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Eliminate some tax laws, not IRS funding, to avoid shutdowns

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Republicans lean on government shutdowns as a strategic tool.

This month, the federal government was once again threatened with another shutdown. From November 1995 until today, there have been five shutdowns, with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate for four. This time is no different; the Republicans control the House, and we face another shutdown.

While two of the past shutdowns were explicitly focused on either dismantling Obama Care or halting the construction of a massive wall on the Mexican border, the underlying discussion concerned how we can best spend public funds to avoid a deeper debt burden. 

Although the Republican Party mantra is to shrink government spending, NewsMax columnist Paul deLespinasse wrote, “Republican enthusiasm for reducing the deficit disappears when Republicans occupy the White House. They happily voted to increase the debt limit three times during the Trump administration while increasing the national debt by enacting large tax cuts.” 

Trump’s administration increased the national debt by almost $7.8 trillion. According to Eugene Steuerle, co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, Trump set a new record. He managed to have his annual deficit become the third-biggest increase of any U.S. presidential administration relative to the size of the economy.

Cutting IRS funding increases government debt.

That Republican approach continued in the first week of November when House Speaker Johnson and the House GOP cut $14.3 billion from IRS funding to pay for an aid package to Israel. It passed the House with all but two Republicans supporting it. Five years ago, Republicans demanded $5.7 billion for Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. With Trump’s approval, the government shutdown in 2018 for 34 days — the nation’s most extended shutdown — to get those funds. In the end, Trump got about a third of that amount.  

House Democrat Brendan Boyle (Penn.) argued that Speaker Johnson prioritized “deficit-busting tax giveaways for the wealth over helping Israel.” Boyle then claimed that the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis, which reports to Congress, not the President, found that the IRS cut would “hamstring the IRS’s ability to take on wealthy tax cheats.” The report provided data showing that the IRS cut would increase the deficit by almost $12.5 billion over the next ten years.

The funds being cut were part of the IRS budget increase provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (PL 117-169), which a bipartisan vote of Congress approved. Republicans claim that the supposed 87,000 influx of new agents over ten years would spur an uptick of audits against working-class taxpayers. 

That number of new IRS employees conducting tax audits is suspect, according to Kelley R. Taylor., Kiplinger’s Senior Tax Editor. She wrote that it appeared “to have come from a Treasury Department estimate of the level of hiring needed to maintain IRS efficiency and keep up with retirements and other staff declines.”  The number of new IRS agents to be hired over a decade is unknown. 

In response to the Republican’s attacks on its funding, IRS announced that it was shifting its enforcement efforts to high-income earners, partnerships, and big corporations. Consequently, the agency announced that audit rates would not increase for those earning less than $400,000 annually

The IRS commissioner said they would “hold our wealthiest filers accountable to pay the full amount of what they owe.” He noted that the years of the IRS being underfunded has “led to the lowest audit rate of well-off filers in the agency’s history.”

His statement is backed by the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2022 annual report to Congress, which detailed how years of cutting the I.R.S.’s budget has crippled its capacity to enforce the tax code. Cracking down on tax cheaters among the wealthiest sends a message that all citizens should follow the tax laws.

However, the tax laws are a major cause of our government debt. 

Congress needs to revoke laws that primarily benefit top-income citizens. ProPublica provides a detailed reviewof how the wealthy avoid taxes on billions in revenue by skirting a century-old law dealing with stock swaps. 

Even though “wash sales” have been forbidden since the 2021 legislation passed, the IRS has not kept up with new accountant strategies. Consequently, the one percent of citizens with more than $10 million get to manipulate outdated stock tax laws that do not apply to wages to shield their income from taxation.

Eliminating inefficient and unfair tax laws is not just a left-wing cause. Conservatives argue against tax laws that distort an open market economy.

The Hoover Institute “promotes personal and economic liberty, free enterprise, and limited government.” In their 1999 essay Welfare for the Well-Off: How Business Subsidies Fleece Taxpayers, they argue that laws providing business subsidies cost American taxpayers nearly $100 billion a year. 

The report noted that “in 1997, the Fortune 500 corporations recorded best-ever earnings of $325 billion, yet incredibly Uncle Sam doled out nearly $100 billion in taxpayer subsidies.” The Institute blames both Republican and Democratic administrations for subsidy programs that undermine the free enterprise system and corrupt the political system.

The Republican’s 2017 tax cut legislation contributed to our national debt growth.

Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed solely by Republicans. The Senate passed the bill by a party-line vote of 51 to 49. The House passed the bill by a vote of 224 to 201. No House Democrats supported the bill, and 12 Republicans voted no. The law is forecast to raise the federal deficit by hundreds of billions—the Congressional Budget Office estimating $1.9 trillion—over the coming decade.

The new tax law dramatically reduced the corporate tax rate from 40% to 21%, roughly equivalent to the rate paid by US companies’ significant competitors, the European-based multinationals. This argument seemed fair. However, a University of Michigan Law School study on the largest 100 companies based in the US and the European Union in the decade ending in 2010 reveals a severe flaw in this logic. 

The authors note that even though the U.S. rate was ten percentage points higher than the average corporate rate in the European Union, the effective U.S. corporate tax rate was the same or lower in comparing these two groups during that period. 

Two tax laws have significantly increased US corporate profits since 2010. First, the percentage of income paid after tax breaks—among profitable large corporations fell from 16% in 2014 to 9% in 2018 due to paying less taxes. Second, Trump’s tax law did not significantly close major tax breaks. As a result, their effective tax rate is far below what their European competitors are paying in taxes. 

Now corporations and their owners and investors see their incomes rise ever higher, as does the nation’s debt due to less tax revenue. 

Expect another threatened government shutdown at the end of January. 

Speaker Michael Johnson avoided a government shutdown by adopting a proposal that the Republican right-wing Freedom Caucus offered. A two-step continuing resolution (CR) was passed by Congress that continued funding for the 12 appropriation bills but only for a limited period. The bills were divided into two sets. 

Four less controversial appropriations, like covering veterans’ programs, transportation, and agriculture, would come up for a second vote on January 19 to continue their funding. It was a smart move to first vote for the ones that are most likely to get enough Republicans to fund them again. The other eight spending bills containing the most contentious issues of financing the IRS and border security will come for a vote by February 2, when their CR expires.

The Republican hard right has refused to fund the IRS at Biden’s proposed level and is determined to halt the flow of refugees across our southern border. They have not been willing to compromise with the Democrats and prefer a government shutdown if Johnson relies on them to pass a budget. 

The nation will again face the possibility of federal services stopping and the financial markets downgrading our credit. This past shadow of a possible shutdown resulted in Moody’s credit rating agency lowering the U.S. government’s debt to “negative” from “stable,” citing political polarization in Congress. 

Even if we get through the first quarter of next year without a shutdown, the threat will return as our national debt of $33 trillion grows. It will only cease growing when Congress decides that its candy store shelves of tax subsidies for the wealthiest citizens and businesses are finally barren. 

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Israel Could Adopt an Immediate Ceasefire to Achieve Its War Objective 


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It is counter-intuitive that any country winning a military struggle would initiate a call for an immediate ceasefire. But that is precisely what Israel needs to do to achieve their primary objective, preserving the nation-state of Israel. By pursuing its current war with Hamas, Israel is working against that goal.

Hamas may be prepared to have all its combatants killed in this Holy War against Israel because their ultimate victory is the elimination of Israel. That will only occur if the Muslim, Arab, and Persian world is united in that goal. The humanitarian tragedy resulting from Israel bombarding and invading Gaza invites and reinforces that unity.  

The war with Israel meets Hamas’s goal of derailing the budding positive relationship developing between Israel and Palestine’s largest Arab donors.

Weeks before Hamas attacked Israel, President Joe Biden was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly observing that a “historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia” seemed within reach. That would devastate Hamas’s plans for driving Jews out of the Middle East. 

Under President Trump, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco all signed on to normalization agreements with Israel. The top Arab donor from 1994 to 2020 was Saudi Arabia at $4 billion, followed by the UAE ($2.1 billion). But in 2020, Saudi Arabia cut its aid to Palestine by 81.4%. Other Arab countries had also begun cutting back their financial aid at the urging of President Donald Trump to push Palestine to be less critical of Arabs reaching agreements with Israel. 

Hamas could see that its role as the liberator of Palestine from Israel’s domination was slipping away. Within the past two years, Arab funding for Palestine has dramatically shrunk. They had to do something dramatic and quick to stop Saudi Arabia from signing an agreement with Israel — they brutally attacked Israel. 

The 6,000-plus missiles slamming into Israel was a horrific experience for Israel. However, having terrorists get past Israel’s “iron wall,” breaking into your home and killing your family members is a personal traumatic defilement of one’s life. It was sure to arouse Israel’s new far-right government to launch a counterattack against Gaza, Hama’s base of operations. 

Did Hamas intend to provoke Israel to invade Gaza?  The first rule for winning a fight is to choose the battleground. Hamas was prepared to fight the war on its ground. Israel was surprised by the brutality of the Hamas attack, but Hamas was not surprised by Israel’s response. 

If so, as in past conflicts, Israel’s military intervention was expected to awaken furious support for the Palestinians within the Arab countries. Those countries’ leaders were forced to stall establishing better relations with Israel.

It may seem inconceivable that Hamas is winning the war, with its top leaders being picked off, their central city falling into rubble, and hundreds of their children dying. But consider this. Hamas built an infrastructure just for an Israeli attack. According to military analysts, Hamas’s costly, extensive, sophisticated network of tunnels would have required at least two years of planning and construction. Tunnels are not needed for diplomacy. But they are necessary for an all-out war with Israel. But how could a poor country afford to build such an extensive underground fort?

There is little verifiable accounting of the billions of aid Palestine has received from the West and Arab countries. Israel monitors that aid to ensure it bypasses Hamas’s manipulation. However, the autocratic Hamas-run Gaza government benefits from foreign countries footing the bill for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. That aid frees Hamas to use taxes collected from their impoverished citizens to do other things – like building tunnels and purchasing weapons.

As of 2020, less than half of Palestinian households were food secure. Meanwhile, unemployment in the West Bank is at 14 percent, and it is nearly 50 percent in Gaza. These are conditions that brew discontentment toward Israel since it controls Gaza’s contact with the outside world, restricting its ability to be economically independent. This allows Hamas to point to Israel as the cause of their sorrows. The current war ignites that anger and supports Hamas’s attacks on Israel. 

Hamas can tolerate the destruction that is leveling their country because Israel’s massive military response is reinforcing their more significant objective. It is difficult to imagine that Hamas was unaware that thousands of Palestinian civilians would die once Israel started firing missiles back at the dug-in missile launchers located under Gaza’s densely populated country.  

