspiracy theorists formed the Anti-Masonic Party, which eventually evolved into the Whigs and then the Republican Party. I guess one could say that a conspiracy theory gave birth to the Republican Party.

The most recent conspiracy theory shaping our national dialogue goes back to the 1950s with McCarthyism and the John Birch Society. Both U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy

and the Birch Society made unfounded accusations that a vast communist conspiracy existed within the U.S. government. Many federal employees and elected officials, including

Republicans, like President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, were accused of being in cahoots with it and hence were disloyal to the nation. This logic is a similar accusation that President Trump and his supporters levied against those not accepting that Trump won the election.

 

 

Media monopolies have the biggest megaphones for shaping public beliefs

 

Freedom of the press is guaranteed in our constitution. It is understood to mean that the government does not control it. Anyone can publish what they wish in the marketplace of ideas. However, the constitution is silent on what happens when a few hawkers dominate the marketplace, and the free press is effectively narrowed to those controlling the most presses.

When analyzing the relationship between public media and the government, the role of social media providers, like Facebook and Twitter, must be considered separately. The Congressional Research Service issued a legal analysis of how federal courts and laws extend special protections from lawsuits, which are not available to public media. Consequently, I will not discuss how social media providers relate to media monopolies and conspiracy theories.

With that issue put aside, the owners with the most presses have more eyes viewing their newspapers, T.V. networks, cable stations, and listening to their radio stations. In essence, they have the freedom to create and distribute information that could be fictitious or slanted to benefit their own financial and political interests. Two examples of this practice stick out: one from a hundred years ago and the other occurring today.

William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers made money and built readership by promoting sensationalist and distorted news. His efforts whipped up the public sentiment to help cause the Spanish-American War of 1898. At his peak in 1935, he owned 28 major newspapers and 18 magazines and several radio stations, movie companies, and news services. His total readership amounted to about 12 – 14 percent of the entire daily newspapers’ readership in the mid-1930s.  In 1936, he accused President Roosevelt of being a Socialist, Communist, and Bolshevik and carrying out a Marxist agenda.

Hearst is a mere blip on the scale of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. In

2000, Murdoch’s News Corporation owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries, with a net worth of over $5 billion. Among his newspaper holdings are the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. His T.V. flagship is Fox News, which according to Statista, the combined number of primetime viewers for CNN and MSNBC were only 81% of Fox’s share in Q4 2020. According to Nielsen Media Research, in 2020, Fox had its 19th consecutive year as the number one cable news network in total day and primetime viewers. Commentators on Fox receive some substantial credit for convincing 70% of Republicans that Biden and radical-socialist Democrats stole Trump’s election.

 

Legislation has helped create media monopolies

Over the last forty years, Congress and Presidents have contributed to the consolidation of media ownership and weakening the public’s access to balanced news reporting. The federal government had provided a more level playing field among the media owners. Thom Hartmann points out in American Oligarchy,the telecommunications laws from the 1920s and 1930s kept most newspapers, cable systems, internet providers, and radio and T.V. stations locally owned to prevent oligarchs from asserting singular control over information and news across our nation.”

In other words, laws made it a bit more difficult for them to use the free press to benefit their financial interests. The monopolies use their press as a powerful megaphone, which is as good as a large donation to a political campaign, and it is not reportable.

For instance, Ronald Reagan’s campaign team credited Murdoch’s paper, The New York Post, for his victory in New York in the 1980 United States presidential election. Once in office, Reagan “waived a prohibition against owning a television station and a newspaper in the same market.” Murdoch directly benefited because it allowed him to continue to control The New York Post and The Boston Herald while expanding into television

Reagan then vetoed a Democratic preemptive attempt to codify the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine into legislation. Afterward, he had the FCC abolished it. The Doctrine was established in 1949 to “devote broadcast time to the discussion and consideration of controversial issues of public importance.” In 1949, the FCC issued a report that established broadcast licensees’ duty to cover controversial issues in a fair and balanced manner. The Congressional Research Service identified the Doctrine’s essential requirement to be that broadcasters “devote a reasonable portion of broadcast time to the discussion and consideration of controversial issues of public importance” and “affirmatively endeavor to make … facilities available for the expression of contrasting viewpoints held by responsible elements with respect to the controversial issues.” However, it only applied to broadcast licenses, not cable, satellite, and Internet platforms.

A further slide into enabling the growth of monopolies was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. President Bill Clinton enthusiastically signed after the Telecom industry lobbyists had spent tens of millions of dollars on both parties’ legislators getting the bill to Clinton’s desk. Hartmann concludes that the Act “wiped out those protections for local media, turning our nation’s cable systems, internet service providers, newspapers, and radio and T.V. stations over to a small handful of media oligarchs.”

The result was an acceleration of concentrating the ownership of media outlets. In 1983, 90% of U.S. media was controlled by 50 companies; as of 2011, 90% was owned by just 6 companies, and in 2017 the number was 5.

The spread of conspiracy theories has consequences

Because of their broad reach and centralized editorial command, media monopolies supply oxygen to spreading conspiracy theories to the public.  They attract more viewers/readers than just reporting boring factual news. Conspiracies don’t cost much to produce. Once some bare-bones facts are tossed into the narrative, no further research is necessary. Think of conspiracy theories as clickbait for attracting anyone wanting to know who is behind the screen manipulating the truth.

Consequently, there is less need for real journalists doing investigative reporting. Brier Dudley, the Seattle Times Free Press editor, mentions a 2018 study that found declining local political news coverage reduces citizen engagement. The decline in local coverage is due in large part to the dramatic reduction in newsroom staffing.

According to the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, in 2019, there was a record loss of 16,160 newsroom jobs lost, a 200% increase in losses over a year. And Pew Research Center reported on top of that; the previous decade saw a 51% loss. The cumulative effect is that opinion-makers have replaced paid journalists over this period in print and even more widely in social media. News based on journalistic ethics is being replaced by opinion leaders who pick portions of facts that support their position.

This trend is that the difference between facts and opinions is blurred, and trust in all media and government sinks. According to the 21st annual Edelman Trust Barometer, (January 2021), which measures confidence in institutions, Americans’ trust in the media and government has fallen to a historic low.

However, business is the only institution perceived as both ethical and competent, with more than half in the Edelman survey (53 percent) believing corporations are responsible for filling the information void. There is a slight irony here that some corporations benefit from conspiracy theories that significantly reduce government oversight of corporate activities.

Another significant survey found similar results. A report assembled by Gallup and the Knight Foundation surveyed 20,000 Americans in the three months before Covid 19 hit America. The report found that roughly three-quarters of the respondents believe the owners of media companies are influencing coverage. Fifty-four percent said reporters intentionally misrepresent facts, and 28 percent believe reporters make the facts up entirely.

Nevertheless, news media is either critical or very important for a functioning democracy, according to 84 percent of Americans. That need is not being met if conspiracy theories undermine the public’s trust in our government and mainstream media. Knight Foundation’s senior vice president Sam Gill, said the report’s findings revealed shattered confidence in America’s news media and were “corrosive for our democracy.”

Laws fighting misinformation can lead to authoritarian governance

The U.S. faces a challenge in sustaining our media’s independence from government control while serving our citizen’s desire to have reliable factual based news media. The trend for the last four decades has seen the concentration of ownership in the media that distributes anti-democratic conspiracy theories.

But to fight this trend, we must avoid what Hungary’s parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, adopted. With a vote of 137–53, they passed a law to allow the government to jail for up to five years “anyone who intentionally spreads what the government classifies as misinformation.”

This law resulted from Orban’s financial allies creating a vast propaganda machine to enable his Fidesz party to retain control of the nation’s government. In 2019, a team of European Union NGOs specializing in press and media freedom reported on how Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has been treating the press. They concluded that without introducing the overt authoritarian laws that Russia and China have instituted to censure their media, Orban had constructed a pro-government media empire. As a result, large parts of the public are denied access to critical news and reliable information. An uninformed electorate can easily be swayed by who has the loudest megaphone.

So, what steps are needed to avoid Hungary’s draconian legislation and still hinder a political party or a nation’s leader from colluding with media monopolies to overshadow access to reliable news to the public?

Legislation can diminish the extent of conspiracy theories

            Congress is considering proposals to address some issues that have contributed to the spread of conspiracy theories. One of them is the downward trend in the number of journalists and outlets in the print and digital media platforms that had produced original local journalism. U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, and Dan Newhouse R-Wash. have proposed the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (HR 7640). It was introduced in July 2020; as of November, it had 78 co-sponsors (20 Republicans and 58 Democrats).

Although it might seem odd that Republicans support this legislation, its primary thrust is to provide economic incentives to help publishing businesses. The bill allows individual and business taxpayers certain tax credits for the support of local newspapers and media. Specifically, individual taxpayers may claim an income tax credit of up to $250 for a local newspaper subscription. The bill also allows local newspaper employers a payroll tax credit for wages paid to an employee for service as a journalist and certain small businesses a tax credit for local newspaper and media advertising expenses.

The Missouri Press Association representing 229 newspapers in Missouri, which is approximately 99.5% of all newspapers, strongly supports the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Their Executive Director of the Missouri Press Association, Mark Maassen, spoke at a public forum noting that “nearly 36,000 employees and newspapers have been laid off, furloughed, or have had their pay reduced during this (Covid 19) crisis.”

He strongly recommended that its members contact their members of Congress in support of the legislation.

With over 99% of local papers in Missouri supporting the legislation, Missouri Republicans may find it awkward to oppose it. All but one of their six Republican congressional representatives objected to the certification of the election results in conformity with the election was stolen conspiracy theory. Will they vote to eliminate local jobs or be influenced by the media monopolies to oppose it?

