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“Late Term Abortion”

The Washington Post points out there is no precise medical or legal definition of “late-term,” and “many doctors and scientists avoid that language, calling it imprecise and misleading.”

The Daily Beast also notes that only 1.3 percent of abortions are performed after 21 weeks of gestation, and the idea that a woman can get an abortion moments before giving birth is “not how medical care works.”

The use of “dog whistles” aka “coded” labels has been common for many years but until recently has been out of the mainstream of conversation. The current administration aided by a neer do well Congress has brought these “coded” statements and words to common use. Along with this common usage the administration has trashed agreements put in place to prevent war and improve trade. Tariffs (taxes) put in place to offset the “tax” policy that was supposed to benefit everyday Americans and threats to bad actors who were in a state of containment with the approval of our now alienated allies. The administration has in a few years undermined our economy, foreign affairs and put us on an isolation footing all because of “dog whistles”.


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JUN 1, 2023

Tonight the House passed a bill to suspend the debt ceiling for two years, enabling the Treasury to borrow money to prevent a default. More Democrats than Republicans rallied to the measure, with 165 Democrats and 149 Republicans voting in favor, for a final vote of 314 to 117. Seventy-one Republicans and 46 Democrats opposed the bill. Now the measure heads to the Senate.

The votes revealed a bitter divide in the Republican Party, as the far-right House Freedom Caucus fervently opposed the measure; Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) for example, called it a “turd sandwich.” Florida governor Ron DeSantis also came out against it, saying it leaves the country “careening toward bankruptcy.”

The far right insists the measure does not provide the cuts they demand. Last night’s nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office scoring of the bill offered them ammunition when it said that the additional work requirement imposed on able-bodied people aged 18–54 without dependents to receive food benefits is outweighed by the expansion of those benefits to veterans, unhoused people, and children aging out of foster care. The CBO estimates that the measure will add 78,000 people a month to food assistance programs, adding $2.1 billion in spending over the next ten years.

Despite their fury, though, the far right in the House appears to be backing down from challenging Representative Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) speakership. Their angry news conferences seem mostly to be performances for their base, and to answer them, McCarthy today said on the Fox News Channel that he was creating a “commission” to “look at” cutting the budget that the president “walled off” from cuts, including the mandatory spending on Medicare and Social Security.

But, as Josh Marshall pointed out in Talking Points Memo today, the Republican base no longer seems to care much about fiscal issues. Instead, they are pushing the cultural issues at the heart of illiberal democracy: anti-LGBTQ laws, antiabortion laws, anti-immigration laws.

Former president Trump is making those themes central to his reelection campaign. Yesterday he released a video promising that on “Day One” of a new presidential term, he would issue an executive order that would end birthright citizenship. Our current policy that anyone born in the United States is a citizen, he claims, is “based on a historical myth, and a willful misinterpretation of the law by the open borders advocates.” He promises to make “clear to federal agencies that under the correct interpretation of the law, going forward, the future children of illegal aliens will not receive automatic US citizenship.”

Trump is picking up an idea from his presidential term that immigrants are flocking to the U.S. as “birth tourists” so their children will have dual citizenship, but the estimate from the immigration-restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies that birth tourism accounts for 26,000 of the approximately 3.7 million births in the U.S. each year has been shown to be wildly high. Trump’s attack on birthright citizenship is an attack on immigration itself, echoing people like Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who insists that immigration weakens a nation by diluting its native-born people with outsiders.

Trump’s attack on the idea of birthright citizenship as a “historical myth” is a perversion of our history. It matters. In the nineteenth century, the United States enshrined in its fundamental law the idea that there would not be different levels of citizenship in this country. Although not honored in practice, that idea, and its place in the law, gave those excluded from it the language and the tools to fight for equality. Over time, they have increasingly expanded those included in it.

