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:

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

Trumpism after Trump: A historian examines the future of American fascism

With the impeachment trial of Donald Trump now behind us, new questions are emerging about his legacy. While historians over the past five years have intensely debated whether Trump himself is a fascist, his return to private life and his uncertain political future have brought a new question to the fore: does the term "fascism" apply to the movement of Trumpism?

This story first appeared at History News Network.

As a movement, Trumpism is still in flux, but its extremist drift – as disturbingly illustrated by the newly aired footage of mob violence at the Capitol, the outlandish behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the possibility of domestic terror attacks -- lends credence to new claims that Trumpism should be seen as a form of "American fascism."

Yet while this charge is an important one that deserves serious scrutiny, it is premature to fully endorse it. While Trumpism is undeniably defined by fascist traits -- a personality cult, hostility to liberal democracy, and now violent action -- certain questions linger.

First, can Trumpism be seen as a fascist movement if its composition is still inchoate and its goals are still unclear? Many different groups were present at the sacking of the U.S. Capitol: the white supremacist Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and NSC-131ers; Christian Nationalists preaching the message of Jesus; libertarian gun fanatics, such as the Boogaloo Bois; and QAnon true believers fighting the "deep state." These groups have little in common, however, aside from anger against the liberal "establishment." While some of them, it now appears, coordinated their actions at the Capitol, the majority came together stochastically and were unconnected by any central command structure.

By contrast, traditional fascist parties were steered in a clear direction by dominant leaders pursuing clear goals. To be sure, fascist parties did not appear fully formed on the political stage and took time to develop. In Germany after World War I, many right-wing groups competed for followers: Pan-German nationalists, Stahlhelm veterans, Freikorps thugs, Organisation Consul assassins, Thule Society cranks, and – yes – fringe parties like the fledgling National Socialist German Workers Party. It took years, however, before the Nazis rose above their competitors and gained anything resembling political traction. Trumpism is arguably at a similar moment, with the potential to develop in multiple directions. Which one it will head in, however, remains unknown.

This fact raises a second question: can Trumpism acquire a clear identity (fascist or otherwise) with its leader out of power? Trump may linger as a political force, but since he is no longer the sitting president – and especially since he has been banned from Twitter and Facebook – his wings have been clipped. It remains unclear, therefore, how his movement will evolve going forward. Here again, the case of Germany in the 1920s offers an important lesson. After Adolf Hitler was convicted of treason in 1924 for trying to overthrow the Weimar government, he was slapped with a public speaking ban for several years and the Nazi party descended into internal squabbling. It quickly sank in the polls, earning only 2.6% of the vote in 1928. Trumpism without Trump as President may also end up adrift.

Third, even if Trump remains an inspirational figure for Trumpism, can the movement be seen as fascist if the leader himself is not? Scholars remain divided about whether Trump's political beliefs can be linked to fascism in any real sense. I have written elsewhere that, at best, he can be seen as a "situational fascist" -- as someone who stumbled into fascistic modes of behavior at the very end of his presidency, when, in the face of electoral defeat and possible criminal indictments, he incited violence to hold on to power. To this day, it remains unclear what beliefs, if any, Trump subscribes to beyond personal self-interest. Trumpism thus remains something of a political cipher.

For all of these reasons, it is difficult to compare Trumpism to other political movements whose names derive from their leaders. There is a long list of such movements – Bonapartism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism – but they were all defined by an ideologically rigid, top-down relationship between strong leaders and willing followers. There is no real precedent in American history for a political movement being closely tied to a single figure for any significant period of time (McCarthyism being a possible short-lived exception).

Traditionally, America's two-party system has absorbed upstart populist movements into the existing Democratic or Republican party establishments. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will absorb Trumpism and channel it into a more rightwing form of Republicanism, or whether Trump-supporting Republican representatives will transform the party in Trump's own image. A GOP split into two parties, while unlikely, is certainly conceivable and would weaken both.

But even if Trumpism becomes a more cohesive movement in the near future, it will still be difficult to call it "fascist." There remain too many differences between classical fascism and Trumpism. Among other things, the latter has not displayed the imperialist warmongering, irredentism, or expansionism of the former (though Trump did seem to have his eyes on Greenland for a while) and it has rejected the statist economic philosophy embraced by rightwing extremists in the 1920s and 1930s.

All of these differences reflect the fact that Trumpists, like far-right parties in Europe, have had to acknowledge the status of liberal democracy as the western world's default political system. Ever since the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in 1945, far-right figures have had to pay lip-service to democratic values and employ democratic rhetoric to camouflage their anti-democratic agendas. It is why Trumpists claim they are merely trying to make a "rigged" democratic system "fair" (and why they have to fabricate outrageous conspiracy theories to support their baseless assertions) rather than attacking democracy as inherently rotten, like traditional fascists. Indeed, in order to dispel the disqualifying impression that they are "fascist," Trumpists have not only refused to apply the term to themselves but have used it to attack their opponents, whether Antifa activists or liberal democrats.

None of this has kept recent observers from linking Trumpism to fascism. For some time now, scholars have used awkward terminology to hedge the relationship between the two movements: "fascistic," "para-fascist," "proto-fascist," "fascistoid," and "alt-fascist." Recently, new terms have been added to the growing list: Timothy Snyder has referred to Trumpism as a form of "pre-fascism." Enzo Traverso has called the Trump phenomenon "post-fascist." And Mikael Nilsson has recently called Trumpism "neo-Fascist."

While all of these concepts are suggestive, they suffer from various shortcomings. "Pre-fascism" is both overly capacious and deterministic, for, strictly speaking, every political system is "pre-fascist," though it would be a mistake to see such an eventuality as inevitable. Calling Trumpism "post-fascist," meanwhile, may be accurate chronologically, but misleadingly suggests its supporters has firmly moved beyond fascist doctrines, which may not be the case. "Neo-Fascism" is the most promising of the recent formulations, but until we systematically lay out how it has adapted older fascist principles to contemporary realities, it, too, remains an imperfect concept.

For all of these reasons, it may be best to view Trumpism through a new political prism. Because fascism has unavoidable connotations related to Europe and World War II, we may do well to view Trumpism as something uniquely new and American. Trumpism can be seen as the product of the United States' early 21st century political crisis. It is a crisis with deep-seated origins and Trump is its symptom, not its cause. Like other rightwing populist movements around the world today, its immediate origins are rooted in the nation's turbulent history.

Rather than describing Trumpism as a version of classical fascism, then, we may want to see the movement in terms of its most notorious slogan -- "Make America Great Again" – and conceptualize it as "MAGA-ism." Although the term is unwieldy and has only been embraced by scattered commentators, it has the benefit of reminding us that rightwing nationalism in the United States is likely to persist long after Donald Trump leaves the political scene for good

MAGA-ism constitutes a generational challenge for the American political system. Whoever ends up leading the movement going forward – Josh Hawley? Ted Cruz? Michael Flynn? -- it will continue to express the myriad resentments that were successfully mobilized by (though hardly limited to) Donald Trump. To the extent that we can better understand the origins of MAGA-ism on its own terms -- beyond the paradigm of fascism -- we will be better able to counter the threat it poses to American democracy.

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is Professor of History at Fairfield University. He is the author of the recent book, The Fourth Reich: The Specter of Nazism from World War II to the Present (Cambridge University Press) and the co-editor (with Janet Ward) of the forthcoming volume, Fascism in America: Past and Present.

Historian explains how Democrats lost the Great Plains

The story of Great Plains politics is about how a once independent region full of gracious people became so baptized into Republican orthodoxy that they've placed their hopes in fortunate sons and narcissistic TV stars.

I've spent most of my life in Nebraska, where I watched Republicans become increasingly dominant. In 1989, the year I was born, both of Nebraska's US senators were Democrats, as was one of its three House reps. The following year, Nebraskans elected Democrats for governor, auditor, and state treasurer. By 2020 all those seats were firmly held by Republicans. We haven't had a Democrat as governor for more than two decades, and the Republicans we elect continue to get more conservative. I unpack how and why this happened in my new book "Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold."

What happened in Nebraska is so consequential because it happened in other states, too, particularly in the Great Plains. Following the 1980s farm crisis, states with large rural voting blocs saw many seats flip from red to blue. By appealing to economic issues, such as federal support for agriculture, Democrats in Nebraska as well as in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and other states were able to defeat Republicans tethered to conservative doctrine. Republicans wrestled back that power. These states that once helped Democrats become the majority in the Senate are now an albatross for the party. Five of the six individuals South Dakota and North Dakota sent to Congress in 1989 were Democrats, but the Dakotas have zero Democrats combined as of this writing. Kansas used to have two Democrats in Congress, but now it has one. Oklahoma sent five Democrats to Congress, now it sends zero. Missouri sent five Democrats to Congress in 1989; now it sends two.

During the New Deal and Great Society, the moderates and liberals these states used to send to Congress were instrumental in getting progressive laws passed that supported unions and public-power projects. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, representatives from these states backed public education initiatives, legislation that supported the well-being of the working class, and equal rights laws. Those days are gone. These states no longer give Democrats the incremental votes they need to pass legislation. And the Republicans they elect now are much more conservative than Republican politicians were thirty years ago, which adds further difficulty in getting progressive legislation passed. The region has strayed so far rightward it feels blasphemous to suggest that things haven't always been this way.

What's happened is that the uniformity and polarization of national political parties made it harder for Democrats to get elected there, and loyal Republicans filled this vacuum. This is a new development that sprung up in my lifetime. Some of the historical writings I came across while researching my book seem quaint compared to today's hyperpartisan political environment. "Historically, party identity and loyalty has often played a secondary role in determining the support Nebraskans have given political candidates," wrote Nebraska historians James Olson and Ronald Naugle. "Correspondingly, the Republican or Democratic labels have not necessarily connoted the degree of conservativism and liberalism which at any point might describe the same parties on a national level."

Democrats unintentionally helped enable Republican domination in my home state by pulling back their campaigning in the area, struggling to build an infrastructure in the heartland to support local candidates, bickering among each other, and only reaching out to locals when there was a high-profile race they thought they could win. The perception among the people I grew up with is that Democrats pushed their party so far to the left that they've made elections insurmountable for Democrats who used to win in the heartland. In Nebraska, this helped contribute to many people leaving the party. When I was born, 42 percent of Nebraska voters registered as Democrats; today just 29 percent do. The dwindling share of Democrats makes it all but certain that for most races the winner is decided in the Republican primary.

Meanwhile, Republicans trump opponents with their ad spending, unite behind their candidates, and get their messages continually amplified by Fox News, local Rush Limbaugh imitators, churches, and coffee shop gossipers who keep regurgitating the same messages back and forth to the point that nobody knows who generated the arguments to begin with. This feedback loop enables conservatives to ride to glory on the wings of cultural wedge issues like guns, abortion, and immigration.

There's no single bullet that stripped this region of its political moderation. The reasons behind this political change are many and they are not mutually exclusive.