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, the Senate Education Committee’s new 2021 chair, issued a report in October 2020. It recommended that a limited antitrust exemption from Congress be granted to news publishers to allow them to collectively negotiate for better terms with the tech platforms. Senate Bill 1700, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which was introduced in 2019, would allow for that. The News Media Alliance trade association, representing approximately 2000 newspapers and multiplatform digital services, helped write the bill.

The bill currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has significant bipartisan support, with both Senators Mitch McConnell [R-KY] and Sherrod Brown [D-OH] becoming co-sponsors of the bill in 2020. One of the most ardent believers that the election was stolen from Trump is Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. He sits on the Committee and will have to vote to pass it out of the Committee or not. The Missouri Press Association could play a role in moving him to vote it out of Committee. Former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Senator Amy Klobuchar and the new Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff are part of the Committee’s membership. Their combined high national profiles could mobilize support for this senate bill and the related House Bill (HR 7640). Chairman Dick Durban will decide when to bring it up to a vote.

The bipartisan support for both the House and Senate bills must argue that the nature of maintaining a free press has been handicapped with the introduction of new social media technology, which has lower labor costs and reaches a broader audience. The result is that they have fatter profit margins for distributing opinions instead of distributing news based on facts and in-depth research.

Another change would be to resurrect the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine that required stations to “program in the public interest.” It required an equal division between local and national news. More importantly, stations that aired “editorials” from owners or management had to be balanced by an outside source with a different perspective. Those changes would have to be initiated by the FCC. Currently, the commission is evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Biden will appoint another a fifth commissioner to give the Democrats a majority.

 

In Summary

 

The above legislation and regulatory changes will require a significant public education effort to overcome resistance from an expected well-funded lobbying campaign by the media monopoly owners. Even if these measures are passed, it will require ongoing monitoring of the media to assure that these minimal steps to provide balanced reporting are followed.

Failure to pass these laws or enforce them will result in the continued unchecked proliferation of conspiracy theories being broadcasted throughout the public media. As we have witnessed, that practice foments fractionalization of our national principles and distrust in a democratic society.

 

The inspired terrorists who invaded the Capitol were your neighbors!

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 3/7/2021


 

image1

 Photo credit: Sebastian Portillo/Shutterstock.com

The major networks and cable news channels largely ignored research findings showing who were the “incited terrorists” that invaded the Capitol. Instead, they focused on those who had “planned” the violent break-in. While the FBI considers both groups to be domestic terrorists, research shows the “incited” people may be your neighbors.
Both the liberal and conservative TV media covered the event by asking who was responsible for organizing the attack and for not properly preparing for it.
The liberal stations tended to focus on the more clearly identified militant terrorist groups, like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as the on-site leaders. After vehemently criticizing the siege of the Capitol, the conservative commentators managed to accuse the Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for failing to protect the Capitol from the Trump rioters. They made little mention of the various right-wing militant groups that were in front of the mob.
Before reviewing several studies that identify who the insurrectionists were, it’s essential to realize the level of danger to our democracy that January 6 presents in the long term. FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 2, provides a needed perspective on that danger. Wray was appointed by President Trump and is a registered Republican. He is no liberal.
He said that the FBI considered the behavior of those who illegally entered the Capitol to disrupt Congress as criminal activity and viewed their actions as “domestic terrorism.” He told the Senate committee that their actions were “on the same level with ISIS and homegrown violent extremists.”
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked Wray: How about the dangers also from foreign-influenced terrorists? Wray explained the two groups “have a lot in common with each other.” He labeled those that are not inspired by foreign jihadists are domestic violent extremists who are inspired by domestic sources.
Wray did refute Trump and some Republican senators’ notion that the rioters were leftist-terrorists or were disguised as Trump supporters. The FBI had not seen “any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th,” he said. And he added, there was no evidence that there were “fake Trump supporters” in those that stormed the Capitol.
After dispatching those myths, Wray presented a more nuanced depiction of the thousands who participated in the march to the Capitol and invading the building. He said, “there are sort of three groups of people involved.” The largest group were “peaceful, maybe rowdy protestors, but who weren’t violating the law.” They had received minimal attention from the liberal press.
The second group “may have come intending just to be part of peaceful protest, but either swept up in the motives or emotion or whatever, engaged in a kind of low-level criminal behavior. Trespassed, say on the Capitol grounds, but not breaching the building.” He viewed them as taking the opportunity to engage in criminal conduct but were not violent. Their activity would still be addressed, but he was in no hurry to do so.
He said the third group is the smallest numerically. They were the people who breached the Capitol grounds and engaged in violence against law enforcement in an attempt to stop Congress from conducting their constitutional responsibilities. Some came with plans to engage in violence that the FBI considers domestic terrorism; others were “inspired” to attack the Capitol and had didn’t have membership in an organization.
I believe the third group should be seen as two clusters. One cluster consists of “strategic terrorists” who were the ones who came with a plan to DC. The second cluster would become “inspired terrorists,” who may not have planned what they would do once they arrived in DC like those in the second group. But like 70% of Republicans, they firmly believed that Trump had won the election.
President Trump addressed this cluster of supporters while Congress was in the middle of confirming Biden as president, telling them that the election is about to be stolen. His invited speakers told the crowd it’s time to fight. Aren’t these the conditions for inspiring those listening to stop, at any cost, what they saw as an illegal transfer of power?
Two important studies have been recently released that takes a closer look at the insurrectionists’ makeup, and one looks closely at who makes up the MAGA Movement. Together they point to something that the TV commentators didn’t dwell on; there is a growing domestic anti-democracy movement. Before addressing how pro-democracy proponents should respond, it is best to understand what the studies reveal.
A study by Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, and Keven Ruby, Senior research associate of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, supports the view that average citizens acted as inspired terrorists. The Chicago study found that more than half of the arrested Capitol rioters came from President Joe Biden’s counties in the 2020 presidential election. And Biden won the fewest total counties – of any president-elect. “Most people thought right after the insurrection that these insurrectionists are coming from the reddest parts of America. That’s just not the case,” Pape said.
In February, the Chicago study analyzed 193 people charged with being inside the Capitol building or breaking through barriers to enter the Capitol grounds. However, keep in mind that there were roughly 800 people who entered the Capitol, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has opened more than 400 case files and 500 grand jury subpoenas. There may be many more inspired terrorists to be charged.
The researchers in reviewing court documents described the majority of those investigated as “normal Trump supporters—middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right.” They joined extremists to form a violent mob “in an attempt to overturn a presidential election.”
Meanwhile, those charged who had some connection to gangs, militias, or militia-like groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters made up only one-tenth of the Capitol arrestees the researchers studied. The rest of the arrestees had no connection or previously expressed support for those groups. Overall, some 85% of the Capitol rioters who were studied were employed, and about 40% were business owners or held white-collar jobs.
In early March, a research report was released as the Preliminary Assessment of the Capitol Hill Siege Participants by the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University. Its findings were similar to the Chicago Project’s, although they reviewed more court records of people charged in federal courts for their involvement. The broad demographics of the 257 investigated revealed that their ages averaged in the forties. There were 221 men, 86%, 36 women, 14%, and they came from 40 states, 91% coming from outside the DC metro area. And 33 had military backgrounds.
This study divided those charged into three categories. The smallest (12.8%) represented the apex of organizational planning by domestic violent extremist groups for and on January 6They fall into the category of “militant networks.”
The next largest category (33%) consists of “organized clusters,” which are small, close-knit groups of individuals who allegedly participated in the siege together. They were comprised of family members, friends, and acquaintances. The study found that they were “Inspired by ideological fervor,” and that they “lacked top-down direction from a domestic violent extremist organization but jointly coordinated their travel to DC in groups of like-minded believers.”
The largest category (55%) are the “inspired believers” who were “neither participants in an established violent extremist group nor connected to any of the other individuals who are alleged to have stormed the Capitol.” Nevertheless, they did participate in the siege of the Capitol and were criminally charged. They were “inspired by a range of extremist narratives, conspiracy theories, and personal motivations.” They would belong to Wray’s smallest group and would be the same as the inspired terrorist cluster that I described. They would also be what the Chicago study found to be middle-class normal Trump supporters.
The Panel Study Of The MAGA Movement, conducted by Christopher Sebastian Parker, Professor, University of Washington, and Rachel M. Blum, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma, is a more extensive, in-depth completed survey of 1,981 MAGA supporters. The survey was conducted just before and right after January 6. It was designed to assess the attitudes and behavior of the people who consider themselves part of the “Make America Great Again” movement.
Details on data collection and sampling methods are provided here. In brief, their findings are aligned with those of the other two studies.  The MAGA movement’s demographic composition is overwhelmingly white, male, Christian, retired, and over 65 years of age.
The survey showed that MAGA supporters are attracted to groups that include gun rights, charities, pro-police, anti-lockdown, pro-life, and “stop the steal.” They’re extremely politically active, all support the Republican Party. However, only about 60 percent are solid Republicans; the rest either “lean” Republican or Independent. The vast majority blamed Antifa for the Capitol Riots, not Trump. Parker and Blum concluded that the MAGA movement is a clear and present danger to American democracy.
When a democratic government loses the middle class’s trust by believing in conspiracy theories, we see normal folks supporting radical anti-democracy solutions. The demographics of those that tried to overthrow Congress’s functions on January 6 reflect the same significant portion of the German population that abandoned its Weimar Republic and the Social Democrat Party, which had been Germany’s largest party.
The pro-business middle class and small business owners repeatedly voted for putting Germany’s National Socialist Party into power in the 1930s. Similarly, that same population has been a strong Republican constituency. In Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany 1933-1939, David Schoenbaum notes that the entrepreneurial middle classes were the Nazis’ leading political clientele as the Nazis’ railed against the government and big business.
A large radicalized anti-democracy movement’s potential is likely to remain even if Trump diminishes his control over the Republican Party. However, the actual number of politically active people in that movement may still be relatively small. For instance, the best estimate of the total number attending the multiple Trump rallies and marches is between three-thousand and ten-thousand, according to Stephen Doig, a data journalist and journalism professor at Arizona State University.
The 2017 Women’s March (440,000 people) and the 2018 March for Our Lives demonstration (200,000 people) were massively larger. If the size of a rally or a march matters, many more citizens are willing to demonstrate their support for the democratic process than attack its legitimacy. With the FBI recording an increase in domestic terrorism, there a growing trend to attack the government’s legitimacy.
FBI Director Wray said that while some of the Capitol riot defendants have apparent affiliations with white-supremacist ideology, many defendants appear to have been motivated by anti-government ideologies. Within the MAGA Movement, an anti-government philosophy is pursued through a network of people and organizations associated with the Trump campaign. One example is Rebecca Mercer – who founded Parler; which is a major site for posting far-right content, antisemitism and conspiracy theories, like QAnon.
What percent of the millions in the MAGA movement might be inspired to repeat the January 6 attack on the Capitol if they had a leader they trusted, like Trump. Short of that, they could continue to support voter suppression measures that narrow the voting poll to mostly white voters. This would erode democracy to the point of being a mere façade of what it proposes to be. As the Chicago study said, “Targeting pre-2021 far-right organizations alone will not solve the problem.” We have to reach those who are potentially inspired terrorists.
Congress needs to pass legislation to reverse our media’s increased monopolization, including social media, so they are not used as weapons against our democratic governance. And there must be greater outreach to our youth and all citizens in understanding how citizenship works in a democratic society to protect everyone’s interests.
In future pieces, I will discuss how these two objectives are currently being addressed and what further steps to take to make them useful and lasting.

