That Esper book, A Sacred Oath (out next Tuesday), sure has a lot of unflattering revelations about Señor Trumpanzee. It surprises me that no one took out a service revolver and saved the country from the worst catastrophe since the Civil War. He demanded that Esper recall former Gen. Stan McChrystal and former Navy Admiral William McRaven into active duty so that they could be court-martialed for criticizing his fat treasonous ass. And that is far from the only eye-popping Esper revelation. This morning, Maggie Haberman reported focused on Trump's decision to "secretly" (as in no one would figure out who done it!) launch a missile attack against Mexico to "destroy the drug labs" and wipe out the cartels.
“I felt like I was writing for history and for the American people,” said Esper, who underwent the standard Pentagon security clearance process to check for classified information. He also sent his writing to more than two dozen four-star generals, some cabinet members and others to weigh in on accuracy and fairness.
Pressed on his view of Trump, Esper-- who strained throughout the book to be fair to the man who fired him while also calling out his increasingly erratic behavior after his first impeachment trial ended in February 2020-- said carefully but bluntly, “He is an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service.”
...Esper describes an administration completely overtaken by concerns about Trump’s re-election campaign, with every decision tethered to that objective. He writes that he could have resigned, and weighed the idea several times, but that he believed the president was surrounded by so many yes-men and people whispering dangerous ideas to him that a loyalist would have been put in Esper’s place. The real act of service, he decided, was staying in his post to ensure that such things did not come to pass.
...In Esper’s telling, Trump seemed more emboldened, and more erratic, after he was acquitted in his first impeachment trial. Esper writes that personnel choices reflected that reality, as Trump tried to tighten his grip on the executive branch with demands of personal loyalty.
Among Trump’s desires was to put 10,000 active-duty troops on the streets of Washington on June 1, 2020, after large protests against police brutality erupted following the police killing of George Floyd. Trump asked Esper about the demonstrators, “Can’t you just shoot them?”
Esper describes one episode nearly a month earlier during which Trump, whose re-election prospects were reshaped by his repeated bungling of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, behaved so erratically at a May 9 meeting about China with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that one officer grew alarmed. The unidentified officer confided to Esper months later that the meeting led him to research the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and members of the cabinet can remove a president from office, to see what was required and under what circumstances it might be used.
...Esper singles out officials whom he considered erratic or dangerous influences on Trump, with the policy adviser Stephen Miller near the top of the list. He recounts that Miller proposed sending 250,000 troops to the southern border, claiming that a large caravan of migrants was en route. “The U.S. armed forces don’t have 250,000 troops to send to the border for such nonsense,” Esper writes that he responded.
In October 2019, after members of the national security team assembled in the Situation Room to watch a feed of the raid that killed the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Miller proposed securing al-Baghdadi’s head, dipping it in pig’s blood and parading it around to warn other terrorists, Esper writes. That would be a “war crime,” Esper shot back.
Miller flatly denied the episode and called Esper “a moron.”
Esper also viewed Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, as a huge problem for the administration and the national security team in particular. Meadows often threw the president’s name around when barking orders, but Esper makes clear that he often was not certain whether Meadows was communicating what Trump wanted or what Meadows wanted.
The biggest problem America is facing isn't Trump, it's that he allowed and encouraged the GOP to be taken over by extremists and that the party is now no longer a conservative party-- the Democrats are, at least in part, that-- but a fascist party, or, as Dan Pfeiffer called it yesterday, a party of MAGA extremism. "The Republicans," he wrote, "are in the driver’s seat despite pushing one of the most unpopular, extreme agendas in modern political history. For all the handwringing about how Democrats can win the culture wars, it’s the Republicans who should fear a high-profile conflict on those cultural issues... And it’s not just the “culture war” issues where Republicans are off base. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated that one of his first acts as Speaker would be to shut down the investigation into the January 6th insurrection, but that investigation is supported by two-thirds of Americans. Florida Senator Rick Scott, the Republican in charge of electing senators (and Donald Trump’s choice to replace Mitch McConnell were he to fall into a barrel of garlic), recently proposed taxing everyone who does not currently pay income tax-- a group made up of retirees and the working poor. This is supported by only a third of voters. On issue after issue, Republicans choose to adopt extreme positions. Not only are these positions unpopular and outside of mainstream American values, they are also disconnected from the issues that demand focus."
At the end of last year, Ron Brownstein wrote a piece for The Atlantic, The Republican Axis Reversing the Rights Revolution, about the great divergence expanding... rapidly. Unfortunately, he was prescient. "Since the 1960s," he wrote, "Congress and federal courts have acted mostly to strengthen the floor of basic civil rights available to citizens in all 50 states, a pattern visible on issues from the dismantling of Jim Crow racial segregation to the right to abortion to the authorization of same-sex marriage. But now, offensives by red-state governments and GOP-appointed federal judges are poised to retrench those common standards across an array of issues. The result through the 2020s could be a dramatic erosion of common national rights and a widening gulf-- a “great divergence”-- between the liberties of Americans in blue states and those in red states."