Nebraska's a state that used to make life hell for monied interests, rallying behind progressives like William J. Bryan. Now the state nails itself to the Cross of Gold. Aside from placing faith in a bombastic reality-TV star, it elected a governor from a family worth billions who uses his connections and wealth to target fellow Republicans he finds too moderate. Due to deregulation of campaign finance, many donors remain hidden as they spread their Washington-led partisanship into our state. Brain drain, the glut of elderly voters, the growing rural-urban divide, and people increasingly choosing to live among like-minded folks play their part too in creating polarization across the heartland.

While Donald Trump's rise was unparalleled, much of middle America has been moving to the right for a while. In fact, this decades-long political shift helped enable him.

Ross Benes is the author of Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold, published by the University Press of Kansas. You can follow him on Twitter @RossBenes and reach him at

Parts of this essay have been adapted from the book Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold, courtesy of University of Kentucky Press.

There's a 'GOP bias inherent in the Electoral College' -- and that's another reason to impeach Trump: historian

A friend writes: "I oppose impeaching Trump. Impeachment is the Constitution's procedure for removing a president from office when his/her actions are deleterious to the nation. If the noxious president is no longer in office, the impeachment mechanism is no longer called for."

He adds: "Barring Trump from running again prohibits seventy million people from voting for their candidate of choice. Several score senators do not have the right to overturn the wishes of millions. Any democracy worth anything must give its citizens the right to drive the country off a cliff."

My response:

The point of democracy is to give us good government. To be sure, it's a virtue in itself because it gives people a stake in their government and when it's responsive enhances social trust. But one of its chief virtues is that it is also likelier to give us better results than, say, dictatorships, given that democracies are self-correcting. Though I don't believe that voters are rational actors, when leaders make serious mistakes they are usually thrown out of office. But democracies can be well-designed or badly designed and as a result may not give us good government despite the tendency toward self-correction.

Ours is a case in point. As a result of the undemocratic Senate and the undemocratic Electoral College our system now rewards the GOP. This bias in favor of the GOP inhibits the self-correcting mechanisms. The GOP can fail and still be rewarded with power. Trump came remarkably close to winning re-election despite an unprecedented string of failures because of the GOP bias inherent in the Electoral College. As Andrew Prokop notes, "a shift of just 48,000 votes in AZ, GA, and WI would have resulted in a 269-269 tie." And a tie would have thrown the election into the House of Representatives, which, voting by state, would have given Trump the election.

Given the weaknesses of our system it behooves the Democrats to take steps to remove the threat of a second Trump administration. On this ground alone I'd favor an impeachment trial.

But there are multiple reasons to favor impeachment and conviction.

Impeachment carries two penalties. 1. Removal from office. 2. A ban on holding office in the future. The first is evidently the more serious penalty. That's why it takes a 2/3rds vote in the Senate to convict. The second penalty only takes a simple majority vote in the Senate. But both are included in the Constitution. You have discounted the value of the second feature for some reason, unexplained.

The founders did not say a president is subject to impeachment and conviction except for anything they can get away with during the final months of their term. Yet your approach would in effect amend the Constitution to limit impeachment and conviction in just this manner.

And those final months in a president's term are likely to be the most fraught wherein he is likeliest, if he is so inclined, to break the law and our democracy. For it is just then that he will be fighting for his political life. To let Trump off because he broke faith with his office in the final months of his tenure would set an unfortunate precedent an unscrupulous successor would be sure to take advantage of. Since the GOP is likely to give us another Trump-like figure in the near-future we have to be careful about the precedents we are setting.

The founders fully recognized the usefulness of the impeachment of former officials. As Princeton Professor Keith E. Whittington explained in the Wall Street Journal recently:

"For the Founders, it would have been obvious that the 'power to impeach' included the ability to hold former officials to account. The impeachment power was imported to America from England, where Parliament impeached only two men during the 18th century, both former officers. No U.S. state constitution limited impeachments to sitting officers, and some allowed impeachment only of former officers."

Finally, should the people vote for a second Trump administration in 2024 and get it as a result of the GOP bias in the Electoral College you would likely see a civil war ensue or at least raise the possibility of one. Certainly, the chances of a civil war would not be zero. Why would you take the risk?

Rick Shenkman is the founder of George Washington University's History News Network, and the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books).

Marjorie Taylor Greene's conspiracy theories incorporate the same core of absurdity as all conspiracy theories: historian

My brother emailed me to make sure I knew that we Jews had space laser technology capable of starting wildfires out West. Naturally he wondered who controlled it--Orthodox or Reform? But here's the question I asked him as we corresponded about the suggestion by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene that we, the Jews, in the guise of the always convenient Rothschilds, pointed a laser from the sky to start fires in California: "If we could burn up any place in the world, why would we pick California?"

Greene is absurd to publicly broadcast an idea that stupid. But many people where she lives sent her and her message to Washington. She imagines a plot reminiscent of those scary 1950s movies about some impossible bogeyman. Now the bogeywoman sits in Congress, and everybody is listening.

She is one sharp thorn on a much bigger political club wielded by American conservatives so they can run our governments. That club is the invention and propagation of weird tales of horror, often called "conspiracy theories," where the monsters are liberals, or even better, Jewish liberals.

If Jews, whatever group of humans that label might bring to mind among her fans, had so much power, why would we burn California, where one out of every six American Jews live? Explaining the central absurdity of that idea, or of the idea that mass shootings whose blood and death we all know about were actually a hoax, or of the idea that Democrats stole a national election, is where these theories fail.

Holocaust denial created a model for modern absurdity theories by focusing on facts. Millions of words and photographs and diagrams and scientific-sounding analyses have been created to explain why any particular known fact about the Holocaust is made up. David Irving, the premier Holocaust denier with historical credentials, sued Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel, because she labeled him "a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot," who "manipulated and distorted real documents", as Wikipedia puts it. Richard Evans, the British historian who advised Lipstadt's defense, made an official report: "Not one of [Irving's] books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject."

Like most other crazies who go public, Irving was eventually unmasked, but he screwed around with facts for decades, because his political message about Jews was welcome in many corners of the Christian world. But abstracted from the slippery "facts" that dominate Holocaust deniers' writings, the most absurd part of their message is rarely addressed. For 75 years, "the Jews" enlisted millions of the most prominent and powerful people across the world to recreate history in word and location, and to promulgate in every way that impossible history as truth.

Antisemites have never underestimated our cleverness, although denying the evidence that some of us actually are smart. So how do they explain how we did that? I don't mean how we got some old man to talk about non-existent gas chambers in Auschwitz or how we forged a document enumerating the people whom Nazis had just shot. How did we bring that immense conspiracy into being and how have we maintained it all these years? We must be really powerful, beyond the imagining of Greene and her ilk, if we could create these enormous conspiracies without leaving a trace.

Where are the letters, emails, photographs, diagrams, and web pages, even self-constructed á la Irving, showing us, the Jews, creating and leading that conspiracy? Or creating the magic laser to incinerate our friends instead of our enemies? How did the libs manage to both rig elections in Republican states and then create the worldwide spectacle that Biden won?

Mike Pompeo spent two months since the election pretending that Biden's victory was not legitimate. For years, he has exercised vast control over a network of highly trained people around the world, many of whom had been sent out as emissaries of Trump's ideology. But none of them sent back a bit of evidence explaining how or why every government in the world has dismissed the stolen election fantasy. If Pompeo had anything that could be bent, twisted, chopped up and regurgitated as proof that Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin and Justin Trudeau all signed on to the plot to rig the election and defend it afterward, why hasn't he produced it? Is he waiting for his next political campaign?

No, I think there is another reason. It seems to work quite well to just assume that central absurdity without explanation. Somehow it is not important to explain how a group of people, many under constant scrutiny by all forms of media, could be so secretive, so organized, so depraved and evil, to run a vast child abuse ring underneath a pizza place in Washington DC. The original Reddit post that touched off this particular conservative flight into absurdity, claimed in fact the abuse was easy to spot: "Everyone associated with the business is making semi-overt, semi-tongue-in-cheek, and semi-sarcastic inferences towards sex with minors. The artists that work for and with the business also generate nothing but cultish imagery of disembodiment, blood, beheadings, sex, and of course pizza."

The absence of any explanation of the origins and inner workings of these great conspiracies, the successful veil of utter secrecy that the world's official bodies have cast over their diabolical plans, implies a much larger conspiratorial network. Pizzagate and Holocaust denial and our space laser require full participation from police and security forces at all levels. Recent conservative absurdity theories have thus transformed the FBI from heroes of the fight against crime into co-conspirators. Trump had no choice but to include denunciations of the FBI in his flights into the absurd.

Holocaust denial is co-terminous with antisemitism. The people whom the deniers reach already believe that Jews are capable of unimagined evil, that we are all in it together, that we exercise unbounded but secret power. They don't have to be convinced by some sleight of hand of the theorists. Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't have to explain to her voters why we Jews would dream up a remarkable plan to burn out our own. Her followers are already there. They just want to know the details. In this case, Greene may be up a creek. No "space expert" has jumped in to explain our technological blueprints. She might have to walk away from that one entirely. She can blame this one on her "team" of social media producers, probably the same people who shared a video on her Facebook page where Nick Griffin, a well-known British Holocaust denier, says an "unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation."

The seemingly less absurd absurdity theories that are twisting our national politics, "Stop the Steal" or "I wasn't defeated, I am really President," have just enough details to obscure the more potent, unspoken, and fundamentally preposterous idea behind them. The Dems stole the election, they created a Disney spectacle of victory in an endless loop, and they convinced tens of millions of ordinary Americans, everyone's neighbors and relatives, to go along. I swear this is true, because some people I don't know, with no inside knowledge, say it's true, and I share their hatreds.

The believers in new undetectable conspiracies by vast numbers of satanic people overlap with the generations of promoters of Holocaust denial. That denial began with the perpetrators themselves as they were killing millions of satanic Jews, who were trying to take over the world. Without lasers.

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and an emeritus professor of history at Illinois College.

Macho men: Historian explains how Trumpism is the rage of a threatened masculine ideal

As political leaders, Benito Mussolini and Donald Trump were macho men. Although the latter is no longer president, his mindset still rages across the nation and needs to be replaced by a nobler view of manhood.

Among the first twentieth-century macho leaders, Mussolini, who was "something of a rapist" and eventually claimed to have had 169 mistresses, was the most significant. Emphasizing virility and war, he once said, "War is to man what motherhood is to a woman. From a philosophical and doctrinal viewpoint, I do not believe in perpetual peace."

In her book Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, Ruth Ben-Ghiat treats the Italian dictator as the first of many machismo rulers. Among others are former heads of state like Augusto Pinochet Ugarte of Chile, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, and now Trump, as well as present rulers like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. She believes they "damage or destroy democracy and use masculinity as a tool of political legitimacy. . . . Such rulers have exploited their countries' resources to satisfy their greed and [more recently] obstructed efforts to combat climate change. Their dependence on corruption and censorship and their neglect of the public good mean that they handle national crises badly and often bring ruin upon their people."