Thom Hartmann takes on ‘The Hidden History of American Oligarchy’

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 2/11/21


The Hidden History of American Oligarchy

Syndicated talk show host and bestselling author Thom Hartmann returns with a new book, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy — Reclaiming our Democracy from The Ruling Class.

This book is the latest in Hartmann’s Hidden History ten-book series. He analyzes the most significant political, social and economic obstacles of today by placing them in a historical context.  And, for each, he provides tangible calls to action to address them.
          American Oligarchy is a short, pithy book, easy to dive into and read. I spoke with Hartmann about his book’s analysis of the past, current, and possible future struggles to keep our democracy alive.

Q. You begin your book by saying, “Democracy is the rule of, by, and for the people: oligarchy is the rule of, by, and for the rich.” You recount how America has had times when an oligarchy almost obtained complete power over the nation. The first followed the cotton gin’s invention, which gave birth to a “rigidified oligarchy that eventually challenged the power of the nation itself.” That threat led to the Civil War.
You see outgoing President Donald Trump as part of today’s oligarchy. On Jan. 6, Trump incited his supporters to invade the U.S. Capitol. Are we on the verge of another Civil War?

A. I think not. History tells us that civil wars almost always come out of a failure of governance. When the government can no longer provide for the people’s basic safety and needs, a giant vacuum is created to spread conspiracy theories, fringe parties, secessionist movements, and, ultimately, civil wars. The U.S. headed in that direction under Trump because he had gutted government services and federalized local police. The Biden administration had stopped that drift, well before we got to consider a civil war.

Q. A second turning point in stopping an oligarchy from running the country was when the Great Depression led straight to the New Deal and major anti-oligarchic reforms. Is the growing information technology industry, including social media giants, contributing to another oligarchy ascendancy?

A. Yes. If you look at the tech revolution, which started in the 1980s, and looks at past tech innovative improvements, there are huge similarities. They initially brought on greater widespread wealth, a larger middle class, and increased wealth concentration. But they all created a new norm, where the less-skilled folks fell out of the labor market.
For instance, the Industrial Revolution had produced the Roaring ’20s, which saw the top 10% become wealthier. Meanwhile, the wages below them went down during that same period, leading to the Great Depression and World War II. Those crises were resolved mainly by the Roosevelt administration’s economic and social reform policies.
The tech revolution that started in the 1980s resulted in more low-paid workers and a concentration of wealth at the top. The middle class saw their wealth expand for one or two generations. However, their prosperity is now shrinking as the new form of production has become more common to operate. When the middle class hurts, conspiracy theories grow.

Q. If the Biden administration can make the same kind of changes that the Roosevelt administration did, the middle class’s financial condition should improve significantly and stop America’s oligarchy from expanding. History shows that many countries have come under the control of a ruling oligarchy. Can America be an exception?

A. We were the first country in the world founded on an idea rather than genetics. Although there was a large component of genetics, you don’t find it in the Constitution or the documents of the [Founding Fathers]. They intentionally dismissed or de-emphasized it because they were aware that they were taking on a giant experiment. They learned from the Roman and Greek democracies’ experiences and from what they knew from the Native American communities.
Then they based America on the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that man can govern themselves. While it has been imperfectly implemented, it’s such a cool and contagious idea that in the 200 years since our founding, nearly half the world’s countries have adopted that idea. But we have to work to keep that idea alive.

Q. About half of Americans voted for Trump. Why don’t they see him as part of the oligarchy? They believe his policies are benefiting them. Does this attitude hinder building support for democratic values?

A. Most voters are single-issue voters. They don’t view the broader issues. Republicans understand this better than the Democrats because the Democrats keep looking at policies, while the Republicans are looking at constituents. Republicans pitch the most important issue for each group. For instance, anti-gun control rhetoric for folks wanting to keep their guns, or anti-abortion talk for pro-life religious groups, and so on. Each group ignores everything else.
If we can make democracy a single issue for voters, we can defeat oligarchies. For instance, longtime Republican Steve Schmidt, who was Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign manager, is now a Democrat because he doesn’t care about any other issue other than saving our democracy.

Q. What do you mean when you say that Trump and his Republican supporters are “planted in the soil of neofascism and tyranny”?

A. This is not just about the individual behavior of a particular politician. Fascism is the merger of corporate and state interests, which exhibits belligerent nationalism. We have witnessed a past president and a political movement that fostered fascism. President Andrew Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun empowered fascism in the Southern United States.
The America First [Committee] was a huge fascist movement in the [the 1940s], with hundreds of thousands of members. Trump’s actions also move toward concentrating money and political power in the hands of the few. I devote the last part of my book to what specific steps we can take to break the oligarchy and restore democracy. We defeated those past efforts, and we can do it again.

Biden’s Biggest Challenge Stems from Inheriting Trump’s Legacy: More Countries Wanting Nukes

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 1/29/21


NuclearWeaponsReady

Nuclear-Weapons-Ready-To-Launch courtesy of Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament

Former President Donald Trump had placed the United States on the runway to take off on another nuclear arms race. Trump threw out two treaties that held Russia and the U.S. in check. It also deterred other nations from developing nuclear weapons over the last thirty years.
President Joseph Biden cut the throttle by agreeing to a five-year extension with Russia on their remaining nuclear arms treaty: the New SALT Treaty. But that single act is not enough to keep the U.S., Russia, and other countries, from flying off to seek security in possessing nuclear weapons. There must be a plan.
First, a quick review of the Trump administration’s actions is in order. On August 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It required the United States and the Soviet Union to verifiably eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. With these range restrictions, missiles from Russia’s furthest western and eastern boundaries could not reach the lower 48 states or Hawaii.
The 32-year-old treaty initiated an intrusive inspection regime, including on-site inspections, to maintain compliance. Over the past decade, the United States and Russia have charged the other country with not complying with the INF Treaty. Trump decided to “terminate” the agreement accusing the Russians again of noncompliance. As a non-sequitur, Trump also said he had concerns about China’s missiles. China is not part of the INF treaty; that concern could have been dealt with separately.
In May of this year, Trump said he was also pulling out of the 30-year-old Treaty on Open Skies. That treaty has reduced the chances of an accidental war between Russia and the United States by allowing reconnaissance flights over the two countries. Trump accused Russia once again of not complying with a treaty.
In this instance, he added that “… there’s a very good chance we’ll have a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.” The national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, issued a statement saying that the Trump administration would try to reach a new arms-control agreement with Russia and China. However, Trump left office without putting anything on the table to show the Russians or the Chinese.
President George W. Bush started to walk away from nuclear-arms treaties before Trump. In 2001, he withdrew the U.S. from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) with Russia. Bush sought to build a massive missile defense system.
Ironically, three former Republican presidents successfully negotiated the three nuclear-arms treaties that Trump and George W. Bush dumped: President Nixon on the ABM, President Reagan on the INF, and George H. W. Bush on the Open Skies. However, since President George W. Bush, most Republicans in Congress have not shown interest in avoiding a nuclear-arms race.
The passage of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) under President Obama in April 2010 is a perfect example. While the Senate approved it by 71 to 26, over two-thirds of the Republicans voted against it. Even so, the current START pact, which Biden would extend, has been endorsed by six former secretaries of State who worked in Republican administrations and by past presidents from both parties.
On his first full month as president, Trump criticized the New START treaty as a “one-sided deal” and a “bad deal.” That position was undermined by an aggregate data report published by his State Department, which may have been removed from the website where it was to be posted. That report showed that the treaty was working and that both countries kept their strategic nuclear arsenals within the treaty’s limits.
This year Trump said he was trying to negotiate a shorter extension for New START than the five-year option built into the treaty to be approved by both countries. Russia’s legislative body, the Duma, has approved the five-year extension.
Meanwhile, Trump had failed to do so because he tried to include China in the treaty, as had tried to do in the Open Skies Treaty. China refused, and Trump’s envoy wasted months trying to change their mind. Biden’s team has kept their eye on the ball. It’s Russia, not China.  Biden officials have said that Moscow’s arsenal “is at least ten times the size of China’s.”
Biden’s approval of the extension does not need the Senate’s approval. But if the treaty is amended, it could be considered a new treaty subject to a two-thirds vote for Senate approval. And that would not have happened unless the new treaty dramatically conformed to any conditions the Republicans demanded.
Biden’s decision to extend New START avoided real consequences that Trump would have invited by scuttling the last strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia. First, it would have allowed both countries to deploy an unlimited number of nuclear-armed submarines, bombers, and missiles.
Second, by significantly growing our nuclear arsenal, federal funds could be diverted from rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Third, it would have encouraged non-nuclear weaponized nations to begin to develop them. The Washington Post reported that American military leaders recognize this danger and supported the New Start Treaty.
But those dangerous trends remain real possibilities. Biden must publicize them enough to build support for promoting a national campaign to reduce the chance of a nuclear war. That may be the only way to overcome congressional Republican’s reluctance to negotiate any arms agreements.
With more than 10,000 nuclear warheads on Earth, avoiding nuclear war is an issue recognized by the international community. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres videotaped a message saying, “Nuclear weapons pose growing dangers, and the world needs urgent action to ensure their elimination and prevent the catastrophic human and environmental consequences any use would cause.”
To that end, the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons entered into force on January 22, President Joe Biden’s first day in office. The U.N. General Assembly initially approved The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. But it did not become adopted as international law until 50 countries ratified it, and as of today, there are now 62.
Officially it bans nuclear weapons. However, none of the nine countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel — support it. Neither does the 30-nation NATO alliance support it.
This treaty has good intentions, but without any authority to enforce it, a replay of what happened after World War I is certain. At President Wilson’s insistence, the League of Nations’ creation was codified as part I of the Versailles Treaty ending the war. The League was a “general association of nations established to afford mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity of all nations…”
Even with those guarantees, the U.S. Senate refused to have the U.S. join it. If it had, nations belonging to the League would still have ignored its disarmament objectives since they were based entirely upon “goodwill.” There was no enforcement mechanism. Such is the case with the current treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
However, one existing successful treaty does not have an enforcement mechanism and is a multinational agreement. The treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) went into force in 1970. One-hundred ninety-one nations are party to the treaty, including five who have nuclear-weapons. What keeps it going is that there is a review of the treaty’s operation every five years.
The underlying success of the NPT has been an understood bargain that the non-nuclear states would not develop the bomb in exchange for the existing nuclear weapons states reducing and ultimately eliminating their arsenals. As a result, Michael O’Hanlon, the Director of Research at Brookings Institute, states that current nuclear arsenals are only about one-fifth the size of what they were a half-century ago.
Nevertheless, the U.S. and Russia are still the central nuclear-weapons states, accounting for more than 90% of the total number of warheads on Earth today. None of the other seven known nuclear-weapons states, including China, has more than 300. North Korea has the smallest amount, approximately between three and five dozen.
The danger now is that our current political climate is moving away from reaching compromises. The lack of getting them creates an unstable environment and contributes to the spreading of nuclear weapons. Trump removing the U.S. from the INF treaty and the Iran Treaty, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has contributed to this condition.
Robert Einhorn, a Senior Fellow in Brookings’ Foreign Policy Division, believes that not only are the NPT’s disarmament goals at risk but now there are fears that the number of nuclear-armed states could increase.
Einhorn believes that if the U.S. does not return to JCPOA, Iran will consider leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In response, the Saudi crown prince says the Kingdom will acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. Then we have President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking why other countries’ have nuclear weapons, and Turkey has none.
Meanwhile, Trump’s one-on-one relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has not produced any positive changes. In fact, the Congressional Research Service issued a January 2021 report that said, “Recent ballistic missile tests and an October 2020 military parade suggest that North Korea is continuing to build a nuclear warfighting capability designed to evade regional ballistic missile defenses.”
Biden must avoid weakening existing treaties, which could lead to a free-for-all race to build nuclear weapons. He needs to reassert the U.S.’s role as a leader in negotiating new nuclear-arms treaties. Four presidents successfully played that role, Nixon, Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Obama. Our last president just walked away from that leadership role. Biden has the opportunity to make once again the U.S. the voice of reason in reaching complicated treaties.
The first step to grabbing the world’s attention would be to re-engage with other nations in making the Iranian treaty work better for everyone. If we remain on the sidelines, skirmishes between countries could lead to multiple nations seeking to possess nuclear weapons.
Without treaties, those conflicts could trigger nuclear wars. We are not an island. We will suffer if there is any use of nuclear weapons. The cost of lives to us will be many times greater than what we endured with the covid pandemic.

The Big Lie Strategy for Grabbing Political Power.

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally posted on 1/2/21


 

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Thousands of supporters of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) filled the lower sections of Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 29, 1954, rallying to his cause. (AP)

The big lie shaking this nation for the past seven weeks is that Trump won the election by a landslide. It is a lie. President Donald Trump and his many lawyers have not produced even a shred of evidence to support that claim before our judicial system.
No court has found substantial fraud or miscounts in any of the 60 lawsuits Trump and his allies have brought before them. Eighty-eight state and federal judges, appointed by members of both parties, came to those decisions. Chris Krebs, who was appointed by Trump to head up Homeland Security’s Security Agency, tweeted that “59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.” After that tweet, Trump fired him.
According to a New York Times analysis, Trump’s allies did not even formally allege fraud in more than two-thirds of their cases. And yet, Trump has almost daily repeated the same lie that millions of more voters cast their votes for him over former Vice President Joe Biden.
A significant portion of our citizens do not see Trump’s declaration as a lie. Polls show that seventy to eighty percent of self-identified Republicans believe that he did win the election or that it was stolen from him. That group now includes at least one Republican from the House of Representatives and one from the US Senate, who will challenge Biden’s lawful election.
Their actions are Trumps’ last attempt to strip Biden of electoral votes when Congress meets in a joint session to officially accept each state’s electoral vote tally. What has historically been a ceremonial procedure, having taken less than 30 minutes at times, may now drag on for a half-day or more.
Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) challenge is not raising allegations of widespread fraud, but that Pennsylvania failed to follow their own mail-in voting rules. It’s the same claim that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed. In its ruling, the court said that the plaintiff’s request to throw out some 2.5 million mail-in ballots was made after the votes had been tallied and their preferred presidential candidate lost the state.
Trump tweeted cheerfully Sunday evening Dec. 27, “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it.” He will inevitably lose the vote because there is still a plurality of congressional Trump supporters who do not wish to destroy the Republican Party or our election process to appease him. However, it will force every Republican in the House and Senate to go on the record affirming or denying Biden’s win. Trump has threatened to punish the Republicanswho do not support his claims when they come up for re-election.
How did we get to this place in the history of our republic? No president has ever denied that the election was lawful. No sitting president has ever refused to recognize the newly elected leader of the nation, claiming that it was impossible for them to have lost, like President Trump has claimed.
There are two underlying beliefs among Trump supporters that have sustained the lie that Trump won the election. The first belief is that all politicians lie. So, what if he does lie a bit, it’s just another politician telling lies. The Democrats are exaggerating his statements because he’s doing what we want done not what they want done. The second lie that Trump supporters believe is that the Democrats cannot be trusted to protect our freedoms since they are radical-leftists who want to convert America into a socialist country.
Let’s dive into each of these beliefs and see how they square with what we know for certain.

All Politicians Lie – So What?       

Politicians do often lie, or more likely exaggerate what they will do, or what their policies can do.  Critics have attacked both former President Barak Obama and current President Donald Trump for not telling the truth about their signature pieces of legislation, the Affordable Care Act and Build the Wall.  Each is guilty but in different degrees.
Obama said something to the effect “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.” OK, so there wouldn’t be any change – right? Obama was not specific enough, at least in that quote, as to how ACA would work.
Obama was “truthful” to the extent the ACA maintained the employer-based health insurance system through which a plurality of Americans is covered.  If you add those, at the time, on Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and public employee plans, the vast majority of people would, truthfully, be able to keep what they have. Those details were explained in public by Obama’s staff and were in written form for all to observe. While that quote was inaccurate, the truth was not hidden. The details were available to the public and publicized.
In comparison, Republicans argue that Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate kept his promise that he would build a wall between our country and Mexico. He said we are in an emergency situation, however, the number of people crossing into the US from Mexico is down 90% from 2000. How do you have an emergency when the apparent threat to our security has been shrinking, not expanding? Is that a lie or just an exaggeration?
When Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015 he promised, “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.” He repeated that promise at his rallies. Since his election, the southwest border wall was extended from 654 miles of primary barriers to 657 miles as of this past summer – that’s right, 3 miles.
That’s because as of late June 2020, 184 miles of dilapidated primary barriers were replaced with updated fences. And an additional twenty-nine miles of new or raised structures were built on the secondary barriers, which back up the primary walls. All-weather border patrol roads, lighting, cameras, and other surveillance technology were also added. However, Mexico has not contributed a dime to this project, while American taxpayers have contributed over $4 billion on border barrier planning and construction. Was it a lie that Mexico would pay for the wall? Or was it just an optimistic promise?
There are dozens of politicians from both parties who have made exaggerated and false promises – enough to write a very long book. However, they all were limited to specific policies, programs, and projects. It’s the second type of lie that opens the door to questioning the legitimacy of how a democracy should be governed. The cornerstone of that lie is promoting an exaggerated fear and the government’s inability to provide safety from it.

Big lies promote an existential fear and a belief that our democracy will die unless they win.            