It is possible that some Palestinians approved of Hamas’s attack on Israel in retaliation for what they see as occupiers of their homeland. But there is no way to know what most of the Palestinians in Gaza freely think. That’s because Hamas controls Gaza’s internal communications to the extent that they do not tolerate any open opposition to their rule. 

Hamas has snuffed out elections, public polling, and open forums in Gaza. They are a classic theocratic government, like Iran, in determining internal and foreign affairs within a religious prism, dividing the world into good and evil. 

Israel is a functioning democracy, albeit some rights groups argue that dozens of laws indirectly or directly discriminate against Arabs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-conservative government is deeply committed to following scriptures from the Hebrew Bible. The Prime Minister said in an October 30 speech that Israelites should remember from their Bible what happened to the ‘Amalek,’ a nation. They destroyed it as an act of revenge. 

In line with that position, Netanyahu rejected calls for a cease-fire in the war and would continue to destroy Hamas’ underground network of tunnels. But it’s unclear if he cares to discriminate killing Hamas from the many civilian Gaza residents who may consider Hamas combatants as their freedom fighters.

Consequently, Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza is creating a humanitarian crisis, with estimates that hundreds of children are dying each day that it continues. The demands for a ceasefire are often being made by non-partisan agencies who witness the plight of Palestinians who have had 30% of their housing demolished and their hospital and care facilities severely damaged or operate with minuscule medical supplies. 

Israel’s government believes that accepting a complete ceasefire will happen after it eliminates Hamas. As articulated by Netanyahu, Israel’s main objective is to destroy Hamas. 

However, journalist Jay Michaelson sees another long-term objective that Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party have pursued. They believe that an independent Palestine is the greatest threat facing Israel. Their effort has been to tolerate Hamas to keep them as a counterbalance to the other Palestine party, the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.

Celebrating when some Hamas leader who was responsible for organizing the attack on Israel is killed is not going to eliminate Hamas. More importantly, the larger story is often the large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries that are explained away as unintended collateral damage. 

Israel is stubbornly blind to how their massive military incursion into Gaza’s air and ground space is affecting a new generation of Palestinians. For every Hamas combatant killed, a future fundamentalist combatant will arise from the thousands of homeless or orphaned children in Gaza grieving for their killed parents. Why wouldn’t their traumatic experience create a future army of children nourishing hatred, not love, towards Israel and Jews? 

Journalist Fareed Zakaria wrote that Israel’s experience when it invaded Lebanon in 1982 should encourage restrain its current invasion of Gaza. Their objective then was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) out of parts of Lebanon bordering Israel. For years, the PLO fought skirmishes with Israel’s army and killed Israeli civilians. Israel used 80,000 troops and 1,200 tanks to drive the PLO out of power. In that victory, more than 17,000 people in Lebanon were killed and more than 30,000 injured.

Forty years later, another, more powerful and dangerous advisory, Hezbollah, has emerged with an estimated 60,000 fighters and 150,000 rockets and missiles. In comparison, Hamas is estimated to have about half the number of fighters and less than a quarter of the missiles. 

Israel must now address this deadlier threat to its existence, along with trying to eliminate Hamas.  This should make Netanyahu and his government acknowledge that it is a dead-end solution to continue killing more Palestinians, Muslim, or Arab civilians in search of the terrorists. There are 8 million Jews in Israel, and there are over 360 million Muslims in the Middle East. The Hamas party and its government may be destroyed, but the Arab movement that wishes to destroy Israel will now have more recruits. 

Rightly or wrongly, Israel, not Hamas, is blamed for creating a humanitarian tragedy. Many, if not the majority, of media outlets outside the U.S. and Western European countries repeat that theme. Meanwhile, except for retrieving hostage Israelis, Hamas’s initial terrorist acts are becoming old news.

Israel must grapple with its image as a ruthless aggressor that has gone way beyond defending its territory. It must act decisively and boldly in a manner that will alter the conditions that will lead to a more dangerous, not safer, future for it to survive. 

Israel can do something that Hamas is unprepared for and cannot stop. Israel can declare a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas could not tolerate that move. It wrecks their narrative. It allows the Arab nations to withdraw support from Hamas. 

Yes, Hamas, for a limited time, may well continue to fire missiles into Israel, and some Israelis may die.  But with each missile fired, Gaza, as the continuous victim of Israeli aggression, will crumble. The world will be reminded that Hamas started this war. And they will lose their standing as a legitimate government.

Israel has amply demonstrated that it could inflict much greater pain upon the people of Gaza, but it could also prefer to withdraw as an honorable nation. If it did, the Arab nations would be stunned into acting to free Gaza citizens from Hamas authority. With their assistance, a new non-Hamas government could emerge. 

A unilateral ceasefire is a bold strategy that aligns with the winning tactic of dividing your enemies. Not only will the more moderate Arab nations withdraw support from Hamas, but Palestinians may follow along if Israel can change its current overall approach to Palestinians living in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Only Israel can stop the war. Even if the U.S. ceased all aid to Israel, Netanyahu’s government would continue the war. The movement for a peaceful settlement and a stabilized Israeli–Arab Middle East relationship must come from within Israel. 

This moment in history requires an Israeli political leader to be fiercely pragmatic in hammering out a new relationship with the surrounding Arab states. Netanyahu’s recent speech framing this conflict and future conflicts with Palestinians as a Holy War does not allow for that approach. 

From Netanyahu’s past words and actions, he never endorsed an independent Palestine state alongside Israel as a two-state solution. It is a position that Iran’s leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, wholly supports since he considers Israel an occupier regime that does not deserve to exist in Palestine. Both leaders’ attitudes can lead to eradicating Palestine or Israel as nation-states.

If Israel can abandon the hard-right fundamentalism that grips Netanyahu’s party, a pragmatic Arab leader would be able to emerge to work for a peaceful, long-term solution. By continuing Netanyahu’s uncompromising warfare strategy, Israel is sowing the seeds of never-ending wars, no matter how many Hamas leaders are eliminated.  

The Hamas-Israel War Could Go Nuclear with Gaza Invasion

Hamas initiated the deadliest Middle Eastern war for Israel since its Independence War of 1948.

The Muslim Hamas Party executed a massive missile attack and subsequent invasion of Israel on Oct 7. Israel responded with missiles bombarding Gaza, which, combined with the West Bank, is recognized as the country of Palestine by 138 countries. 

Competing political parties rule Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas has ruled Gaza since winning an election there in 2006. Hamas ended elections and now rules autocratically with no Palestinian civilian restraint on them within Gaza.

Hamas launched over 6,000 missiles at Israel, and an estimated 2,000 Hamas soldiers invaded it, killing 1,400 Israeli civilians and kidnapping about 200. Israel returned missile fire and intends to invade Gaza to destroy Hamas.  Over three times the number of civilian Palestinians have died from Israel bombardments, with half of the population being children.  An estimated 30% of northern Gaza’s homes have been destroyed. A similar dynamic between the Austrians and the Serbs sparked World War One in the Balkans.

Could a local war slip into a regional and then world war?

The start of the first WW is often traced to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. A Bosnian Serb nationalist killed the soon-to-be ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The killer was from a secret terrorist society, Union or Death, that wanted Bosnian Serbs living outside of Serbia to be free of Austro-Hungarian domination. The Austrians held Serbia responsible, just as Israel held Gaza responsible for harboring Hamas. 

In both instances, an ethnic/religious movement was committed to terrorism. In the massacre of innocent Israeli citizens, it’s becoming more evident that the Hamas leadership was aware of the terror it would inject into Israel, not the result of uncontrolled fighters or an extreme faction within Hamas. The United States and the European Union have previously designated Hamas as a terrorist organization for repeatedly attacking Israel with rocket attacks and suicide bombings.

Serbia was part of the larger Slavic population that shared a common history and religion with Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. Similarly, Palestinians share those elements with the larger Arab population in the Middle East. 

Serbia was not able to free Bosnian Serbs. However, they relied on Russia to aid them should the Austro-Hungarian Empire attack Serbia. Russia did go to war with the Austrians, and in response, Germany supported the Austrians. Meanwhile, France and Britain jumped in to stop Germany from gaining a victory. Other countries like the U.S. joined in, and four years later, 20 million soldiers and civilians lay dead.

Israelites and Palestinians rely on allies just as Serbia and Austria-Hungary did in 1914.

Hamas is playing the same role as Serbia did. It relies on Iran as a solid ally to deter Israel from attacking it but also to aid it in eliminating the state of Israel. Like the Austrian-Hungry Empire, Israel relies on foreign military assistance from America to save it from extermination. Significant armed allies have stepped forward to back up Palestine and Hamas in the Middle East.

For instance, Iran gave unrestrained support to Hamas’s attack. Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, said in a statement: “This victorious operation will certainly expedite the collapse of the Zionist regime and promises its imminent annihilation,” the semi-official news agency Fars reported. Iran is considered the primary supplier of arms to Hamas and other Arabs who oppose Israel’s existence.

The U.S. is Israel’s primary supplier of weapons to defend itself from Muslim attacks. President Biden gave the most pro-Israel speech heard in memory from a president. He described Hamas’s attack on Israel as “pure, unadulterated evil” and defended Israel’s need to exist. 

The Serbian and Palestinian conflicts differ in where and how the boundaries for the newly arranged countries could be drawn. But as in each conflict, alliances have more to do with expanding a war than containing it. This was the objective of the Bosnian Serbs, and it appears that Hamas’s objective was to bring Iran into the struggle.

It’s about who gets to live on the land.

The world is again observing a struggle between ethnic groups to create an independent nation-state from land that another ethnic group occupies. Palestinians currently residing in two detached lands, the West Bank and Gaza, want total independence from Israel. And some, like the fundamentalist Islamist organization Hamas, demand that the state of Israel should be eliminated and that Palestinians should control all the Middle East.

As Israel was bombing Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ attack, Biden met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said, “I don’t believe you have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, and I am a Zionist.”

Zionism is a nationalist movement allowing the Jewish people to return to their biblical homeland and resumption of Jewish sovereignty after being exiled for 2,000 years. But it has also come to include the movement for developing the State of Israel and protecting the Jewish nation in Israel.

In practical political terms, a Zionist believes that the nation-state of Israel should and must exist. Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Antisemitism, speaking on CNN, describes Israelites as “an indigenous people who returned after millennia of exile and persecution.” Going one step further, she said that not supporting Israel’s existence is anti-Zionism, which is a modern form of antisemitism. 

Meanwhile, there are 2.1 million Palestinians in Gaza and another 3 million in the West Bank. They are mainly resentful that Israel exists on land they believe they should live on and control.  At the end of the 1800s, this region was part of the Ottoman Empire. Their census of 1878 indicated the following demographics for the area historically considered Palestine (Jerusalem, Nablus, and Acre districts): 86% Muslims, 9% Christians, and 5% Jews. Today, Israel according to its Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Israel has 18% Muslims, 2% Christians, and 74% Jews.