The Republican Party organized in the 1850s to fight the idea that there should be different classes of Americans based on race—not only Black Americans, but also Irish, Chinese, Mexican, and Indigenous Americans faced discriminatory state laws. Republicans stated explicitly in their 1860 platform that they were “opposed to any change in our naturalization laws or any state legislation by which the rights of citizens hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.”

In 1868, after the Civil War had ended the legal system of human enslavement, the American people added to the Constitution the Fourteenth Amendment, whose very first sentence reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Congress wrote that sentence to overturn the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”

The Fourteenth Amendment legally made Black men citizens equal to white men.

But did it include the children of immigrants? In 1882, during a period of racist hysteria, the Chinese Exclusion Act declared that Chinese immigrants could not become citizens. But what about their children who were born in the United States?

Wong Kim Ark was born around 1873, the child of Chinese parents who were merchants in San Francisco. In 1889 he traveled with his parents when they repatriated to China, where he married. He then returned to the U.S., leaving his wife behind, and was readmitted. After another trip to China in 1894, though, customs officials denied him reentry to the U.S. in 1895, claiming he was a Chinese subject because his parents were Chinese.

Wong sued, and his lawsuit was the first to climb all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, thanks to the government’s recognition that with the U.S. in the middle of an immigration boom, the question of birthright citizenship must be addressed. In the 1898 U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark decision, the court held by a vote of 6–2 that Wong was a citizen because he was born in the United States.

That decision has stood ever since, as a majority of Americans have recognized the principle behind the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as the one central to the United States: “that all men are created equal” and that a nation based on that idea draws strength from all of its people. Over time, we have expanded our definition of who is included in that equality.

Now the right wing is trying to contract equality again, excluding many of us from its rights and duties. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision makes women a separate and lesser class of citizen; anti-LGBTQ legislation denigrates sexual minorities. Trump’s attack on birthright citizenship makes that attack on equality explicit, calling equality a “myth” and attempting to enshrine inequality as the only real theme of our history.

The concept of equality means we all have equal rights. It also means we all owe an equal allegiance to the country and that we all should be equal before the law, principles the former president has reason to dislike.

Today, Katelyn Polantz, Paula Reid, and Kaitlan Collins of CNN broke the story that federal prosecutors have an audio recording of the former president admitting he kept a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran. The material on the tape, which was recorded at his Bedminster, New Jersey, property and appears to indicate that the document was in his hands, shows that Trump understood he had taken a classified document and that he understood that there were limits to his ability to declassify records.

The recording also appears to suggest that at least one of the documents Trump took when he left office had enormous monetary value. As former Senior Foreign Service member Luis Moreno tweeted: “You can bet that if the TS/SCI dox involved military action against Iran, there would be a couple of countries willing to pay a king’s ransom for it.”


Sean Hannity Staff, “MAGA PROMISE: Trump Vows to End Birthright Citizenship on Day One [WATCH]” at hannity DOT com, May 30, 2023.


MAY 30, 2023

Beginning in 1943, the War Department published a series of pamphlets for U.S. Army personnel in the European theater of World War II. Titled Army Talks, the series was designed “to help [the personnel] become better-informed men and women and therefore better soldiers.”

On March 24, 1945, the topic for the week was “FASCISM!”

“You are away from home, separated from your families, no longer at a civilian job or at school and many of you are risking your very lives,” the pamphlet explained, “because of a thing called fascism.” But, the publication asked, what is fascism? “Fascism is not the easiest thing to identify and analyze,” it said, “nor, once in power, is it easy to destroy. It is important for our future and that of the world that as many of us as possible understand the causes and practices of fascism, in order to combat it.”

Fascism, the U.S. government document explained, “is government by the few and for the few. The objective is seizure and control of the economic, political, social, and cultural life of the state.” “The people run democratic governments, but fascist governments run the people.”

“The basic principles of democracy stand in the way of their desires; hence—democracy must go! Anyone who is not a member of their inner gang has to do what he’s told. They permit no civil liberties, no equality before the law.” “Fascism treats women as mere breeders. ‘Children, kitchen, and the church,’ was the Nazi slogan for women,” the pamphlet said.

