Historian: Republicans are courting disaster with their Trumpist loyalty tests

On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the extreme conservative majority of the Republican Party removed Liz Cheney (WY), who had insisted on the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election and condemned the January 6 Capitol insurrection, from her leadership position in the US House of Representatives. This dramatic act is a harsh warning to partisans who dare to challenge the Trump cult of personality and the far-right agenda. 170 years earlier, Democrats did the exact same thing. In the short term, it split their party; in the long term, it nearly destroyed the Union.

In the antebellum era, the Democratic Party was the conservative partisan vehicle, defending white supremacy, maintaining the reign of elite Southern enslavers, and quashing all reforms, including much-needed infrastructure improvements. Central to the Democratic agenda was the expansion of slavery and the forging of a vast hemispheric pro-slavery empire. By the 1840s, however, opposition to the spread of slavery had grown dramatically in the free states. Democrats in the North began to feel pressure from their constituents to halt the march of the enslavers and challenge King Cotton.

Despite growing opposition from Northern Democrats, the Southern party bosses pursued their aggressive pro-slavery plans. In the 1830s and 40s, they waged war on Indigenous Americans to remove them from fertile cotton lands, passed Congressional "gag rules" to prevent any discussion of the "peculiar institution," and aided the pro-slavery Texas Revolution. In late 1845, they launched an invasion of Mexico. Anti-slavery Northerners, including several Democratic office-holders, balked at the blatant grab for more slavery territory. Led by Pennsylvanian David Wilmot, Northern Democratic moderates made a stand in August 1846, adding a "proviso" to a war appropriations bill stipulating that slavery would not be permitted in any territory stolen from Mexico. Since spreading slavery was the entire point of the war, party leaders were incensed. The motion was defeated. Nevertheless, the damage had been done: a dramatic split occurred in Democratic ranks.

In the 1848 state and national elections, moderate Northern Democrats who opposed the expansion of slavery ran on the new Free Soil Party ticket. The rupture proved fatal. Both the Democratic and Free Soil presidential candidates went down to defeat and the Whigs (who had no formal position on slavery) took the White House.

Needless to say, Democratic leaders wanted blood. Over the course of the next four years, they expunged any anti-slavery sentiment from their ranks, either by outright expulsion of intransigent Northerners or forcing them into submission through party discipline. Votes on the infamous Appeasement of 1850 (a massive pro-slavery victory for enslavers) became the litmus test of party fealty. Democrats who did not vote in favor of various pro-slavery measures, such as the horrific Fugitive Slave Act, were denied campaign funds, attacked in the press, and deprived patronage -- a political death sentence. Contrite Free Soilers who voted as they were told, however, were allowed back and duly rewarded.

Things were even uglier and more chaotic at the state level. In Indiana, Democratic boss (and secret enslaver) Jesse Bright resorted to physical intimidation and illegal wire-pulling to defeat the anti-slavery faction and reward repentant Free Soilers with offices. In the Empire State, a three-way political war erupted between intransigent "Hards," who refused to brook any opposition from anti-slavery moderates, "Softs," who were willing to make deals with former Free Soilers, and the "Barnburner" majority, who bolted the party in 1848 and wanted to expel the Hards. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, pro-slavery conservatives James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, respectively, seized control of county and district conventions to deny former Free Soilers elective office at any level. "Old Buck" and "Handsome Frank" would later be rewarded with the presidency for their service to the Slave Power.

A united Democratic Party emerged in time for the election of 1852, thoroughly shorn of any anti-slavery elements. "We have got rid of all negroism," chirped Buchanan with pleasure. Though good for enslavers, the victory was pyrrhic. The party was now free to pursue even more aggressive policies without any internal debate or discussion.

In short order, Democrats passed legislation that spread slavery to formerly free territories, nullified the Missouri Compromise, launched illegal invasions of Caribbean and Central American nations, enforced the Fugitive Slave Act with a vengeance, tried to force slavery on the unwilling settlers of the Kansas Territory, and physically assaulted anti-slavery activists in the streets and in the halls of Congress. These actions precipitated the Civil War. By 1856, Northerners had set aside their differences over banks, immigration, and internal improvements to unite against the spread of slavery in a new Republican Party. The election of the first Republican president in 1860 triggered secession and the Union was nearly torn asunder.

The lack of ideological diversity and any meaningful policy debate within the antebellum Democratic Party caused that organization to enact an extreme program that enraged the majority of Americans and caused national disaster. Republicans in 2021 seem to be following that same strategy: punishing dissent, expelling moderates, and favoring conservative purity over practical policy. Moreover, just as Democrats in the 1850s tried to force slavery on anti-slavery populations, Republicans today are forcing their minority agenda on the majority through voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, and illegal activity. If Republicans value the health and future of their party, and the nation, they need to take a look at the past and reconsider their persecution of moderates.

Dr. Michael Landis teaches history at Union College and serves as a trustee of the Saratoga County History Center. He is the author of Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis (Cornell, 2014). He tweets @DrMichaelLandis

Historian: The Framers' failure to defend war powers from the presidency has given us endless war

George Washington presided as delegates to the Federal Convention in Philadelphia drew up the United States Constitution in some four months of 1787. Signers numbered 39, of 55 who attended, representing 12 states (Rhode Island absent).

History taught them "the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it" (James Madison). Monarchs often made war "for purposes and objects merely personal, such as a thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition ..." (John Jay). To discourage war, delegates allowed only Congress "to declare [i.e. initiate] war" (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11).

But they made two errors, one of commission, the other omission:

  1. They gave one man all executive power, including command of the military. In 1789 the first Congress had 59 representatives and 22 senators; it assigned the Supreme Court 6 justices. Members now number 435, 100, and 9 respectively. Yet the executive has always been one man. While not king, he has become a ruler with more war power than George III had.
  2. They failed to foresee abuse of the president's military function and explicitly guard congressional war power from his encroachment. The impeachment process is available, but it has never been invoked for the high crime of illegal war. Anyway, what good would it do after a nuclear catastrophe?

Some delegates opposed a one-man executive. Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia called it "the foetus of monarchy." He and Virginian George Mason favored giving three men joint executive power. Others, notably James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, wanted at least a council to assist the executive.

Pennsylvanian James Wilson's insistence on a solitary executive won out. He called it "the best safeguard against tyranny." Perhaps Wilson et al. assumed that Washington would become president, setting high standards. Seven states assented, (not including Delaware, Maryland, and New York).

The delegates made the president the army and navy's "commander-in-chief," a historic, strictly military position. Convention records don't explain why they thought everyone elected president would be qualified—or why they trusted him not to misuse the power and initiate war.

Washington and other early presidents respected Congress's constitutional war power. Some presidents, from Polk to Franklin Roosevelt, undermined it by provocation or circumvention. Outright defiance began with Truman. Every subsequent president has emulated him in some way. Yet all presidents take the oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" required by Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 8.

The delegates did their best. Theirs was a noble experiment. The experiment failed.

Biden Upholds the Constitution

Three decades ago, President George Herbert Walker Bush massed troops in Saudi Arabia, preparing to wage war on Iraq, He railed against its invasion of Kuwait, ignoring his own invasion of Panama a year earlier. Bush claimed the authority to start a war as military commander-in-chief.

On constitutional grounds, 54 members of Congress, led by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-California), sued to prevent the conflict. Federal Judge Harold H. Greene found the plaintiffs justified (12/13/90): The Constitution's framers "felt it unwise to entrust the momentous power to involve the nation in a war to the president alone." Hence "the clause granting to the Congress, and to it alone, the authority to decide war."

Greene refused to issue an injunction however: Until a majority of Congress acted and war was certain, the case was not "ripe." At least, like early U.S. judges, he tackled the constitutional issue. Modern courts usually duck such cases, saying plaintiffs lack standing to sue, raise a "political question," et cetera.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Delaware), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called a hearing on constitutional war power (1/8/91) and said, "In England the king alone could decide to take a nation to war." Here "the war power rests in the Congress.... The Constitution's founders all understood this to be a key principle of our republic."

Biden quoted Alexander Hamilton: "commander-in-chief" amounts to just "supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces as first general and admiral...." The president lacks the British king's powers to declare war and raise and regulate fleets and armies—powers our Constitution gives the legislature (The Federalist, 69).

Biden went on: "Americans once lived under a system where one man had unfettered choice to decide by himself whether we go to war ... and we launched a revolution to free ourselves from the tyranny of such a system."

Bush relented and allowed a congressional vote. It went his way, helped by testimony falsely alleging atrocities by Iraqi soldiers. Biden voted no.

Biden Ignores the Constitution

Biden's 2007 memoir says he pressed President Clinton to bomb Serbia. Clinton did so in 1999, ignoring Congress. Biden urged him to keep it up.

In 2002, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden supported a resolution (originating in the White House) to let President George W. Bush decide whether to fight Iraq. The measure, adopted, violated the Constitution. As Biden had insisted 11 years earlier, such a decision was for Congress to make.

In the 2020 debates, then Vice-President Biden made known he would send forces into combat "very, very reluctantly" and only when the "overwhelming, vital interests of the United States are at stake." He did not mention Congress.

Last February 25, 36 days after inauguration, President Biden bombed Syria, reportedly killing 22 people believed to be "Iran-backed militants." (Victims of our "precision-guided munitions" are seldom identified as children, women, or peaceable men.)

Spokesmen gave various imaginative explanations for the aggression. It was "defensive" and "retaliation" for an attack on U.S. forces in Iraq (though not an attack by Syria). It aimed to "deescalate" the regional situation and "to send a message to Iran." What did that message say? Forget my pre-election promise of peace? An e-mail would have been clearer and saved a bundle. Nobody explained what overwhelming, vital interests of the U.S. were served by taking the 22 lives.

Based on Biden's 1991 rhetoric, that act of war was also an act of "tyranny." Such tyranny has arguably spanned some four score years, irrespective of the president's political affiliation.

In Congress, reactions crossed party lines. The raid drew both praise for avenging attacks and condemnation for violating constitutional war power. Prior congressional approval would not have sanctified the attack, though giving it constitutional legitimacy. Several U.S. treaties prohibit aggression.

Moreover, what about the long-suffering people of Syria, whose homeland foreign leaders have appropriated as a battleground? Ex-Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) expressed sympathy, writing that Biden, Trump, and Obama all deserved impeachment for attacking Syria.

Throughout their terms, both Trump and Obama conducted unauthorized military actions in Asia and Africa. Biden's election platform promised to end "forever wars." Syria aside, how is he doing?

Two days after inauguration, U.S. forces conducted an "emergency response" exercise in Somalia. Five days later came a U.S.-led air attack in Iraq, killing 11 "ISIS" people. The Afghanistan war still rages. Biden supposedly halted support for the ravaging of Yemen, yet, without congressional authority, he promises to defend the Saudi monarchy, which perpetrates it. He assures Israel he will strengthen military cooperation. He deploys bombers to Norway. Warships approach China and Russia, as Biden insults and threatens America's top nuclear rival. (Putin, a "killer," will "pay a price.")