Israel declared its independence in 1948 as a new nation, which the United Nations quickly recognized, with the support of the U.S. and Stalin’s Soviet Union. The U.N. planned on creating Palestine and Israel as independent states. Nevertheless, Palestinians remained in the territories of Gaza and the West Bank as a non-nation, not represented in the UN as Israel. Most inhabitants in these two territories are the offspring of the 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled or were expelled and not allowed to return to the land that became Israel. 

About the same number of Jews immigrated to the new nation of Israel. Nearly half of all Israeli Jews are descended from immigrants from the European Jewish diaspora. And Jewish immigrants are still arriving, with the foreign-born accounting for 26% of the total population.

Palestinian hostility toward Israel goes beyond what they see as the loss of their land. It is stoked by Israel’s control over the internal life of citizens in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 after the Six-Day War as a buffer zone to limit the ability of Muslims to try to attack and eliminate Israel. The Palestinian Authority represents the Palestinians and administers some 39% of the West Bank, while 61% is under direct Israeli military and civilian control. A further restriction on Palestinians is that Israel controls 80% of West Bank’s water supply. Gaza has more significant restrictions with air and maritime space, and six of its seven land crossings are controlled by Israel, which reserves the right to enter Gaza at will with its military. 

The Arab-Jewish Conflict in the Middle East is an existential war.

Cotler-Wunsh describes the current and past wars that Israel has fought as an existential war against the State of Israel and the Jewish people. One of the reasons given by observers why Palestine failed to become a separate nation is that the Arab nations in the Middle East did not want to give up some of their land to create the nation. And the Palestinians themselves, for various causes, have clung for seventy-five years to the belief that they will take back their land. 

That is not going to happen without a severe war that could quickly escalate to involve the allied powers supporting the two sides in the Arab-Israel struggle. The Hamas attack on Israel was the first step in that direction, and the second would be Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

The scenes of Hamas brutally killing Israeli civilians galvanized support for Israel in the US and Europe. The deaths of many more civilians in Gaza have not had the same impact. 

While the Arab world has protested against Israel, the deaths in Gaza appear less personal. That will dramatically change once images of dead children lying beside Israeli soldiers are shown. 

Hamas had no realistic chance of defeating Israel’s army, but they did prompt Israel to attack Gaza. Hamas is dug into Gaza’s physical infrastructure so that it cannot be targeted without civilian casualties. Gaza residents are dying, and the expected treaty between Saudi Arabia and Israel is now dead.  That agreement could have normalized relations between Israelis and Arabs.  

Professor Yuval Noah Harari at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote that Hamas launched this war with the specific political aim of preventing peace. From its founding, it rejected Israel’s right to exist and had previously disrupted the Oslo peace process and all subsequent peace efforts, seeing them as deadly threats to its existence. Ironically, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Peace Accords, was assassinated by an Israeli who opposed them on religious grounds.

The resulting Arab furry at Israel invading Gaza could push Lebanon’s Hezbollah to magnify its minimal attacks to disrupt Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas. Hezbollah can launch accurate and powerful missiles that can reach all of Israel. Once those missiles hit residential areas, Israel will be forced to respond with even greater retaliation against Hezbollah. That will bring Lebanon into the war.

What Could Ignite WWIII?

The dynamics for a regional Arab war against Israel will reflect the reality that Israel’s boundary is adjacent to six Arab nations, with four having 90% of their citizens being Muslim and all having less than one percent Jews or none. Their combined population is over twenty times greater than Israel’s. With that alignment, Israel will have to rely on missiles and air strikes to gain some leverage, which they began with airstrikes on Syrian soil last week.

Iran is prepared for a regional war against Israel and U.S. presence in the Middle East. It provides weapons to Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon and Syria abutting Israel, and further away, there are other Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Yemen. 

The whiffs of U.S. engagement in a regional war can be detected. An American aircraft carrier group was sent to the eastern Mediterranean, destroying cruise missiles and drones that appeared to have targeted Israel. Drones have attacked our military positions in Iraq and a garrison in Syria. 

Since nation-states provide easy targets, they are less likely to initiate using aircraft or direct arterial bombardment of Israel or Iran.  However, some U.S. politicians seem to be willing to extend the conflict. Senator Lindsey Graham on NewsMax accused Iran of involvement in the Oct 7 Hamas attack and said, “We’re here today to tell Iran: ‘We’re watching you. If this war grows, it’s coming to your backyard.” That response will make the U.S. a more tempting target.

According to the Arms Control Organization, Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test but is universally believed to possess nuclear arms. According to Iran Watch, There is ample evidence in the public domain that Iran has tried to achieve the Weaponization of its nuclear material but no conclusive evidence that it has succeeded. Iran is estimated to be at least a year away from having a deliverable nuclear bomb. 

It is highly doubtful that either country would use a nuclear weapon since it would likely destroy their nation.

However, as Iran’s control over its stand-in terrorist groups becomes looser, the chance for more significant attacks on Israel and U.S. forces from them becomes more likely. The greatest threat to a real war would be if a renegade of Iran’s stand-ins exploded even one small nuclear bomb in Israel, even if not delivered by air. 

Would Iran or another Arab country be so foolish to provide them access to one? But what if it was stolen?  Perhaps due to a lack of security in Iran’s stockpile?

Using nuclear weapons will open the door for escalating a series of retaliatory atomic bombings. The smallest ones continue to get bigger as more civilians are killed. You cannot employ nuclear bombs just to kill the enemy soldiers. They kill all within the radius of its impact.

To avoid this extreme scenario, but still a fearfully potential one, Israel must realize that it cannot eliminate Hamas by invading Gaza. It’s a movement, not a nation-state. The son of a Hamas founder said, “Hamas is a raging religious movement. They want to annihilate the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” They appear to be using Gaza citizens as front-line unarmed conscripted “soldiers” in their determination to destroy Israel.

According to Richard Haass, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas is as much a network, a movement, and an ideology as an organization. Its leadership can be killed, but the entity or something like it will survive. 

The US, Russia, and Britain have all tried to crush terrorist fundamentalist religious movements. They all failed.  Israel must learn to live with Arab nations that can be rational and open to diplomacy. Jordan may provide a workable model. But all nations in the Middle East must reject absolute solutions to negotiate a lasting peace. 

For a two-state solution to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel to succeed,  

the Palestinian Authority and its allies must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Jews probably run a less theocratic-oriented government than their neighboring Muslim countries. Many Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, claim to be a democracy. But the fine details reveal that they are often not providing a level playing field for all citizens. 

The ongoing Middle Eastern wars between Israel and Arabs will continue until all actors realize they have more to gain from peace than war. If they continue to ignore that fact, they will never achieve peace. Instead, they will eventually invite mutual destruction to themselves and their allies. The question then is when?

Can the Ukrainian War be Won?

The answer to the question Can the Ukrainian War be Won? No ­— unless both sides settle for exercising less sway over the future of their country. The Ukraine and Russia war, at its core, is about nationalism. Each is defending their motherland against outside control.

Put simply, the nationalist view of the conflict is clear. Ukrainians are fighting on their home turf and defending the land against Russians invading it. However, as articulated by their leader, V. Putin, the Russians are defending their historic dominance over Ukraine that the Western countries wish to break away. 

Nationalism is more than just adjusting boundaries; it’s about sustaining a culture and often recognizing that it should be the dominant culture of a land. Culture defines a “people” by language, customs, history, and myths. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin applied that belief in his 2021 essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” preceding the full-scale invasion of Ukraine the following year. Branko Marcetic, with the self-avowed socialist Jacobin magazine, describes Putin’s essay as presenting a vision of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” with the Ukrainians being manipulated by unspecified “Western powers” as part of an “anti-Russia project” to make the country a “springboard against Russia.”

Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine is a classic nationalist objective of protecting a motherland from foreign powers occupying its territory while Ukraine is fighting to remain independent. Marcetic recognizes that Moscow’s invasion is self-evidently criminal and appalling. Nevertheless, he believes, as some do on the U.S. left and right political wings, that the West has contributed to the Ukrainian war by encouraging the addition of NATO nations on Russia’s border. That expansion eliminates Russia’s historic dominance over Eastern Europe. Does Putin have a legitimate grievance?

In a news conference in December 2021, Putin said, “You promised us in the 1990s that [NATO] would not move an inch to the East. You cheated us shamelessly,” However, that promise was vague.  Secretary of State James Baker suggested to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, during an informal meeting, that if the Soviets peacefully withdrew from East Germany, NATO would not expand into the Eastern countries. 

According to the post-Cold War historian Mary Sarotte, President George H.W. Bush rejected the idea. When formal negotiations began later in 1990, a ban on NATO expansion was never offered. And Gorbachev agreed to a treaty that did not limit the future expansion of NATO. 

Putin reinterpreted the treaty as an infringement on his nation when NATO expanded its membership into Eastern Europe. NATO’s expansion has an element of globalism in that its members belong to a larger body attempting to determine the future of a region. Russia saw that attempt after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. NATO added 12 countries that had been subservient to Russia by controlling their fellow communist governments behind what the West referred to as the “Iron Curtain.” 

Another treaty was specifically written dealing with Ukraine. Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer writesthat in 1994, the Budapest Memorandum was signed by Russia and the U.S. and the U.K. committing all of them “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” in exchange for Ukraine giving up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. 

The U.S. provided “assurances,” not “guarantees,” to protect Ukraine from Russia. Guarantees would have implied a commitment of American military force. However, the NATO members and the U.S. would not provide it. Consequently, U.S. assistance has been limited to providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. 

Putin’s Russia invaded and then illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia then waged a simmering war for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region until it launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. As a result, there are 8 million Ukrainian refugees in Europe. 

According to UNHCR figures, over half (4.8 million) are in the countries bordering Ukraine. Poland alone is hosting nearly 1 million. In comparison, the U.S. has admitted 271,000 Ukrainian refugees. 

A flood of additional Ukrainian refugees is of significant national concern for many European countries should Russia take over Ukraine. The larger liberal democratic governments realized that this influx could destabilize the Eastern European countries with weaker democratic institutions, leading to more strident nationalist governments. These governments would upend Europe’s liberal democracies’ agenda of a larger European Union, with an independent judiciary supporting civil rights for all its citizens.  

That danger has been underway. This month, Robert Fico’s populist SMER party won the most seats in Slovakia’s parliament. It is a pro-Russian party and likely to form a ruling coalition with Slovakia’s most right-wing party. Fico has pledged an immediate end to military support for Ukraine. Until his election, Slovakia had pushed for tough European Union sanctions against Russia and donated much military equipment to Ukraine.