Trump has played the fear card as adroitly as Republican Senator Joe McCarthy did in the 1950s. Both divided the nation between citizens who are enemies and those who are patriots. Enemies are labeled as communists or socialists, with liberals now being called far-left radicals who want to destroy this country. The two Georgian Republican Senators who have embraced Trump’s claims are facing two strong Democratic challengers. The Republican Senators have been running ads attacking the Democrats using these labels.
Historians and popular commentators paint McCarthy as one of the most feared and hated politicians in America. However, Yale history professor Beverly Gage points out that at the peak of his influence, McCarthy boasted a 50 percent approval rating. Gage reminds us that McCarthy, “as with Trump, not everything he said was false, but the constant slippage between truth and lies served to destabilize the national conversation and upend political norms.”
A handful of Republican senators rebuked McCarthy in 1950 in a declaration that McCarthy’s promotion of “fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear” had turned the Senate into “a forum of hate and character assassination.” The rest of the Republicans silently tolerated him, particularly after they swept to victories in both congressional offices and retook the White House in 1952.
This is a similar behavior we are witnessing today as the Republicans did far better in the congressional races than either they or the Democrats had expected in this year — despite Trump losing the presidential race. Knowing that the core pro-Trump Republican base can determine who will win their party primaries, almost all Republican members of congress have gone mute on Trump’s blatantly false statements. Consider the one he tweeted in all caps on Christmas Eve, “VOTER FRAUD IS NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORY”. Voter fraud is not a conspiracy theory, but Trump claiming that he won by over 7 million votes, is based on his own conspiracy theory.
The Republicans finally censured McCarthy in 1954 when they recognized that he posed a real threat to democratic institutions. He had begun accusing just about anyone of being a communist who did not agree with him, including Republicans. Unlike Senator McCarthy, who was a mere subcommittee chair holding meetings, Trump is President of the United States. He is the leader of the Republican party and holds rallies with tens of thousands of attendees.
Republican Senators did not recognize McCarthy-like behavior when Trump fired or attacked his critics, including Republican governors and senators, who did not support his accusations of election fraud. With very few exceptions, Republican congressional leadership not only refused to censure his action, but many continued to support his fantasy that he won the election.  Or, at least, they argued that he should have won if the system had worked properly.
Through his daily tweets, Trump has commandeered the national theater of politics. His supporters speak off the same script he uses when he exits the stage. Like when McCarthy was censured, Trump will say that a corrupt and self-interested Washington establishment violated the constitution by not stopping Biden from stealing the election.
Historian Gage foresees that no matter how much Trump may recede from the media, the “tens of millions of Americans whose identities and aspirations are wrapped up in …Trumpism” will continue to influence our nation’s future. She does not mention that their continued influence will depend on sustaining and spreading the belief that our democracy is dying. It is a belief that is shared by both the far right and the far left.  The far-right argues that Biden stole the election. The far-left believes elections are not worth the effort to participate in. Both move toward believing that no federal election is fair.
There is an element of truth in recognizing that there is no perfectly fair election. But to argue that all elections are corrupt and stolen because they are unfair is to promulgate a lie, as much a lie as Russia’s Putin claim that his nation’s elections are democratic. Civic leaders and politicians across the spectrum must not succumb to ignoring the facts and replacing them with unsubstantiated beliefs. They must speak out and protect our election process and not toss it out when their candidate does not win. That is the only way to sustain our democracy.
As Hannah Arend wrote in her Origins of Totalitarianism, people become subject to tyranny when they can no longer distinguish “between fact and fiction” and when the differences between true and false no longer exist.

Is a fascist movement developing here?

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Written by Nick Licata | 12/17/20


 

 

After Joe Biden won the presidential election, there has been a proliferation of right-wing Trump rallies. Is this a movement to discredit our democratic institutions?

ProudBoys

Proud Boys march during a rally for President Trump on Saturday in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

Since the media declared that former Vice President Joe Biden won the presidential election, right-wing Trump rallies have declared that the election was a fraud and Trump’s win was stolen from him.

Historian Timothy Snyder in his book “On Tyranny” argues that institutions preserve our decency. They do not protect themselves. They fall if citizens do not protect them.

The Trump-appointed Director of Cybersecurity, Chris Krebs, was fired because he announced the vote across the nation “was the most secure in American history.” Krebs has since filed a lawsuit charging that Trump has initiated a campaign of intimidation, retaliation, and threats against Republicans.

Those are the Republicans who as state officials administered their elections. Trump attacked them for refusing to back up his unsubstantiated claims of massive election fraud. The national leadership of the Republican Party did not step forward to protect them. They were silent.

Trump, as president of our democratic republic, should be our national leader in citizenship. Instead, he has repeatedly refused to recognize that every judge he has asked to overthrow Biden’s victory, including judges he appointed as true conservatives, has concluded that his claims of fraud are baseless.

A couple of thousand pro-Trump anti-election protestors marched and rallied in Washington D.C. on Saturday, Dec. 12, two days before the electoral college made the president’s loss official. Washington Post journalists described them as maskless rallygoers cursing the Supreme Court, President-elect Joe Biden, and even Fox News for not recognizing Trump’s victory. Trump tweeted his support of the demonstration, “Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA.”

Police estimate that the crowd included about 700 Proud Boys wearing their colors of yellow and black, with a number of them dressed in body armor and helmets. Trump had previously asked them to “stand down and stand by,” hinting that he may need them to engage in some sort of physical struggle to assist him. The Proud Boys were reported to have marched through downtown in military-like rows, shouting “move out” and “1776!” At some point, they burned a “Black Lives Matter” banner belonging to the Black community’s historic Asbury United Methodist Church.

Despite the Proud Boys being accused of damaging four Black churches in DC, strong Christian beliefs appear to sustain Trump’s campaign to overturn the election. Addressing the gathering, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the host of Infowars, spoke of God and how Joe Biden “will be removed one way or another.” Another speaker, Black right-wing podcaster David Harris Jr., said if there were a civil war, “we’re the ones with all the guns.” Harris is a devout Christian who rails against authoritarian statism, secularism, and socialism as threats to a free society.

Protestor Ruth Hillary, 58, a pastor from California, is a prime example of the spirited foot soldier in Trump’s camp. In an interview with Washington Post reporters, she said she would continue protesting and holding up her sign, “Stop the Steal”, as long as the president believes she should. If he accepts a defeat, then she would too, “But right now, this is a Godly protest.”

Trump has founded and propagated an anti-democratic populist movement that appears more loyal to him than to our democracy. His supporters repeatedly proclaim that they are simply defending our constitution. But the verbal defense of a constitution or a republic, without acknowledging that both are sustained through a stable democratic process, is not enough to avoid moving toward tyranny.

One can trace this faulty, if not devious, strategy back two thousand years when Caesar Augustus became Rome’s first emperor without ever proclaiming that he was. Instead, he took the title of first citizen, assuring the Senate that his efforts were to save the republic, not to terminate it. We know how that went. The republic died and never returned.

In the period between the two world wars, fascism was created by Benito Mussolini, who had become disillusioned with socialism. Like any ideology or “ism” there will be many competing definitions. But in the end, all ideologies have a cluster of features that describe them.

Author and professor Eco Umberto provides a list for fascism in his 1995 essay titled Ur-Fascism (Eternal Fascism). He begins by noting that fascism creates a cult of tradition which leads to a belief that there is no need for additional learning, the truth has already been spelled out. Tradition is elevated to the point of conflicting with the scientific approach of critical thinking. Using a verifiable truth to argue against a traditional but unproven truth is seen as the work of a liberal intelligentsia betraying traditional values.

Consequently, we see protestors opposed to: (1) wearing face masks to mitigate the spread of the covid-19 pandemic because it’s just like the flu; or (2) reducing industrial pollution to avoid climate change because the climate is always changing: and (3) accepting verified election results because it’s impossible that a Democrat campaigning from a basement office could get more votes than a president drawing in tens of thousands to his rallies.

Umberto sees fascism as seeking to build a consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. In other words, it is an appeal against the intruders, those who are new to our community, like immigrants, or who have been here but are seen as different, like people of color.

Those divisions easily lead to separating the general population into either deserving or undeserving communities. This is an attitude that has historically appealed to a frustrated middle class, and I would add a working-class as well, particularly when suffering an economic crisis or feeling politically humiliated. The economic crisis of the working class has been unfolding for over forty years as its members’ wealth and standard of living has at best stagnated, if not shrunk. And, who likes to be called a deplorable or an un-woke, ignorant person?

Another feature of fascism that is relevant to today’s political environment is what Umberto describes as an obsession with a plotThat would be the conspiracy of the Deep State that predates President Trump and can be traced back to the John Birch Society that saw communists everywhere, including Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The conspiracy of communists still lives on for Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler. She has repeatedly referred to her Black Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock as “radical liberal” often adding socialist to the label and accusing him of supporting communism. To the average Georgian voter, being accused as a communist is as close as it gets to being a national enemy. The Trumpite movement has been described as populist, but Umberto sees fascism as promoting popular elitism. Those that belong to it are the best citizens, those that do not are considered the enemy, whether accused of being a communist, a radical, or a liberal.

The above features that Umberto identified as conditions that could lead to a fascist movement are certainly present. Many if not most of them have been in America for a long time. But we have not before now had a significant homegrown fascist movement dramatically threatening our democracy. I think that is largely due to the durability of our citizens’   belief in our democracy. While politicians will come and go, those we like and those we don’t, we believe that the electoral system will continue to function. That is why democracies are a threat to authoritarian leaders.

A fascist movement above all opposes democracy. When the authoritarians took over Russia, Germany, and Italy, the first thing they did was to either abolish their legislative bodies and their independent judicial system or take them over with ideologically acceptable functionaries. Trump’s ability to throw out a legitimate election is hindered by not having an organization large enough and strong enough to do either. He could personally intimidate only so many Republicans.

Still, the Republican Party is currently under his sway, particularly at the federal level. So much so that 126 House Republicans signed onto an amicus brief submitted in the Supreme Court case seeking to overturn Biden’s victory. The most conservative Supreme Court in the past seventy years unanimously rejected Trump’s appeal.