When Bush Senior invaded Panama, the late R. W. Apple Jr., chief New York Times Washington correspondent, postulated "a presidential initiation rite" since World War II for presidents "to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood ...." All believed "the American political culture required them to show the world promptly that they carried big sticks." Bush—accused of timidity—showed by attacking he was "capable of bold action."

Was that Biden's "message"?

However administrations change, executive war-making persists. Imagine the reaction of the Constitution's framers if they could see the power now at the president's fingertips—capable of destroying life on earth.

Presidential Hit Parade

Summarized below (in reverse chronological order) are highlights of the records of the last 14 presidents, emphasizing war and violence. Reasons for the bloodshed are largely forgotten. These vignettes illustrate the executive's affinity to war.

Donald Trump ran for president favoring both peace and the killing of "terrorists" and their families. In office, he escalated existing hostilities and loosened rules of engagement, causing soaring civilian casualties. MOAB (Mother of All Bombs), the largest non-nuclear U.S. bomb, was exploded for the first time in Afghanistan (casualties unannounced). Trump picked fights in Asia and Africa, renounced arms treaties, threatened North Korea with "fire and fury," and supported Saudi assaults on Yemen, vetoing a congressional resolution to quit. He assassinated Iran's top general, then ordered Iran bombed but changed his mind.

Barack Obama entered office opposing "dumb wars" but conducted them for his entire eight years, the first presidency to permit no peace. He escalated the Afghan war. His Libyan "no fly zone" became a war for regime change. He helped Saudis bomb Yemen. He plotted periodic drone assassinations in various countries and took pride in ordering Osama bin Laden shot, without trial, in Pakistan.

George W. Bush started the Afghan war—now in its 20th year—though Congress never authorized war on Afghanistan. He then instigated America's second war on Iraq, lying that President Saddam Hussein, had "weapons of mass destruction" and ties to terrorists. Estimates of resulting fatalities reach a million-plus. Bush approved torturing prisoners.

Bill Clinton intervened in eight countries during eight years in office. Clinton bombed Yugoslavia for 11 weeks, aided by NATO (supposedly dedicated to peace). He ignored Congress, even after it voted against upholding his war. Other victims of his: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

George H. W. Bush, George W.'s father, attacked Panama, without congressional authorization. He then planned war on Iraq. Congress narrowly approved forcing Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait. As Iraqis departed, U.S. forces fired on them. Civilians in Baghdad and other cities succumbed to U.S. bombs. Bush as vice-president was heavily involved in Reagan interventions.

Ronald Reagan entered unauthorized hostilities in Lebanon, Grenada, and Central America. As though making up for a recent loss of 240 marines in a Lebanon bomb blast, he invaded Grenada, an island nation with one 2000th the U.S. population. About 80 were killed, including 20 Americans. With active CIA participation, Reagan sponsored the Nicaraguan Contras, whom he called "freedom fighters" but critics considered "terrorists." Scandal erupted when he sold Iran arms to finance the Contras. Reagan supported the Salvadoran regime despite its massacres of citizens, sending it military aid and armed "advisors."

Jimmy Carter ran for office pledging to involve the American people in forming foreign policy. The only U.S. president since Hoover to wage no overt warfare, Carter covertly armed anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, forerunners of al-Qaeda. He threatened force to defend U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf. Trying to rescue hostages in Iran, Carter lost eight servicemen in an air accident.

Gerald Ford, during his short, unelected term, sacrificed 41 Marines in a needless military assault on a Cambodian island. It aimed at freeing the Mayaguez, a merchant ship seized by Cambodia, which was preparing to free her anyway.

Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson before him led the U.S. Indochina

war, 1964–1973. The Wall in Washington, DC, commemorates 58,279 U.S. servicemen who fell in that presidential conflict—not Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian victims, which number as many as 3.6 million. Nixon also intervened covertly in Chile and Johnson sent troops to the Dominican Republic

John F. Kennedy approved the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion and sabotage program in Cuba. To look tough, he risked war with Russia in demanding withdrawal of missiles it had installed in Cuba, though he had put missiles in Turkey and ordered plans to nuke Russia. He sent weapons and thousands of "advisors" to South Vietnam and covertly eliminated its peace-seeking president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of Allied European forces in World War II, inherited the Korean war, reaching an armistice in six months in 1953. He threatened to use nuclear weapons if war recurred, then made nuclear "massive retaliation" his general "defense" policy. Using the CIA, he overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala and OK'd the invasion of Cuba. He sent military aid to Vietnam before and after the French left.

Harry S. Truman is infamous as the first to use atomic bombs, in annihilating Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. He also launched the practice of outright presidential war-making when in 1950 he ordered combat in Korea without congressional permission, claiming authority from the UN. His war killed nearly five million, the majority civilians. Truman armed rightist regimes and French forces fighting in Indochina.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last president to obtain a constitutional declaration of war (excluding Bush Senior's reluctant OK of an Iraq war vote). However, FDR's policies, provoking Japan economically and militarily while concentrating warships in Hawaii, apparently invited the "date which will live in infamy." Promising 1940 voters peace, FDR executively armed Britain, engaged U-boats, and sent troops abroad. In 1939 he protested aggressors' bombing of civilians as "inhuman barbarism." After war was official, he ordered massive bombings of cities, killing innumerable civilians.

Do we elect a chief executive—or a chief executioner? No president is likely to maliciously shoot someone to death point-blank. That's murder. But no president seems to mind ordering many people shot or bombed in a distant land. That's war.

Paul W. Lovinger is a San Francisco journalist, author, editor, and activist. He may be reached through http://www.warandlaw.org.

Historian: There's one reason why the GOP may not want to be so quick to call themselves 'The Party of Lincoln'

The Republican Party may soon live up to its moniker, "The Party of Lincoln," though not in a way that bodes well for the GOP. Abraham Lincoln, of course, was the first Republican president. While he is heralded today as one of our greatest chief executives, he was never very popular in his own day. Nor was his party.

It is worth remembering that the Republican Party was not a "national" party from its inception; it drew its support exclusively from the North. Born in 1854 in Jackson, Michigan, the party in its earliest days was organized around opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories. Concern over slavery in the West erupted in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1853, which opened up those two territories to slavery after over thirty years of prohibition there. Energized over containing slavery, the party attracted anti-slavery activists, Northern Whigs, and ex-Free Soilers, who similarly wanted the West kept as "free soil for free men."

Early Republicans knew that their fledgling party needed to broaden its appeal beyond the slavery issue. So they advocated support for internal improvements, what today we would call infrastructure. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greely wrote in 1860, "An Anti-Slavery man per se cannot be elected." But, "a Tariff, River-and-Harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free Homestead man, may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery." Containing the "peculiar institution" alone would not be enough to secure victory, but adding other planks to the party's platform could result in electoral success.

For obvious reasons, the Republican Party held no appeal for southerners. During the 1860 election, Lincoln's name did not even appear on the ballot of ten southern states. Although he was able to amass a majority of the electoral college votes, Lincoln won only 39.7% of the popular vote. Six out of every ten Americans voted for someone else, as the nation descended into civil war.

Four years later, some Republicans wanted to dump Lincoln for Salmon P. Chase or John C. Fremont. While Republicans renominated Lincoln, they replaced Hannibal Hamlin as the vice presidential nominee in favor of Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat. Republicans knew their base alone would not be enough to secure victory. The party of Lincoln had such limited appeal that Lincoln himself needed the support of Democrats to win reelection.

Fast-forward to the present, one hundred and sixty years later the Republican Party chances again to become a party of limited appeal. Under Donald Trump's leadership, a deep fracture has grown within the GOP. While a majority of Republicans remain loyal to the former president, some have grown weary of his mendacious ways. Even after election results were counted and recounted, Donald Trump will not concede defeat. And as he continues to falsely claim victory, he demands that Republicans similarly proclaim "the lie."

Even before the election, fissures in the Grand Old Party were apparent. Some Republican leaders, especially those who had or were about to retire from office, rejected Trump. It was a strange and telling moment when Ohio's former governor John Kasich, a life-long Republican, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in support of Joe Biden's candidacy.

Nonetheless, the influence Trump has over Republican office holders is so great, the vast majority do not dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes—that Trump lost the election fair and square. Instead, they embrace and perpetuate the lie. To do anything less will result in Trump's wrath and a primary challenge. Even after January 6, only a small number of Republicans in Congress have shown the political will to challenge Trump's deceit. So, they voted for acquittal again, when he stood trial for inciting the capitol riot. In their shortsighted effort to save their own political skins, those Republicans are fundamentally transforming their party.

In stark contrast to the majority of House Republicans who supported efforts to overturn the Electoral College vote, ten Republicans voted for impeachment. In the Senate, though the handful of Republicans who mustered the courage to vote to convict might seem small, they represent a growing number who reject Trumpism and the lie. Once alone, Mitt Romney was joined by Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, and Richard Burr. Indicative of the depth of Republican divisions, several of them were censured by their own state party committees.

The Republican electorate is similarly split. A full three out of every four Republicans believe that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020, handing the election to Biden. Though most Republican voters remain loyal to Trump and his lie, a growing number are re-assessing their fealty, repulsed by the events of January 6. For them, there was no steal to stop. They would not believe the lie. After all, "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Such divisions within the Republican Party threaten to devastate the GOP. A party that has only won the popular vote once in the last eight presidential elections can ill afford its present fracture. Trump's lie chances to fatally handicap the party of Honest Abe. As Lincoln warned years ago, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Tim Lynch has taught for thirty years at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati, where he is a professor of History. He has published extensively in the area of American labor history and protest music, including Strike Songs of the Depression (2001). Most recently, Tim published To Build a Home: Reflections on Construction (2021) about his experience of building his own home.

Rooted in white racism: The unrelenting Trump personality cult has a political precedent

The term "Trumpism," alluding to a cult of personality surrounding the 45th president, has penetrated the American vernacular. So much about Donald Trump and his presidency has been unprecedented. But in this case, the phenomenon is not new. A cult of personality also engulfed Ronald Reagan. Although these men are very different from one another in character, their cults of personality share similar qualities. Both were not always truthful, both made serious mistakes, and both were tinged with racism.

A political cult of personality means a strong admiration and devotion to a leader. Frequently, the leader spreads his fame widely through mass media. Followers become enamored to the point of idolizing the leader while overlooking or ignoring shortcomings. This characterizes the public life of both Trump and Reagan.

Familiar to millions of Americans by appearing in movies and hosting the weekly General Electric Theater on Sunday night television, Ronald Reagan began a political career on October 27, 1964 with a nationally televised speech on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It was a week before the election. The speech was filled with false claims about the overbearing U.S. government and unverified anecdotes. This was all to support Reagan's view that government needed to get out of the way of the economic freedom of the American people. Reagan falsely claimed that farmers could be imprisoned who did not cooperate with federal government programs, and that the Federal Reserve Board planned inflation.