This past September, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán threatened to withdraw support for Ukraine in protest of a 2017 Ukraine law that limits ethnic Hungarians from speaking their language, particularly in schools. Hungary has also blocked a $526 million EU military aid package to Kyiv since May because Ukraine listed Hungary’s largest bank as an indirect financial backer of Russia’s invasion.

Poland, one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, threatened to no longer supply weapons to it because of a diplomatic dispute over Kyiv’s grain exports. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki initially said Poland would focus on defending itself, but his administration has backpedaled from that statement. 

Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland are moving to defend their national concerns before that of Ukraine. However, the latter two governments are finding that their national policies are also being trumped by the EU’s demand that they change. 

This past July, the EU’s European Commission withheld funds from Poland and Hungary as punishment for breaching the binding effect of the EU Court of Justice rulings. Their national sovereignty is being compromised, and thus, they may feel less willing to pursue a more global approach to helping Ukraine. Popular support within all three countries has diminished since the start of the war for arming Ukraine. 

Other European countries are witnessing less interest from their citizens in Ukraine winning the war. According to a survey by GlobSec, a Bratislava-based security think tank in Slovakia, only 40% of Slovaks believed Russia was responsible for the war in Ukraine. 

Italy could also go that way despite Italy’s new right-wing populist party’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni continuing Italy’s support for Ukraine. However, Italy has accepted two-thirds of the Ukrainian refugees as the U.S., and Italians’interest in that support is trailing down. A February poll by the daily Corriere Della Sera showed some 45% of Italians were against sending weapons to Ukraine versus 34% in favor. 

Most telling is the decline in European support from March 2022 to February 2023 for measures backing Ukraine. During that period, polling within Ukraine’s five strongest allies, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Poland, showed a drop in approval of economic/financial sanctions and sending arms as high as 16%. Still, except for Italy, the populations of the other four countries are just above 50% for sending arms. 

If Ukraine’s summer offensive to retake significant territory fails, the approval rates will continue to fall for supporting Ukraine. This is in keeping with the trend of national needs overriding a more globalist approach to enforcing a regional authority to halt the war. 

This nationalist attitude is becoming a significant force within the U.S. Republican Party, with the reactionary 50-member Republican Freedom House Caucus in the lead to curb, if not halt, funding to Ukraine.  Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the vote to oust Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker, played an instrumental role in forcing the short-term budget measure to exclude any aid to Ukraine. Previously, he had introduced a bill to prohibit all security assistance for Ukraine, which failed 70-358 on the House floor, with 149 Republicans opposing it. 

Despite a sizeable portion of the House Republicans supporting aid to Ukraine, the nationalist sentiment for the U.S.  to withdraw from a globalist role is gaining support within their party. Opposition to Ukrainian aid often demands that President Biden present a clear strategy for achieving a U.S. objective in the war. A prime example is Republican Rep. Brian Mast, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who initially strongly supported the defense of Ukraine but has since said no further aid absent a clear strategy.

America’s attitude toward the war follows the same pattern as in Europe during the war.  A survey conducted for CNN by SSRS, an independent research company, found that between February 2022 and July 2023, there was a 14% drop in thinking that the United States should do more to stop Russian military actions in Ukraine. Doing more now stands at 48%, with 51% believing the U.S. has already done enough. The decline in U.S. support for Ukraine is about the same as in Germany and Poland. However, it is greater than the other three major European countries. 

The changing attitudes of the leaders and populace of Europe and those within the U.S. are all anchored in nationalism: the belief that each nation must first be concerned with its own needs before being involved with the needs of other countries. Russia is counting on the slow and steady growth of nationalism as its most significant leverage for winning the war with Ukraine. 

The one place where nationalism is not working for Russia is in Ukraine. An August 2023 Gallup poll showed that even though support for winning the war has slipped from 70% to 60% from the prior year’s September, Ukrainians want to keep fighting until they win. Regaining Crimea is considered a necessary objective, but in the province closest to Crimea, support drops below 50%. 

Nevertheless, with such staunch resistance, Russia might consider a treaty allowing it to limit Ukraine’s control over the Russian-occupied territory. But can they be trusted? Putin had previously broken two ceasefire agreements with Ukraine, Minsk I and Minsk II, in 2014 and 2015.  He may find an excuse to break another deal if it were just between the two countries. To be an effective treaty, it would have to be backed by an outside party, i.e., an example of globalism at work. 

A workable treaty with Russia would not negate any continuing attempt to manipulate Ukraine’s internal politics. Before Zelensky’s election, Russia operated through Ukraine’s oligarchs to wield extensive political influence. Unless Ukraine obtains sufficient military and economic strength and stronger democratic institutions, Russia will have Ukraine as a client state, similar in status to Belarus.

The emergence of nationalism among Ukraine’s current allies allows Russia to win the war slowly. Some argue that Russia cannot sustain a long war. However, its armed forces are four times larger than Ukraine’s. Its paramilitary forces are five times larger. Its population is over three times larger. All give Putin almost unlimited cannon fodder. 

Since Russia’s government is a one-person operation, dependent on the image of strong authoritarian rule, dissent from the highest to the lowest levels is not tolerated. Unless Putin were replaced, there are no brakes available to halt Putin’s war. A new leader would face immense opposition to ending the war without showing some tangible victory, given the considerable human and economic cost it has levied on Russia. 

A feasible but unpopular path forward for Ukrainians to avoid a devastating defeat would be to have its Eastern provinces and the Crimean Peninsula neutralized as Italy’s Trieste Province had been after WWII. For that survival victory, an outside power must intercede and mandate an end to the war. That is globalism. But globalism is the devil to conservatives in Europe and the U.S. because conservatives have embraced nationalism. 

Globalism is seen by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, as cosmopolitanism. It is a positive application of globalism on a personal scale. Appiah describes a cosmopolitan as someone who sees human beings as shaping their lives within nesting memberships: a family, a neighborhood, a plurality of overlapping identity groups, spiraling out to encompass all humanity. It’s a grandiose vision that expands one’s moral imagination. But it may demand too much acceptance from citizens from any country born into a culture defined primarily by national identity. 

However, a global approach allows America to stay engaged with other European countries and not reward Russia for its aggression. If we back away, other countries will also. Ukraine will most likely only be able to remain independent with foreign help. Ukraine losing the war could unleash an even larger refugee stream into Europe. Unpredictable hardships in Europe would result and be felt in the U.S. as well. By embracing an America First nationalism, we will be willfully blind to this impending repercussion. 

Americans must continue to value a democracy that embraces ethnic diversity, an independent judiciary, civil rights for all, and our common welfare.  If not, the U.S. could be overwhelmed by citizens abandoning those values for an uncompromising “ism,” be it nationalism, fascism, or communism. Creating a physical or mental wall around the U.S. will not protect us from that peril. A global approach would lessen that risk.

The attitude of America before WWII until the Pearl Harbor attack was not to get involved in Europe’s conflict. We need only to protect ourselves and ignore what happens in other countries. 

If we had not gone to war in Europe, nationalized fascism could have toppled other democratic countries, including the US. People aren’t attracted to losers, as Trump said in referring to Senator McCain as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. If Nazi Germany had won, perhaps many American citizens would have accepted fascism as a better alternative to living under a liberal democracy. History does not repeat itself but provides lessons to be learned. 

Do Radio Stations & Newspapers Push a Liberal Or Conservative Agenda?

Conservative commentators and politicians attack the reliability of the “media” since they believe the liberals control it. They often point to television and some social media like Facebook. Except for the New York Times and Washington Post, they have avoided attacking other printed media and radio. 

While the liberals do not dismiss all media as being too conservative, they argue that big corporations’ concentration of media ownership limits the breadth of opinion and promotes conservative views, such as promoting a smaller federal government.

Liberals don’t campaign for big government. Still, they support government intervention in regulating the marketplace and social behavior. The first is for maintaining a fair marketplace, and the latter protects citizens from being denied exercising their constitutional rights. Those efforts result in a larger central government, which big businesses usually oppose.  

Support for smaller government was measured during and after President George H.W. Bush’s term. Gallup polling since 1992 asked respondents to respond to: “The Government should do more to solve our country’s problems.” And “The government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.”

Only twice in the 29 years from ’92 to ’21 has the response reached 50 percent or higher that the government “Should do more.” Meanwhile, in 24 of those years, half or more responded that the government “was doing too much.”

What drives the belief that less government is better than more government? 

Media significantly shapes cultural values and promotes politics that help determine how the public perceives the government’s usefulness.  Since conservative commentaries and Republican politicians champion small government as a core talking point, tracking their appearance and support in the media indicates how much their message may influence public opinion.

We can consider national media as being divided into four conduits. Television and social media are solely digital, which receive the most attention from the political parties. The primarily non-digital ones are radio and print media, which have not received the attention or the wrath from either party for being biased. However, both mediums have experienced an increase in the concentration of ownership. Has that development moved public opinion to support “small government?” 


There are over 15,000 radio stations in the US, with a weekly reach of around 82 percent among adults. About a hundred stations are political/talk radio stations. Other stations may have a single political talk show or host a syndicated talk radio commentator. Overall, only a small percentage of all talk shows are political commentary shows. Preaching conservative values that embrace less government is more apparent on radio than conservative columnists dominating the editorial pages of newspapers. 

According to The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio, a 2007 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), 91 percent of the political and talk radio broadcast each day is conservative. The top five largest radio companies host 257 news/talk stations; only 21 broadcast any liberal programming, leaving 91 percent of their total weekday talk programming being conservative.

The CAP report explained that the conservative dominance was not due to popular demand. Instead, structural imbalances by government actions favored the growth of conservative messaging on the radio spectrum by allowing those with the most significant resources, i.e., wealth, to shape that medium. 

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed, there were Republican majorities in both houses for the first time since the 83rd Congress in 1953. They removed the national limit on the number of radio stations that one company could own. 

Bill Clinton was the Democratic President that year and consistently led his opponent by 15 to 20 percent. But he refused to ask the electorate for a Democratic Congress in the 1996 elections.  In signing the Act into law, Clinton said, that consumers will receive the benefits of better quality and greater choices in their cable services and profit from diverse voices and viewpoints in radio, television, and the print media. 

The opposite resulted from the Act allowing for the consolidation of radio ownership to those businesses that could pick off smaller, less financially stable stations. Two large conservative radio ownership groups emerged. 

The most prominent provider of conservative talk radio is iHeartMedia (formally Clear Channel), the largest radio station owner in the United States, both by number of stations and revenue. Their talk radio stations regularly have carried or still carry one or more of the following conservative commentators: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and George Noory – plus other conservative hosts. 