As I wrote before, he will still try to overturn the popular vote when the electoral votes must be counted by Congress. And he will fail, even though his White House advisor Stephen Miller told Fox News that “an alternative” group of electors was voting in the contested states and were sending “those results to Congress.”

Trump’s final loss will not stop him from fanning opposition against our electoral process. Are his actions contributing to an emerging fascist movement? There’s not a real movement, yet. At this point, there are no organized national paramilitary groups like the Free Corps that existed in Germany after WWI, but from the beginning of our nation’s founding, there has been an anti-democratic subculture.

However, at times a political personality emerges who taps a well of discontent that cares less about how a democracy should work.  Donald Trump did it brilliantly, according to former long-time Republican strategist, Rick Wilson, author of Running Against the DevilTrump exploited the grievance culture with messages that have powered past fascist movements, “Everyone is coming to get you.” and “You will be punished for not believing the right things.”

The task of defeating fascism requires addressing these messages through understanding the problems of all communities and working with them to arrive at workable and just solutions. That approach will take determination, persistence, and time in order to sustain our democracy. These are tasks that both parties must pursue.

Trump’s Last Chance – Pence Counts the Electoral Votes

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Written by Nick Licata | 11/25/2020


 

The last avenue available to Trump for winning the election is using the Electoral Count Act of 1877. This law puts Pence in the driver’s seat.

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EVAN VUCCI /  AP

Conservative journalist Geraldo Rivera told Fox News on Sunday, Nov. 22, that he had talked to President Donald Trump the previous week. He described Trump as a realist and a proud person who will finally concede once all the avenues to reversing the results of the election have been closed.

The catch, however, is that his vice president, Mike Pence, could keep one last avenue open for a Trump win. It would seemingly be legal and playing by the rules. It would also violate our democratic norms but, as I have written elsewhere, Trump’s politics discard them — to the detriment of our republic’s stability.

The last avenue available to Trump is using the Electoral Count Act of 1877. This law mandates how electoral votes are counted by Congress following a presidential election. It would allow Pence to throw the election to Trump. It would be the final ploy, as his two other strategies — court challenges and rogue Republican legislatures — are failing.

His first strategy was to get Biden’s vote count reduced through court rulings. So far, Trump’s lawsuits have failed to overturn Biden’s popular votes in any state. Trump has lost or withdrawn 22 challenges to the voting procedures in courts around the country. He has slowly retreated from pursuing legal cases in five swing states that Biden won: Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The remaining lawsuits are likely to face the same fate as the recently decided one that challenged Pennsylvania’s election results. There, the conservative District Judge Matthew Brann — who was a former chair of the county Republican Committee and active in the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association — wrote in his decision that Trump’s campaign had used “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” in trying to negate the millions of Pennsylvania votes that had already been counted.

Trump’s second strategy was more convoluted and even less likely to succeed. He appealed to Republican-controlled state legislatures in key states to conclude that Biden’s majority popular vote in their state was a result of fraud and therefore not legitimate.

The Trump Campaign had hoped to replace Biden’s electors with ones supporting Trump. But Republicans in at least Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona legislatures, at this writing, have rejected Trump’s allegations of massive fraudulent voting. The leaders of these legislatures have all maintained that their elections were as fair as any in the past and that Biden’s win should be certified.

Nevertheless, these defeats have not deterred Trump from still claiming he won the election. On Monday, Nov 23, after he allowed Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, to finally gave Biden access to the normal transition information that a president-elect would receive, he tweeted, “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

There is only one path left for Trump to win. It depends on the fact that Mike Pence will be the presiding officer of a joint session of both Congressional houses on Jan. 6, 2021.

His task under the Electoral Count Act is to announce the electors from each state that have been won by each presidential candidate. This procedure occurs in every presidential election and is usually a mere formality.

However, the Electoral Count Act describes how that count should proceed when there are competing slates of electors being sent to Congress from one or more states. The law has never really been tested.

Commentators throughout history have considered it “very confused, almost unintelligible,” a law that “invites misinterpretation,” its language “turgid and repetitious” and finally with central provisions that “seem contradictory.”

The best example of the act’s inability to deal with what could become a major constitutional fight is its ambiguity as to the solution when multiple slates of electors are sent from a state. In that case, the House and Senate are expected to vote separately on which slate to accept. But the two bodies may or may not agree on whether the slate certified by the governor should count or that no slate should count.

To make matters worse, the law states that in the joint session it would take only one representative and one senator to object to a state’s slate of electors. If the two bodies do not agree, it’s an open question whether the presiding officer (i.e., Pence) of the reconvened joint session could break the tie.

Other details of what is required are not spelled out in the law. For instance, if there is an objection, must there be an alternate slate of electors proposed, and who would have the standing to propose them? Could there simply be an objection asserting that no slate from a particular state be recognized due to an irreconcilable voting irregularity?

The parliamentarian could rule on these procedures, but that ruling could end up going to the Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 6–3 majority.

The bottom line is that, if Trump truly does not care if the Republican leadership wishes him to concede defeat, he could still tie up the electoral counting process. All he needs are a couple of supporters within Congress to object to the elector slates in enough states to deny Biden 270 electoral votes.

Is this a far-fetched scenario? Perhaps, but then again, have we ever had an incumbent president string out an election when losing by such a large margin in both the popular and electoral votes? The answer is no. This would have been unthinkable. But here we are.

 

Does Esper’s Firing Imply Using the Insurrection Act?

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 11/15/2020


 

Trump’s firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, two months before leaving the White House, may mean Trump is keeping a domestic military intervention in his playbook.

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Esper publicly rebuffed President Trump’s invocation of the Insurrection Act in June. Trump wanted to use that act to justify Esper sending active-duty military troops into cities experiencing violence associated with protests. Esper’s statement, “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” was counter to the president’s wish. Trump told Fox News, “Look, it’s called an insurrection. We just send them in, and we do it very easy.”

At that time, Trump was referring to the massive urban unrest that was occurring over the police killings of several Black citizens, many of whom were unarmed. Those protests and the ancillary lootings have largely disappeared. So why would Esper be fired now?

Think about it for a moment. Every military commander-in-chief must look at all options for how to battle the enemy, even if those options are never pursued. President Trump is no exception. In this instance, as he has often implied if not said, the enemy is the Democratic Party. As of this writing, he has still refused to concede defeat on the electoral battlefield. He is employing both legal and political strategies to try to retain the presidency by denying former Vice President Joe Biden the more than 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

Trump understands that he lost the popular vote by even more millions of votes than Hillary Clinton beat him by. (The spread is over 5 million ballots and counting.) Many of those folks are concentrated in the Democratic-dominated urban areas that witnessed last summer’s street protests. Should Trump’s strategies result in overturning Biden’s legitimate victory, he is not blind to the high probability that there would be massive street protests in those cities. Most of all in Washington D.C. which was the greatest anti-Trump voting city with 95% plus voting against him.

Given public anger over Trump negating Biden’s election, the chances are that those urban gatherings would witness stores being looted, buildings set on fire, and other types of physical damage. Such destruction is almost always the result of a tiny contingent of street agitators who are more intent on the direct action of destroying everything they can lay their hands on rather than pursuing more abstract long-range reforms. But these instigators provide a platform for Trump and his allies to attack the democratically elected local representatives who pursue various responses to such chaos. Trump’s solution is to simply overrule local governments’ efforts with military force.

Esper’s resistance to using the Insurrection Act to employ our national military for domestic law enforcement in our cities does not spring from liberalism. He is no liberal. Esper served as chief of staff for the very conservative Heritage Foundation. He made clear to whom he feels a loyalty to when he responded to his firing with a letter to Trump saying, “I serve the country in deference to the Constitution, so I accept your decision to replace me.” Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former Pentagon official, said in a statement that Esper’s firing may signal that Trump “wants to take actions that he believes his secretary of defense would refuse to take.”

Expecting personal loyalty from the person in charge of the Pentagon appears to be critically important to Trump. Others, besides Esper, have apparently fallen short of that expectation. Esper’s replacement, Christopher C. Miller will be the fourth Secretary of Defense since Trump came into office. Miller is seen as a straightforward soldier who has served his country admirably. But he has no experience running a massive bureaucracy.
Professionals within the Defense Department have expressed doubt that he could stand up to any of the president’s requests.

Esper’s departure was not a one-off incident. It has been followed by the departure of the top Pentagon officials overseeing policy, intelligence, and the Defense Secretary’s staff. They have been replaced by people who are considered more loyal to Trump.

The new Undersecretary of Defense for policy is Anthony J. Tata. Trump nominated him for the position last summer, but the nomination was withdrawn when even some Republican senators considered him too extreme. As recently as 2018, Tata tweeted that Barack Obama was a “terrorist leader” who did more to harm the US “and help Islamic countries than any president in history.”

Trump will be unable to stage a coup to stay in power. If he doesn’t concede by December 14, which is the date the electors meet and vote, his probability of retaining the presidency approaches zero. His only hope is that the courts, in concert with Republican state legislatures, toss out Biden’s victory. And if they did, as I said, there would certainly be major demonstrations in many cities for overturning a legitimate vote.

Trump could again try to invoke the Insurrection Act to send in troops to quell riots. It would not be the first time a president has used the act for dealing with that situation. Since the end of FDR’s time in office, George H. W. Bush did it twice, Lyndon Johnson did it four times, and John F. Kennedy once.

However, since municipal officials and state governors have not requested such assistance under Trump, doing so now could still be seen as exceeding the Act’s intention. This is what Esper determined when he told the New York Times this past June that active-duty troops in a domestic law-enforcement role “should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.”

The easiest way to avoid these scenarios is for Trump to realize that he not only didn’t win the election but that the longer he fights the election result the more he damages his own standing and his chances of running again in 2024.

As I pointed out in my Oct 21 Citizenship Politics, Trump needs to once again be a media star of his own reality show. This time the show would be titled “Watch Former President Donald Trump Become the Future 2024 President.”