This process is evident in the restrictive laws approved over the past year in many Republican-controlled states making it more difficult to vote and increasing opportunities for GOP partisans to influence the administration and counting of votes. It’s apparent as well in the moves by multiple red states to bar transgender young people from participating in school sports or receiving medical treatment for the transition process. The same impulse is powering the rapidly spreading red-state movement to constrain how students are taught about the nation’s racial history. Perhaps most explosively, five GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices recently signaled their willingness to overturn the national right to abortion established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That would immediately trigger laws on the books in most red states banning or severely restricting the procedure.
The only lever Democrats have to resist these efforts is their unified control of the White House and Congress. In theory, this allows them to pass federal legislation establishing a new floor of nationwide rights on voting, abortion, LGBTQ issues, and other areas. In practice, that’s proved to be an empty promise.
“A creative Congress that had the political willpower could really do quite a lot to push back against what we are seeing,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. While not all efforts to legislate a new nationwide floor of rights across these various fronts would succeed because of likely opposition from the Republican majority on the Supreme Court, he said, “a lot of it would.”
The Democratic-controlled House has already passed legislation creating a new nationwide minimum of voting rights, codifying the legal right to abortion now threatened by the Court, and establishing an expanded baseline of LGBTQ civil rights. But all of those measures remain stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Republicans and the refusal of two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to accept changes in the filibuster rule that is allowing Republicans to block them.
That stalemate is raising anxiety among more Democrats, who fear that the party is sleepwalking through an escalating emergency. Most of that unease lies with the Democratic Senate. “It’s like there’s a five-alarm blaze and we don’t have the sense of urgency that we ought to have,” Julian Castro, the former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and founder of the liberal advocacy group People First Future, told me. “Especially among a few folks in Washington, D.C., and I can think of two senators particularly.”
President Joe Biden isn’t immune from the criticism, either. While he has proclaimed his support for voting-rights legislation and the right to abortion, he hasn’t stressed those issues or raised alarms at the escalating efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to seize control of election administration in multiple states. Instead, Biden has focused his public appearances and legislative attention on the kitchen-table priorities embodied in his COVID-rescue, bipartisan infrastructure, and Build Back Better bills. On questions of these eroding rights, Castro said, “what’s been missing is any hard push, the expenditure of real political capital by the administration. He’s not demonstrating the urgency that ought to be there.”
...Jake Grumbach, a University of Washington political scientist and the author of an upcoming book on the widening polarization of state policy, says the red-state efforts to restrict previously common national rights are intensifying for two reasons. One is that local Republicans are more confident that conservative federal judges will provide them greater leeway to deviate from previously accepted national baselines. The other, he says, is that GOP state legislatures and governors have been more integrated than in the past into the policy agenda and political strategy of the national Republican Party at a time when the GOP has been on what he calls a “radicalizing trajectory.” With national groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, Heritage Action, and the National Rifle Association pushing copycat bills through multiple legislatures, state-level action has become part of “a unified front at all levels of government through the Republican Party,” Grumbach told me.
On paper, he noted, the same opportunity is available to Democrats in blue states. Several, in fact, over recent years have taken steps to expand rights. But Grumbach, like Feldman, believes that the policy divergence among the states “will shift asymmetrically on the conservative side.” That’s because the Supreme Court majority, while likely blessing most of the red-state efforts, might block more initiatives to shape the rights landscape in blue states, like the New York State limits on gun ownership the Court appears poised to strike down in this session. “We are going to have more variety [across the states] with respect to the rights that liberals like,” Feldman said, “and you are going to have less variation with respect to the rights that conservatives want.”
...With the courts and local action both unlikely pathways, the principal tool for combating the great divergence remains new federal legislation reaffirming nationwide rights. That possibility has been discussed most often in terms of voting rights and abortion. In March, the House of Representatives passed a bill providing minimum standards of ballot access in every state, including guaranteed early voting, voting by mail, and automatic and same-day voter registration. In August, House Democrats also approved a new version of the Voting Rights Act that restored pre-clearance. Similarly, the House in September approved legislation codifying Roe.
How seriously can anyone take the Democrats' resolve when the entire congressional leadership has endorsed the only Democrat to vote against codifying Roe, anti-Choice fanatic Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX). Clyburn and Pelosi were in Texas campaigning for him this week. More and more people see the Democratic establishment just as hypocritical-- albeit less effective-- as the Republican establishment. Please consider contributing to the progressive Democrats taking on Blue Dogs undercutting the Democratic Party but still backed by Pelosi and her vile careerist coterie.
Brownstein spoke with Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, who told him "that the LGBTQ rights act passed last February by the House 'would provide a remedy to most if not all of the legislation we are seeing introduced and unfortunately passed in states targeting transgender students.' Congressional Republicans, including [closet queen] Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have already introduced bills limiting how K–12 schools or colleges that receive federal funds can teach issues of racial equity. Democrats could reverse that approach by denying federal funds to states that censor how schools address race. Vladeck suggested that Congress could even push back against the strategy of GOP state attorneys general shopping for sympathetic Republican-appointed federal judges by passing legislation requiring any suit seeking to impose a nationwide injunction on an executive-branch policy begin in the D.C. Circuit."