The second largest distributor of conservative commentary is Salem Radio Network (SRN), which identifies itself as the #1 Christian Radio with full-time correspondents broadcasting from facilities at the US House, Senate, and White House. Over 100 stations are in the SRN network, with millions listening to their commentators. Mike Gallagher alone is estimated to have 7 million, and he is joined on SRN stations by other well-known conservative hosts such as Hugh Hewitt, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, and Charlie Kirk.

All the radio conservative talk shows on iHeartMedia and SRN preach limited government regulations. These two corporations directly resulted from the revocation of restrictions on wealthier owners buying up vast swaths of the public airwaves. In this instance, smaller government resulted in bigger businesses benefiting at the cost of smaller firms losing access to the public airwaves.


Over the last two decades, social media has overshadowed newspapers as a critical news source. As of 2020, only 3% of US adults read newspapers as their primary source of information. Consequently, the loss of their readership has led to the number of newspapers from 8,500 in 2004 to 7,100 in 2018. 

As expected, newspaper journalists’ employment dropped by 50% between 2008 and 2020. And as the number of owners has decreased, consolidation has swelled to the point that large media corporations now own 80% of all daily newspapers and almost a fourth of all weeklies.

But newspapers still sway older people since 25% of US adults aged 65+ still rely on print publications as their primary news source.  Remember that close 4 out of 5 of that age group turn out to vote. In the 2020 election, 51% went for Trump and 48% for Biden. 

Has consolidation in print media resulted in a wave of conservative views washing over their readers? That would be difficult to determine. 

The Boston University Library labeled a sampling of newspapers from around the country.  They determined 16 were liberal and 23 were conservative based on editorial endorsements from the 2012 presidential race. However, they cautioned that where newspapers place an event (front page or buried on a back page) and which opinion columns they choose to run are more important than just relying on presidential endorsements for their philosophical leanings. 

That insight helps to explain why, in the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump received endorsements from only 20 daily newspapers and six weekly newspapers nationwide, of which only two, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, had circulations of above 100,000.[4] Many dailies and weeklies that either did no endorsement or endorsed Hillary Clinton would be considered conservative given their placement of news rather than from a single endorsement. They were rejecting Trump, not conservatism. 

The six highest circulation newspapers are roughly evenly divided between liberal and conservative orientations when considering their total circulation. The Wall Street Journal has the highest annual print circulation in the US, more than double the size of the next largest, The New York Times. The third highest in circulation is USA Today; nonpartisan sources consistently rate it as not biased in either direction. The next three in order of circulation size are the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Post. 

Two conditions reveal that neither the liberals nor the conservatives control the “media.”

First, the four largest circulation papers are national newspapers because they have nationwide subscribers. As an aggregate, conservative messaging has a slightly greater outreach. 

Second, concentrated paper ownership accounts for about 40 percent of all newspaper circulation. That leaves 60 percent of the papers locally controlled and determine their content and bias without distant ownership guidance. 

Consequently, these two conditions alone belie accusations that the media is controlled by the “establishment,” the “communists/socialists,” or a capitalist cabal. Nevertheless, unless the concentration of ownership is reversed or at least halted, the number of independent newspapers will continue to decrease. Without a vibrant independent print media, even more of the remaining publications will be purchased by those with the most money. And the new owners will push stories and opinions that reflect their interests, not their readers.

Since the newspaper and radio media have thousands of outlets, no political philosophy dominates them. Conservative commentators have ten times more outlets than liberals on the radio, while the largest newspapers’ circulations are about equal in their philosophical leanings. 

Conservatives have described the “Media” as elitist or the “enemy” in distributing fake news. That trope is based on not tolerating a slice of media that leans liberal, which, among radio stations and newspapers, is less than the conservative portion. 

Endlessly repeating this fabricated narrative helps explain why a 2017 Gallup poll showed 64 percent of Americans believe the media favors the Democratic Party (compared to 22 percent who thought it favored the Republican Party.)

The bottom line is that attacking the “media” as phony undercuts public trust in receiving factual information from all medium conduits. Democratic institutions can only survive with an informed citizenry. If the owners of the mediums distributing this corrupting message care more for their profit margin than providing valid information, then the institutions that guarantee their existence will collapse.

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

If you like this piece, email it to others. And if you really like it, become a Patreon patron to help me reach others. – Thanks, Nick

Why did the Parties Switch as Conservative & Liberal?

Graffiti in Licata, Sicily, by N. Licata

The Democratic and Republican parties have flipped their basic philosophies since being founded. Currently, we strongly associate each with being conservative or liberal. We often assume that conservatives are Republicans and Democrats are liberals. But it was the opposite for approximately the first 80 years of our nation’s founding. 

Each party’s orientation was and still is primarily determined by two elements of our society: the economic structure and the social values. The economics of a market economy concentrates wealth to allow the few to magnify their interests, and the social values of a society galvanize the majority to vote in a democracy to protect those values. 

Understanding why the two dominant political parties traded roles helps us understand how the economic and social forces shaped our history and will determine our future. 

The intensity of the parties’ conflicting positions reached their summit just before the Civil War when the energized Northern liberals formed the Republican Party to address the social issue of ending Black slavery. The Democratic voter base was securely grounded in the conservative values of the South, which clung to each state’s freedom to own Black slaves. 

The South’s dependence on slavery was an unrecognized anchor weighing down their economy’s growth potential. Although on paper, white households in the South were wealthier than their counterparts in the North at all levels of family wealth. However, 90 percent of the nation’s manufacturing output came from northern states. The North far outproduced the South in textiles, pig iron, and firearms. 

After the war, the parties drifted away from their pre-Civil War position on government powers. Advocating for a social policy of racial equality was not part of either party’s political agenda. 

As the social liberalism of the Northern Republicans declined, the abolitionists’ commitment to advocate for Black citizens was replaced by a weariness for doing anything more to secure a bearable future for them. Efforts to reform the Southern dwindled as the party took on new members representing Northern business interests. They didn’t need enslaved Black people. Also, due to supplying goods to the war effort, Northern businesses had grown rich. Their attention shifted to making profits, not making social change.

Consequently, they supported Republican Rutherford B. Hayes becoming president since he agreed to a compromise in 1877 that southern states could deal with African American citizens without Northern interference. When that understanding was coupled with the withdrawal of all remaining military forces from the former Confederate states, white supremacists took control of most governments.  Laws and policies were then adopted, halting Black citizens’ civil rights.

Both parties began to develop membership with a balance of fiscal conservatives and moderate liberals until FDR became president. His efforts to bring the economy out of the Great Depression moved most Democrats into a liberalism that accepted a central government protecting the welfare of the general public. His creation of public work projects set a new threshold for government involvement in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the Republicans fortified their long-time but modest conservative orientation by championing a society that promoted a market economy without government intervention.

FDR’s liberal policies did not propose any social changes that specifically addressed discrimination against Blacks or all other minorities, including women. He did knock down discriminatory barriers, which allowed them to obtain better work and lift the U.S. economy out of the depression. He issued executive orders that forbade job discrimination against African Americans, women, and ethnic groups, using the wartime Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).

Despite the creation of the FEPC, FDR’s administration tolerated and continued restrictions on Black citizens. As a result, racial segregation was the rule, not the exception, in operating New Deal programs throughout the country. Racial segregation was most apparent in the South; of the 10,000 WPA supervisors working there, only 11 were black. In comparison, Blacks were hired in the North during the first month of WPA’s operation.

New Deal programs were primarily economic policies designed to improve the living standards for poor and middle-income families. The most significant one was the creation of the Social Security Administration (SSA), now America’s largest government program. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, the agency expected to pay out $1.2 trillion in Social Security benefits to 66 million individuals.

Both the right and the left criticized FDR’s liberal economic policies. Senator Robert A. Taft, the leader of the Republican Party’s conservative wing, consistently denounced the New Deal as “socialism,” claiming it harmed America’s businesses by giving ever-greater control to the federal government and being the enemy of individual liberty.

Meanwhile, Senator and former Louisiana Governor Huey Long outflanked FDR on the left. Long’s proposals included a 100% tax on personal fortunes exceeding a million dollars, older people receiving pensions, and providing a $2500 yearly guaranteed minimum income for the poorest Americans.

However, these criticisms were primarily confined to the economics of balancing government and private business roles within the marketplace. They were not about cultural policy issues, although the two parties started drifting apart in protecting Black citizens’ civil rights. 

The first significant opening of that gap was in the Spring of 1963, when Democratic President John F. Kennedy proposed legislation barring racial discrimination in public accommodations, according to Princeton Professors Ilyana Kuziemko and Yale’s Ebonyi. It was a transitional moment demarcating the expansion of the Democrats’ liberal philosophy from economic policies into the cultural arena of initiating social changes. 

The following year, when Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, a clean break from the past was made. It was the first shot in what the public now knows as the “cultural war.” It was the most remarkable social change legislation since Congress passed the Reconstruction Constitutional Amendments of 13, 14, and 15.

The Civil Rights Act vote took place during the presidential election when the Republican Presidential candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater, opposed the new law. He condemned it for dangerously expanding federal government power, a message that resonated in the South.

With the election of FDR most Black voters supported Democratic Presidential candidates. Democrats still held onto the Southern states with very conservative candidates who did not challenge laws discriminating against Blacks. But with the passage of the Civil Rights Act the Democratic Party was seen as too liberal because it supported the federal government to protect the civil rights of Blacks.

After 1964, Black voter support for Democratic Presidential candidates always exceeded 70 percent. And at the same time, liberal Democrats lost the South. In 1960, all 22 U.S. Senators in the South were conservatives affiliated with the Democratic Party. By 2016, there were only three Democrats as Senators. 

Kuziemko and Ebonya wrote a paper providing data that showed nearly all of the Democratic Party’s losses in the South from 1958-1980 were due to white voters’ racially conservative views. In effect, liberal Democrats were closing the Southern whites’ comfortable cultural divide between them and Black citizens. 

Thus, white hostility to social policies that increased racial tensions extended beyond the South. Steve Phillips of the Center for American Progress notes thatnational exit polls have shown that since 1976, the Republican presidential nominee has received, on average, 54.8 percent of the white vote, while the Democratic nominee has garnered an average of just 40.6 percent. Others have estimated that Lyndon Johnson may have been the last Democrat to win the majority vote of white males. 

The trend of Democrats becoming more liberal occurred by adopting policies reshaping the American economy and culture. The Democrats lost conservative Democrat voters. But their switch to not voting or voting for Republicans does not explain why the Republican Party became so opposed to altering social policies, particularly around race and homosexuality. 

Republicans, up to the time of President Ronald Reagan, were still a mixture of conservatives and liberals open to gradually changing cultural values if that acceptance didn’t directly endanger their beliefs. There were working relationships between Republicans and Democrats around some common concerns. 