Fascists “make their own rules and change them when they choose…. They maintain themselves in power by use of force combined with propaganda based on primitive ideas of ‘blood’ and ‘race,’ by skillful manipulation of fear and hate, and by false promise of security. The propaganda glorifies war and insists it is smart and ‘realistic’ to be pitiless and violent.”

Fascists understood that “the fundamental principle of democracy—faith in the common sense of the common people—was the direct opposite of the fascist principle of rule by the elite few,” it explained, “[s]o they fought democracy…. They played political, religious, social, and economic groups against each other and seized power while these groups struggled.”

Americans should not be fooled into thinking that fascism could not come to America, the pamphlet warned; after all, “[w]e once laughed Hitler off as a harmless little clown with a funny mustache.” And indeed, the U.S. had experienced “sorry instances of mob sadism, lynchings, vigilantism, terror, and suppression of civil liberties. We have had our hooded gangs, Black Legions, Silver Shirts, and racial and religious bigots. All of them, in the name of Americanism, have used undemocratic methods and doctrines which…can be properly identified as ‘fascist.’”

The War Department thought it was important for Americans to understand the tactics fascists would use to take power in the United States. They would try to gain power “under the guise of ‘super-patriotism’ and ‘super-Americanism.’” And they would use three techniques:

First, they would pit religious, racial, and economic groups against one another to break down national unity. Part of that effort to divide and conquer would be a “well-planned ‘hate campaign’ against minority races, religions, and other groups.”

Second, they would deny any need for international cooperation, because that would fly in the face of their insistence that their supporters were better than everyone else. “In place of international cooperation, the fascists seek to substitute a perverted sort of ultra-nationalism which tells their people that they are the only people in the world who count. With this goes hatred and suspicion toward the people of all other nations.”

Third, fascists would insist that “the world has but two choices—either fascism or communism, and they label as ‘communists’ everyone who refuses to support them.”

It is “vitally important” to learn to spot native fascists, the government said, “even though they adopt names and slogans with popular appeal, drape themselves with the American flag, and attempt to carry out their program in the name of the democracy they are trying to destroy.”

The only way to stop the rise of fascism in the United States, the document said, “is by making our democracy work and by actively cooperating to preserve world peace and security.” In the midst of the insecurity of the modern world, the hatred at the root of fascism “fulfills a triple mission.” By dividing people, it weakens democracy. “By getting men to hate rather than to think,” it prevents them “from seeking the real cause and a democratic solution to the problem.” By falsely promising prosperity, it lures people to embrace its security.

“Fascism thrives on indifference and ignorance,” it warned. Freedom requires “being alert and on guard against the infringement not only of our own freedom but the freedom of every American. If we permit discrimination, prejudice, or hate to rob anyone of his democratic rights, our own freedom and all democracy is threatened.” And if “we want to make certain that fascism does not come to America, we must make certain that it does not thrive anywhere in the world.”

Seventy-eight years after the publication of “FASCISM!” with its program for recognizing that political system and stopping it from taking over the United States, President Joe Biden today at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, honored those who gave their lives fighting to preserve democracy. “On this day, we come together again to reflect, to remember, but above all, to recommit to the future our fallen heroes fought for, …a future grounded in freedom, democracy, equality, tolerance, opportunity, and…justice.”

“[T]he truest memorial to their lives,” the president said, is to act “every day to ensure that our democracy endures, our Constitution endures, and the soul of our nation and our decency endures.”


War Department, “Army Talk 64: FASCISM!” March 24, 1945, at


“After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say that the 2020 election was stolen, that the attack of January 6th wasn’t a big deal, and that Donald Trump wasn’t dangerous. I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership. America cannot remain a free nation if we abandon the truth. So as you go out to change the world, resolve that you will stand in truth. Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can’t succeed if you vote. So Class of 2023, get out and vote. This means listening and learning, including – especially – from those with whom we disagree. This means running for office.  We need you to work to defend our Constitution and defeat those who deny the sanctity of our elections.  We are entrusting our nation – and the future of freedom – to your care.”