The Battle Will Come After the Voting is Over!

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Written by Nick Licata


Even if Biden had clearly won enough electoral votes after the November election, Trump’s attorneys are prepared to go nuclear. 

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Two recent Citizenship Politics columns dealt with the slowdown of mail-in ballots by USPS (past the deadline for them to be counted) and President Donald Trump’s strategies for capturing the electors.

The Trump Campaign will try to disqualify as many mail-in ballots as possible. Trump has personally implied through his public statements that armed civilians should monitor polling stations. Armed militias have already made statements that they will not allow the Democrats to steal the election from Trump. The public has no way of knowing the full scale of these efforts. But their intent is clearly to discourage people of color and other members of the Democrats’ base from voting.

Since a number of key states will not reach a final tally of mail-in ballots until the end of the week.  Trump may have a majority of the popular vote that’s been counted on election night — something known as the “red mirage.” Most mail-in votes will be added later in the week. Trump will say they are fraudulent and that counting them would be unlawful.

This situation drives Trump to say that the Supreme Court will decide the election. His strategy after Election Day will rely on (1) invalidating as many mail-in ballots as possible; (2) blocking enough states from certifying their electors that the election is thrown into the House of Representatives; and (3) asking the Supreme Court to rule on which slates of electors must be accepted.

If no candidate receives “a majority of the Whole number of Electors appointed” — as specified by the 12th Amendment — the House will vote on Jan. 6 among the top three candidates (probably Trump, Biden, and Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen). Each state delegation will get one vote (not one per representative). This one-state-one-vote rule is another advantage granted to rural states, in addition to those states having extra weight in the Electoral College.

At the present time, Republicans hold a majority of House delegations in 26 states. Democrats hold a majority of delegations in only 22 states, and two other states have tied delegations. If that is still true when the new House members meet on Jan. 6, the winner would be Donald Trump, 26–22, with 2 states tied and not counted.

If Biden earns a majority of electors based on each state’s popular vote, Trump’s strategy will be to hold up enough state counts in court so that a few states are barred from certifying any electors by Dec. 14, when the Electoral College convenes in state capitals.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say Trump on Dec. 14 received 268 electoral votes while Biden received only 250. (Imagine that a state, like Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes was prevented by a court from appointing any electors for Biden.) Trump’s 268 electors would be fewer than 270 — an absolute majority of 538 — but his 268 would be 51.7% of the 518 electors who managed to be appointed by Dec. 14.

The Supreme Court would decide. Does “a majority of the Whole number of Electors appointed” mean the number who were legally appointed by Dec. 14 or does it mean the number who could have been appointed? With Amy Coney Barrett on the court, the conservative majority could vote 6–3 that the phrase means the number who were legally appointed by Dec. 14. Of course, they would justify their decision by saying that they took the wording of the constitution literally, i.e. they were not acting as activist judges. Trump would win the Electoral College, 268–250, or 51.7%. Even if Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberals to make the decision only 5–4, Trump would win.

The 26 House delegations that have a majority of Republican representatives would vote on Jan. 6 to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling. Trump would be re-elected, no matter how small his popular vote was.

The voting on Jan. 6 will involve the newly elected members of Congress, not the old lame-duck members. Could Democrats flip enough US House seats on Nov. 3 to control 26 state delegations on Jan. 6?

The answer is almost certainly, “No.”

There are currently only four US states that could change from a US House delegation that is Republican-majority or tied to a delegation that is Democratic-majority or tied (assuming one seat in each state flips from R to D). Pennsylvania and Michigan currently have tied delegations. Florida has a one-seat majority for the Republicans, and Wisconsin has a two-seat Republican majority:

• Pennsylvania’s delegation is currently tied, with 9 R’s and 9 D’s. As of Oct. 21, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates only one seat in Pennsylvania as a toss-up: Rep. Scott Perry’s seat in Congressional District 10.

• Michigan’s delegation is currently tied, with 7 R’s and 7 D’s. Cook rates only one seat in Michigan as a toss-up: Rep. Justin Amash’s seat in CD 3. (Note: Amash switched from Republican to Libertarian earlier this year, but he is not running for re-election. The seat has been held by a Republican, including Amash, for more than a decade.)

• Florida’s delegation is currently majority-Republican, 14 R’s, and 13 D’s. Cook does not rate any seats in Florida as toss-ups. Therefore, none of the seats are likely to change parties.

• Wisconsin’s delegation is currently majority-Republican, 5 R’s and 3 D’s. Cook does not rate any seats in Wisconsin as toss-ups. Therefore, none of the seats are likely to change parties.

Even if the D’s somehow flipped one seat in three delegations — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida — 25 states would then vote for Trump/Pence and 25 would vote for Biden/Harris. This would be a tie, producing no winner.

In that case, the Senate would cast one vote per senator (not per state) for the position of vice president. If Republicans are still a majority of senators on Jan. 6, the Senate would vote for Trump to become vice president. But Trump would immediately become president, because the office of the presidency would be vacant, due to the House’s tie vote. However, if the Senate did flip over to a 51–49 Democratic majority after the election — which would require a net gain of four seats — the new senators would be voting, and Biden would win.

As if all of this weren’t already too mind-boggling, the president of the Senate on Jan. 6 will still be Mike Pence, since his term doesn’t expire until Jan. 20. This provides Trump an opportunity to have his vice-president determine how the Senate rules will determine the electors for selecting the next vice-president.

Should Republicans retain control of the Senate, the Democratic senators could conceivably boycott the Senate vote, thereby depriving the body of the two-thirds quorum that is required by the 12th Amendment. If the House were tied, and the Senate had no quorum, neither the House nor the Senate would legally have made any decision. Most likely the Republican Senators would meet and vote anyway, claiming victory. The Supreme Court could then rule on which candidate had enough electoral votes to win.

Even if Biden had clearly won enough electoral votes after the November election, Trump’s attorneys are prepared to go nuclear with one last tactic. Before the House can formally vote to accept the Electoral College votes in January, Republican-controlled legislatures could convene November special sessions in states where he lost the popular vote. The R legislators could declare that there was “massive fraud” in a state’s mail-in ballots — for example, millions were printed and mailed by Ukraine — and appoint the legislature’s own slate of Trump electors. This is arguably permitted under the US Constitution, which provides that electors shall be appointed “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Changing the manner of elector selection after the votes have been counted might violate existing state laws, but guess who would decide on this — the Supreme Court.

Trump might lose the popular vote in five states rated “toss-up” by 270toWin’s 2020 Consensus that happen to have Republican legislatures and governors. They are Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), Arizona (11), and Iowa (6). If all five legislatures acted, a total of 80 electoral votes would shift from Biden to Trump. That would be a highly controversial move. It would also require a lot of coordination among state Republican leaders. Nevertheless, it is 2020, and many unbelievable things have happened already.

Four other toss-up states have R-majority legislatures but Democratic governors. They are Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), and Wisconsin (10). Under the US Code (3 USC §5), governors may submit their own slate of electors by Dec. 8, 2020, if electors in a state are contested. A Democratic governor’s slate would compete with a Republican legislature’s slate when the US House votes on Jan. 6 whether to accept each state’s electors.

If Republican legislatures “went rogue” and appointed their own electors, could states with Democratic legislatures and governors play “tit-for-tat, replacing Trump electors with Biden electors? Not really, because the Democrats only control Maine that has both a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor.

The Supreme Court would decide which slates were the legitimate ones. The conservative majority of the court could side with the legislatures’ slates. The court could also bar the US House from considering competing slates that were based on the popular vote. Trump would win a majority of electors.

With the slew of attorneys that are now working for the Trump Campaign and the Republican National Committee, the above possibilities are serious legal mechanisms that Republicans may fully intend to use. On the other hand, neither strategy would work if Biden won such a huge majority in the Electoral College that even switching the electors of several states from D to R would not get Trump re-elected.

For the good of the nation, the path to a peaceful and normal transition to a new presidency would best be secured by a Biden landslide. That would not be necessary if Donald Trump had not repeatedly claimed that fraud and cheating were the only possible reasons why he would lose.

Hold on tight for the battle that will begin on Nov. 4.

Trump’s Plan for Winning the Election in 2020 or Even 2024!

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Written by Nick Licata


 

Trump began months ago executing a seven-step plan to win or at least upset the apple cart. Here is how it is playing out.

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Donald Trump plays politics as a game to win. And he never, never admits defeat. He is always victorious. He whips his mask off on the White House balcony to show that he has conquered the coronavirus pandemic. His supporters love it. Trump is the ultimate showman.
Nevertheless, the Republican party realizes that Trump may lose his re-election. Consequently, the R’s are doing some really hard work. They are registering more new voters than the Democrats are in key swing states. They also have a massive door-belling campaign to get their supporters out.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are eschewing that practice so as to not spread the pandemic. Instead, they are relying on personal phone calls and social media. Studies have shown that the Republican’s in-person contact is about three times more effective than the efforts that the Democrats are pursuing.
For Trump, that is not enough. He continues to ignore democratic norms and pushes extreme positions. At a campaign rally 12 days before Election Day, Trump called for locking up his opponent, former V.P. Joe Biden, his son Hunter and tossing Hillary Clinton into the clink for good measure. His daughter-in-law Lara Trump excuses her father-in-law’s encouraging rally attendees to chant “lock her up” as just him “having fun.”
But more important than merely inciting his supporters, Trump has a clear plan to depress the Democratic vote, to seed doubt about the election’s validity, and to ultimately force a close election to be decided by the Supreme Court or other means. If all that fails to secure a win for Trump, then what happens? Trump posed that question out loud at a recent rally, “If I lose, what do I do?”
Well, he is not going to stage a military coup. But he will call the election a sham. And be prepared to have him declare that he is a presidential candidate for the 2024 election. It is his only way of retaining his media-star stature as the Defender of the People against the Deep State. And he’ll need that mantle to help him raise funds needed to fight off the upcoming civil and criminal cases he will be facing due to his prior business practices.
In the meantime, Trump began months ago executing a seven-step plan to win or at least upset the apple cart. The results could literally see the streets filled with angry Trump supporters believing, as Trump said, the election was rigged against him. Here is how it is playing out.