The most consequential single incident was when Johnson persuaded more than one Republican, and most importantly Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen, to allow the Civil Rights Act to pass out of the Senate with Republican support. The final vote was 77–19 (Democrats 47–16, Republicans 30–2). More Democrats opposed the bill than Republicans; only senators representing Southern states voted against it.

This vote and others to follow led the Republican Party to become more conservative on social issues due to the critical support from white conservative Southern Democratic voters who would not vote for liberals of either party. Republican candidates became more conservative to win in the South. In that process, they dislodged the conservative Democratic officeholders. And the leadership in the Republican Party followed Ronald Reagan’s winning 1980 election campaign strategy of tying together religion and economics. 

On the religious front, Reagan won over the white Protestant evangelicals who had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter’s politics, while in office, reflected the growing influence of liberals by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment while opposing the tax exemptions for White religious schools. The Democrats were firmly committed to the fundamental liberal belief in separating the church and the state. 

Meanwhile, Reagan doubled down at the 1984 Republican Convention, saying that religion needed to defend itself from state interests and that “morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related.” Reagan’s Republican platform called for a constitutional ban on abortion with no exceptions and rejected equal pay for women. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, called Reagan’s ticket “God’s instruments in rebuilding America.”

On the economic front, Reagan convinced millions of traditionally Democratic voters to vote for him, who became ‘Reagan Democrats.’ He won a fifth of Democratic voters in 1980, 54% of the white working class and 47% of union members (Carter got 43% of them). 

White workers represented more than one-third of the nation’s voters. Two years before the 1980 election, they lost close to 5% of their income and saw 700,000 of their industrial jobs lost – especially in the steel and car industries. 

In this harsh economic climate, the federal government and the courts demanded that industrial companies abandon racist practices and set up preferential programs for Black workers. White blue-collar workers were asked to share a shrinking job market with Blacks, while white professionals did not feel a similar burden.  

The lower-income white ethnic neighborhoods close to black ghettos had already experienced the unintended consequence of being targeted for bussing their children away from their neighborhood schools to achieve racial integration in public schools. 

The Democrats’ social justice policies were greatly appreciated by the growing minority population and appreciated by liberal and college-educated white voters. These changes were seen as necessary to sustain the democratic functioning of the republic. The two political parties started to clearly pursue either a liberal or a conservative agenda that changed or preserved past social relationships.

The philosophical division between them was well set before the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement emerged from Donald Trump’s campaign. It was merely the open articulation of that conflict, telling the “truth.” The truth is that the government was interfering with established conservative white cultural values centered around family and church. Conservatives felt that their freedom to act and speak freely was restricted; no matter how they discriminated against or economically impacted others. These were Woke liberal issues, not theirs. 

The answer to why the parties switched philosophies is apparent in the above history. The political philosophy of each party reflects the shifting power of wealth and culture on the populace to vote for a party that they think best protects their interests. 

Those dynamics continue, with conservatives highlighting and presenting popular political slogans promoting “small government” as David slaying Goliath, i.e. Big Government. Liberals avoid promoting “big government.” So, the next question begs, who is best served through small government? 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

If you like this piece, email it to others. And if you really like it, become a Patreon patron to help me reach others. – Thanks, Nick

Civil War – MAGA & the Abolitionists

Republican MAGA movement folks have been predicting another civil war. The federal government’s deep state is trampling upon their freedoms and those of former President Donald Trump. 

Two days after Election Day in 2020, Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers armed extremist group, told his high-ranking members: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war.” Twitter posts mentioning “civil war” soared nearly 3,000 percent, denouncing the F.B.I. for searching Donald J. Trump’s Florida home for missing classified documents. 

The last time a civil war was threatened occurred was when the Abolitionists, the core group creating the emerging new liberal Republican Party, pushed the Southern states to abandon slavery. 

Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats were fiercely divided on whether enslaved Black people should be freed, but it took place within the context of individual states defining citizenship. Did the federal government have the right to declare new states free from slavery? Or should the new states have the freedom to have Black slaves? 

The threat of civil war then and now is about defining citizenship. In the past, the struggle was to allow Black slaves to achieve citizenship. Today it is to secure functional citizenship for ethnic and cultural minorities. 

History does not repeat itself as a carbon copy. Instead, it replicates patterns. By identifying them, we can better comprehend how our current social movements sustain or destroy our democratic society. 

The abolitionist movement became the most significant disruptive political movement of the late 1850s; the biggest today is MAGA. Each achieved a national presence by displacing the leadership of one of the existing two political parties that form a duopoly of controlling national political power. The Whig Party floundered and then folded as the abolitionists made the Republican Party the second-largest party in the nation.  Since the election of Donald J. Trump as President, the establishment Republican political leaders have succumbed to the MAGA wing of their party because of its grip on the primary system.

Although abolitionists did not initially push for expanding citizenship, once Black slaves were to be freed, they did not actively oppose it. However, they were joined by many citizens in the North who feared that the South was threatening their citizenship.  

The growth of the abolitionist movement can be directly attributed to a response to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that the Southern-dominated Congress and President Pierce sponsored. As described by Glenn Young in The Winning Words“a wide range of local and ordinary people were taken into custody for failing to support the professional slave catchers who came to their communities.” And in response, “there were public demonstrations and even riots in support of Blacks, instead of the traditional riots attacking Blacks and white supporters of abolition.” Protests and the explosion of the underground railway, which ran through the North to Canada and freed an estimated 30,000 slaves, led to the revival of the dormant push for the abolition of slavery.

The threat of an aggressive South was highlighted when Massachusetts, Republican Senator Charles Sumner, was physically beaten on the Senate floor by pro-slave South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks. The South defended Brooks’ actions. The Richmond Enquirer denounced Sumner, editorializing that “these vulgar Abolitionists in the Senate … have been suffered to run too long without collars.”

Today those in the MAGA movement fear that their citizenship is being diluted through immigration, particularly by the wave of asylum seekers that appear to be overwhelming our border facilities. And the primary thrust of MAGA (Making America Great Again) harkens back to when Black citizens were discriminated against in public schools, private businesses, and facilities serving the public. Citizenship was then more narrowly defined. Looking back to that era, it was seen as a period of security from an influx of strange new inhabitants. 

When President Trump pushed for building “the wall” to keep unregistered immigrants from crossing our Mexican border, he voiced the fear many MAGA folks felt about having their citizenship replaced by the newcomers; America wasn’t their home anymore. 
And when Trump was impeached and indicted for possible criminal actions, he was treated like a hero speaking the truth, much as Brooks was when he beat down Sumner. The MAGA folks are as passionate about drastic change as the Abolitionists were a hundred years ago. But unlike MAGA supporters, they recognized the presidential elections as legitimate when their first candidate John C. Frémont lost. 

The Abolitionists didn’t ask for the Civil War. They even tried to avoid one to preserve the Union.  In 1856 they conceded to allowing slavery in the existing slave states but nowhere else. The Republicans did not win the 1856 presidential race. However, when Lincoln ran in 1860, the abolitionist movement was steering the Republican Party, and he was their candidate, although not their first choice. 

The South declared that if Lincoln were elected president, they would secede from the United States. They knew that by only adding new non-slave states, they would be outvoted in Congress and have their South Slavocracy threatened. They were willing to fight for their beliefs, as were the Abolitionists who would not tolerate creating new slave states. So, the Abolitionists did spark the Civil War by refusing to accept the growth of slavery in America. 

The Abolitionist and MAGA movements gained significant weight within one of the dominant parties to determine national policies. Their passion for pursuing an agenda to the brink of a civil war, according to Elizabeth Neumann, assistant secretary for counter-terrorism at the Homeland Security Department under Trump, raises “The question [of] what does ‘civil war’ look like and what does it mean?” She is concerned because she had not anticipated “how rapidly the violence would escalate” about the January 6 insurrection and the following violence. 

In comparing these two movements, there are two primary reasons why there is little to support the contention that we will see another civil war fought between the states.

First, civil wars need a geographical base for the opposing sides to operate from, as happened in our Civil War, North against South. The MAGA base is dispersed across the country, but principally in rural areas; they need a secure territory to command—the alternative for radical MAGA members would be to carry on long-term guerilla warfare, which rarely finds victory. Without sustained shelter and heavy outside funding, rebellions usually dissipate and fail to replace the existing regime. 

Second, a civil war requires a fight over controlling an identifiable and tangible objective. The North wanted slavery eliminated. The South wanted it to continue. MAGA aims to eradicate the deep state, but where? Who’s in it? For MAGA, the deep state is present in all 50 states that approved the “stolen election.” Any former Republican Party member who is anti-Trump, or not loyal to him is also in it. The organizational problem for MAGA is that the enemy is too amorphous to target since it is seen everywhere and could include anyone at any time, even former allies. 

Although America will avoid a classic civil war, it already is in a “cold” civil war of heightened polarization and mistrust between the MAGA base and liberals. That condition has morphed into violence and threatened violence against individuals doing their civic duty. Extreme cases involved making death threats to volunteers overseeing the 2020 presidential election results, and such threats continue three years later. 

On August 16, 2023, NBC News learned that the purported names and addresses of members of the Georgia grand jury that indicted Donald Trump on state racketeering charges were posted on a fringe website that often features violent rhetoric. A post on a pro-Trump forum responded to the exposure of the jurors’ personal information: “These jurors have signed their death warrant by falsely indicting President Trump.”

These potentially deadly actions replay the political and philosophical conflicts that have historically divided our nation into opposing interest groups for asserting citizenship rights and privileges. Those divisions center around racial, ethnic, economic, religious, and geographical clashes. 

Examples go back over 150 years. In 1860 the American Party was close to becoming the second party, not the Republican Party, based on its hostility to immigrants and Catholics. Hostility to Catholics was finally snuffed out when John F. Kennedy became president. Malicious opposition to immigration has ebbed and flowed, with it peaking again. Racial and ethnic discrimination has remained an institutional legacy, and while churchgoing has decreased, religion remains a rallying force in the MAGA movement. The rural, urban political divide is greater now than ever before. One constant feature in America’s past, and every other nation, is the conflict between the haves and the have-nots. 

Some commentators recommend that opposing sides listen to each other, as Monica Guzman writes in Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. Listening to the other side is the first step toward rational discussions. But our history shows the odds of that happening on a grand scale to eliminate intense fights are slim. 

However, there is traction among some Democrats and Republicans, which are the political bases for MAGA and liberals, to recognize and respect the democratic functions of government regardless of who is in public office. That is a heavy lift for these outliers, whose friends are deeply suspicious about the reliability of the government to be fair to their side of the divide. 

However, through the effort of some leaders, no matter how scorned, to emphasize the need to operate within a democratic republic’s institutions, citizens can ignore the siren’s songs of despair and anger. And thus, avoid crashing our society upon the ragged shores of a civil war, whether that war is violent or illegally subversive.