Reagan also said, "We were told four years ago that seventeen million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet." Due to his building a cult of personality, this particularly callous and inaccurate quote was overlooked. When Reagan spoke, more than 36 million Americans were living in poverty, nearly one-fifth of the country. Following the formula of that speech, Reagan won the California governorship two years later by a landslide and would go on to win the presidency twice by equally impressive margins. The Reagan cult of personality enabled him to remain popular with his followers even when violating his own conservative principles. Throughout his political career, Reagan railed against big government deficit spending. But when the national debt rose by 189 percent, he suffered no political consequences. When Reagan admitted to misleading Americans during the Iran-Contra scandal, his popularity went down temporarily, but bounced back by the end of his presidency.

Donald Trump, like Reagan, gained fame with the American public through show business. Trump starred in a reality television show called The Apprentice. Many Americans assumed that Trump was the "boss" starring in his own program, but in reality Trump was an actor employed by a television production company, just as Reagan was an actor employed by the General Electric Company. The Apprentice gave Trump a favorable celebrity status leading toward a political cult of personality. While Reagan launched his political career with a televised speech, Trump began his with a nationally televised accusation that Barack Obama should not be president because he was not a natural-born U.S. citizen. With no proof other than his words, Trump claimed to have investigators in Hawaii uncovering evidence that Obama was not born there as his birth certificate indicated. "They couldn't believe what they're finding," Trump asserted. Several years later, shortly before winning the presidency, Trump admitted that he believed Obama is a U.S. citizen.

When Trump announced his presidential candidacy, he declared, "Sadly the American dream is dead." The campaign slogan became "Make America Great Again" That is not unlike Reagan's decrying big government for destroying our freedom. The Reagan 1980 campaign slogan "Morning in America" is not very different in meaning from the Trump 2016 slogan. Like Reagan, Trump deviated from facts to support political points. Examples of this are legion, from Trump's assertion that he saw thousands of Muslims on 9/11 cheering the collapse of the twin-towers to his claim of Obamacare imploding. One difference however is that Reagan's factual deviations usually served to buttress his political points, while Trump's were often to boost himself, from the false claim to have graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania at the top of his class, and the boast of being a "very stable genius." That arrogance was not in Reagan's character.

Trump's personality cult protected him to some extent as it did Reagan. Trump's popularity was never high as Reagan's was. But his approval ratings always remained in the middle 40s, not dropping precipitously as in the case of Nixon and Carter for example. That is despite numerous scandals, including the Russia investigation, and a poorly-handled pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. In the end, 74 million Americans voted for Trump. The cult of personality remained intact.

Another and more sinister similarity in the Reagan and Trump cults of personality is white racism. Both men saw an opportunity to advance their political careers by appealing to white voters in a racially prejudicial way. In Reagan's 1966 campaign for governor he appealed to white voters disgusted with the "beatniks, radicals, and filthy speech advocates" as Reagan termed it. In his 1976 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Reagan frequently told the "welfare queen" story about a woman on welfare who allegedly defrauded the U.S. Government of $150,000. The story was significantly embellished, but was in keeping with Reagan's political views. He once called welfare recipients a "faceless mass waiting for a handout." He did not mention race, but the implication was abundantly clear that the welfare queen is black. In his 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan after winning the nomination, traveled to Mississippi to give a speech at the Neshoba County Fair to a white audience glorifying states' rights, which has long been the cry of white Southerners fighting civil rights. Neshoba County is the site where three civil rights workers were infamously killed in 1964.

Donald Trump's appeal to white racism has been more blatant. In August 2017, the Unite the Right rally occurred with one counter-protester killed. Trump said that "you also had people that were very fine people on both sides." One side had neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and Alt-Right people. In the last presidential campaign, Trump in numerous ways appealed to racism attempting to win re-election. For example, he condemned NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. He condemned Black Lives Matter and predicted the "beautiful suburbs" will be destroyed by low-income housing if Biden wins. He blamed big city Democrats and their black voters for stealing the election, ignoring the fact that he lost battleground states because too many whites in the suburbs deserted him.

Two recent presidents have had cults of personality, although that is antithetical to democracy. That enabled both to win their party nominations and the general election. It gave both men the luxury of deviating from truthfulness and enabled Reagan to survive a severe scandal and Trump to be incompetent and scandalous while maintaining a significant base of popularity. This also indicates something ominous about America. If a candidate has a cult of personality, and develops a large number of devoted followers who believe he or she can do no wrong, it could potentially make white supremacy or other malignant elements of politics seem permissible, with unknown consequences for democracy.

Donne Levy is a retired community college history instructor.

Divisions within the GOP threaten to fatally handicap the 'party of Lincoln'

The Republican Party may soon live up to its moniker, "The Party of Lincoln," though not in a way that bodes well for the GOP. Abraham Lincoln, of course, was the first Republican president. While he is heralded today as one of our greatest chief executives, he was never very popular in his own day. Nor was his party.

It is worth remembering that the Republican Party was not a "national" party from its inception; it drew its support exclusively from the North. Born in 1854 in Jackson, Michigan, the party in its earliest days was organized around opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories. Concern over slavery in the West erupted in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1853, which opened up those two territories to slavery after over thirty years of prohibition there. Energized over containing slavery, the party attracted anti-slavery activists, Northern Whigs, and ex-Free Soilers, who similarly wanted the West kept as "free soil for free men."

Early Republicans knew that their fledgling party needed to broaden its appeal beyond the slavery issue. So they advocated support for internal improvements, what today we would call infrastructure. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greely wrote in 1860, "An Anti-Slavery man per se cannot be elected." But, "a Tariff, River-and-Harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free Homestead man, may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery." Containing the "peculiar institution" alone would not be enough to secure victory, but adding other planks to the party's platform could result in electoral success.

For obvious reasons, the Republican Party held no appeal for southerners. During the 1860 election, Lincoln's name did not even appear on the ballot of ten southern states. Although he was able to amass a majority of the electoral college votes, Lincoln won only 39.7% of the popular vote. Six out of every ten Americans voted for someone else, as the nation descended into civil war.

Four years later, some Republicans wanted to dump Lincoln for Salmon P. Chase or John C. Fremont. While Republicans renominated Lincoln, they replaced Hannibal Hamlin as the vice presidential nominee in favor of Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat. Republicans knew their base alone would not be enough to secure victory. The party of Lincoln had such limited appeal that Lincoln himself needed the support of Democrats to win reelection.

Fast-forward to the present, one hundred and sixty years later the Republican Party chances again to become a party of limited appeal. Under Donald Trump's leadership, a deep fracture has grown within the GOP. While a majority of Republicans remain loyal to the former president, some have grown weary of his mendacious ways. Even after election results were counted and recounted, Donald Trump will not concede defeat. And as he continues to falsely claim victory, he demands that Republicans similarly proclaim "the lie."

Even before the election, fissures in the Grand Old Party were apparent. Some Republican leaders, especially those who had or were about to retire from office, rejected Trump. It was a strange and telling moment when Ohio's former governor John Kasich, a life-long Republican, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in support of Joe Biden's candidacy.

Nonetheless, the influence Trump has over Republican office holders is so great, the vast majority do not dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes—that Trump lost the election fair and square. Instead, they embrace and perpetuate the lie. To do anything less will result in Trump's wrath and a primary challenge. Even after January 6, only a small number of Republicans in Congress have shown the political will to challenge Trump's deceit. So, they voted for acquittal again, when he stood trial for inciting the capitol riot. In their shortsighted effort to save their own political skins, those Republicans are fundamentally transforming their party.

In stark contrast to the majority of House Republicans who supported efforts to overturn the Electoral College vote, ten Republicans voted for impeachment. In the Senate, though the handful of Republicans who mustered the courage to vote to convict might seem small, they represent a growing number who reject Trumpism and the lie. Once alone, Mitt Romney was joined by Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, and Richard Burr. Indicative of the depth of Republican divisions, several of them were censured by their own state party committees.

The Republican electorate is similarly split. A full three out of every four Republicans believe that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020, handing the election to Biden. Though most Republican voters remain loyal to Trump and his lie, a growing number are re-assessing their fealty, repulsed by the events of January 6. For them, there was no steal to stop. They would not believe the lie. After all, "you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

Such divisions within the Republican Party threaten to devastate the GOP. A party that has only won the popular vote once in the last eight presidential elections can ill afford its present fracture. Trump's lie chances to fatally handicap the party of Honest Abe. As Lincoln warned years ago, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

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Tim Lynch has taught for thirty years at Mount Saint Joseph University in Cincinnati, where he is a professor of History. He has published extensively in the area of American labor history and protest music, including Strike Songs of the Depression (2001). Most recently, Tim published To Build a Home: Reflections on Construction (2021) about his experience of building his own home.

This article was originally published at History News Network

Ammon Bundy has amassed an army of over 50,000 as he looks for his next battle in a religious war

Ammon Bundy, right-wing malcontent behind the 2016 armed takeover of Oregon's Malheur Wildlife Refuge and now a western anti-mask movement, believes he's doing God's work.

Coming from a long line of religiously inspired men who have been "called" to defend the US Constitution, Bundy has varied in his focus, from rebelling against public land ranching regulations to protesting COVID-19 safety protocols. But in his view, these are all forms of government tyranny and affronts to constitutional rights. Arrested for the fourth time on March 15, 2021, Bundy was taken into custody for failing to appear at his hearing on past trespassing charges. Because he refused to wear a mask into the courtroom, thereby missing his trial, he was apprehended outside amid a throng of other protesters.

Bundy's crusade has been a long time in the making, but in the last year he successfully established a coalition of supporters that is broad, diverse, and a serious threat to federal law. His group is called the People's Rights Network. Like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, it includes members who see the current government as a threat to perceived rights and are committed to defend their ideas of personal liberty, by force if necessary.

So what has taken Ammon Bundy, who first came to prominence during the 2014 armed standoff in Nevada over his father's unpaid grazing fees and trespassing cattle, into a life of an anti-government militant? The answer is a libertarian worldview and his take on Mormonism. Bundy's ideology parallels the thinking of certain leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who've had a history of government cynicism. He also shares with them a tradition of theo-constitutionalism--venerating the Constitution as a sacred document. The paradox here is that Bundy believes he is upholding the Constitution and fulfilling his religious duties in his acts of lawlessness.