In dealing with Mussolini, Ben-Ghiat writes that as a young schoolteacher he was "known for carrying brass knuckles and sexually assaulting women." After World War I, in which he fought, he founded Fascist Combat Leagues that included many veterans. She believes that "the cults that rose up around Mussolini and Hitler in the early 1920s answered anxieties about the decline of male status," and she details Mussolini's leadership over Fascists who murdered "thousands of Socialists and left-leaning priests." (For more on the macho mindset under Mussolini, see here.)

Transitioning to Trump, his macho politics were evident until the end of his presidency--and beyond. They were commented on most recently by NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben in her "Macho Politics Defined Trump's Presidency, Culminating With Capitol Riot" and The Atlantic journalist Megan Garber in her "The 'Pussy' Presidency."

Kurtzleben mentions Trump's pre-storming-the-Capitol speech of January 6, in which he made fun of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's small size, and noted it was typical of Trump to belittle "an opponent as weak while portraying himself and his supporters as strong."

Known for pasting labels on people, the hefty Trump, who weighs in (officially) at about 240 pounds, especially likes to literally belittle people by sticking "little" or "liddle" before their names, such as Liddle Adam Schiff (California congressman), Little Marco (for Sen. Rubio), Liddle Bob Corker (former Tenn. senator), or Little Michael (or Mini Mike for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg).

Kurtzleben notes that Trump "has been unfailingly consistent in his fixation on being a tough guy--one with a very particular, combative form of masculinity." She quotes former chief of staff John Kelly saying that Trump can't admit mistakes because "his manhood is at issue here." And she recounts the response of Trump-campaign- spokesman Hogan Gidley after being asked if Trump felt "emasculated" because of social media's actions against him. Gidley's response? "I wouldn't say emasculated." He's "the most masculine person to ever hold the White House."

Both Kurtzleben and Garber mention Trump's urging of Vice President Mike Pence to aid the reversal of November election results: "You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy." Garber links this remark with Trump's earlier one in 2005 (not publicized until October 2016) that he could "do anything" he wanted with women, including grabbing them "by the pussy." She sees that early bragging as symptomatic of Trump's misogyny and dominating personality.

Trump's machoness, in Garber's view, is all about dominance and self-aggrandizement. "It rejects values typically associated with the feminine—compassion, collaboration, deference to expertise—as evidence of weakness." She believes that although he glorifies dominance, he is basically cowardly, having avoided military service and being subservient to "strongmen" like Putin.

Kurtzleben and Garber also comment on Trump's supporters. Kurtzleben cites a couple of reports that indicate that men, as well as women, who approve of dominating men were "likely to support Trump." Garber mentions all the "grotesquely masculine" symbols of the Capitol building occupiers (most of them white males): "the pelts, the horns, the capes, the exposed chests, the tactical gear."

Even if Trump's macho mindset was greater than that of previous presidents, it was not completely new. As historian John McCurdy has observed, "Beginning with the arrival of Columbus in 1492, the European conquest of America was built upon the sexual mistreatment of indigenous women, and the racialisation of gendered violence remained a constant throughout early America, growing more acute when African American slavery became the dominant form of labour."

In his Presidential Machismo: Executive Authority, Military Intervention, and Foreign Relations and in a HNN article (2002), historian Alexander DeConde examined macho behavior up to the early days of George W. Bush's presidency. (See here for more HNN articles on "masculinity.") My 2015 HNN essay "Putin vs. Obama: Macho Man' vs. Girly Boy'?" carries the consideration of presidential machismo up to the last president before Trump. There I mention that

Republican attacks against Obama constantly charge that he is weak or feckless—code for unmanly?—regarding Putin, terrorists, Iran, and others. . . . At times, their polemics suggest that the main difference between Republicans and Democrats is that the former is the party of macho men and the latter of 'bleeding-heart liberals,' secular feminists, and 'sissy' eggheads.

Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1962) quotes a conservative writer's definition of an egghead as "a person of spurious intellectual pretensions, often a professor or the protégé of a professor. Fundamentally superficial. Over-emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem." Many a conservative Republican thought of Adlai Stevenson (Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956) as just such an egghead.

Another example of machismo comes from author Philip Caputo, who recalled how as a young college student in 1960 he enrolled in a Marine Corps officer training program partly as a result of the romantic heroism of various war movies. He explained his motivation as such: "The heroic experience I sought was war; war, the ultimate adventure; war, the ordinary man's most convenient means of escaping from the ordinary. . . . Already I saw myself charging up some distant beachhead like John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima, and then coming home a suntanned warrior with medals on my chest . . . I needed to prove something—my courage, my toughness, my manhood."

In her book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2020) Kristin Kobes Du Mez writes of Evangelicals admiring Wayne "for his toughness and his swagger" and how he came "to symbolize a different set of virtues—a nostalgic yearning for a mythical 'Christian America,' a return to 'traditional' gender roles, and the reassertion of (white) patriarchal authority."

(See also this review excerpted on HNN.)

Du Mez traces back white evangelicals' overwhelming support of Trump in 2016 to the 1960s and 1970s "threats of communism and feminism. Believing that the feminist rejection of 'macho' masculinity left the nation in peril, conservative white evangelicals promoted a testosterone-fueled vision of Christian manhood. In their view, America needed strong men to defend 'Christian America' on the battlefields of Vietnam and to reassert order on the home front." (Although declining slightly, three out of four white evangelicals still supported Trump in 2020).

Looking at Trump's support overall, "anxieties about the decline of male status"--as Ben-Ghiat phrased it regarding many Mussolini supporters in the 1920s--seems to be important. A 2008 study found that men felt "especially threatened by challenges to their masculinity," which was in "a precarious state requiring continual social proof and validation." And we know that many more men supported Trump than women; Trump's macho mindset was one way, unhealthy as it might be, of trying to bury male anxieties.

Supporting gun rights, keeping transgender people out of the military, opposing affirmative action, even refusing to wear a face mask--Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren's response to Biden's frequent mask wearing: "Might as well carry a purse with that mask, Joe"--all reflected such insecurity. In 2016 writer George Saunders expressed the belief that many Trump supporters suffered from what he called "usurpation anxiety syndrome," which he defined as "the feeling that one is, or is about to be, scooped, overrun, or taken advantage of by some Other with questionable intentions." Immigrants, feminists, egghead professors, Black Lives Matter protesters, all might be perceived as such Others.

But how to assuage such anxieties, how to replace a macho mindset with a nobler view of manhood, and what that might be, is no easy matter. And a major rethinking of manhood is needed to help reduce political polarization.

In a 2015 essay I mentioned an insightful piece by David Masciotra that contrasted two opposing views of masculinity as presented in the films American Sniper and Selma. The first reflects machoism. The second, about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil-rights protesters, displays a truer and nobler type of masculinity.

Although it may be a slower process than many of us wish, an increasingly critical view of Trump's macho masculinity is likely to emerge, weakened as it is by images of the Trump-inspired mob storming of the Capitol building and Trump's own sore-loser whimpering.

No one image or role model of masculinity will satisfy everyone. But whatever ones emerge should possess noble values, compassion as well as courage, humility as well as heroism. Such models will help us in the difficult task of restoring civility to American political discourse.

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.

Donald Trump is following the Confederate script for a 'Lost Cause' battle for cultural validation: historian

President Donald Trump has answered speculation about what he would do after his electoral defeat. His actions were his words of provocation. As pragmatist philosophers have pointed out, including William James, choices of words are important actions. Trump's script is akin to the story of the southern Lost Cause after the Civil War, when the defeated Confederacy turned military loss into cultural victory, as historian Karen Cox has observed.

The ridicule, fear, and anger circulating across the political spectrum are all valuable for Trump.

To the ridicule, he presents a stern face ready to wear this scorn with pride; and he presents supreme confidence despite limited evidence for electoral foul play and despite court decisions repeatedly denying his efforts to overturn the election.

He has been inviting fear—over whether he would actually leave the White House with ominous rumors of a possible coup now enacted. Trump's brash and elusive approaches resemble those of French President Charles de Gaulle and US President Richard Nixon who cultivated madmen reputations. They would each keep all around them guessing, so no one could tell what he might do.

The anger in Trump supporters has been useful in its focused energy, but even this could die away without a storyline, a cause to keep the pot boiling.

The efforts in Trump's lost cause after defeat in the 2020 election include a narrative already appealing to many of his supporters, in a region where he is very popular. In the eleven states of the former Confederacy, Trump won in a landslide. Compared to Joseph Biden's 7-million-vote margin nationally, Trump gained more than 3 million more votes than the former Vice President and a dominating 82% of the electoral vote in the south.

When the Confederates lost the Civil War, they left the battlefield and took to a contest for the hearts and minds of the American people. The Richmond journalist Edward Pollard, who coined the phrase "The Lost Cause" in a book of that name in 1867, called it "the War of Ideas." Fully conceding military defeat and the "restoration of the union," he presented a "Southern History… approved by the most distinguished Confederate leaders." Pollard called his work "a (severely just) account of the war" designed "to satisfy curiosity … and to form public opinion." And that it did, serving as the opening salvo on the culture front with Lost Cause stories, paintings, and prints, and later movies and political movements, most prominently Gone With the Wind (the novel of 1936 made into a movie in 1939) and southern resistance to integration in the 1950s and 1960s.

On the surface, the Lost Cause narrative presented the softer side of the Confederacy, with depictions of the genteel Old South before the war and the tactical brilliance of dashing Confederate commanders during the war. In addition to its sentimentality, this new regional identity constructed from the ruins of defeat an idealized social hierarchy, with southern gentlemen equally at home driving their slaves and riding their horses. The glove of gentility covered a stern fist of racial power, with African Americans bluntly and often brutally denied their rights.

Although Trump lacks military service, he presents himself with a similar mix of sentimentality and toughness. At rallies, he has a chummy rapport with his supporters while delivering blistering attacks on all who step between him and "making America great again." Trump's response to the election makes little sense unless considering his similar effort to wage culture war in the wake of defeat. With the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill lauded by many Americans while the rest of the country reels in horror, get ready for Lost Cause 2.0, Trump style.

Dateline: 1865. The straggling end of the war matched the bitterness of the conflict. Large Union armies pursued starving southern soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia until their surrender April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse in central Virginia. The Army of Tennessee, pursued further east, surrendered in North Carolina April 26. The Florida capital, Tallahassee, surrendered on May 10. Out west, slave owners in Texas kept news of Union victory and emancipation from their slaves until June 19, which began the Juneteenth tradition in celebration of African American liberation. Eighteen days after the December 6 ratification of the 13th Amendment formalizing the end of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan formed, on Christmas Eve, in backlash to their freedom. This secret society began as a repurposed cause for Confederate guerilla warfare. General Robert E. Lee spoke bluntly to his loyal troops, acknowledging that they were "compelled to yield" and now should "return to their homes." Trump was not as explicit, still not conceding even while asking his armed supporters to "Go home in peace," and offering a benediction for their cause, his cause: "We love you. You're very special." Even the stern speech of Marse Robert did not prevent the KKK from redirecting their militancy from battlefields to terrorist attacks on their enemies: freed slaves, Union soldiers, and politicians who supported them.