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials. Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

Republicans Diminishing the Cruelty of Black Slavery is a Loser’s Play

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Florida Governor DeSantis is downplaying Black Slavery by orchestrating a new educational instructions plan, Florida’s State Academic Standards – Social Studies, 2023prompted by a new law he pushed.

DeSantis had the Republican-controlled legislature pass the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” the acronym stands for “Wrong to our Kids and Employees.” It was designed to stop “wokeness,” which Republicans define as focusing on historical injustices that may create a false sense of responsibility among those who were not responsible. All public schools are required to use the new instructional plan.

Specifically, teachers could not make students feel “guilty for past actions committed by their race, and they could not imply that meritocracy is racist or that people are privileged or oppressed based on race, gender, or national origin.” In other words, teachers could not raise the issue that institutional racism exists. 

The first seventeen pages of the plan set guidelines for teaching African American Studies in public schools beginning in the 5th grade. Read this section in the new academic standards. You will be surprised by what initially appears to be a comprehensive identification of essential issues around Black slavery and culture. However, it had some critical gaffs. And it included a misleading statement, reprinted below, that ignited a national controversy about the new plan. 

The wording is found on page 6 of the plan. 

            Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).  

Benchmark Clarifications:
            Clarification 1: Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit. 

A takeaway can easily assume that enslaved Blacks picked up trade skills they could use once freed for personal benefit. That is, once they escaped slavery or the Confederacy lost the civil war. The plan carefully avoids implying that the South losing the war was a good thing that allowed the slaves to employ those skills. 

By showing how slavery helped Blacks obtain employment skills, conservatives like DeSantis hoped to expose liberal programs, such as providing reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black people, as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Diminishing human suffering under slavery served that purpose for him. And unfortunately, states like Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio have pushed bills that would stop or change how teachers instruct on race along similar guidelines.

Resistance to this trend is often missing, allowing a few to set the course. For instance, several members from DeSantis’s workgroup told NBC News that only two members advocated for the criticized language: William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, both conservative Black Republicans. DeSantis would not approve of two liberal Black Democrats since they are tagged as the instigators of Wokism. 

Allen explained his position to NPR and then joined Rice in posting a statement on Twitter strongly defending their findings. They wrote that it was important to clarify that “some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well documented.” They made no mention that over 98% of the Black slaves were field workers, not semi-skilled workers.

Fay Wylde, writing in Medium, checked the documentation on the 16 examples Allen and Rice provided of Black slaves who developed marketable skills. Three of the four that they said were blacksmiths were never slaves. Although DeSantis highlighted them as examples of how slaves could succeed in life because of learning that skill. Two of the three identified as shoemakers were born freemen, and the third was a white woman. In his piece Two Black History “Experts” in Florida Display Spectacular Ignorance, Wylde systematically exposes Allen and Rice’s evidence as shoddy at best, if not just providing misinformation.

A cultural battle to excuse Black slavery is a loser for DeSantis and Republicans. Not only because this is a merciless message but also because he ineptly initiated his plan. In his hubris to lead this issue, he failed to get any reasonable signoff from the most impacted community. He also skipped a public discussion to release a far-reaching public policy. 

His first error was ignoring Florida’s African American History Task Force, which consists of Black educators and community leaders. It has provided advice on teaching Black history for the last 29 years. And the state law required that it have input on the instruction standards for African American history classes. 

Reporters from the Daily Beast and Raw Story wrote how members of this established task force said Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t inform them of his new mission to restructure how Black history was taught. Instead, he created his own task force, the African American History Workgroup. NBC could find no written criteria for selecting the members. 

DeSantis’s group said the plan would “detail African American contributions in art and civic service, patriotism, the livelihood of people who were enslaved, and abolitionist movements.” However, state Sen. Geraldine Thomas pointed out, “Florida statute requires that instruction be provided on African civilization before colonization and slavery.” 

She added, “This focus was totally missing from the newly adopted standards.” Without the story of how African Blacks had been torn away from their established society, they became individual bodies treated as a piece of property, a commodity to be sold and traded. 

The new instructional plan also makes no mention of two critical efforts to keep Blacks subjugated to the dominant white population in the South. The first was Anti-literacy state laws that made it illegal for enslaved and free people of color to read or write. Southern slave states enacted anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free people of color to read or write.

The second effort was a set of state Black codes that limited African Americans’ freedom and ensured their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished. Many states required Black people to sign yearly labor contracts; if they refused, they risked being arrested, fined, and forced into unpaid labor.

The problem that DeSantis and his supporters face is how to justify bending over backward to describe slavery as bearable. They attempt to weave a few threads of facts into a grand tapestry. That is impossible unless you begin to use lies to present a whole picture to your liking. While many white Republican leaders look away from DeSantis’s effort, some Black Republican congressional members fight back.  

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Scott, told reporters from central Indiana’s FOX affiliate that “There is no silver lining in slavery.” While campaigning in Iowa, he told a Politico reporter that “every person in our country, and certainly running for president, would appreciate that” slavery had no benefits to enslaved people.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), the only Black Republican in Florida’s congressional delegation and a Trump supporter, meekly criticized DeSantis’s new educational standards. While he called them “good, robust & accurate,” he added that the “attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted.” DeSantis, like Trump, doesn’t tolerate disloyal Republicans. He promptly accused Donalds of siding with Vice President Kamala Harris and liberal media who condemned his efforts. 

Black Republican Congressman Republican Rep. John James complained about DeSantis attacking fellow congressional members, Sen. Scott and Rep. Donalds. He tweeted #1: slavery was not CTE! Nothing about that 400 years of evil was a “net benefit” to my ancestors,” “#2: there are only five Black Republicans in Congress, and you’re attacking two of them.” 

A bigger electoral problem for the Republican party than having angry Black Republican congressional members is the toll that excusing slavery will have on turning off independent voters. A Gallup poll this spring showed that three-quarters of independents are not strong partisans; they tend to vote against the party they don’t like instead of voting for a party they agree with.

About a third of independents lean toward Democrats, but more importantly, many who leaned toward Republicans voted for Biden in 2020 and rejected Trump. That shift tipped the electoral votes in the swing states to make Biden president. This critical slice of independent voters could rebuff an insensitive Republican Party that believes slavery was a tolerable experience, not a horrid one. That message shows a cold, uncaring party that is easy to reject.

The bottom line, Republicans trying to polish the image of Black slavery will expand cracks in their party and siphon off independents come election day – opening the door to a Democratic victory come 2024. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

Republicans Fear America Will Become Communist – Really?


The two Republican front runners for their party’s Presidential Candidate fear that communists could take over America if the Republicans don’t win in 2024. 

In a speech after his indictment for mishandling classified documents, Donald Trump said, “At the end of the day, either the Communists destroy America, or we destroy the Communists.” Adding that “we will cast out the communists.” Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law designating November 7 as “Victims of Communism Day.” DeSantis said this was “to ensure that history does not repeat itself.”

Democratic campaign strategists recommend ignoring these statements; do “not take the bait.” Don’t get into a dialogue about communism. If you dignify them with a response – their message will only resonate with the MAGA base. However, even if true, it will likely be repeated as election campaigns roll out. Ignorance is not bliss.  We cannot have a vibrant democracy if one side concedes the debate floor to the other side. 

To ignore confronting this doomsday prophecy is, in effect, elitist. It betrays an attitude that only uneducated people would follow this thinking. By remaining silent, the perceived threat, but not the reality, of a communist takeover will increase. It shows that the Democrats lack the stamina to refute the Republican’s narrative logically. 

Jon Schwarz of The Intercept wrote of the revival of this red-scare tactic. The author concluded that people, since 1945, have been the same, so beware. People are the same in many ways, but that recognition does not provide a pathway for countering disinformation. Going forward demands a rational response to counter the fantasy that our nation is under a communist attack from within our boundaries.

Let’s begin by identifying what action would bring about communists ruling America. It could result from a violent revolution, an election victory, or a secret cabal within the federal bureaucracy.  

Communists Controlling America Through Revolution

The world’s first communist party was formed when V. I. Lenin created the Bolsheviks. It was previously a faction of a revolutionary Marxist-oriented Russian social democratic party. Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, became the lead spokesmen demanding that a true communist state could only exist after a bourgeois democratic government was eliminated. 

Their resulting new ruling government would eradicate capitalism and establish a dictatorship of the workers. In time the state could also be eliminated. Lenin refined Marx’s evolutionary theory of economic and political change to enable Russia to survive as a lone communist state within a capitalist world. Later revolutionary Marxist-Leninist parties were formed worldwide to achieve a communist future in their countries. 

America has had and continues to allow Marxist-Leninist communist parties to exist. They began shortly after the Russian Revolution. The main party, the Communist Party USA, has gone from espousing a rigid Marxist-Leninist philosophy to adopting a tamer version. The party had never sanctioned violent activities. 

During the sixties, when revolutionary rhetoric was at its apex on college campuses, the Communist Party was shunted aside as ineffective and irrelevant. More radical and youth-dominated parties emerged with revolutionary rhetoric. By the end of the seventies, small groups like the Weathermen had either disbanded or remained as endless talking circles defining Marxist theory. 

The reality of a Marxist communist revolution in America is a delusion. After a hundred years of organizing, communists accomplished less than President Donald Trump almost accomplished in only four years: toppling the Federal Government. The January 6 insurrection (described by some Republicans as a harmless unguided tour of Congressional offices) came the closest of any past action from any leftist party to stop the orderly transition of presidential power.  If you expect a revolution to overthrow the government, look to the diehard MAGA adherents. Meanwhile, orthodox Marxists are in the libraries reading incomprehensible tomes on why a revolution to eliminate the bourgeois democracy is inevitable sometime in the future.

Communists Controlling America Through Elections

So, let’s turn to the election route for a communist takeover of America. It’s difficult to believe people voting for candidates who don’t think our democracy has legitimate elections. Then again, since Donald Trump lost the 2020 Presidential election, forty percent of Republicans believe our democratic presidential election was corrupt.  Those thinking that democracy doesn’t work for them are often attracted to parties and political leaders who promise a new political order that will deliver what they want, which is seen as achieving true democracy. 

Since America’s Communist Party was created in 1919, its political perspective and subsequent policies have drifted from strictly adhering to ML’s revolutionary dogma to actively supporting liberal reformist policies. In the tradition of Marxist movements fragmenting, America’s communist party began as two competing factions. Nevertheless, they shared a common objection. While one proclaimed that it had “only one demand: the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” the other announced that it did “not propose to ‘capture’ the bourgeoisie parliamentary state, but to conquer and destroy it.”