His impetus has roots in the early Church. After the founder and first prophet of Mormonism, Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was murdered, Brigham Young (1801-1877) assumed the reins of the Church and brought the Latter-day Saints into the Great Basin. By that point, Young and his brethren were disgusted with the US government after the years of mistreatment and bigotry they had faced. But the Mormon people kept great faith in the Constitution. While still an apostle of Smith, Young said "I find no fault with the Constitution or laws of our country; they are good enough. It is the abuse of those laws which I despise, and which God, good men and angels abhor." He later avowed " Corrupt men cannot walk these streets with impunity, and if that is alienism to the Government, amen to it. The Constitution of the United States we sustain all the day long, and it will sustain and shield us, while the men who say we are aliens, and cry out 'Mormon disturbance,' will go to hell….But to proceed; the principal evil is in the rulers, or those who profess to be rulers, and in the dispensers of the law…"

Young was not just the leader of the Church; like Smith, he was a prophet. Although he was not as prolific in his revelations as other Mormon prophet/presidents, these statements are memorialized in the Journal of Discourses and the History of the Church, texts not part of official Church doctrine, but significant, especially to those with radical leanings. Over the years, many Church prophets echoed Young's sentiments, from Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898) to Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994), reinforcing the idea that the Constitution is good, but not those who govern under it. Benson took that idea further, declaring that the Mormon people had a religious obligation to protect the Constitution, even if this meant violence. In 1979 he declared, "I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will. For that reason men, 200 years ago, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. No nation which has kept the commandments of God has ever perished, but I say to you that once freedom is lost, only blood – human blood – will win it back."

So this is where things get treacherous. If the Constitution is sacred, but those overseeing it are evil, then who determines and upholds the law of the land? Bundy has come to think that this is his duty—a chilling certainty that is likely to escalate during this current administration. As vaccines are more widely administered and mask mandates therefore become less of a concern, Bundy's focus will return to his original cause. The new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, is now charged with overseeing public lands, including the place where Ammon's Bundy's father, Cliven, continues to illegally graze his cows. The patriarch Bundy and his most infamous son share the conviction that the federal government has no constitutional right or power to own land; hence the land belongs to those white people who have occupied and used it, and the requirement of grazing fees paid to the Bureau of Land Management is unconstitutional. Although Cliven has repeatedly lost his appeals in federal court, and currently owes over a million dollars in fines and fees, the old rancher's cows still roam the same BLM land, years after the Nevada armed standoff. To Ammon, mask mandates and grazing regulations are the same thing—affronts to constitutional rights. Law and common good be damned—he sees both as tyranny. He is determined to protect the Constitution, even by unconstitutional means. Where the next action is again taken—Nevada, Oregon, or somewhere else on the 600,000,000 acres of American public lands—remains to be seen.

In 2018, Bundy talked before an audience in South Jordan, UT during an event advertised as a "power packed four hours, with an LDS [Latter-day Saints] perspective, but practical info for all true friends of liberty." He told them about his father's dream, in which people approached a large building. Inside the building sat a golden calf, a biblical reference to a false idol, that Cliven understood to symbolize the American court of law. Ammon explained that the dream meant people are putting their faith in judges who do not have their best interests at hearts. "You can't worship the golden calf, you have to have faith in God," he told the audience. "When you know for certain that those are your own rights, you do not allow them to be questioned. And I know that's a strong thing I'm saying. But when you do that, then your friends need to come and protect you also. And it's a duty of ours to do that." Four months later, PeoplesRights.org was registered, a year and two months before pandemic brought America to a screeching halt. COVID-19 gave him a cause that fit a long ongoing narrative. The pandemic swelled the ranks of People's Rights because of conspiracy theory and righteous anger, but it wasn't invented in response to it.

Ammon Bundy has been looking for a next battle since the takeover of Malheur, when he led a group of heavily armed militia to occupy government buildings in Harney County, Oregon. During that takeover, one man, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police. Ammon now has his own militia, the People's Rights Network, an army of over 50,000 members in 50 states, according to the organization's website. He recently finished a recruitment tour in Utah, talking God, liberty, and the need for vigilante action—antidotes to golden calves. His campaign is part of a long drawn arc and we shouldn't expect his rebellion to end with a die-down of COVID-19. Bundy's attention will return to public land battles, where the first insurgencies began. It wasn't COVID-19 that spurred the formation of the People's Rights Network and inspired Bundy's mission, it was a deeply rooted sense of righteousness, Cliven's dream, and a version of Mormon ideology.

Betsy Gaines Quammen, PhD is the author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in the West.

From post-Civil-War lynchings to the present: 'Domestic white extremism' has long been an American problem

The violent occupation of the U. S. Capitol building on January 6 shocked many people into realizing White terrorism is scary. Soon afterward, D. C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the essential question was how seriously our country will take threats of "domestic white extremism" and terrorism. Todd later added that "right-wing [White] terrorists perpetrated the majority of all plots and attacks in the United States from 1994 to 2020. Over the past six years, these attacks have occurred in 42 states. In other words, the violence we witnessed on January 6th has been hiding in plain sight."

But right-wing White terrorism has long been a U. S. problem. Witness the examples of the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings, which were sometimes perpetrated by Klansmen. As historian Ron Chernow has written "Klan violence [of the post-Civil War period] was unquestionably the worst outbreak of domestic terrorism in American history." Heretofore, however, most Americans have paid no more attention to Klan activities and lynchings than to old cowboy movies. Now, though, media is offering us more reminders. Take, for example, Hulu's recent "The United States vs. Billie Holiday," in which the song she made famous, "Strange Fruit," has a central role. That song was based on a poem of the late 1930s written by teacher, writer, and songwriter Abel Meeropol, who said that he wrote it after seeing a photo of the 1930 lynching of two Black men in Marion, Indiana (more on this lynching later).

Holiday's "Strange Fruit," which in 1999 Time magazine selected as the "song of the century," reveals graphically the horror of such lynchings.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

A report on lynching (2017) by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) documented over 5000 "racial terror lynchings" between 1877 and 1950, overwhelmingly in the South, where until 1910 about 90 percent of Black people lived. (Such lynchings were often hangings, but could also include other forms of illegal killing.) Both before and after this period Black people were also lynched.

The EJI lynching report states, "These lynchings were terrorism"--defined here as the non-governmental use of violence, or threat of its use, for political purposes. The report adds, "Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of Black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West throughout the first half of the twentieth century."

Heavily involved in the early post-Civil-War lynchings was the Ku Klux Klan, founded in Tennessee in 1866. Historian Jill Lepore writes that it "was a resurrection . . . of the armed militias that had long served as slave patrols" and "for decades had terrorized men, women, and children with fires, ropes, and guns, instruments of intimidation, torture, and murder."

From 1866 to 1871 the newly-born Klan terrorized southern Blacks. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it "engaged in a violent campaign of deadly voter intimidation during the 1868 presidential election. . . . Similar campaigns of lynchings, tar-and-featherings, rapes and other violent attacks on those challenging white supremacy became a hallmark of the Klan." The victor in that election, however, was former Union General Ulysses Grant, and he set out vigorously to end Klan terrorism.

Prior to his election, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (overriding President Andrew Johnson's veto) and the Fourteenth Amendment aided Black males to vote. Where they could do so without illegal white interference, which was widespread in the Deep South, they voted overwhelmingly for Grant. Once in office he signed (1870) the Fifteenth Amendment, which forbade denying the vote to Blacks. In 1870-71 he approved of three Enforcement Acts to help protect that right. The third, also sometimes referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Act, empowered the president to enforce the act.

About the Klan Act, Chernow has written that the "law stood as a magnificent achievement for Grant, who had initiated and rallied support for it, never wavering," and "by 1872, under Grant's leadership, the Ku Klux Klan had been smashed in the South."

But Elaine Frantz Parsons' book on the birth of the Klan during Reconstruction states that by the time Grant had destroyed the Klan, it "had already done a great deal to increase the power and prosperity of white Democratic southerners at the expense of freedpeople and their allies." Klansmen had lynched and shot hundreds, driven many thousands from their homes and official positions, scared off many Black voters, taken over Black properties, and committed various crimes against them, including rape. Nor did the destruction of the KKK end White terror in the South. An EJI Reconstruction report, for example, lists lynchings between 1873 and 1876 that killed over 350 southern Blacks.

The decade from 1891-1901 witnessed the most lynchings of African Americans, with over 100 being lynched in every year but two. This was also the decade when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation, by then enacted in most of the South, was legal.

One of these Black lynchings was of Sam Hose in Georgia in 1899. He was accused of killing his employer, a farmer, and raping his wife. After Hose was chained to a tree, the mob cut off his ears, fingers, and genitals, stacked kerosene-soaked wood around him, and then set him afire. After his agonizing death, his body was further carved up and parts taken away as souvenirs. The famous Black leader W. E. B. Du Bois saw Hose's knuckles displayed in an Atlanta store window. Atlanta's leading newspaper justified "a people intensely religious, home-loving and just" who were outraged at a murder and rape--later evidence indicated the "murder" was in self-defense and the "rape" never occurred.

The second Klan began in Georgia in 1915, but soon spread across the USA, becoming strong in non-southern states like Indiana. After the 1919-1922 period when at least 239 Black lynchings occurred, the frequency of lynchings began to recede, with no year exceeding 29, and from 1935 to 1951 numbering between 1 to 8 per year, and from 1952-1968 an average of less than one per year. And most later lynchings did not directly implicate the Klan, though their earlier example helped create the toxic mix that sustained the lynching climate.

Increasingly, however, the KKK used other terrorist methods against Black people, as they did in 1921 in the case of a Dallas, Texas bellhop named Alex Johnson, whom Klansmen accused of having sex with a white woman. They branded KKK onto his forehead, but, as usual, the Klansmen responsible were not prosecuted.

The Klan reached its apex in the mid-1920s and then began to decline. In 1925 over a quarter of "native-born, white Indiana males belonged to the Klan," but that November the head of Indiana's KKK, David Stephenson, was convicted of raping and murdering a young woman. By 1930, due to that and various other factors, Klan membership, which had numbered maybe 4-5 million in 1925, dropped to an estimated 30,000.

The situation in Marion was similar, and in the lynching of two young Black men in 1930 the KKK, as an organization, had no direct part. But that did not mean that it had not contributed to the deadly attitudes that launched the lynching.

The two lynched men were Abram Smith and Tom Shipp, both accused of murdering Claude Deeter and raping his companion, 18 year-old Mary Ball. Also accused was another black teenager, James Cameron. But, after having had a rope placed around his neck, he was returned to jail.

Later investigations, as was the case with Sam Hose in 1899, cast serious doubts about the stories the mob believed when they lynched Smith and Shipp, especially the occurrence of any "rape." In fact, such false accusations against Black men were quite common preceding many lynchings.

The Marion lynchings became so significant partly because of Lawrence Beitler's famous photograph which influenced both songwriter Abel Meeropol and singer Billie Holiday in their composition of her song "Strange Fruit." In addition the photo was widely displayed in newspapers and other publications. As Leon F. Litwack indicated in his book of photos often reproduced on postcards, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, such photos could be displayed not only in publications critical of such lynchings, but by defenders and apologists of them, partly as a warning to Black people not to challenge the gospel of White supremacy. The book and its pictures suggest that many lynch mobs and onlookers were composed of "ordinary people," and both Madison's book on the Marion lynching and Beitler's photo suggest the same.