Few observers discount the possibility that even if Congress passes legislation codifying new rights on any of these fronts, the Supreme Court majority would block some of those laws, too. But the Court would struggle to justify impeding all of them: Congress’s authority to set the rules for congressional elections, for instance, is clearly stated in Article I of the Constitution.
The more immediate obstacle, of course, is that Democrats cannot pass any of these measures unless they agree to eliminate the filibuster, which provides the 50 Republican senators “the power to block” any federal “resistance to what they are doing in the states,” David Axelrod, the former senior White House political adviser to Barack Obama, told me. “We are in a constitutional straitjacket that empowers red-state politicians and Trump to undermine the Constitution.”
Across these many choices, the Senate’s decision on voting rights remains the pivotal one. As negotiations have intensified in recent days, voting-reform advocates are expressing guarded optimism that Manchin will accept some change to the filibuster that would allow the Senate to pass voting-rights legislation, but no one knows whether Sinema would also agree to support it. The schedule for action remains entirely uncertain, especially after the opposition Manchin declared again Sunday to the party’s sweeping budget bill sharpened tensions between him and virtually every other Democrat in Congress.
Failing to pass a federal floor of voting rights would allow red-state Republicans to entrench their control over their own states. But the goal of the restrictions isn’t just to solidify Republican control within states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona; it’s also to tilt enough states toward the GOP to shift the national balance of power to the party in both Congress and the Electoral College. The same intent underlies the campaigns launched by Trump acolytes for election-administration positions and the proliferating threats of violence against local election officials. “These GOP efforts on the state level are creating an existential urgency for action on federal voting-rights legislation,” [Colorado Secretary of State Jena] Griswold said. “There will be some people saying, ‘Oh, states’ rights, states’ rights.’ A state does not have a right to abridge American citizens’ constitutional rights … period. The Senate could act; so could the Department of Justice; so could local prosecutors. The question to me is: Does Washington understand what is happening in the states?”
In some ways, the country faces a turning point much like the critical juncture during Reconstruction. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, approved in Congress on party-line votes by the Lincoln-era Republican Party after the war, were meant to create “a basic homogenized citizenship in which there is equal protection of the laws” in every state, Eric Foner, a professor at Columbia University and the country’s preeminent historian on Reconstruction, told me. “And there is no longer one set of laws for Black people and one set of laws for white people,” he said.
But fierce and violent opposition from white southerners wore down the determination of the Republicans who controlled the federal government to enforce those guarantees. In 1876, in a deal to win southern support during a disputed presidential election, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to withdraw federal troops from the region, abandoning the freed slaves and effectively returning control of the South to white people. Through the remainder of the 19th century, a conservative Supreme Court performed the mop-up operation, “abrogating most of the substance” of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, as Foner put it. That process culminated in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision authorizing “separate but equal” state-sponsored segregation.
States won’t split as sharply over the provision of basic rights in the coming years as they did in the decades of Jim Crow segregation. But all signs indicate that the divide could grow much wider than at any time since the 1960s.
The clock is ticking on that outcome. Given the nearly unbroken trend of the president’s party losing seats in midterm elections, Democrats face long odds of holding unified control of Congress after 2022. That could make the next 12 months their last opportunity for years to combat the great divergence in rights now gathering momentum. It’s not 1876, and Biden isn’t Hayes, but if Biden can’t persuade Senate Democrats to act, his presidency might be remembered for another fundamental retreat from the ideal of common national rights available to Americans in every state.
The Democratic Party committees-- DNC, DCCC, DSCC and their offshoots-- cannot be trusted to vet decent candidates. Schumer, for example, handpicked Sinema for the Senate-- not despite her having the worst record of any Democrat in the House but because of that-- and Pelosi and her cronies have picked garbage candidates from the Manchin/Sinema wing of the party who have proven themselves devoted to a Republican-lite agenda, some of the worst being Max Rose (NY), Rudy Salas (CA), Hillary Scholten (MI), and Jackie Gordon (NY) all of whom are future Blue Dogs and New Dems. If you want to help elect Roosevelt-wing Democrats and not more of the kinds of Democrats who have caused the "great divergence" Brownstein wrote about above, first consider this statement from former Columbus, Georgia Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and then click that thermometer above and give what you can to those progressive candidates on the page. Teresa:
"It’s fear that cripples the Democratic Party. Fear of our policies, fear of who we are, and fear of the Republicans. Yes, fear is what has politically cost us in the last many election cycles. One cannot lead if one is afraid. The thing about leadership is that people want their leaders to be brave. They care less about what you think on the issues than whether you have the moxie to fight for them and the strength of conviction to tell them what you really think... [Democrats must] tell people who they are and what they believe. They may not agree with you, but they will respect your courage, and that will inoculate you against the single most effective propaganda that Republicans have against Democrats-- that we are cowards... The nation has had its share of politically lukewarm Democratic candidates-- structured by the national party for perceived winnability not leadership."