Communist Party candidates reached their high-water mark while the capitalist economy was failing during the Great Depression. They received about 100,000 votes in several elections during the 1930s. William Foster, the communist presidential candidate in 1932, promised that when they came to power, “all the capitalist parties—Republican, Democratic, Progressive, Socialist, etc.—will be liquidated.…”

Not waiting for that to happen, most of those suffering during the Great Depression favored FDR’s tangible reforms over the vision of a future communist society. Foster received less than 1 percent of the vote, and the communists subsequently denounced Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as “social fascist.”

Over time, America’s communist party dropped its revolutionary rhetoric and began promoting progressive policy legislation. It supported the civil rights and anti-war movements, organized against police abuse and mass incarceration. It resisted climate change by most recently endorsing the Green New Deal legislation by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In other words, the communists in the US started to participate as just another political party in the democratic legislative arena. This is a similar practice to what communist parties were doing in seven other functioning democratic countries (including Spain and Brazil), where they have been or are part of the ruling party. Most had about 2 percent communist representatives in their parliaments, where the ruling party needed small parties to cobble together a majority to govern. 

Support for communism occasionally peaks in some opinion polls. According to a 2019 poll conducted by YouGov, communism received a 36 percent approval rating compared to 50 percent for capitalism. Professor of political theory at San Jose University, Lawrence Quill, said that these theories are so broad they lend themselves to endorsement by very different sorts of people looking for very different things. 

The poll measured attitudes, not election preferences. Just two decades ago, membership in the Communist Party was below 2,000. The chance of any communist party’s path to controlling our government through elections is zero.

Communists Controlling America through the Federal Bureaucracy 

Republicans know that the communists will not initiate a revolution or win elections. But they do fear the federal government intruding on their lives, such as using public money to provide social security to everyone, forbidding their children from working in factories, or providing public health care to women who seek abortions. 

These can be big-budget public policies they do not need or want. On the cultural front, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation reported that “cultural Marxism today presents a far more serious and existential threat to the United States than did Soviet communism.” What are they referring to?  Is big government, like communism, attacking their Christian beliefs? Is it doing that by eliminating the freedom to discriminate with whom where one wishes to work, live with, and serve? 

Government employment has expanded to provide both services and regulation of the marketplace. The upside is that more acceptable conditions exist for safe working, sustainable environments, healthy living, and affordable housing. However, more government workers translate into a bigger, more distant, and deeper bureaucracy, which can breed alienation. Unfortunately, that condition afflicts every type of sizeable secular organization serving multiple purposes. And it provides a feeding ground for sprouting conspiracies when government policies do not align with a sector of the population. 

In 1950, it generated McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed to have a list of members of the Communist Party USA  working in the State Department. The late fifties saw the explosive growth of the John Birch Society, founded by Robert Welch, who believed that American liberals acted as “secret Communist traitors.” Fear of an internal communist takeover had Congress publicly questioning citizens if they were communists in this grand scheme. 

Today, that search has morphed into Republicans trying to find those in the “deep state” who unfairly helped impeach and indict Donald Trump. Republican candidates, like Trump and DeSantis, need a boogeyman to scare voters. Communists had been ideal because of their revolutionary fervor and association with the Soviet Union. Being a member of the Communist Party has been dropped as a meaningful charge, mainly because the party is no longer linked to a foreign county.

But what does the gradual growth of a state’s bureaucracy have to do with fearing communism? Nothing. The five proclaimed communist countries that exist (ironically, Russia is not one) resulted from internal revolutions, not elections or the gradual growth of bureaucracy. 

The real threat to our democracy is the acquiescence to authoritarian actions. Democrats must show that authoritarian regimes have emerged from socialistic, theocratic, or democratic governments. That happens when the executive, legislative, and judicial government branches are under absolute control by one person or political party. 

The first step in protecting our democracy is to have a public campaign to advocate retaining laws that uphold election procedures that have ensured fair elections for all political parties. Democratic governing is not achieved by storming the Capital to overturn an election after it was certified by all fifty states and confirmed by over 50 court cases. 

When Republicans claim that socialists, Democrats, and federal employees belong to some manipulative communist-like cabal hidden within government, they undermine our democracy. They should look in the mirror and see that it’s not communists tearing apart the democratic norms that keep our institutions functional; it is them. 

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

Subscribe to Licata’s newsletter Citizenship Politics

The Parties want the Constitution to Balance our Budget

Released July 1, 2023

Both parties provoked Federal debt crises for decades, yet they willfully deny the possibility of the US defaulting on future loan payments. 

While all media focuses on former President Donald Trump’s indictments, they have lost interest in any future economic catastrophe from not raising a debt ceiling. Nevertheless, liberals and conservatives propose looking at our Constitution to avoid a repeat. 

They offer two competing solutions that depend on interpreting or amending the Constitution. If either solution were successful, the next battle between any Administration and Congress to balance the budget by raising a debt ceiling would be eliminated. 

Although the parties’ plans of being implemented are slight, they could surface big time before the debt limit returns on January 1, 2025. Consequently, it’s not too early to examine them. Are they realistic or impracticable?

The Democrat Plan – Reinterpret the Constitution

The Democratic Party has not pursued limiting federal debt with the same fortitude as the Republican Party. In this last standoff between them on needing to raise the debt limit, the Democrat’s progressive wing floated the idea of applying the 14th Amendment to eliminate the debt ceiling by declaring it unconstitutional. Some progressives argue that the Amendment says that the federal government’s debts must be paid once Congress has appropriated money to pay debts. 

The Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, wanted President Biden to make that case to the courts. She didn’t make a legal argument so much as a political one. She stated that what the debt created is “essentially preserving tax breaks for the wealthiest and making poor people pay for that.” 

Progressives could produce data to substantiate her point. However, none of it would be germane to the majority of the Supreme Court Justices who would decide whether to invoke the 14th Amendment as the progressives would like. 

Biden took a nimble step to acknowledge Jayapal’s political assessment but bought time in pursuing an appeal to the courts. He was open to taking a test case to the Supreme Court with the argument that the debt ceiling is incompatible with the Constitution. He didn’t want to make that effort when the nation might be on the precipice of default. So, after he reached a settlement on increasing the debt ceiling, he considered going to the courts “a year or two from now” to test using the 14th Amendment. And, he added, “But that’s another day.”

Biden probably reflected the attitude of most Ds in Congress in not rushing to the court before an agreement was reached. Rep. Adam Smith, a fellow Democrat of Jayapal’s from Washington State, summed up a general opinion that invoking the 14th Amendment would have invited an immediate lawsuit. The nation could have defaulted simultaneously while the issue played out in the courts. 

Aside from the politics, the legal framework depending on the wording of the 14th Amendment, is a Hail Mary pass without a receiver. The 14th Amendment states that “the validity of the public debt, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned.”  However, the conservative justices will put that wording into the context of the Amendment’s purpose. 

Congress passed the amendment in response to the South losing the Civil War. Congress was focused on not paying any obligation associated with the South’s expenses. Their intention was clear. 

“the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligation, and claims shall be held illegal and void.”

The six Federalist Society members on SCOTUS will not ignore that context to consider allowing the 14th Amendment to be used by liberals to fund more extensive government programs resulting from raising the debt ceiling. 

The most likely response is that the conservative justices would refuse to declare a statute unconstitutional when the solution to a disagreement between the executive and the legislative branches can be resolved through legislation. This is the argument that Kavanaugh made in siding with the liberals in the Allen vs. Shelby decision.

The Republican Plan – Amend the Constitution

The Republicans, since 1936, have pursued a balanced budget constitutional amendment, unlike the Democrats, who haven’t tried to connect the Constitution to resolving the debt crises until recently. Consequently, the Republicans have repeatedly introduced legislation to move their amendment forward. 

Their first close effort to passing a vote for the amendment was in 1982. With President Reagan’s support, the Republican-controlled Senate passed Joint Resolution 58 to Amend the United States Constitution. It required every annual budget that its “total outlays are no greater than total receipts” without a three-fifths majority vote of both houses. It failed to pass in the House, falling 46 votes short of the 2/3 majority needed.

This year Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment to the Constitution requiring the federal government to balance its budget each year. It would limit spending to no more than 18% of GDP and require a supermajority vote in both the House and Senate before raising taxes or increasing the nation’s debt ceiling. It has 23 co-sponsors. Meanwhile, House Republicans introduced Resolution 12, with 19 sponsors, with the same objective. Congress also came closer to passing the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1995, when Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, got the House to pass it, and the Senate came within one vote of also passing it.

A two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress must propose a Constitutional amendment. If one party has at least 26% of the votes in either house, they can stop an amendment. This explains why passing amendments through Congress is rare and why this particular one has been around for decades without passing. 

However, some Republicans focus on Article V, which says that an amendment can be adopted through State Conventions. It would need to be ratified in three-fourths of the states. This is precisely what the founders did to bypass the state legislatures, who were reluctant to form a central federal government. The founders succeeded in having 9 of the 13 states ratify the Constitution and create the United States of America. State Conventions have never been used since.  

In the last decade, another effort is moving forward to invoke Article V of the Constitution and convene State Conventions to change the Constitution. In 2013, the Convention of States group, consisting of Republicans and conservatives, began working in all fifty states to pass a Convention of States Resolution. Although the initial focus was limited to adopting a balanced budget, the group has expanded the definition to include “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, impose fiscal restraints, and place term limits on federal officials.”

It takes 34 states to hold a convention and 38 to ratify any proposed amendments. To date, 19 states have passed a COS Resolution. The Republican Party has not formally endorsed the effort. The Democrat Party has ignored it entirely.  Its success seems unlikely, even though a recent poll by Trafalgar Polling shows that 81.3% of Republicans, 63.3% of independents, and 50.2% of Democrats support calling a Convention of States. 

Congress Must Make Decisions, Not the Supreme Court

Putting aside the economic impacts and political risks of adopting a balanced budget amendment by either method, relying on the Constitution’s guarantee to have a balanced budget is more of a rallying cry than a successful strategy. The reality is that for the foreseeable future, our federal budget deficit will continue to be a product of multiple appropriation bills that are voted on separately. 

The debt ceiling must go to avoid future threats of collapsing our economy when one party objects to one specific policy. A restricted range of future costs must accompany each appropriation bill. Once approved, the costs are fixed and cannot be increased beyond that range. This approach will focus congressional debates on specific policies rather than broad-brush accusations of spending too much money and the government going into debt. 

Congressional debates and delaying strategies will continue, but the damage they engender will be confined to the program being funded. Consequently, each party will be forced to take public positions on how much they will spend on a project. The parties must schedule the appropriation bills by priority. And then track their accumulative costs to allow for a realistic projection of the total federal debt load to be incurred. A program must be funded at a lower level if it exceeds that amount. 

Unless we incorporate fiscal discipline within the appropriations process, we will continue to cycle through the fear of defaulting on our debts.

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties. He is the founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,300 progressive municipal officials.

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