With Lincoln assassinated on April 15th of 1865 and many in his Republican Party ready to bring transformative changes to southern society, the prostrate movement for the defeated Confederacy was ripe for new ways to understand their bleak situation. Pollard told the story of the south with the now-familiar theory that, within the national union, "each state retains its sovereignty." And he simply assumed African American status as chattel. He coldly called emancipation "spoliation" with the people freed cited as "property taken away," mere dollars lost to white southerners. In the last weeks of the war, the desperate Confederacy even started to enlist slaves as soldiers. In a backhanded acknowledgement of African American humanity, Pollard observed with yawning and painful understatement, "whites had much greater interest in the issue …compared to Negro troops."

Pollard's explanation for Confederate defeat provided an outline for Trump's post-election efforts. Pollard downplayed the larger armies and greater resources of the north. Instead, the south lost because of "mal-administration" and "the general demoralization of the people." Pollard's points anticipate the narrative of Trump's response to the November 2020 results.

Lost Cause 2.0, Chapter 1, Blame Disastrous Mal-Administration: In the 2020 election, although the massive voting apparatus worked remarkably well, even with the pandemic raging, there were a few mistakes. Their rarity has not been Trump's focus. Attention on problems is the Lost Cause strategy, even after the problems have been corrected or shown to be exaggerated, even by Trump supporters. For example, a handful of early voting ballots in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, less than ten in each state, were indeed discarded without counting. When informed that the few found in a Wisconsin river were blank, without any voter choice, Trump used these examples and others as reason to call voting systems "a whole big scam," and he continued in the same vein after the election, including with unsubstantiated claims that in Georgia, "ballots were dropped mysteriously, … dead people voted, … and 3,000 pounds of ballots … [were] shredded." His most ardent supporters maintain his cause; the videos by the president's attorney, "Rudy Giuliani's Common Sense," display presumed evidence of fraud by election workers. The comment of Maricopa, Arizona, Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman, a Republican, has been typical of the national response: the charges are a "slap in the face" to elections officials.

Lost Cause 2.0, Chapter 2, After the Contest, Boost the Morale of Supporters: David Brooks has already predicted that the 45th President will become a "national narrator," with his same message of nationalism and populist outrage against elites. And because people are reliably human, Trump will be able to pick out problems, all carefully selected to encourage neglect or ridicule of potential progress his opponents might make in race relations, environmental problems, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, efforts for peace, and other ways to deal with our considerable problems. As James observed, the great power of the human mind is "the art of knowing what to overlook" in order to keep focused on particular purposes.

Trump can offer a sly version of this human ability to focus attention. His decisive purpose will be to spin a narrative about the Tough Guy Camelot of his years in office, at least the first three-and-a-half years before the "Chinese virus" set the US on is heels. The coast could then be clear to present the pandemic demoralizing the people who took a wrong turn in electing Joe "Bidden," as one Trump supporter calls the next president, in prediction that he will do the bidding of progressive "socialist" Democrats. With that lost cause narrative, Trump has already expressed his readiness to run for president again, and he has rehearsed his slogan, "Make American Great Again Again."

The south lost the Civil War but won the peace. In a similar way, Trump declared, "I don't think about losing." In fact, after the near loss in 2016, as with the actual loss in 2020, he added, "it isn't losing" because with his ability to command public attention, "we've totally won." Trump also shares with the Lost Cause narrative selections from events to present them in the most favorable light. Pollard and his followers broadcast the fake news of the nineteenth century, but with selections from experience telling likely stories for those eager to explain the carnage of Civil War and justify its losses.

Trump also tells likely stories for those seeking to understand their cultural losses. For many feeling displaced by structural changes in the economy and by changes to improve race relations and reduce environmental destruction, Trump was not only persuasive; his blunt talk registered like a rifle shot. While his talents for connecting with many out of power has been impressive, his policies have brought them, at most, short-term benefits. Immigration restrictions and dismantled regulations have done little to address long-term dilemmas for his largest group of supporters.

The original Lost Cause offers lessons for Trump supporters. Violent curbs on African American rights did little to uplift white southerners grieving their loss. If Trump continues his own Lost Cause appeals, he can only offer his followers similar limited gains. He may continue to make bold claims, but supporters and detractors alike can devote less attention to Citizen Trump and more attention to the structural problems that enabled him to gain a hearing.

Paul J. Croce is Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Stetson University, author of Young William James Thinking (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), and recent past president of the William James Society. He writes for the Public Classroom and his recent essays have appeared in Civil American, History News Network, the Huffington Post, Origins, Public Seminar, and the Washington Post.

Historian: Hypocritical Republicans are now afraid of the bogeymen they created

The right-wing mob was just a few feet away from massacring the Congresswomen and -men who were about to certify Biden's and Harris's defeat of Trump. But that was three weeks ago, and Republicans have returned to their pre-insurrection politics, as if nothing happened. The hypocrites are now shouting "Hypocrisy!"

Last week, my own Congressman, Darin LaHood, expressed his concerns about the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which had already been passed by the House in September, but then not even taken up in McConnell's Senate. Brought up again by Democrats in the wake of the Capitol attack, the bill would create offices in the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, and in the FBI, to monitor, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism. LaHood opposes it: "I have some real constitutional concerns ... I think there are real concerns about the way that the double standard, and the hypocrisy of how the protests last summer by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, and the violence and the anarchy and criminal activity that went on, that that's not treated the same as what happened at the Capitol."

Here is why the broad protests this summer involving millions of Americans concerned about racism, that included some isolated local incidents of violence, are not the same as the attempted overthrow of our government this month. Much of the violence, including murders, was the work of far-right extremists. None of those protests threatened to overthrow the federal government or murder elected officials. The Washington Post estimated that of over 7000 protests before the end of June, 96% involved no injuries and no property damage. But Black people's protests make good Republican campaign slogans.

The agencies in our government designated to protect us against terrorism don't see the equivalence. They say that the greatest danger comes from right-wing extremists. In September, Christopher Wray, appointed by Trump to head the FBI, told a House Homeland Security Committee hearing that "racially motivated violent extremism," mainly from white supremacists and anti-government groups, was the greatest domestic terrorist threat.

Republican politicians like LaHood wanted Wray to say that leftist groups, like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, were equally threatening. William Barr, Attorney General at the time, had called Antifa "the ramrod for the violence." Before the hearing, a whistle-blower in the Homeland Security Department revealed that the Trump-appointed leadership had blocked release of an August report that labeled white supremacist extremists as "the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland through 2021." After the September hearing, Trump tweeted his complaint about how his own FBI treats leftist protesters: "I look at them as a bunch of well funded ANARCHISTS & THUGS who are protected because the Comey/Mueller inspired FBI is simply unable, or unwilling, to find their funding source, and allows them to get away with 'murder'." The Trump reelection campaign, and many Republican local campaigns, insisted that the scattered incidents of violence against property during the protests this summer represented the influence of the Democratic Party. No Democratic politician urged crowds to commit violence, as did Trump and his fellow speakers just before the Capitol riot.

That riot was the culmination of months of claims by leading Republicans that the November election had been rigged. Darin LaHood was a full participant in those lies. He was among the 106 Congressional Republicans who supported the December lawsuit brought by 17 Republican Attorneys General challenging election results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, that had already been carefully confirmed by recounts and dozens of court cases. He signed on to the statement that "unconstitutional irregularities" "cast doubt" on "the integrity of the American system of elections." After the Supreme Court rejected the suit, LaHood wrote an editorial for the Peoria Journal Star that "we now have some resolution that brings finality to the election results and pending disputes." But he wasn't done. On January 5, LaHood told the Springfield State Journal-Register that he was still undecided about whether he would object the next day to the certification of electoral votes from states where urban Black communities had voted overwhelmingly for Biden-Harris.

LaHood and his colleagues convinced millions of Republican voters over two months that the election had been rigged. The extremist fire was already out of control on January 6, when Trump, his son, Rudy Giuliani, and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama poured on the gasoline. Even that horrific insurrection did little to stop Republican claims about the election. On January 8, LaHood spoke out of both sides of his mouth with a local Illinois TV station: "After the elections are over, we need to come together, we need to govern, we need to work on behalf of the people, and that's what I've tried to stress." He still asserted that there are "election fraud" issues in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan: "We have to have confidence that our election system is working the right way." He put a video of this interview on his website.

If LaHood wanted Republican voters to have confidence in our election system, he would simply repeat what Republican election experts, even including former Attorney General Barr and election security official Christopher Krebs, said about the absence of election fraud. He would say that Trump's claims of fraud were not true. He would say that Republicans should believe that the 2020 elections were exactly as Krebs said:

"This was a secure election. That is a success story. That is something everyone in the administration should be proud of. That's the story I feel we should be telling now."

By equating an exaggerated portrait of Antifa with the Capitol riot, Republicans are trying to divert attention from the attempt by their own supporters to overthrow our government, which resulted in the murder of a police officer. The hypocrisy of LaHood and his colleagues about both the threat of right-wing violence and lack of Republican faith in American elections is notable, if not surprising. I wish the normal double standard of Republican politics was the only thing to worry about.

My Congressman, Darin LaHood, whose victory I helped tally in November, joined his fellow Republicans in unleashing a beast which they cannot control. He and they are now afraid of bogeymen they invented: Democrats who will turn the US into a socialist dictatorship; the violent right wing whom they encouraged but who shouted "Hang Mike Pence"; the majority of Republican voters whom they convinced to shout "Stop the Steal" who might desert them if they admitted that nothing had ever been stolen. LaHood faces the classic liar's dilemma: if I tell the truth now, I'll have to explain why I lied before. He hopes the beast doesn't come for him, so he wiggles and squirms about national security.

He pointed the beast at every Democrat in the land, at Black communities in big cities, at his own colleagues who couldn't stomach the lies. He pointed the beast at me, a small part of the national web of child-abusing election-stealing liberal-socialist-communist traitors, who threaten the American way of life.

Neither of us knows what violent act will develop in the extremist underground. Maybe if he were as concerned as I am, he would stop lying about it.

Steve Hochstadt is a professor emeritus of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Expert: Sarah Palin's case against the NYT is a landmine for the First Amendment

For more than half a century, conservatives have wanted to eradicate New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that is the nation's most important First Amendment case. A trial scheduled for February 1 may give them that opportunity. If the Supreme Court invalidates NYT, federal judges—including the 230 appointed by President Trump—will preside over more libel suits against journalists he calls "the enemy of the people." Those judges can carry out Trump's promise to "open up…libel laws…[and] have people sue you like you've never got sued before."

Anyone who makes factual errors when criticizing government or accusing a person of misconduct could be dragged into court and left destitute by a jury's verdict or legal bills. Public officials with government jobs and public figures—those who are well-known or have entered a public controversy—can win lawsuits that previously would have been unsuccessful.