From 1930 until the present, both lynchings and the Klan declined. One report of the 1981 Alabama lynching of Michael Donald refers to it as the "Last lynching in America." A 2016 report on the KKK by the Anti-Defamation League states that it remains a collection of mostly small, disjointed groups that continually change in name and leadership. . . . There are currently just over thirty active Klan groups in the United States, most of them very small. However, the association of Klan members with criminal activity has remained consistent." Klan members have, however, been active in some recent right-wing protests, including the "Unite the Right" rally in 2017 in Charlottesville. In 2020 a Klan member drove his truck through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters near Richmond, Virginia.

Most white terrorist activities in recent decades, like the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 or the shooting deaths of nine Black congregants in 2015 in a Charleston S. C. church, were not KKK directed, but still reflected a similar white supremacist mindset. It was often mixed with hostility to the federal government and its perceived infringement on citizen rights--for example, in regard to any type of gun control.

In its mixed motives, one of which was demonstrating white supremacy (note the Capitol-occupier carrying the Confederate flag), those who used terrorist means to occupy the U. S. Capitol building in January 2021 were typical of recent right-wing protests. The FBI recently noted that two right-wing groups, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, "were in the vanguard" of the occupiers. Although both groups deny being racist, the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that white supremacy is part of their ideologies (see here and here).

Most occupiers, however, were not members of right-wing extremist groups, but simply Trump followers. Three characteristics that they had in common with many who supported or failed to protest historical lynchings were 1) an us vs. them perspective, 2) a belief in their vision of Christianity, and 3) a willingness to believe rumored falsehoods.

In his book on the Marion lynchings, Madison writes of white crowds' "us and them" outlook; and in observing Trump supporters in 2016, writer George Saunders has written that many of them suffered from "usurpation anxiety syndrome." He defined it as "the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions." The "some Other" could be such groupings as Blacks, illegal immigrants, or big government.

Regarding the 1920s Klan, "the bedrock of [it] remained its commitment to the continuation of native-born white Protestant hegemony in American culture and governance." In addition to opposing Black equality, the Klan supported Prohibition and targeted Catholics, Jews, and non-Protestant immigrants. Trump's largest group of loyal supporters in both 2016 and 2020 were White Protestant evangelicals. Neither in the 1920s nor in Trumpian times did such Protestants believe that opposing racism was central to the Christian message.

In many of the lynchings of earlier times, we are struck by the gullibility of lynch mobs--their willingness for example to accept as truth that a Black man had committed rape. Many 2021 Capitol occupiers, and even many other Trump supporters, also were willing to believe in unfounded rumors, especially about the 2020 election being "stolen" from Trump. A smaller percentage of occupiers were even willing to believe in some of QAnon's more outlandish conspiracy theories.

Although many Trump supporters were unwilling to countenance violent means to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol occupiers, like lynch mobs before them, were willing to employ such means. And still other Trumpians, like Marion citizens viewing the 1930 lynchings, were insufficiently outraged by such behavior. Such a lack of indignation can only help White terrorism to continue.

Cops interview Atlanta gunman and claim 'no indicators' of hate ...


Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, a Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of An Age of Progress? Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces (2008). For a list of his recent books and online publications click here.

The long history of women warriors

The American experience with true women warriors—not just our wonderful Hollywood Wonder Woman—has only recently begun. However, with the benefit of recent archaeological discoveries and re-examinations, we can say that women have been warriors—or certainly hunters—for millennia.

When the U.S. ended the draft in 1973, women represented only 2% of enlisted personnel and 8% of the officer corps. Today the figuresfor the officer corps are significantly higher across almost all services. As of 2018, women represented 19% of the Army officer corps, 19% of the Navy's, 21% of the Air Force's, and 8% of the Marines'.

An important milestone occurred in 1976, when the first young women were allowed to enter the three service academies. I was privileged to teach the first group at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, in 1980, to witness the first female cadets graduate in 1980 and become second lieutenants.

A significant transformation in the roles women play in the military took place in December, 2015, when the Department of Defense opened to women combat roles across the services. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated: "There will be no exceptions." "They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men."

In that same year the Army opened its most challenging training course to women—Ranger School. Lieutenants Kristin Geist and Shaye Haver became the first women to graduate from the school,--a tough, 61-day course—the most demanding training I underwent in my 21-year Army career. As of April 2020, 50 women have graduated from the course.

Today women Army officers are commanding infantry and armor combat companies, indicating that they soon may be commanding combat battalions and larger Army units.

Recent archaeological discoveries and studies show that these current women warriors have actually a long pedigree. Women as warriors—or certainly hunters and not simply gatherers—have a long history reaching back thousands of years to pre-history.

In November of last year, researchers found that the remains of a 9,000-year-old hunter buried in the Andes mountains was a woman. The specialized tool/weapon kit at the burial site indicates she was a big game hunter.

This discovery encouraged the researchers to re-examine evidence from 107 other graves throughout the Americas from the same time period. Out of 26 graves with hunter tools, they were surprised to discover 10 contained women.

These discoveries challenge the traditional beliefs about gender roles in pre-recorded history: Men hunted and women gathered. The picture is now more mixed.

The richest body of literature and artifacts on women warriors in ancient Western history is found in ancient Greek history, and it deals with the mythical Amazons. Amanda Foreman, writing in the Smithsonian Magazine, (April, 2014) explains that the ancient Greek poet, Homer, writing in the 8th century BCE, was the first to mention these women warriors. In his "Iliad," he mentions them briefly as Amazons "antianeiria," a term translated variously as "antagonistic to men" or "the equal of men." In any case, Homer made these women brave and stalwart military opponents to the Greek male military heroes, who of course always vanquished these women warriors.

Future Greek writers continued referencing the Amazons. For example, they supposedly fought for the Trojans in the Trojan War. Also, the demi-god Heracles completed his ninth labor by taking the magic girdle of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta.

Thus tales of the Amazons became inextricably intertwined with the rise of Athenian democracy which began in the 6th century BCE. In this century, images of Amazons battling Greeks spread; they appear not only on pottery but also on their architectural friezes, jewelry, and household items.

Recent archaeological discoveries dating back to the 5th century BCE indicate that the Amazons were rooted in real equestrian, nomadic women of Eurasia—the Scythians. Adrienne Mayor, writing in "National Geographic History" (May/June 2020) states that the Greeks would have encountered these women in the 7thcentury BCE as they established colonies around the Black Sea.

Excavations of Scythian burial mounds began in the 1940s, and revealed skeletons with spears, arrows, axes, and horses. Originally identified as male, more recent DNA testing shows that some human remains were women. About one-third of the Scythian women found in the burial sites had weapons. Also, their bones have indications of combat: marred ribs, fractured skulls, and broken arms.

It is clear that the more egalitarian society we Americans continue to strive to create had an antecedent on the steppes of Eurasia.

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Contributing editor Fred Zilian (zilianblog.com; Twitter: @FredZilian) is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University. He is writing a book on The Challenge of American Civilization.

This article was originally published at History News Network

When did America stop being great?

My formative experience of America came during this country's great summertime of resurgence. It was 1984, I was sixteen years old, and I had flown into Los Angeles on the eve of the Olympics. For the next six weeks, I watched, wide-eyed, as the long national nightmare of Vietnam, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis was brought to an end by a modern-day gold-rush.

A multi-racial team of US athletes, led by the likes of Carl Lewis, Mary Lou Retton, Michael Jordan and Greg Louganis, completely dominated the medal table. Team USA even performed well in some of the more obscure events - a calorific boon for customers of McDonalds, which ran a scratch-card promotion, planned presumably before the Soviet boycott, offering Big Macs, fries and Cokes when Americans won gold, silver or bronze. With the thumping chant of "USA, USA" echoing from coast to coast, it was hard, even as a visiting outsider, not to be swept up in this torrent of patriotism.

Later that year, of course, Ronald Reagan surfed this red, white and blue wave to a second term in the White House, winning 49 out of 50 of states. For millions of his supporters, many of them lifelong Democrats, truly it felt like morning again in America, the sunny slogan of his re-election campaign.

My new book, When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present, began as a quest for understanding. How had the United States gone from the self-confidence and swagger I experienced in the Reagan years to the American carnage of Donald Trump's dystopian inaugural address? What had turned this country into a place of such chronic disunion, shared land occupied by warring political tribes?

Then, as I was writing it, further questions arose, which came under the same rubric. Why was this superpower so vulnerable to the viral onslaught of COVID-19? How had we arrived at the point where an insurrectionary mob could storm the US Capitol, violently seeking to overturn a presidential election in which Joe Biden had so obviously emerged the victor?

Like the unexpected victory of Donald Trump four years earlier, the botched response to the coronavirus outbreak and the brazen attack on the US democracy were culminating moments. They could not be written off as historical accidents or aberrations. Arguably, they had become historically inescapable.

How had this come to pass?

In locating the origins of this troubled present, we could reach back to the earliest days of the new Republic. "1776," chanted the mob of MAGA diehards who invaded Capitol Hill, fervently believing they were acting in the spirit of the Revolutionary War. We could revisit the Constitutional Convention and the deliberations that produced the Electoral College, a relic of the Eighteenth Century that could never be described as the Founding Father's finest work.

To understand America's inherent contradictions, we could consider how the author of the Declaration of Independence could write that "all men are created equal" while also penning a pseudo-scientific treatise outlining what Thomas Jefferson believed was the biological inferiority of slaves. Or we could journey to the battlefields of the American Civil War – Fort Sumter, Antietam, Manassas, Gettysburg – to be reminded of how division has long been this country's default setting.

Instead, however, I have retraced the steps of my own American journeys: as an impressionable teenager during the Reagan era; as a student in the Nineties conducting research into the struggle for Black equality; as a fresh-faced foreign correspondent dispatched to Washington to cover the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Witnessing his Senate trial, I felt sure it would be a once-in-lifetime event. But afterwards those kind of mega-stories came thick and fast: the disputed 2000 election, the attacks of September 11th, the war in Iraq, the Great Recession, the election of Barack Obama and presidency of Donald Trump, with its back-to-back impeachments.

Part history, part memoir, my book describes the role of each successive president in paving the way for Donald Trump – and, yes, they all contributed to his rise. Reagan, who was the first commander-in-chief since Dwight D. Eisenhower to complete two full terms, elevated the presidency while at the same time dumbing it down.

After the showmanship of The Gipper, George Herbert Walker Bush demonstrated the value of a less theatrical presidency, but this moderate Republican failed to halt the rightward lurch of the conservative movement. Radicals, led by Newt Gingrich, snuffed out his thousand points of light. The Baby Boomers, who had cut their political teeth during the culture wars of the Sixties, usurped the Greatest Generation, whose belief in patriotic bipartisanship was forged during the Second World War.

Bill Clinton may indeed have built a bridge to the 21st Century, but for much of Middle America it felt more like a bypass. And though he presided over a period of peace and prosperity, the Nineties were pregnant with so many of the problems encountered in the new millennium: the financial meltdown of the subprime crisis, the unchecked power of Big Tech, the problem of mass incarceration.