Trump’s seven-step election strategy

First Step – Stop Democrats from casting their votes 

Democrats refer to this effort as voter suppression. Republicans see it as keeping our votes safe from fraud. Halting or reducing mail-in balloting is the major Republican strategy. That could affect the ability of more than a third of registered voters who said they will vote by mail this fall, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. That poll also found that those voting by mail this year are more than twice as likely to be voting for Biden as for Trump.
Trump has claimed on Twitter that “mail-in ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 election.” However, MIT found that this was not true by analyzing data collected by the very conservative Heritage Foundation. MIT’s conclusion is that over 20 years, there has been only an average of three cases per state. That works out to about 0.00006 percent of the total votes that were cast.
To address the perceived danger of voting fraud, Republican governors have set up hurdles that include the ballots lack a signature or a witness, or that the ballots did not arrive by an arbitrary time.

Second Step – Sow doubts about the validity of the election results

Trump openly questions our electoral process. He has insisted without evidence that the 2020 election will be rigged against him. At a campaign stop in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he told his supporters, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged.”
The Russian state media and its proxy websites are also bolstering that perception, according to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin. The Russian message is that the vote-by-mail processes and alleged lack of transparency are creating vast opportunities for voter fraud.
To further instill distrust in the election process he is promoting an image of Democrats wanting to destroy our democracy. He has turned to call Democrats fascists. He accused former V.P. Joe Biden of looking to “replace American freedom with left-wing fascism.”
His basic message emboldens far-right movements such as QAnon. Trump claims not to know about the group, which says that Washington harbors Satanists who are protected by a “deep state” that Trump is fighting against. Trump has not denounced the group, instead of calling its followers “people that love our country.”

Third Step – Create chaos in the election process

Creating chaos is not an articulated Trump strategy, but chaos will likely result from his actions. For instance, in front of a TV audience of millions, Trump made a debate-stage call-out for volunteers to stand to watch at voting polls.
The Republican Party has promised to recruit 50,000 volunteers in 15 contested states to monitor polling places. According to an Atlantic article, they will be ready to challenge voters they deem suspicious-looking. Trump campaign spokeswoman, Thea McDonald, guarantees that “all Democrat rule-breaking is called out. And if fouls are called, the Trump campaign will go to court to enforce the laws.”
A number of states are open carry states — meaning that individuals are allowed to carry an unconcealed weapon in public. Virginia is such a state. In the 2016 election, a Trump supporter stood outside a Loudoun County polling place with a handgun in his waistband, offering sample Republican ballots to voters. Election officials said the man broke no laws.
Trump campaign officials say that they will not intimidate voters and that their volunteers will be trained. But who will be training them? In most states, poll monitors must be registered with state authorities. With Trump seeding claims that the election is going to be rigged, suspicions are running high among his supporters. What happens if one of them walks off the street and demanding to be a poll watcher, without any prior registration or non-partisan training and is refused by a poll worker. Given Trump’s inciting distrust in the electoral system, it’s not likely going to be a friendly chat.
Finally, Trump has advised his supporters on Twitter to vote twice.  He said, “Go to your polling place to see whether or not your mail-in vote has been tabulated (counted). If it has you will not be able to vote & the mail-in system worked properly. If it has not been counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do).” It is highly likely that official poll workers will not have that data available. Some states, such as Wisconsin and Florida, do not begin counting any ballots until polls close on Election Day. Some Trump voters will vote twice and if caught, their vote will be tossed. If that happens, expect Trump’s attorneys to file a lawsuit.

Fourth Step – Have the House choose the President

The House of Representatives chooses the next president if neither presidential candidate receives the 270 electoral votes needed to win, or if some legal dispute that is not clearly decided by the Supreme Court prevents determining a clear winner.
It has only happened three times in our country’s past, and all were before 1900. However, it could happen again. University of Virginia’s Center for Politics noted that if Trump won all the states currently rated as a toss-up, it would result in a tie.
If the election were thrown into the House, each state delegation would have a single vote, regardless of how many representatives a state may have. Republicans currently have a majority in 26 state delegations. Democrats are a minority with 22 delegations. However, the House delegates casting the votes for each state would be those elected into office this November, not those currently sitting in the House. 2020 House elections could be even more important than the Senate races!
It should be noted also that the 12th Amendment requires a quorum of two-thirds of the states being present in the House in order for the vote to be taken. If the Democrats’ 22 delegations didn’t attend, the House could not vote. In that case, the Senate decides who becomes vice president, with one vote per senator.
These scenarios are so steeped in procedural minutia, that it is apparent why Trump has so far dismissed going to a House vote. It would have to be a last-ditch effort. As long as Judge Amy Coney Barrett is voted onto the Supreme Court, there is no apparent need for him to promote a House vote as a viable plan.

Fifth Step – Reassign a state’s electoral delegates from Biden to Trump

The most precarious strategy for Trump to pursue would be to have Republican legislators or other elected officials in several swing states appoint Trump-friendly electors to the Electoral College. Barton Gellman’s article in the Atlantic explores this option in detail. He notes that states are not constitutionally required to appoint electors based on the popular vote. Trump’s campaign could convince state legislators that the popular vote was fraudulent, justifying the legislature itself appointing its own slate of electors.
The Atlantic notes that there are ways to keep Republican legislators from appointing delegates to Trump if he did not win a state’s popular vote. Democratic governors or secretaries of state may nullify the legislators’ actions by certifying the popular vote. Alternatively, a slate of Democratic electors could band together and challenge the plan by certifying their own legitimacy.
In the six swing states that have Republican-majority legislatures, both Florida and Arizona have Republican governors. To add a level of complexity, the Arizona secretary of state, who oversees the state’s elections, is a Democrat. Those internal state divisions could result in two different slates of electoral delegates being submitted to Congress for final approval. That could put pressure on the Supreme Court to determine which list would be accepted.
This situation brings us to the final step in Trump’s plan to secure the election: give the deciding power to the Supreme Court. Which will have six conservative justices, three of whom he has appointed.

Sixth Step – Clutter the courts with filings to force a Supreme Court decision

All of the above steps open the door for the election results in battleground states to be challenged in the courts. As of a month ago, Trump and the Republican National Committee already have legal teams involved in more than 40 lawsuits. The number is growing rapidly. The Democrats are playing catch-up, litigating 30-plus lawsuits in at least 17 states.
Politico reports that “Republicans are preparing prewritten legal pleadings that can be hurried to the courthouse the day after the election, as wrangling begins over close results and a crush of mail-in ballots.” It is clear that the authenticity of mail-in ballots and the deadlines for mail-in ballots to be received and counted will be at the heart of most Republican challenges.
Conflicting interpretations of applying the Constitution to the election procedures in various states could extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day. That period of time could be shortened if the Supreme Court intervened. It is likely that with so many lawsuits there will be multiple court jurisdictions making conflicting decisions.
While the Supreme Court often refers to decisions back to the local courts to decide on an issue, that won’t happen in this instance. The justices will have to make a decision.
Or perhaps they could issue a decision that punts the actual final decision to the House of Representatives by claiming that the Constitution gives the authority to select a president to them. That might be how strict “constitutionalists,” such as judge Amy Coney Barrett and fellow justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, might decide. If the court made a decision after the elections for U.S. Representatives are certified, the winner would be apparent by which party controls the most state delegation.
One final note on how the Supreme Court might be influenced by Judge Barrett. She worked on the Bush v. Gore case in 2000, helping Bush’s legal team retrieve and complete thousands of absentee ballot request forms on which voter-registration information was missing. The Republicans back then were trying to keep voters from being disenfranchised. Would that prior court decision provide a precedent for Barrett to determine that ballots with minor procedural elements missing should be counted? The Trump attorneys are expected to oppose counting them.

Seventh Step – Election lost, and a candidate is reborn

If there is a landslide vote for Biden, Trump may be forced to recognize that he has no chance of overturning enough votes to secure the election. More importantly, the Republicans may come to that conclusion as well.  Other scenarios might also lead to the same conclusion, such as a House vote or a Supreme Court decision.
Finally, if none of those events occur, he could contest the election right up until the inauguration. That might just be a bridge too far for a number of Republicans in congress to cross. They could decide it’s time to save the party rather than Trump.
However, Trump could turn his final act in this play into the start of another performance. If he were to announce that he would be a presidential candidate in 2024, he would certainly capture national headlines. He could follow in the steps of Grover Cleveland and be the second president in history to serve two non-consecutive terms. If he won in 2024, he would take office at the age of 78, which is how old Joe Biden will be if he wins and takes office next year.
Most importantly, it would allow Trump to use his greatest resource. No, it’s not his money. It’s his die-hard base of supporters. Pew Research Center estimated that one-in-five adult Twitter users in the U.S. follow Trump’s personal account. He could use them as leverage, not against the Democrats but in opposition to the Republican “establishment” if they stray from Trump’s policies. For those that do, he could threaten to support a primary challenger.
What would he want from the remaining Congressional Republicans? Help with media coverage and with funds to fight off the impending civil lawsuits and criminal charges that he has postponed since gaining high office. No longer being President exposes his business empire to these coming legal battles. Without the Justice Department protecting him he may find it leading the charge to force him, his institutions, and associates to release incriminating documents.
If he can retain his following, Trump can once again be a media star of his own reality show — former President becoming the future President. Stay tuned and watch how he does it!