May 21, 2023


MAY 22, 2023


The list of 500 banned Americans that Russian president Vladimir Putin released on Friday makes it clear that Putin is openly aligning himself with Trump and today’s MAGA Republicans. The people on the list are not necessarily involved with U.S. policy toward Russia; they are Americans who are standing in the way of the Trump movement’s takeover of our country. 

Notably, one of the names on the list is Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who refused to “find” the 11,780 votes Trump needed to win Georgia in 2020 and thus take the state’s electoral votes from Democratic winner Joe Biden. Also on the list was Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who killed Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to break into the chamber of the House of Representatives, where more than 60 representatives and staffers were holed up, on January 6, 2021. Others made the “500 list,” according to the statement, for being part of “power or law-enforcement structures directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called ‘storm of the Capitol.’” 

Since Trump’s attempt to overthrow the will of the voters on January 6, 2021, his supporters have imitated the language and the laws that enabled Putin to destroy representative democracy in Russia and Viktor Orbán to undermine liberal democracy in Hungary. 

Attempting to set a new kind of imperial Russia up as a challenger to the liberal democracies that have held the majority of global power since World War II, Putin in 2019 declared liberal democracy “obsolete.” At a time when his own economic and social troubles at home threatened his continuing hold on power, he lashed out at democracy’s emphasis on equality before the law, saying that immigrant rights, gay rights, and women’s rights undermine “the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.” 

Like Putin, Orbán cemented power with attacks on immigrants, LGBTQ people, and abortion rights while claiming to be shoring up traditional religion. Not surprisingly, both Putin and Orbán have praised Trump, with the overlap between the former U.S. president and the autocratic leaders becoming more pronounced as Trump’s followers work to undermine U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight to push back Russia’s invasion and in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s decision to hold a second meeting in Budapest, Hungary, this month. 

That overlap is also visible in the anti-immigrant, anti-LBGTQ, and antiabortion legislation spreading through U.S. states dominated by Trump loyalists. 

When Trump was in the White House, his team worked hard to put loyal supporters into power in state Republican parties before the 2020 election, possibly aware that he was likely to lose the vote and would have to turn to loyalists to steal it for him. (Recall that on October 31, 2020, Trump ally Stephen Bannon told an audience that the plan was simply to say he had won, and now, in a lawsuit filed last week against Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Noelle Dunphy alleges Giuliani told her of the scheme on February 7, 2019.) Packing the state parties with loyalists did indeed pay off: according to a study by Nick Corasaniti, Karen Yourish, and Keith Collins of the New York Times, at least 357 sitting Republican legislators in battleground states used their official positions either to discredit or to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

Radicalizing the state parties has continued since Trump left office, strengthening his base in state legislatures. Those legislators are now advancing the illiberal Christian democracy embraced by Putin and Orbán, using the same language and politics of fear to pass laws that explicitly reject the principle of a nation based in the idea that is central to democracy: that everyone is equal before the law.

The attempt to demonize immigrants has been central to the Trump base since he announced his presidential campaign with the statement that “the U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems” and went on to say that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs…bringing crime. They’re rapists.” (In fact, undocumented immigrants are less than half as likely as native-born Americans to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses.)

Republicans have refused to consider bipartisan legislation that would fund immigration courts and border security, and instead have hammered on the idea that immigrants are “flooding” our borders. They fought to keep the pandemic-related Title 42 in place, insisting that its end would create, as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) put it, an “Imminent Invasion.” When, in fact, the end of Title 42 led to a 60% decrease in unauthorized crossings, Greene still pushed forward, calling for Biden’s impeachment for his handling of immigration issues.