George W. Bush, by pursuing his war on terror in such a polarizing way, failed to seize the opportunity presented by the calamity of 9/11 to reunify an ever more fractious nation. Like his father, he also failed to steer the conservative movement in a more compassionate direction.

Barack Obama helped stave off a financial meltdown when he first took office in the midst of the Great Recession, but during his eight years in office he struggled to soothe the fears of blue-collar Americans who felt like castaways in a globalized and digitized economy. His presence in the White House, rather than closing the country's racial rift, fuelled the rise of white nationalism and the presidential candidacy of the untitled leader of the birther movement.

And there are so many more milestones and waystations on the path to polarization.

The political success of Donald Trump should not have taken us all by such surprise. So many trend-lines – political, economic, racial, cultural, spiritual and technological - converged and culminated in his presidency. As the 2020 election underscored – a contest, remember, in which he won 25 states and amassed more than 74 million votes – his presidency was not some American aberration. He became the figurehead for much of this country, and remains so even after his role in inciting his moshpit of MAGA diehards on January 6th.

Just as few weeks ago, I was on the inaugural stand in Washington, just as I had been four years earlier, and listened to America's 46th president, Joe Biden, make his plea for national healing. "We must end this uncivil war," he said, in one of the more searing lines of his speech. Alas, the disturbing conclusion I reach in When America Stopped Being Great is that genuine national unification may now be impossible to achieve. The United States is riven with so many unbridgeable divides. Its very name has become a misnomer.

Travelling this vast land, I struggle to identify where politically, philosophically or spiritually it will find common ground. Not in the guns debate. Not in the abortion debate. Not in the healthcare debate. Not at weddings, where more than a third of Republicans and almost half of Democrats say they would be unhappy if their children married a partner from the other party, compared to 5 percent in 1960. Not in the singing of the national anthem at American football games. Not in the debate over the country's history, and how it should be memorialized.

Few, if any, national events, are politically benign, ideologically neutral or detached from the culture wars. No longer are there demilitarized zones in US politics. It seems that everything is contested. Even the most rudimentary of facts. Even the simplest of protections, like the facemask. Even the most clear-cut of presidential elections.

After talking so much this century about the emergence of a post-America world, I fear we are living in a post-America America. The land that I fell in love with during that summertime of resurgence has entered a bleaker season.

Nick Bryant, the BBCs New York correspondent, is the author of When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present.

Expert explains how ridiculing QAnon cult members could be dangerous

The recent Senate acquittal of former president Donald Trump renewed attention on QAnon followers, with reports that some followers are taking the trial result as evidence of the correctness of their beliefs, galvanizing their faith in "the plan." Prior to the acquittal vote, other QAnon followers had soured on the group, particularly after the failed prophecy on January 6 that Trump would remain president.

Families are also experiencing hard feelings and tensions associated with QAnon, as people struggle to relate with family members who are strong believers.

Whether a follower decides to leave or stay, outsiders and loved ones would do well to resist ridiculing. Deprogramming cultish beliefs is difficult under the best of circumstances. Shaming and making fun of adherents may make you feel good, but it won't help you achieve the more important goal of getting back your loved ones. Social science helps us understand why.

I wrote earlier about the ways devotees to a cause can respond in the wake of a failed prediction. While there are acute differences between the Seekers cult and QAnon followers, particularly when it comes to their post-disconfirmation behavior thus far, we'd be naive to not learn from the allegiances of past failed prophecies.

The Seekers example dates back to 1954 when a Doomsday group believed the world would end in a catastrophic flood with only the believers in the group being spared. Social psychologist Leon Festinger chronicled the group's actions in the months leading up to and after the prophesied day of destruction.

What was remarkable about the Seekers (and which confirmed Festinger's famous theory of cognitive dissonance) was that when faced with knowledge of the failed prediction—there was no flood—believers not only doubled down on their belief, but immediately began to proselytize. They became desperate to win new converts.

This may resemble what we're seeing with QAnon followers post-acquittal, but by comparison, it's hard to say what they're currently thinking. Perhaps some are laying low and biding their time. Perhaps others have abandoned the group (as did some of the Seekers). Some may be experiencing a restored sense of hope given the most recent failed impeachment of Trump, but we haven't yet seen evidence of increased proselytizing by QAnon adherents.

Both groups experienced a failed prediction on a massive scale, a prediction in which both groups' followers believed strongly and to which they demonstrated fierce commitment. Seekers did so by giving up their jobs and handing over their possessions and savings, while QAnon followers risked exposure and prosecution on January 6 by rioting in the nation's capital. But what determines whether QAnon followers will increase their proselytizing?

Inspired by Festinger's test of his theory of cognitive dissonance, scientists Jane Hardyck and Marcia Braden published a report of a doomsday group they observed in 1962 called the Church of the True Word. The group also faced a disconfirmed prophecy that the world would soon end in nuclear war. In commitment to their belief, the group had built underground fallout shelters and stocked them with canned and dehydrated food, large jugs of water, and power generators. On word that the group's prophet had received a divine message, having already been inspired by certain passages of the book of Revelation, 135 followers headed into their shelters.

Of those who went in, 103 remained for a full 42 days and nights. The faithful received word to come out. Those who'd stayed inside claimed that their stay had strengthened their faith and increased their belief in the work of the group. While the Seekers reframed their own failed prediction as God having spared the world, the True Word group reacted in the same vein by claiming God was testing their faith. In other words, some members of both groups clung to their beliefs.

However, whereas the Seekers desperately began to search for new converts, the True Word group did not. What made the difference? The observations of scientists Hardyck and Braden suggested one possibility: news coverage of the Seekers was largely disdainful and ridiculing. By contrast, the True Word followers received very little ridicule from news outlets or local townspeople. In fact, the town mayor was quoted as explicitly calling for no one to ridicule the group for their beliefs.

It was ridicule that backed the Seekers into a corner from which relief could come only by attempting to find other people who believed the same. Because the True Word followers weren't ridiculed, they were not pushed to the point where they felt no recourse but to proselytize. Herein lies the lesson for us.

Your loved one's next move may depend on the amount of ridicule they experience. It may be tempting to scoff at the group, but in the end it may be counterproductive. If we really want to shrink QAnon, or at least curb its outreach efforts and heal our families, we have to recall the differences in treatment given to followers of the failed prophecies of the past. That's not to say people who broke the law or engaged in other antisocial behavior shouldn't be held accountable, but history does have a way of repeating itself.

Jayson Dibble is an associate professor of communication at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

Here's the pathetic reason Republicans have launched a radical assault on the American judiciary

Donald Trump's disgraced lawyer, Roy Cohn famously said, "F*** the law, who's the judge!"

Chief Justice Roberts, defending judicial independence, said that there is no Republican or Democratic way of deciding cases. In his confirmation hearings he likened judges to baseball umpires, calling balls and strikes, oblivious to the score or the team or the player. There is a certain tyranny in analogy.

Trump believed that judges are simply politicians in robes. He thought that they would return a favor like any other politician. That's the way it went down in Roy Cohn's Bronx or Fred Trump's Queens where Donald grew up.

So Trump professed to be astounded when he brought 61 lawsuits to try to overturn the election, and was thrown out of court every time. Predictably, some of the sharpest judicial rebukes came from Democrats; he was amazed, however, when some of the key decisions came from Republicans—even Republicans he had appointed.

No state was blunter in its rejection of Trump's claims than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In a blistering decision in December a Philadelphia federal appeals court issued a sizzling 21-page ruling repudiating Trump's effort to stop Pennsylvania's certification process. "Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here." These words were written by Judge Stephanos Bibas. The irony is that Judge Bibas was appointed to the bench for life by Trump himself.

Judge Bibas affirmed a district court ruling, which had likened Trump's suit to "Frankenstein's monster," saying it was replete with "strained legal arguments" and "speculative accusations …unsupported by evidence." Those words were written by an Obama appointee, Matthew Brann, a former Republican official and member of the conservative Federalist Society.

Safe to say, Republicans have not done well in the federal courts. So they have pushed back. Led by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader over the past four years, Trump managed to appoint 231 federal judges, plus three new Supreme Court justices, an enviable record. After the impeachment trial in the senate, Trump described McConnell as a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack." With friends like that, who needs enemies?

As for the Pennsylvania state courts, the bench is overwhelmingly Democratic. Unlike the case with the federal courts, state court judges are elected for a term of years, and come up through the political process. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which tilts Democratic 5-to-2, reviewed Trump's attempt to overturn the state's election results last November, Justice David N. Wecht spoke for a unanimous court in condemning the gambit as "a dangerous game," an exercise in futility. Revealing what judges do and how judges think, Justice Wecht stated in no uncertain terms: "It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of the people."

At the Pennsylvania state court level, the GOP is eager to put its thumb on the scales of justice. Stung by the repeated rebuke of its positions by state court judges, Pennsylvania Republicans have embarked upon a plan to change the entire way judges are selected.

The plan, which would require voter approval in a statewide referendum, changes elections for judges with a scheme to divide the state into judicial districts drawn by the GOP dominant legislature. Under this proposal, the rural conservative areas in the state would place the judges on the Supreme Court and seek to change its ideology. Of course, the GOP drive has triggered an immediate Democratic response called "Why Courts Matter Pennsylvania."

It appears unlikely that the Republicans can get their act together in the legislature in time to put the referendum on the ballot in May. If they miss the May deadline, there will be an all-out war in November.

The whole scenario is an assault on the justice system. The courts, ever since John Marshall wrote Marbury v. Madison in 1803, are supposed to rein in the legislature when it gets out of hand. Now the legislature is trying to influence how the courts decide cases—a cynical subversion of judicial independence and the constitutional system.

Pennsylvania is the fifth state to try this one. Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Kentucky have already revamped their judicial systems to provide for electoral districts. If Pennsylvania succeeds, other states will surely follow.

Race is of course an issue. In Texas, Republicans have weakened the votes for judges in certain Black and Latino communities by moving these areas into different districts.

And then there is drop box and mail in voting, the bane of Trump's existence. In Georgia, Republicans want to ban or severely limit these practices entirely. Arizona doesn't like mail-in voting either, and the GOP is introducing legislation to prevent it.

Having seen that appointed judges refuse to toe the party line at the federal level, the GOP has decided to employ partisan gerrymandering to change the way judges are elected at the state level. O tempora! O mores!

James D. Zirin, a former federal prosecutor, is the author of Plaintiff in Chief—A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.

This article was originally published at History News Network

'New platform, same racists': How white supremacists used technology to upend Black History Month

White supremacist keyboard warriors appear to have declared a cyber war against Black History Month. Virtual events across the land have been Zoombombed by these perpetrators. I know about these attacks from firsthand experience; an event that I led was one of those victimized.