The NYT ruling is essential to our democracy because it protects discussion of political issues and the fitness of those seeking public office. Justice William Brennan's famous passage in the case exemplifies its significance: "Thus, we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

The case arose when civil rights leaders, clergy, and celebrities purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times in 1960 to protest the treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists by southern authorities and to seek financial support. The ad, with the heading "Heed Their Rising Voices," contained several errors related to the actions of Alabama officials.

L.B. Sullivan was an elected city commissioner in Montgomery who supervised the police department. Although he was not named in the ad, Sullivan claimed that the criticism of the police harmed his reputation, and an Alabama jury awarded $500,000—the full amount Sullivan sought. The jury wanted to send a message to northern media organizations to stay out of the South during the civil rights movement. Similar suits were pending in other southern courts.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the jury award in NYT and required that a public official prove that "the statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." The "actual-malice" standard focuses on what defendants believed and not what they did. Because almost no one will admit they were unsure about the accuracy of their statements before publishing or speaking, it makes uncovering such evidence extraordinarily difficult. Nevertheless, state and federal courts have upheld numerous jury verdicts in such cases.

Even though NYT serves a vital interest, it is no match for "textualism"—the judicial philosophy that its supporters believe is the only legitimate method of constitutional interpretation. The late Justice Antonin Scalia was the intellectual leader of the textualist movement. His judicial opinions and speeches have been widely influential. Textualism is now so central to conservative jurisprudence that allegiance to it was required of anyone the Trump White House considered for appointment to the federal bench.

Textualists believe that courts must be guided by what the words in the Constitution meant at the time they were written by the founders or when an amendment was proposed and ratified. The Constitution is thus frozen in the 18th century, and judges cannot use the nation's 230 years of experience to support a more enlightened interpretation of constitutional text.

Conservatives ridicule the view that the Constitution can be adapted to changing conditions and values. Justice Scalia said in a speech that the Constitution is "not a living document…it's dead, dead, dead." Textualists believe that if rights—such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment—were not established at the end of the 18th century or when the Constitution was amended, they are not protected today.

The danger is that many of the rights in the original Constitution and later amendments had only symbolic value until judges deciding cases gave them meaning. The First Amendment—which did not protect even mild criticism of government or public officials during the founding era—is an example of how fundamental rights needed time to develop.

Trump-appointed judges

Many judges appointed by Trump were selected because of political connections, not because they were qualified for a prestigious job with lifetime tenure. Judges chosen for their political views and not their knowledge of the law wouldn't be expected to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment and other constitutional rights. Their focus will be on implementing conservative policies that legislatures are unable to adopt while pretending to respect the lessons of the founders.

Some Trump nominees had no relevant experience, never litigated a case, could not answer simple legal questions that any competent lawyer would know, and failed to disclose disturbing information on the forms they completed after nomination. Several had strange personal histories that included hunting for ghosts, praising the KKK, claiming that transgender children are "proof that Satan's plan" is working, and supporting the birther controversy about President Obama. Even the most peculiar nominees were approved by the judiciary committee—with no Democratic votes—and if not for embarrassing news reports about their bizarre backgrounds, they would have been confirmed by Republicans in the full Senate.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chair of the judiciary committee, told reporter Bob Woodward for his book Rage that "Some [of Trump's judicial appointees] are a little wacky. Most of them are really good. But a few [are] outliers." Graham recognized that with the removal of the filibuster rule on judicial appointments, the federal courts would be highly partisan: "The problem is when you only need a simple majority [to confirm judges], you don't need to go outside your own party…If you've got to reach across the aisle and pick up 10 [Democratic] votes [in the Senate], you're going to have a different judge than if you don't…the judiciary is going to get far more ideological."

Trump appointed—in addition to three Supreme Court justices—a third of the 850 Article III judges, many of whom are young enough to serve for decades. Only a few presidents have appointed more judges. The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) made judicial appointments such a high priority that there are no circuit court vacancies for the first time in more than 40 years.

The Trump White House, instead of submitting names to the American Bar Association for a nonpartisan evaluation of potential nominees—which presidents had done since Eisenhower—only considered those vetted and approved by the Federalist Society, a conservative and influential organization of former and current public officials, practicing attorneys, law professors, and law students. The Society would have investigated the nominee's background and record to confirm they support textualism and would uphold Republican orthodoxy.

Textualism and the law

Textualists maintain that when the Constitution is treated as an evolving document, the rulings based on that interpretation are illegitimate. Therefore, conservatives are not only justified in reversing such precedents—like NYT—they have an obligation to do so. If someone wants constitutional protection that did not exist in the founding era or when an amendment was ratified, they can change the Constitution. Textualists don't mention that the Constitution is almost impossible to amend in this political climate. It has been modified only twice in the last half century, and one of those amendments was from the founding era.

Almost no precedent is safe. Several Trump-appointed judges refused to say during their confirmation hearings that Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was correctly decided. When the 14th amendment was ratified in 1868, its equal-protection clause was not intended to integrate society or desegregate public schools. Textualists can argue that if Congress wanted African-American and white school children to attend the same schools, the 14th amendment would have said so. To be true to their faith, textualists must conclude that the Warren Court in Brown was creating law beyond what the Constitution required or permitted, and such decisions are to be made by legislatures, not courts.

It isn't just constitutional law that is at stake. Federal judges decide more cases that primarily require statutory interpretation than those involving the Constitution. Inspired by Justice Scalia, textualists hold that congressional "intent"—as expressed in committee reports and in debates on the House and Senate floor—should be ignored; only the text of the statute should govern the way laws are interpreted. If a legislative body does not include every contingency in the statute—even those that could not be anticipated—textualist judges will strike down or so narrowly construe the law as to render it meaningless even when such a ruling ignores its obvious purpose.

Trump's first appointee to the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, showed his commitment to statutory textualism when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He criticized the decision by the Department of Labor to reinstate a trucker who was fired for choosing not to freeze to death in subzero weather on the side of a highway. The brakes froze on the trailer Alphonse Maddin was hauling, making it impossible for his truck to move while the trailer was attached. His employer ordered him to stay with the truck and trailer until help arrived. He waited hours in the truck with a broken heater and began to lose consciousness. Fearing for his life, he disconnected the trailer and drove to safety.

Federal law prohibited an employer from firing an employee who "refuses to operate a vehicle because…the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public." Judge Gorsuch argued that Congress did not specifically include the possibility that a trailer's brakes could freeze and immobilize a truck. In Gorsuch's view, since the truck could be driven, Maddin was not entitled to protection under the statute. Two of Judge Gorsuch's colleagues on the court agreed with the department's decision to give Maddin his job back, which was consistent with the long-established principle of deferring to an administrative agency's expertise if a statute does not directly address the circumstances of a case. But Gorsuch was more concerned with textualist purity than Maddin's life or employment. He ruled, in effect, that by not staying with the truck as ordered by his employer, Maddin fired himself. Gorsuch said it was not his job to help Congress write laws more carefully.

After being sworn in as a justice, Gorsuch joked about the case in a speech to the Federalist Society: "Everyone…who's not a lawyer is going to think I just hate truckers…but so be it…In our legal system, judges wear robes, not capes."

The Supreme Court used such an approach to protect employers from gender discrimination lawsuits in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007). The conservative majority created the excuse that Congress did not explicitly say in the law that each paycheck starts the statute-of-limitations clock again. The majority knew that Congress intended to outlaw such discrimination and did not want to set a time limit for bringing a lawsuit that would expire before women could discover the pay disparity. But the majority didn't care about that because they don't think employers should be held accountable for paying women less than men for the same work. Congress was inspired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passionate dissent in Ledbetter and admonished the Court's conservatives by passing the "Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Act," the first bill signed by President Obama in 2009.

Textualism vs. Originalism

Textualism and "original intent"—often referred to as "originalism"—are not the same, although some jurists accept both approaches to statutory and constitutional interpretation. Justice Gorsuch, in a speech to the Federalist Society after his confirmation said, "Tonight I can report, a person can be both a committed originalist and textualist and be confirmed to the Supreme Court." And he added, "Originalism has regained its place and textualism has triumphed and neither is going anywhere on my watch."

Originalism appears to be less harmful to the Constitution because it is utterly impractical. Originalists argue that the "intent" of the framers is what matters when deciding constitutional cases. But whose intent counts: The state legislators who chose the delegates to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787? The convention delegates such as Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, Morris, Mason, Sherman, and others who wrote and debated the Constitution? The authors of The Federalist—Madison, Hamilton, and Jay? The voters who elected the delegates to the ratifying conventions? The delegates at the ratifying conventions?

And what about the Bill of Rights: The members of the House and Senate who proposed what became the first ten amendments to the Constitution? The voters who elected the state legislators who ratified the amendments? The legislators themselves?

Textualists could argue their method of statutory and constitutional interpretation is more reliable than originalism because it is easier to identify and apply. They only have to discover what the words meant at the time and not the views of the many people involved, directly or indirectly, in the writing of the documents. But textualism is not so pure; it shares some of the most troublesome deficiencies of originalism.

When textualists contend that constitutional interpretation must be limited to what the words meant when they were written, the natural question is: How do you know what the writers thought they meant? To determine what they thought requires knowing what they intended them to mean. A speech at a ratifying convention or on the House or Senate floor; a pamphlet or broadside distributed to the public; a letter written by the one of the founders; a newspaper commentary; The Federalist which was published to win the support of New York voters who were about to elect delegates to the ratifying convention—why do any of those documents conclusively demonstrate how the founders and the public interpreted the text of the Constitution and its amendments? Just because one of the founders made a statement in a letter, even if published, doesn't mean that view was widely shared by other founders or the public.

And what about the Constitution's many general phrases: "due process of law," the "necessary and proper" clause giving Congress powers beyond those listed in the Constitution; the "equal protection" clause? How can originalists—and by implication, textualists—find consensus as to the meaning of those phrases?

Even if we could identify the intent of the people involved in creating our founding documents, why would we want to return to an era when slavery flourished, women had almost no rights, the Bill of Rights provided limited, if any, protection to disfavored groups and individuals, and having property and wealth was often a requirement for public office?

The First Amendment pending crisis

Ironically, the newspaper that had to defend the First Amendment in 1964 is fighting a lawsuit—Palin v. New York Times—that could terminate the actual-malice standard. Former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin sued the newspaper in June 2017 over an editorial published after the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise at a Republican baseball practice. It asked, "Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably." The editorial then stated that before the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six others at a Tucson shopping center parking lot in 2011, "Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs."

The Times quickly issued a correction, explaining that the link between "political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords" wasn't "established," and the graphic showed electoral districts and not people.

James Bennet, author of the essay and editor of the Times editorial page, testified that he included the connection between the PAC ad and the Tucson attack "to make a rhetorical point about the present atmosphere of political anger." Bennet said that he had not read previously published articles in the Times that showed there was no link between the ad and the shooting, nor did he see a similar article that was published in The Atlantic when he was its editor.