This same antidemocratic extremism explains the anti-trans, anti-drag, and anti-LGBTQ legislation, all of which are an attack on equality before the law. A March 8 article in Mother Jones by Madison Pauly exposed how the wave of anti-trans legislation passing through Republican-dominated state legislatures is written and pushed by well-funded Christian activists and organizations who argue, like Orbán, that they are protecting children (although 86% of trans or nonbinary young people have reported the attacks on them are affecting their mental health, and nearly half have seriously considered suicide). 

Advocates for those laws inaccurately claim that they are protecting children from genital mutilation, but as Nancy Goldstein of the Texas Observer pointed out, the American Academy of Pediatrics stands behind gender-affirming care. Dr. Joshua Safer, the executive director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City, explains: No other countries “are reconsidering the use of hormones and surgeries as first-line treatment for transgender children because hormones and surgeries are not first-line treatment for transgender children…. First-line interventions include mental health intakes and social adjustments…. Puberty blockers sometimes follow.” Those treatments are reversible if a patient changes their mind. 

Nonetheless, the rhetoric of demonization is working: Brian Tyler Cohen reports (with video) that “Christian” pastor Jason Graber recently called for the execution of all LGBTQ people as well as the parents of transgender people: “They just need to be shot in the back of the head and then we can string them up above a bridge.”

Goldstein points out that the language of demonization Republicans are using mimics that of the “southern strategy,” by which Republican leaders from President Richard Nixon onward solidified their base by creating the idea that Black Americans threatened the well-being of white people. That strategy, too, is ongoing in the Republican Party. On Monday, May 15, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that defunds any state college or university with a diversity, equity, and inclusion program and that bans courses that “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics,” a reference to courses that acknowledge racism or sexism. Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota, Iowa, and Ohio are considering similar legislation.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization; Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have all issued advisories warning against travel to Florida. “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the NAACP said. “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

With its antiabortion legislation, the MAGA movement is also signaling its abandonment of the idea that everyone should be equal before the law. Since the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision last June, fifteen states have banned or severely restricted abortion rights. On Tuesday a supermajority of the North Carolina legislature, established when Tricia Cotham, a Democrat who ran on abortion rights, switched parties, overrode the veto of the Democratic governor Roy Cooper to ban virtually all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

In Sumner County, Tennessee, these antidemocratic Republicans have taken over the county government and, as Christina A. Cassidy wrote today in the Associated Press, promptly changed the county’s official documents to say that operations would be “most importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the nation’s founding.” They are trying to shape the county, including election rules, according to their ideology.

It is these same MAGA Republicans who are threatening to force the United States to default on its debt for the first time in our history, with catastrophic consequences, unless the Democrats agree to protect all tax cuts and slash the domestic spending that protects ordinary Americans. It’s important to remember that the global autocratic movement is not solely about creating a traditional religious society; it is about destroying democracy to concentrate wealth and power in a small group of men, usually white men, who will dominate the rest of us.

For all the talk of House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) negotiating over a budget that Republicans will then approve before they are willing to raise the debt ceiling, he has never had the votes of the extremists that he needs to make that happen. They are demanding that the Democrats dismantle the government programs that protect ordinary Americans in exchange for agreeing not to blow up the world economy. 

And so, the battle over democracy has come down to the debt ceiling. 

Today, Biden told reporters that he would not agree to the extremists’ demands. “We put forward a proposal that cuts spending by more than a trillion dollars, and on top of the nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction that I previously proposed through the combination of spending cuts and new revenues,” he said. 

“Let me be clear,” he said. “I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects, for example, a $30 billion tax break for the oil industry, which made $200 billion last year—they don’t need an incentive of another $30 billion—while putting healthcare of 21 million Americans at risk by going after Medicaid.

“I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects $200 billion in excess payments for pharmaceutical industries and refusing to count that while cutting over 100,000 schoolteachers and…assistants’ jobs, 30,000 law enforcement officers’ jobs cut across…the entire United States of America.

“And I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders while putting food assistance at risk for nearly… 1 million Americans.

“And it’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely—solely—on their partisan terms. They have to move as well.