Black History Month events sponsored by universities are among the most frequent targets. Those attacked include Penn State, Rutgers, Rider University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the University of South Florida, Seattle University, Wyoming, Salt Lake Community College, Del Mar College, my own University of Detroit Mercy, and many more. Some institutions report strikes on multiple events. My students have heard of similar assaults at other institutions that have not yet been reported by the media. There are commonalities to the attacks, including racial slurs appearing on screen, racist and homophobic images (some drawn by hand on the screen), and racist remarks in chatrooms. At Rutgers, the culprits inserted pictures of black bodies, some hanging, and others covered in blood. Meanwhile a Ku Klux Klan song played on a continuous loop, stating "kill all blacks/we will find you."

These institutions are conducting investigations of the attacks, either with local law enforcement or with the FBI. Although the wrongdoers have yet to be identified, they seem to have come from outside the universities and community colleges being targeted and they seem to be coordinated. The heaviest day of Zoombombings took place on February 15, including the one that occurred at the University of Wyoming. According to the Laramie Boomerang: "evidence suggests the individual(s) responsible for Monday's attack may also be connected to similar attacks that have occurred during other university-hosted virtual Black History Month programs across the nation." One investigation hints that these coordinated strikes may have originated in the eastern United States.

Other entities have suffered similar attacks. Zoombombers interrupted the virtual reading of a Black History Month proclamation by the Lawrence (Kansas) City Commission with images of sexual abuse and a racist message.

My own experience with this phenomenon came on February 15 during a Black History Month event at my university titled "Love Stories from the Underground Railroad." This annual event brings together the celebrations of Black History Month and Valentine's Day to share the stories of enslaved couples who ran away together to find freedom in the northern states or Canada. This February, I told the story of freedom seekers William and Louisa Swan, who fled to northern Michigan and settled under the protective gaze of the Odawa and Ojibwe peoples there. About forty minutes into my presentation, twelve new participants abruptly joined the Zoom session. Within seconds, the N-word appeared superimposed in red over one of my PowerPoint slides. When the session host removed the racist language, a pornographic video emerged. After those disturbing images were eliminated, the twelve perpetrators hijacked the Chat function to serially post racist and anti-Semitic remarks, each of which popped up momentarily on the computer screen. We were forced to abbreviate the event rather than further compromise and offend our other participants, which included our students, faculty, and staff, a class from another college, a few historians at other institutions, and community guests. A video of a dramatic reading of one of Louisa Swan's letters by two African American actresses in our Theatre Company – the product of much hard work – became part of the content jettisoned.

What happened to American universities during this Black History Month is already being recognized by academics as a distinct form of racial violence. This is the argument made by University of Michigan scholars Lisa Nakamura, Hanah Stiverson, and Kyle Lindsay in their forthcoming book Racist Zoombombing from Routledge. Although some may see these assaults as just a new form of online trolling in the wake of our dramatically increased virtual presence since the outbreak of COVID-19, these authors demonstrate that it is "a specifically racialized and gendered phenomenon that targets Black people and communities with racialized and gendered harassment." A survey of news stories over the past year offers growing evidence of these virtual strikes on events by and about African Americans. Purveyors of white supremacy have always been willing to adopt new media with which to carry out their racist attacks. From the Ku Klux Klan's use of the film Birth of a Nation in the early twentieth century to the neo-Nazi embrace of the Internet in our own, white supremacists have shown a willingness to be at the cutting edge of technological change. Even so, they exhibit the same dark intent, the same patterns, the same cowardly spirit they have always shown. As one of my colleagues notes, Zoombombing demonstrates the "sadly evergreen resiliency of white supremacy." That is why Nakamura, Stiverson, and Lindsay title one of their chapters: "New Platform, Same Racists."

Roy E. Finkenbine is Professor of History and Director of the Black Abolitionist Archive, University of Detroit Mercy.

Historian says we shouldn't defend Democracy with half-truths about the past

We often learn most from people who don't share our worldviews. German Carl Schmitt, a reactionary critic of democracy, provides uncanny insight into the uncivil war of opinion after the 2020 election. Constitutional democracies, Schmitt argues, seek a foundation in legality, that is rule by law, but belief in a state's legitimacy depends on a sense of tradition embodied in myths and symbols.

On January 6 insurrectionists convinced by the lie of voter fraud legitimated breaking the law because they felt that they were, like the liberty-loving Minutemen of Concord and Lexington, protecting the country. The same invocation of the spirit of 1776 animated the Confederacy, which claimed to protect "liberty" while in fact legitimating slavery. After the Union victory, paramilitary white supremacists imagined themselves as Minutemen redeeming the South from a threat to its way of life.

The response of those rightly horrified by the events of January 6 is more complicated. Understanding the threat to democracy by a lawless attack on the symbolic citadel of "the people," they mistakenly conflate rule by law with democracy and rely on myths about the nation's founding after the Revolutionary War and its second founding after the Civil War. For instance, historian Jon Meacham, a frequent media commentator, claims that "the framers intended America's to be a popular, not a legislative, government. The voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers in a parliamentary setting, were to determine the occupancy of the presidency." In fact, nowhere does the Constitution mention a role for votes by the people. Art II, sec 1, 2 of the Constitution leaves it up to each state to decide how to determine electors. "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature, thereof may direct, a Number of Electors."

And yet cries of "un-American" arise when the Arizona state legislature undemocratically proposes a law allowing it to ignore people's votes and appoint electors in a manner perfectly consistent with the Constitution. Similarly, pundits equate unlawful acts of the insurrectionists on January 6 with ones by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, although their challenges to state certifications followed procedures created by an 1887 law still in force. Rather than chauvinistic piety about rule by law, we need to address undemocratic actions enabled by our Constitution and our legal system.

133 years ago constitutional scholar John Burgess criticized the 1887 law for making our flawed system of electing a president worse and therefore producing "a congestion of the body politic until nothing but blood-letting can relieve it." [See more here.] Burgess was prophetic. But he also points to the nation's contradictory past. Like many in the North, as well as the South, he denounced African American suffrage. Nonetheless, he did not have to worry about the Fifteenth Amendment, because it proved ineffectual in protecting Black voters. It is prohibitive, not affirmative. In forbidding states from denying suffrage on the basis of race, it allows other means for suppressing African American and immigrant voters. [See more here.] Unfortunately, partial accounts about the revolutionary change brought about by the constitutional amendments during the nation's second founding distract from the country's need to have an amendment that eliminates legal forms of suppression by affirmatively conferring the right to vote on all citizens eighteen years and older.

The major beneficiary of those partial accounts has been Ulysses S. Grant. Like President Biden, Grant faced the almost insurmountable task of reuniting the country while guaranteeing racial justice. Indeed, commentators, politicians, and media historians, urge Biden to combat domestic terrorists as "Ulysses the Silent" attacked the Ku Klux Klan. Introducing Merrick Garland as his nominee for attorney general, Biden himself praised the Grant administration for creating the Justice Department in 1870 in order to destroy the Klan. What actually happened is a warning, not a model.

Grant did invoke the April 20, 1871, KKK Act to break the back of the Klan temporarily in South Carolina, where his attorney general tried those arrested in federal courts. But success was limited. White supremacists thrived in other states. In South Carolina, most of the Klan's leaders escaped before trial. Furthermore, in the middle of the trials Grant fired his attorney general, most likely pressured by railroad tycoons upset with actions against monopolies. The new attorney general eventually stopped the trials. When ringleaders of the bloody racist massacre in Colfax, Louisiana, on Easter Sunday 1873 appealed to the Supreme Court, they were acquitted in a ruling that paved the way for undermining federal legislation against domestic terrorism. That decision was written by a Chief Justice appointed by Grant and joined by his other appointees. Even worse, in a gesture of national unity, Grant pardoned all Klansmen still in federal prison. [See more here.]

Presidential pardons are part of the Constitution, which also does not forbid a president from pressuring his attorney general. Grant replaced his last of numerous attorney generals the final year of his term during a shuffle in the cabinet when Secretary of War William Belknap was caught selling lucrative positions at Indian trading posts for a profit. Warned of his impending impeachment, Belknap ran to the White House where his friend Grant, without questions, accepted his resignation. The Senate tried Belknap anyway, but he was acquitted because 23 senators, who deemed him guilty, claimed the Senate had no jurisdiction over a private citizen. When, as a citizen, Belknap was indicted in the District of Columbia, Grant intervened and instructed his new attorney general to drop charges, which he did.

Myths about the founders and President Grant cannot restore legitimacy to a democracy in the wake of a second presidential impeachment and acquittal and facing competing demands to unify the country, rebuild the economy, address racial injustice, restore confidence in the presidency and Justice Department, deal with a conservative Supreme Court, and manage a pandemic.

Brook Thomas is Chancellor's Professor Emeritus of English and the Center for Law, Society, and Culture, UC Irvine. His specialty is 19th-century law and literature in the US. He has published six single-authored books including the prize-winning The Literature Of Reconstruction: Not In Plain Black And White (2017), and a case book on Plessy v. Ferguson. A recent podcast on the accuracy and significance of the numerous recent references to Reconstruction in the media and on the floor of Congress is at: https://marktwainstudies.com/mythsofreconstruction/

McConnell's decision to condemn Trump after voting for his acquittal wasn't just an act of cowardice: Historian

On February 12, when 43 Republican Senators voted to acquit former President Trump of the charge of incitement to insurrection, they reaffirmed the Faustian bargain they had made with him in 2016. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell was the central figure in the GOP's bargain: in exchange for tax cuts and conservative judicial nominations, he and the Republican senators enabled, supported, tolerated, and lent mainstream conservative legitimacy to Trump. For a month after the 2020 election which Trump had obviously lost, McConnell remained silent while Trump repeated the "stab in the back" lie about the "stolen election." So, it was not surprising that on February 12, 2021, faced with overwhelming evidence of Trump's guilt, that McConnell voted with 42 other Republican Senators to acquit him. He was at the center of that nullification. We do not know if McConnell could have found an additional ten votes to convict Trump, but there have been no reports that he tried to do so or that he was willing to join a minority short of the needed 67 votes on the basis of the law, the constitution, the facts and the evidence.

For Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Lindsay Graham, and no doubt others, the vote was also an expression of ideological agreement with Trump and Trumpism. For them the bargain with Trump had moved beyond McConnell's marriage of convenience to an alliance of shared ideological conviction or of a cynicism so deep that they repeated his lies in public. Their problem was that the House Managers were led by former law professor Jamie Raskin, with a remarkable team composed of Diana DeGette, David Cicilline, Joachim Castro, Eric Swalwell, Ted Lieu, Stacey Plaskett, Joe Neguse and Madeline Dean. That team offered a blend of argument and evidence, from their pretrial brief to Raskin's opening statement, and those of others that set a formidable standard of clarity and causal reasoning that historians would applaud in their own work. The vote to acquit by the 43 Republican Senators was a clear case of jury nullification, that is, of rendering a verdict that ignored the weight of fact, evidence, and argument.