The jury and appellate courts will have to decide whether Bennet and the Times either knew what they wrote about Palin was false or recklessly disregarded whether it was false or not—as required by the actual-malice standard. Even if Bennet did not "entertain serious doubts as to the truth" of the editorial—a phrase used by the Supreme Court in St. Amant v. Thompson in 1968—the courts may find that he intentionally ignored available information that would have undermined the defamatory statements, which can be considered actual malice. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Harte-Hanks v. Connaughton that "Although failure to investigate will not alone support a finding of actual malice, the purposeful avoidance of the truth is in a different category."

The textualist undoing of actual malice

Justice Scalia said that if he had been on the Supreme Court in 1964, he would have dissented from the unanimous ruling in NYT because the actual-malice standard did not exist at the time of the nation's founding. In a speech at Wesleyan University in 2012, Justice Scalia said, "There is no doubt that at the time it [the First Amendment] was adopted in 1791, no one thought that this provision invalidated laws against libel—which existed then and have continued to exist ever since. The issue is an easy one…libel laws are constitutional."

Actual malice doesn't just safeguard discussion of politics and government; it protects any defendant sued by a public official or public figure. When women came forward in recent years to tell stories of being harassed, assaulted, and threatened with damage to their careers, some of the accused thought a libel suit might be a way to save their job, vindicate their reputation, and intimidate their accusers. Their lawyers would have told them that unless they could prove the women and the media outlets reporting their stories recklessly disregarded the truthfulness of their statements, they would not win. Without NYT, more plaintiffs would bring such a case, win a jury verdict, and have it upheld on appeal.

No one is as eager to eviscerate NYT as Justice Clarence Thomas. In McKee v. Cosby (2019), Thomas wrote a 14-page concurring opinion supporting the decision not to hear McKee's appeal in her lawsuit against actor Bill Cosby for defamatory statements he made about her. Thomas is one of many conservatives who believes that states should determine their own libel standards and that NYT illegitimately took that authority from them.

This is especially troubling because before NYT, most states allowed punishment for any inaccuracies that could potentially injure reputation. When the First Amendment was adopted, some states even permitted imprisonment and libel suits for truthful speech that criticized public officials or government on the grounds that it leads to a breach of the peace. But that doesn't matter to Thomas: "New York Times [v. Sullivan] and the Court's decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law. Instead of simply applying the First Amendment as it was understood by the people who ratified it, the Court fashioned its own 'federal rule[s]' by balancing the 'competing values at stake in defamation suits.'" And he added, "The states are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm."

The First Amendment is part of our national Constitution, and the fundamental rights it protects should not vary significantly by state. Without NYT providing nationwide standards for public officials and public figures, and with media outlets reaching across state lines, plaintiffs can file lawsuits in almost any jurisdiction hostile to media organizations.

Although all courts must currently follow the requirements of NYT in cases involving public officials and public figures, the Supreme Court allows states much greater flexibility when it comes to private-person plaintiffs. Judges, not juries, decide whether the plaintiff is a public figure or a private person, and it is often a close call. The decision is crucial because in most states, private persons need only show that the publisher or speaker did not exercise reasonable care when making the statements or that someone else would have acted more responsibly. If Trump-appointed judges share his hatred for the media, they will designate plaintiffs to be private persons if there is any basis for doing so, thus greatly increasing their chance of winning a lawsuit.

Those who want to eliminate NYT may believe that Americans will still have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but suddenly everything said and written will be accurate because people will know they can be sued. But as Justice Brennan observed in NYT, "A rule compelling the critic of official conduct to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions—and to do so on pain of libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount—leads to a comparable 'self-censorship.' Allowance of the defense of truth, with the burden of proving it on the defendant, does not mean that only false speech will be deterred."

To Justice Thomas and others who practice textualism and originalism, the First Amendment is stuck in 1791—the year it was ratified. Yet the amendment was appallingly ineffective in protecting unpopular speech during its infancy and for many years after. At least 26 people—mostly newspaper publishers—were prosecuted under the Sedition Act of 1798 for criticizing President Adams and the federal government. Even a congressman from Vermont was imprisoned for four months and fined $1,000 for publishing editorials disparaging the president. Justice Thomas's 18th-century First Amendment may include freedom of the press, but those words were useless until judges began to enforce such rights.

Between 1900 and 1917, hundreds of suffragettes were imprisoned for peacefully demonstrating in support of the right of women to vote. In the fall of 1917, 97 were jailed for picketing outside the White House. They were arrested, convicted, and thrown in disgusting and dangerous prisons. At least 33 were tortured with force-feeding and other physical abuse. One of the leaders, Alice Paul, served seven months behind bars. Justice Thomas's 18th-century First Amendment may include freedom of speech and the "right of the people peaceably to assemble," but its words offered no help to those women. These rights are protected today not because the First Amendment was rewritten, but because society changed and judges began to take them seriously.

If the Supreme Court ends actual malice, it may allow states to adopt it for their courts. But that would likely have to be done by legislatures which have little experience or interest in such laws. It has generally been judges, and not lawmakers, who have protected First Amendment rights. Furthermore, both state legislators and state judges must periodically be elected or retained by voters, and they may not want to bring back NYT if large numbers of their citizens believe media organizations knowingly disseminate "fake news."

It is harmful to the nation and our fundamental rights to treat the Constitution as if it "died" at the end of 18th century. Conservatives claim that judges who find aspirational values in the Constitution are judicial "activists" who disregard the instructions of the founders. Yet, it is textualism and originalism that are dangerous in the hands of judges determined to use the legal system to impose their views on the nation.

Richard Labunski is professor emeritus of journalism at the University of Kentucky and author of James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Oxford University Press). He has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California-Santa Barbara and a J.D. from Seattle University School of Law.

The Capitol assault and the fate of the GOP's Faustian bargain with Trump: Lessons from Nazi Germany

The attack on the Capitol of January 6, 2021 lent renewed urgency to the issue of whether or not Trump and Trumpism are a sort of American fascism. In spring 2016, I argued that Trump was not a fascist but that his rhetoric and appeal did echo both Lindbergh's "America First" moods of the 1930s together with the conspiracy theories and yearning for the "strong man" associated with Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, many of us argued, was best understood as following in the footsteps of distinctly American demagogues who rode the currents of authoritarianism, racism, nativism, and conspiracy theories to political power. Since Trump won the Republican nomination, and especially in the aftermath of his "very fine people on both sides" comments after the racist neo-Nazi attack in Charlottesville, answers to the urgent question of whether Trump and Trumpism would destroy American democracy would be found in the response of the leaders of the traditional Republican Party. The question facing us now is whether the Faustian bargain made by the Republican establishment with Trump will hold up in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob containing white supremacists, Christian nationalists, militia members, conspiracy theorists and fellow-travelers, and incited by Trump.

For many decades, historians of Nazi Germany have focused attention on the key link between conservative elites and Hitler. In January 1933, former Chancellor Franz von Papen and President Otto von Hindenburg invited Hitler into power and supported his destruction of democracy in order to crush the political left and the trade unions. The story of a mixture of underestimation and self-interest that led to Hitler's entry into power has been told many times in works by Karl Bracher, Richard Evans, Ian Kershaw, and Henry Turner, among others. Their now-standard accounts have recalled how the German military leadership welcomed the gangster murders of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, even though the victims included some of their fellow officers who had dared to challenge Hitler in 1932-1933. In both cases, the economic, political, and military establishment struck a Faustian bargain to support Hitler because he promised to crush the political left, destroy the trade unions, eviscerate parliament, and launch rearmament. Historians have explained the actions of the German elites as a mixture of an inability or refusal to take Hitler's ideas seriously combined with the appeal of perceived self-interest. Catastrophe and massive criminality were the result of a sequence of many decisions by people in positions of power to tolerate, enable or applaud Hitler as he crushed opposition and increased in popularity.

In 2018, Christopher Browning made a compelling case that then-Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators played a similar role in the United States. The German conservatives of the 1930s understood that the Nazis gave them a mass movement, which traditional conservatives lacked. In pursuing this American Faustian bargain, the traditional Republican establishment in these past four years acted as if they had learned nothing from the most famous example of the destruction of democracy in the twentieth century: the Nazi entry into power followed by Hitler's consolidation of power in the 1930s. The Republican leaders in 2016 understood that Trump gave the GOP an expanded white middle- and working-class voter base which the Republican Party, even after sixty years of its "Southern Strategy" had not yet fully captured. While Trump was not a Hitler or Mussolini, that is, was not a figure who openly called for the elimination of democracy and organized paramilitary organizations to terrorize his opponents, his open appeals to racism and misogyny, his blatant lies, and endless conspiracy theories were evident by spring 2016. His appeal to his followers lay partly in the open and unambiguous way he spouted hatred and contempt for his various enemies. Yet, like their counterparts in Germany in the 1930s, the traditional Republican establishment made the fateful bargain: support Trump and Trumpism for the sake of tax cuts and conservative judicial nominations, and use gerrymandering, the electoral college and the unrepresentative United States Senate to hold on to power while losing the popular vote in national elections. From the perspective of German historians of the Nazi era, the core failing of the Republican Party was to fail to adopt a policy of "militant democracy."

The term "militant democracy" entered German political discourse during the Allied occupation from 1945 to 1949, and then in the second German democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany. It referred to the moral responsibility of political parties committed to democracy to fight against antidemocratic parties of both the far right and far left. Conservative parties had a special responsibility to avoid repeating their fatal error of 1933. That meant refusing to make common cause with the antidemocratic forces of neo-Nazism. To be sure, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's Christian Democratic Union had rejected timely war crimes trials and pushed for premature amnesty to those already convicted. But there were limits to amnesty and integration, and Adenauer and his fellow conservatives knew what they were. There would be no public legitimation, no respectability, no winks, and nods to those seeking to restore Nazism after 1945; the danger of such acts was recent history, not a hypothetical possibility. The "politics of the past" examined by Norbert Frei encompassed amnesty and integration of former Nazis but for Adenauer it ruled out cooperation with anyone intent on reviving Nazism as a political option. Although some of Adenauer's colleagues were eager to obscure the Nazi era through silence, the majority of Germans understood that a functioning liberal democracy needed its major political parties of both the left and right to defend that democracy against the antidemocratic currents that emerge in every modern society. That meant no repetition of an alliance with the far right.

As Stuart Stevens's It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump has recently reminded us, ever since Richard Nixon initiated the "Southern Strategy" the GOP has won elections by appealing to white voters with veiled racial appeals. The last four years of Trump and Trumpism were a logical outgrowth of this decades-long strategy. The party of big business, hedge funds, country clubs and Wall Street also needed numbers, and so it welcomed Trump as he gave it a mass of angry, resentful white voters fed up with liberals and unhappy about changing demographics in American society. That was the GOP's Faustian bargain. In exchange for votes from the white middle and working class base, the traditional GOP elite would look the other way as he destroyed the concept of truth, spun conspiracy theories, sent dog whistles to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, attacked institutions of the United States government, and abandoned longstanding Republican views regarding U.S. foreign policy. In return, Trump delivered massive tax cuts and judicial appointees who would support deregulation of business. As a result, the extremist fringe, with encouragement from the White House, was able to radicalize the Republican Party even further.