“All four congressional leaders agree with me that…default is not—let me say it again—default is not an option. And I expect each of…these leaders…to live up to that commitment.

“America has never defaulted—never defaulted on our debt, and it never will.”




MAY 10, 2023

President Biden spoke to reporters today after his meeting with House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about raising the debt ceiling. “I just finished, I thought, a productive meeting with the congressional leadership about the path forward to make sure America does not default—I emphasize does not default on its debt for the first time in history,” he began. “And I’m pleased but not surprised to hear [the] Republican minority leader of the United States Senate saying…at our meeting that the United States is not going to default. It never has, and it never will. And he’s absolutely correct.” The teams will continue to meet before the principals reconvene on Friday.

Biden went on to lay out the differences between his plan and that of the Republicans under McCarthy. He began by warning that a default would create a “significant recession,” devastating retirement accounts and increasing the cost of borrowing. He quoted Moody’s Analytics that nearly 8 million Americans would lose their jobs and added that our international reputation would be ruined.

“Default is not an option,” he repeated. “America is not a deadbeat nation. We pay our bills.” Congress avoided default three times under Trump “without once—not one time—creating a crisis, rattling the markets, or undermining the unshakable trust the world has in America’s commitment to paying its bills.” Biden noted that Trump drove the debt up significantly and that in his own first two years he had reduced the debt by an unprecedented $1.7 trillion.

He reiterated that he is happy to negotiate over the budget, which entails future spending, but not over raising the debt ceiling, which enables the government to pay for bills already incurred.

Then Biden laid out the differences between his budget proposal and the newly released guidelines offered by the House Republicans. He noted that his budget has $3 trillion in cuts that the House Republicans oppose because they end benefits for corporations and the wealthy. His budget saves the country $200 billion by permitting Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and cuts $30 billion in tax subsidies for oil companies—which, he noted, made $200 billion in profits last year.

His budget also funds the Internal Revenue Service to enable it to stop tax cheats; the Congressional Budget Office says that will raise $200 billion. Biden also wants to increase the number of inspectors general in the government to watch how money is spent, citing estimates that each dollar spent on inspectors general saves $10 in wasteful spending. The Republican plan would cut all of these measures, making suspect their claim that they want to address the deficit.

He added that he wants the wealthiest Americans and corporations to “start to pay some of their fair share.”

In contrast, the House Republicans have called for cuts, without specifying where they would come from. Biden noted that the general cut McCarthy claims to support will hurt Americans badly, and the math simply doesn’t work on his insistence that he won’t cut popular programs. He also pointed out that McCarthy is disingenuous when he says Biden refused to meet with him for 97 days. Biden reminded listeners that he told McCarthy they could meet when McCarthy came up with a plan. Five days after he did so, Biden invited him to a meeting.

In questions from the press, Biden noted that lawmakers, including Republican lawmakers, don’t want the government to default on its obligations. He also suggested he is considering invoking the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares the national debt inviolable, but worries that invoking it to solve this manufactured crisis will involve lengthy litigation. Finally, after reminding a reporter that McCarthy has not actually offered a specific plan but rather made a general call for cuts without saying where, he offered the favorable sign that all the lawmakers “agreed that…defaulting on the debt is off the table.”

Also today, a jury in New York reached a decision in the civil case brought against former president Donald Trump for rape, sexual abuse, and defamation. After just three hours of deliberations, the jury found him not liable for rape, but liable for sexual assault and defamation. It awarded accuser E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages.

It is a dramatic vindication of Carroll, and it complicates Trump’s run for the presidency in the 2024 election. In his deposition he reaffirmed his words in the Access Hollywood tape about how stars can sexually assault women. While his base supporters will not care about this verdict, lots of women will, and it raises the issue of the many other women who have accused him of assault. In Just Security, Ryan Goodman and Norman L. Eisen reminded readers that “Americans generally consider sexual assault incompatible with serving in elected office or positions of public trust.”