If the Republicans did not want to admit that a team of Democrats made the case based on the Constitution, the law and the facts, they could have sought shelter in the warm embrace of Charles Cooper, the lawyer with close ties to the Republican legal establishment, who several days before the trial argued in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that impeaching a former President was indeed within the constitutional powers of the Senate. Or, they could point to the 144 constitutional experts, include leading conservatives, who issued a public statement that the First Amendment protection of free speech did not defend the right of the President of the United States to incite a mob to attack the Capitol. Or, being the lawyers many of them are, they could admit that Raskin, and the team of House Managers shredded Trump's lawyers efforts to use those arguments. Conservative legal scholars and practitioners, as well as the House Managers gave McConnell the argument, he needed to attempt to rally his Republicans majority to convict Trump. He could have done so with paeans to constitutional originalism, and of the prerogatives of the Senate.

In the course of the trial, Plaskett and Dean documented Trumps' months long campaign repeating the lie of the stolen election and the need to come to Washington on January 6th. Trumps' lawyers offered no rebuttal to Raskin's rejection of the "January exception" to Presidential misconduct in the last weeks in power, nor did they refute the factual record about Trump's campaign of lies and its consequences. They did not refute the House Managers' accounts of Trump's tactical use and approval of political violence. The Senators themselves knew that Trump refused to order his mob to stop when the entire Congress, its staff, and others working in the Capitol were in imminent physical danger. They also knew that when House Manager and Congressman Joaquin Castro said Trump had "left everyone in this Capitol for dead," he, Castro, was telling them a truth they knew as well as anyone.

Yet after all that, McConnell voted to acquit Trump, hoping that he could assuage the enraged Trump base. Yet McConnell, firmly planted in the reality of this world rather than that of Trump's "alternate facts," then unleashed the anger he had kept under wraps for the past four years. As McConnell's denunciation of Trump may be lost in the mass of words about the trial, it bears quoting at length. Bear in mind, that these are the words spoken by McConnell, not Raskin.

Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

The issue is not only the President's intemperate language on January 6th. It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged 'trial by combat.' It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.

I defended the President's right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled. But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims. The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things. Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.

This was different. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began. Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world. A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.

It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration. But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn't take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!

Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President. Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence. Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later. And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.

In recent weeks, our ex-President's associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection. 74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.

The new Majority Leader, Senator Charles Schumer, gave an address of ten minutes which, had it not been for McConnell's statement, would be regarded as one of the most remarkable delivered in the Senate in decades. It too is a very important historical document and should be part of the record on History News Network. Yet McConnell, despite knowing that the House Managers had made their case, joined the jury nullification of the ideologists and cynics in his caucus. He resorted to the constitutional argument about not impeaching a former President, an argument that defies common sense and was rejected by most constitutional scholars and voted to acquit the man he knew was guilty.

It was here that the master tactictian McConnell made a blunder of probable long-term significance. In so doing, he passed up a fleeting and superb opportunity to convict Trump, then disqualify him from running for federal office, and thus take the offensive in a political fight to retake the GOP from Trump's inflamed base. Instead, McConnell's denunciation of Trump enraged that Trump base, and confounded what is left of a diminishing number of moderate Republicans. Most importantly it left Trump able to brandish his acquittal and denounce the trial as part of "the witch hunt." Wounded but not politically dead, Trump remained a danger to the remnants of the GOP that had any claim at all to respect the rule of law.

McConnell thus sustained the Faustian bargain made since 2016. In so doing he failed to learn the meaning of the mob's chant "hang Mike Pence," the barbaric calls to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Trump's mocking reference to "Mitch." Trump and his followers will turn on McConnell and the GOP establishment which voted to acquit but shared McConnell's hatred of Trump. Trump and his base will turn on Republican politicians in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona who refused to submit to Trump's threats to overturn the results of a free and fair election. The split in the GOP was going to happen anyway, but now the cynics in touch with reality will enter that battle with the Trumpists unable to say they had used their considerable powers to inflict on him the defeat he deserved.

Such historical moments when forces are aligned as they were on February 12, 2021 do not come often. Though McConnell made all the arguments needed to convict Trump, he blinked at the crucial moment. In so doing, he seized defeat from the jaws of possible victory. Trump's conviction would not have meant the end of Trumpism, but it would have been a severe blow against the past four years of lies and conspiracies. McConnell's failure to act on what he knew was true and to rally what troops he had in the Senate emboldened Trumpists, and the right-wing extremist practitioners of violence with whom they are now in a relationship of mutual benefit. Before February 12, Republican mantras about law and order and respect for the Constitution had become threadbare. After the acquittal, there is no reason to believe anything McConnell and the 42 other Republican Senators for acquittal say about the rule of law now. Their pleas for bipartisanship are a bitter joke.

In Nazi Germany, the Faustian bargain launched by Franz von Papen and Paul von Hindenburg with Hitler ended in Germany's destruction. The clever cynics who thought they could outsmart Hitler, if still alive in 1945, stumbled through the ruins of their country. In numerous works of historical scholarship, our profession has demonstrated that the German conservatives of the 1930s were nowhere near as clever as they thought they were. They too passed up moments when they could have brought the dictator down. After 1933, that tiny number of German conservatives who dared oppose Hitler paid with their lives.

Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators did not live in fear of the Gestapo. On January 6th, Trump endangered their lives but on February 12 their only fear was of possibly losing an election. Yet, on February 12, with really nothing of lasting significance to fear, McConnell refused to use the power of the Constitution and of the United States Senate to convict Trump. He and his fellow partisans combined cowardice and cynicism with what could turn out to be a major strategic blunder. The Faustian bargain had created habits of self-abasement, cynicism and raw self-interest that proved too difficult to shatter.

Jeffrey Herf, Distinguished University Professor, Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park. His essay "The January 6th Assault on Congress and the Fate of the GOP's Faustian Bargain with Trump: Notes from German History," was published in History News Network on January 31, 2021. His book Israel's Moment: International Support and Opposition for Establishing the Jewish State, 1945-1949 is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

This widespread pattern of thinking is putting America’s survival at risk: historian

In his 1874 paper "The Ethics of Belief," Cambridge philosopher and mathematician William K. Clifford tells the story of a shipowner who worried about the seaworthiness of a vessel about to carry a group of emigrants to their new lives across the ocean: "He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs." However, he was able to dismiss these concerns from his mind and "put his trust in Providence" and watched the departure of the ship "with a light heart." In the end, "he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales." Clifford concludes that our fictional shipowner should be judged guilty of the deaths of these people: "It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts."

While devout believers of missionizing religions do typically consider the personal belief of others a matter of ethical concern (is it ethical to let people go to hell?), most of us on the more pluralistic end of the spectrum tend to be accommodating of the diversity of worldviews out there, even the intolerant ones, given the inherent rights we ascribe to individuals. But many personal beliefs today do endanger us collectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people exhibiting a range of beliefs have resisted even the slightest public health efforts to control the spread of the disease—or have torn down 5G towers they believe to be causing the pandemic. Anti-vaxxers believe without evidence that vaccines, by their very nature, cause health problems. As a result, the nation has recently undergone several outbreaks of measles, and millions of Americans are likely to refuse any vaccine for COVID-19. The cry of "religious freedom" now serves to rally those who would deny public accommodations to non-heterosexual people, just as in decades past the cry of "religious freedom" served to rally those who wanted to keep their schools segregated, and in both cases these proponents of "religious freedom" believed without evidence that the nation would experience divine calamity for extending basic rights to gays and non-whites, respectively. Veritable reigns of terror, personal and political, have been fashioned from deeply held beliefs unsupported by the slightest whisper of evidence, as the parents of Sandy Hook victims can well attest. And now, Donald Trump and his followers, on a basis of a belief (one not supported by any evidence) that he actually won a landslide election, are willing to tear this nation apart and murder Americans en masse.

Clifford would argue that people like climate change denialists and Pizzagate enthusiasts have no right to their beliefs, not simply because these beliefs do not accord with the evidence at hand, but because these beliefs can and do cause harm to other people. It is a radical notion—the idea that a belief which has an impact beyond the individual must withstand the encounter with reality in order to be considered ethical. As Andrew Chignell puts it in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Clifford's view is not merely that we must be in a certain state at the precise time at which we form a belief. Rather, the obligation always and only to believe on sufficient evidence governs our activities across time as well. With respect to most if not all of the propositions we consider as candidates for belief, says Clifford, we are obliged to go out and gather evidence, remain open to new evidence, and consider the evidence offered by others."

We in the business of historical analysis discourse a great deal, in our own professional work but also in various popular forums, about the nature of evidence, especially when confronting those who would misconstrue the events of the past. This past year, historians have publicly marshaled the facts about, among other things, the nature of the Confederacy (against those who insist that monuments to traitors Robert E. Lee et al. have nothing to do with slavery) and the longstanding utility of public health measures (against those who claim that mask mandates are a novel form of oppression, even during a pandemic). However, despite an unprecedented level of engagement with the public, and despite it being easier now to share over digital platforms the many primary documents that inform our studies, historians are frequently frustrated by the persistence of beliefs that resist any evidence whatsoever.

But then, the founding mythos of the United States leans heavily into the idea of "freedom of religion," and so we accord a privileged status to belief. Such belief, as we regard it, need not be grounded upon specific facts or principles—it need only be sincere. For example, after sharing with certain relatives my recent HNN article, "A Modern-Day Lynch Mob Invaded the Capitol on January 6," an aunt of mine, who has one of John McNaughton's hagiographical prints of Donald Trump up on her wall, texted me back thusly: "I believe everyone is entitled to their views. I would never try to belittle you for yours and I expect the same from you." On the surface, this may seem like quite the statement of tolerance, especially from someone so long part of the "Fuck Your Feelings" crowd, but such a view does not simply discount the evidence underlying any assertion—it claims that evidence is not necessary for the formation of a belief and insulates from criticism any belief so developed. She expects—even demands—never to be belittled for any belief she may hold, no matter how ridiculous.

With our nation undergoing a series of crises—with the whole damn world in crisis right now—we must be willing to take the next step in our confrontations with a worldview that insists upon freedom from fact and make not only historical judgments but also ethical ones. Clifford, remember, concluded that his fictional shipowner "had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him." And so must we take a stand and say the following to those whose worldviews that 1) have no basis in reality as can currently be determined, and 2) actively harm people beyond the individual adherent:

You do not have a right to your belief.

For our nation to survive, we must make this the new measure of citizenship. An engaged citizen must not merely be one who takes an active role in the public discourse. An engaged citizen must be, instead, one whose views and suggested policies are grounded in reality. Sure, we can continue to debate the significance of certain forms of evidence—historians and scientists do that all the time, and new evidence regularly emerges to challenge our previously held worldviews. But we can no longer afford to give a privileged place to beliefs just because they are beliefs. Our democracy, our world, will simply not survive it.

Guy Lancaster is author or editor of several books on racial violence in Arkansas, most recently the revised edition of Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Massacre of 1919, co-authored with Grif Stockley and Brian K. Mitchell. His forthcoming book, American Atrocity: The Types of Violence in Lynching, is tentatively scheduled for release by the University of Arkansas Press in the fall of 2021.

This article was originally published at History News Network

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