As in 1930s Germany, today's American conservative elites made the Faustian bargain to ignore the unpleasantries in service of the short-term benefits. In Germany, force was needed to keep the bargain alive--not so in the United States. No one was pointing a gun at the heads of the Republican establishment; no one had to fear a nighttime raid from the Gestapo or imprisonment in a concentration camp. The donor class with money on the East coast and the Republican majority in the Senate told journalists off the record that they disliked him, then enabled and supported Trump.

Since 2016, nothing has shattered that bargain—not "very fine people on both sides" after Charlottesville in 2017; not the over 30,573 lies the Washington Post recorded that Trump uttered; not the devastating details of the Mueller report; not the preference for Putin over American intelligence agencies; not "the perfect call" attempting to shake down the Ukrainian President; not the compelling case for convicting Trump in the impeachment and trial of 2019-2020; not separating children from their parents at the Mexican border; and most devastating of all, not even the massive incompetence, denial and abandonment of leadership that has led to over 405,000 deaths (and counting) due to the coronavirus and the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. The Republican Party had enabled Trump as he mobilized a voter base that was indispensable to the Republican elite's determination to hold on to power in a society in which demographics and geography were threatening to turn it into a permanent minority party.

While Donald Trump is not a fascist, the mob he gathered and unleashed on January 6th was composed of the kinds of angry people, including many military veterans, who followed Mussolini and Hitler. The Trumpist insurrection against the effort of Congress to certify the vote and the big lie about a "stolen election" were the logical outcome of Trump's lies and conspiracy theories. As I wrote soon after the election, it was an American version of Germany's post World War I Dolchstosslegende according to which Germany had not lost World War I on the battlefield but had been "stabbed-in-the-back" by liberals and leftists at home. That "big lie" was crucial for the rise of Nazism. It was central as well to Hitler's determination to establish a dictatorship to prevent its repetition. Republican Senators did not recognize the echoes of that famous previous "big lie" as Trump spread the lie about "the stolen election." Most of them remained silent in November and December 2020. Many supported his bogus claims about election fraud, as did 123 Republican members of the House of Representatives.

Yet on January 6th, Trump repaid their four years of enabling by inciting a mob of right-wing extremists that threatened to assassinate leaders of the United States Congress. Hitler had been careful to make clear to all that he was specific about his enemies: Jews, communists, socialists, liberals, homosexuals, and anyone in public life who criticized him at all. For those who did not fall into those categories, for members of the elites who supported him or kept their reservations to themselves, life could proceed with an odd normality, at least until the Allied armed forces arrived in 1944 on land and in the air. As Charles Maier, among others, pointed out, compared to Stalin's, Hitler's terror was targeted and specific. He was careful to appease and reward the German elites who went along with him while Stalin kept much of the Soviet elite in a state of justified fear.

The attack on the Capitol suggested that Trump did not refrain from attacking the elites who had enabled him. The mob were not just chanting "where's Nancy (Pelosi)?" They also called out "hang Mike Pence," the Vice-President who had offered four years of humiliating sycophancy toward Trump. Capitol police reported that the terrorists that day came armed with guns.

They carried the equipment needed to seize and hold hostages. Were it not for the courage and determination of an outnumbered Capitol and Metropolitan Washington police force that held the mob back, it was entirely possible that members of the United States Congress could have been held hostage or murdered. Every Senator sitting in Trump's second impeachment trial knows that Trump unleashed a mob that could have carried out mass murder in the United States Congress. Trump, in contrast to more clever authoritarians, had unleased the mob on the very elite which had coddled and defended him for four years. Every Senator who thinks things through must understand that they are lucky to be alive.

The assault on the Capitol was an act of terrorism that for the first time since the bargain with Trump was made in 2016 threatened death to those who had benefitted so much from Trump's rule. In that sense, it was a tactical blunder on Trump's part, one that demonstrated what was obvious from 2016: that his narcissism exceeded his political skills. Awareness of the elemental, existential reality--that the Trump mob might have killed them--may lead some of the Faustian bargainers to belatedly turn on Trump and convict him.

As of January 27, hope is fading that seventeen Republican Senators will join the Democrats to convict Trump of the insurrection he incited based on lies about a stolen election. Democratic norms, fidelity to the truth, respect for the Constitution and the rule of law and opposition to a right-wing extremist attack on the peaceful transfer of power all call for conviction. Yet conviction would shatter the Faustian bargain that reached its clearest expression under Trump, and thus also would split the Republican Party into a minority establishment wing and a mass of enraged Trumpist voters seeking revenge on those who turned against their beloved Leader. Pleasant surprises cannot be ruled out, but the advantages of the Faustian bargain of the past four years suggest that lack of historical perspective, cowardice, and short-term self-interest badly understood will lead Republican Senators to keep that disastrous bargain intact.

Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor of Modern European History at the University of Maryland, College Park. His works on German history and Nazi Germany include The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard U. Press, 2006).

Historian explains why the South may not be the stronghold of white conservative politics for very much longer

The recent unprecedented occupation of the nation's capitol by former President Donald Trump's supporters included many disturbing incidents and scenes, but one that captured both the prevailing political condition and an unmatched historic moment was the image of white men parading Confederate flags along the halls of our national seat of government like a rag-tag band of conquering soldiers. They achieved what the armies of the rebellious Southern states could not in the war that some Southern planters once called the "War of Sections."

In recent months, many of the South's white political leaders and voters have responded to the presidential election, as Alabama and other Southern states did 150 years ago, rallying all "who are of the opinion that 'Alabama should not submit to the election'" of the President-elect (Clarke County Democrat, Nov 29, 1860, 1). Now, as then, there have been attempts to influence the Electoral College and prevent a duly elected President from taking office because he and his party were "hostile to our institutions and fatally bent on our ruin." (Alabama State Sentinel, Nov 14, 1860.)

Of course, today only a small group has taken up arms to protest the election so far and, the nation is not headed into an actual civil war. But, there are great divisions in this country, and, while the definition of what is southern is shifting westward, the white south in today's war-like presidential politics continues to provide the primary foot soldiers and lieutenants in support of their leader, who is not a southern planter, but ironically a New York plutocrat more familiar with how they pour concrete in New Jersey than how they still coon hunt in lower Alabama.

Donald Trump started his campaign for president in a massive rally in Mobile, Alabama, in August 2015, revving up the crowd by emphasizing his "take-no-prisoners" positions on immigration and related racially charged issues. It was a speech and style of invective that he replicated throughout the Republican primaries, where he led in all southern states, except in Senator Ted Cruz's home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, and throughout the general election, when the 11 states of the old Confederacy and three border south states provided him with a majority of his Electoral College votes – 165 of his 302 votes. Exit polls suggest that more two-thirds of all white voters in the south helped elect President Trump. In Georgia, for example, 70 percent of white voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2016.

During the three and a half years of his presidency before his 2020 campaign, Trump held twenty-five rallies across the south – more than in any other section of the country – and was welcomed by large, adoring crowds who often would delight the President by chanting "Trump, Trump," "Lock Her Up" or "Make American Great Again!" months and years after his defeat of Hillary Clinton. Trump's rambling, often personal denunciations of the news media, immigrants, central cities, Democratic Party leaders, and even the government he headed were received as gospel truth with sweet southern hospitality.

Almost four decades earlier Ronald Reagan demonstrated that a presidential candidate need not have a southern accent to win completely the heart and minds of most white southerners at election time – only a willingness to use dog-whistling racial terms and endorse states' rights or Confederate symbols as an allegiance to heritage, not hate. But, in the person of Donald Trump, southern politics had not seen such symbiotic adulation between a candidate and his supporters since 1964 and 1968 when George Wallace ran for president with an equally acerbic, belittling style of scapegoating.

President Trump's political brand quickly became the heart and soul of the Republican Party, with his most devoted support in the Republican-dominated south. Any time an election in the South did not go the way that the Trump and true-believing Republicans wanted, they used trumped-up social media to blame the result on "fake news" and "voter fraud." For example, in 2017, when Alabama voters decided by a margin of only 21,000 votes to elect Doug Jones, a Boy Scout-like Democrat, over Bible-toting Republican Judge Roy Moore, who was accused by several women of being a pedophile, the election returns were quickly dismissed in what became a precursor for challenging the 2020 national election. "Black people in Birmingham caught voting multiple times with fake IDs," and "Paper ballots are being destroyed in Alabama," Trump-inspired social media claimed.

As votes were being counted in November, President Trump amplified his claims that the his own defeat was the result of a rigged or fraudulent election that had denied him an overwhelming majority victory, although he felt no necessity to offer one iota of evidence of any proven illegality or any irregularity that would change the election returns. Among the 14 southern states, he lost only Virginia and, for the first time, Georgia by a narrow margin. Still, two-thirds of Trump's Electoral College votes in 2020 came from the traditional south.

In Georgia, two recounts, including one recount by hand, repeated assurances of a honest and fair election from a Republican Secretary of State who oversaw the voting, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation's audit of randomly selected absentee votes in a suburban county that flipped Democratic meant nothing to Trump and his followers. Nor did the rulings in over 40 state and federal courts turning down challenges to the election results in states Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020.

Led by Texas, seventeen Attorneys General filed an extraordinary brief before the United States Supreme Court in December attempting to stop the certification of presidential electors in four battleground states the President lost. Nine of the states petitioning the Court were southern. In essence the Attorneys General argued that states have voting rights that are above citizens' voting rights, which meant that they considered individual rights subordinate to states' rights. It was a legal argument old as Dixie, but not since the days defending school segregation had a majority of Southern states' top elected lawyers banded together for such a cause.

After the Supreme Court refused to hear the states' rights case, Republican members of Congress moved forward in the New Year to overturn the election results on the day Congress was required to certify the Electoral College's returns. In what can only be described as the political moment when Republican elected officials who had blithely obeyed Trump's every social media post went from being careless followers to dangerous sycophants, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to annul the 2020 elections – and did so after the Trump-inspired mob overran capitol police, shut down both houses of Congress to interrupt certification, and mockingly pranced through the home of American democracy.

Led by Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, five of the eight senators who voted to void the 2020 elections in the aftermath of the mob-occupation were from the south. In the House, 58 percent of the 139 Republican representatives who voted to annul the election were also from southern states, including six members of Congress from Georgia.

As a matter of history, the political map of partisan politics in the United States has realigned in fundamental ways at various times since the nation's founding, but since the drafting of the Constitution, white leaders in southern states – even as that geography has shifted westward– have had a disproportionate influence in shaping our national standards and laws in their own image and for their own self-interest. The current political malaise is no exception.

This fact does not mean that white folks in the rest of the nation have not joined white southerners, especially in large numbers in some western states, in sustaining and tolerating unexamined assumptions of white advantage and superiority worn as their birthright as voters. After all, 58 percent of all white voters across all of the United States supported Donald Trump's reelection in November 2020.

Most important, it would be a profound mistake to understand the long historical pattern and the current political situation as unchangeable. Quite the opposite, the 2020 elections in Georgia demonstrate that, as an Atlanta rapper famously said at a New York City awards show in 1995, "The South got something to say" – in this case about the future of southern politics. The interracial coalition of leaders and voters, energized by increased black activism, that flipped Georgia and, in turn, flipped the US Senate, embodies the promise of demographic, political and social changes that can sweep across nation's southern and western sections in presidential politics when their campaigns are not starved of the resources needed to reach the hearts and minds of most voters, and when the right to vote is freely, easily available to all.

Yes, the Confederate flag may have been hoisted in the United States Capitol by hundreds of self-styled insurrectionists in a social media-made moment of tragic Trumpism, but in 2020 that flag was also removed from the state flag of Mississippi by a vote of the Mississippi legislature, and a new flag bearing the image of the magnolia was approved by a vote of the people in a very Trump-friendly state. Former Mississippi Governor William Winter badly lost the effort to change his state's flag twenty years ago, but only six months before his death at the age of 97, he said, "The battle… does not end with the removal of the flag and we should work in concert to make other positive changes in the interest of all of our people."

That is the prophetic battle cry that in the era of Trumpism speaks of a war of ideals and ideas in which southerners of good will have begun to unite– and can reshape presidential politics at home and across the nation in coming years. The sectional war exists and will continue, especially in the outlook of many white Southerners, but a different, diverse South can rise for once – and remain for all.

A lifelong southerner, Steve Suitts is an adjunct at the Institute for Liberal Arts of Emory University and formerly executive director of the Southern Regional Council and vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. His latest book is Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement (NewSouth Books, 2020).

Historian: The only real future for the GOP is to turn away from the tribal politics that have been driving them since 1964

President Donald Trump's brazen flirtation with white supremacy finally blew up in the January 6 siege of Capitol Hill. But as he clasped onto white nationalism –famously directing from the presidential debate stage "Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by"— few in his party voiced objections. How did the Republicans get to such a parlous place? The answer begins back in 1964 – the election that defined the modern GOP.

The earthquake began during the Democratic primaries. George Wallace, a pugnacious segregationist from Alabama, went to Wisconsin and challenged President Lyndon Johnson with a truculent, bluntly racist campaign. Wallace savaged the Civil Rights Act –which was then facing a segregationist filibuster in Congress— as a foreign plot designed to rob hard working white Americans of their jobs, their neighborhoods, and their way of life. He warned white people of the looming danger, chanted "law and order" like a mantra, and insisted that he'd run right over any protester who tried to block his car.

The media treated it all as a joke – Democratic Governor John Reynolds of Wisconsin, running as a surrogate for President Lyndon Johnson, dismissed Wallace as "a kook." But the southerner's campaign caught fire in white working-class neighborhoods and on primary day the kook stunned everyone by taking 266,000 votes –a third of the total against a sitting president. He followed that with a powerful showing in Indiana and a near win in Maryland. Wallace exposed a disquieting reality: civil rights kindled white anxiety in the North as well as the South. His provocations during that campaign sound uncannily like the plaints Donald Trump rode to the White House a half century later.

Back in 1964, Democratic leaders squelched George Wallace, but the racist demons he unleashed were leaking into the Republican party. Northern liberals had long run the GOP's conventions. They dominated the presidential campaigns and, in the spring of 1964, they saved the Civil Rights Act with the votes that broke a three-month Senate filibuster – Time magazine judged the final legislation "[Republican Senate Leader Everett] Dirksen's bill, bearing his handiwork more than anyone else's."

However, six weeks later, a very different faction seized control of the Republican national convention and nominated Barry Goldwater, a fervent conservative who had been one of just six Republican nays against the civil rights act. He tagged it a "landmark in the destruction of a free society." Goldwater preached the antigovernment gospel like no presidential candidate had done in modern times.

He had always opposed segregation, but now he stayed mum as segregationists swarmed into his presidential campaign. The handful of black delegates at the 1964 Republican convention, including Jackie Robinson, the baseball star, published harrowing stories about what they encountered—racial epithets, taunts, flying bottles, and threats of violence. "I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany," summed up Robinson on the front pages of the Black press.

The media bluntly portrayed the Goldwater campaign that roared out of the convention as a white resistance movement. "When Senator Barry Goldwater went campaigning in the south," reported commentator Walter Lipman, "his purpose [was] … to inaugurate the so-called southern strategy." The strategy remade American politics by uniting conservative Republicans from the north with conservative Democrats in the south. Party leaders did what they had to do to accommodate segregationists and white backlash – just as Democrats had once done. Republican moderates, like George Romney of Michigan, blasted the racial "hate mail" circulating through the campaign. In a private, unpublished letter, Romney upbraided the Goldwater for turning a blind eye to the racists that swarmed into his coalition. "Your strategists proposed to make an all-out attempt for the Southern white segregationist vote," complained Romney, and to "exploit the so-called white backlash in the North." At the time, Goldwater rejected the criticism from a fading Republican liberal.

Instead, honest conservatives like Goldwater simply looked the other way as ardent segregationists crawled into the rising coalition. By the next presidential election, in 1968, Richard Nixon smoothly adopted the southern strategy – he dropped the crude racism and replaced it with winks and whistles. The Republicans morphed into the white people's party. From that time to the present, the Republicans won, on average, 61 percent of the white vote in presidential elections. At first, that delivered landslide after landslide. Republicans won five of the six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988 averaging a whopping 450 electoral college votes (out of 538). Only the anomalous Watergate election broke their dominance.

But the Democrats unwittingly legislated a limit to the white party's domination. After winning the 1964 election – the last hurrah of the New Deal-Great Society Democrats—the Johnson Administration introduced a sweeping immigration reform. Liberals had denounced the tight limits, passed in the 1920s, as just another form of racial discrimination. Now, they pressed, to align immigration law with "the spirit of . . . civil rights law," as Vice President Hubert Humphrey put it, and flung open the golden gates. No one foresaw the consequences -- 59 million people arrived in the next four decades.

Roughly two thirds of the new Americans moved (or, were pushed) to the Democrats. As a result of the immigration, the white vote began to fall – from 90% of the electorate (in 1976) to 81% (in 2000) to just 68% by 2020. As the demographics evolved, Democrats began to dominate the popular vote in presidential elections – they have now won seven out of the last eight times stretching back three decades.

Republicans face a stark choice. They can actively recruit the so-called minority populations. Or –the Trump alternative-- squeeze still more anxious white votes out of the electorate. What had once been done with little winks now requires Trump's bullhorn.

The 2020 results hint at a Republican path back to the future. This time, Latinx voters helped save the Republicans in Texas and Florida (while also being crucial to Biden wins in Arizona and Nevada). The latest shifts –some Latinos toward Trump, suburban whites to Biden-- were small. But they beckon Republicans toward a different kind of coalition that, at long last, turns away from the legacy of 1964. After all, the Party of Lincoln once dominated the black vote, handily won Asian-Americans (as late as 1996) and managed forty percent of the Latinx vote. The choice Republicans make, as they search for a winning coalition, will shape, not just their party's future but the health of our multi-cultural democracy itself.

James Morone is a professor at Brown University. His most recent book, published this fall, is The Republic of Wrath: How American Politics Turned Tribal from George Washington to Donald Trump (Basic Books).

Capitol coup 'is not who we are' in America -- but a historian suggests otherwise

In response to the events in Washington, DC, on January 6, politicians and journalists were quick to insist that "this is not who we are." Rather, the insurrectionary actions unfolding on Capitol Hill were the doing of pro-Trump extremists and domestic terrorists. The description of these acts as domestic terrorism serves to highlight their exceptional and un-American character. But a look at history suggests that in many ways, these events have a long tradition in this country.

In the late nineteenth century, Black abolitionists and anti-lynching activists used the term "terrorism" to describe the political rationality of a polity built on white supremacist principles of white domination and the oppression and exclusion of Black people. For the African American anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, for example, terrorism was a means of expressing and enforcing what she called the "unwritten law" of white supremacy. Wells argued that to defy the Reconstruction amendments that had abolished slavery, guaranteed equal protection under the law, and prohibited disenfranchisement on account of race, the South relied on an unwritten law that directly contravened the new legal order and reversed the legal achievements of Reconstruction. Mob violence played a crucial role in enforcing this unwritten law, as "the mob did what the law could not be made to do."

But the mob was not alone in bearing responsibility for racial terrorism: "the city and county authorities and the daily papers" were as complicit as local media, which "issued bulletins detailing the preparations" and public transport, which "brought people of the surrounding country to witness the event, which was in broad daylight with the authorities aiding and abetting this horror." In short, for Wells, terrorism did not describe the odious actions of extremist individuals and groups but was a means of political domination and racial control and served to re-establish white dominance against the political gains of Black Americans.

Wells' prescient account invites us to reconsider what we know about white supremacist terrorism in the United States. To begin with, we can see that "terrorism" is a contested term that means many different things and is used to accomplish a variety of goals. Wells invokes it to show that ostensibly isolated incidents are not an exception but an expression of long-standing social norms. These norms are not legal norms but what the philosopher Charles Mills calls a "shifting racial etiquette" that prescribes

"postures of deference and submission for the black Other, the body language of nonuppitiness…, traffic-codes of priority ('my space can walk through yours and you must step aside'), unwritten rules for determining when to acknowledge the non-white presence and when not, dictating spaces of intimacy and distance, zones of comfort and discomfort ('thus far and no farther'); and finally of course, antimiscegenation laws and lynching to proscribe and punish the ultimate violation, the penetration of black into white space."

As such, white supremacy, and the terrorism used to maintain and enforce it, are not merely the doing of a few extremist individuals but a cornerstone of U.S. politics that compels widespread complicity and often does not involve the use of direct violence. On January 6, the mob attempted to do what the President and his enablers were unable to do, but its actions are in continuity with more mundane practices designed to prevent the realization of true multiracial democracy. Wells shows us that these practices have always been a central strategy of U.S. nation-building, and U.S. citizens have routinely resorted to terrorism in pursuit of their political goals.

If we want to be better than this and redeem the promises of the nation's founders, we must recognize that this, too, is who we are. Until we confront this fact, we will not only continue to face mob violence and the corrosion of law, government, and our moral character, but also threats to national security, civil rights, democratic institutions, and global peace posed by a political system built on the idea of white superiority and the often-violent exclusion of groups perceived as threats to this system.

Syracuse University's Dr. Verena Erlenbusch-Anderson works in political philosophy and contemporary European philosophy, with a special interest in critical theory and genealogy. She is the author of Genealogies of Terrorism: Revolution, State Violence, Empire (Columbia University Press, 2018). She regularly teaches courses in philosophy of law.

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