Also, strikingly, at the end of the trial, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan advised the jurors not to identify themselves—“not now and not for a long time”—out of concerns for their safety. National security analyst Juliette Kayyem reported the judge’s warning and noted that “Trump’s strongest legacy will always be violence as an extension of our democratic processes.” Legal analyst Joyce White Vance added, “It’s a remarkable thing when jurors have to be cautioned that revealing their identities could put them at risk…when the defendant was the former president of the United States.”

Should Trump get the Republican nomination—and right now he is the frontrunner—the Republican Party will have nominated for the presidency a man a jury found liable for sexual assault and defamation, and against whose followers a judge had to warn a jury to take precautions.

It’s not a great look.

Also today, Mark Morales, Evan Perez, and Gregory Krieg of CNN reported that federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Representative George Santos (R-NY), famous for the lies he told in his 2022 campaign for election. The charges are sealed, but we should learn more soon: Santos is expected in court as soon as tomorrow.

His troubles complicate matters for McCarthy, who badly needs Santos’s vote to hold his slim majority. If Santos has to resign, it seems likely that angry voters in Santos’s district will turn back to a Democratic representative. There is nothing in the House rules that prevent Santos from participating in debates and votes while under indictment. Indeed, he could continue to serve even after a conviction, but McCarthy told the CNN reporters that anyone found guilty of a crime should resign.


A plea for healing


Today the news offers wall-to-wall coverage of a politician — a former president — who is duplicitous, divisive, and vainglorious. 

He is a weak man incapable of admitting to any personal fault or struggle. He is quick to blame others for any impediment he faces. He excuses his own failings. He demonizes his political opponents and weaponizes their “othering.”

These character flaws may have finally caught up with him in a court of law. We shall see. If you want more coverage of these developments, you can find them elsewhere today. In truth, almost everywhere else. 

But here at Steady we want to offer a counternarrative. We also have a story about a politician, but it’s not about sordid allegations or court proceedings. It’s not even about policy or politics, per se. 

It’s about health, humanity, and healing. And it’s about that fickle but essential aspiration: hope. 

On April 1, U.S. Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania was discharged from Walter Reed hospital after a six-week stay to treat depression. Fetterman apparently has struggled with the disease for years, but it became worse in the wake of a stroke that nearly derailed his 2022 campaign. He now says his depression is in remission.

During the last election season, concerns about Fetterman’s physical health were widespread as he publicly navigated the difficult rehabilitation of a stroke victim. His Republican opponent, the TV doctor Mehmet Oz, made questions about Fetterman’s health a major line of attack (something we wrote about in a Steady column, “Fitness to Serve”).

At the time, we wondered about the very definition of fitness:

“Perhaps this idea of how we measure fitness is too limited. Are people who deny the results of the 2020 election fit for elective office? What about politicians who embrace lies, stoke division, and foment violence? Many doctors and scientists have warned that Oz, Fetterman’s opponent, has spread dangerous medical misinformation. How should that be factored into assessing fitness?”

And we noted that covering questions of fitness was of special concern for the press: 

“Judging medical fitness is legitimate, but are we providing the audience a nuanced understanding, or are we playing into stereotypes?”

In the end, the voters of Pennsylvania chose Fetterman by nearly 5 points. It was considered a tremendous victory and framed as a personal triumph for a candidate beset by such obvious physical ailments. 

We now know that it didn’t feel like a triumph for Fetterman, who was privately struggling with a second serious disease. 

This Sunday, Fetterman told the story of his depression to Jane Pauley on the CBS News program “Sunday Morning.” It is an emotional journey, and we share the piece here:

(Note: In the past some Steady readers outside of the United States had trouble accessing a “Sunday Morning” piece. We apologize if that’s the case once again. Please let us know.)

It has been heartening to see that the coverage of Fetterman’s treatment for depression has been different from the reaction to his stroke. By and large, he has received bipartisan well wishes and the support of his constituents. 

This is why Fetterman’s story is even bigger than the very big senator (he stands 6′8″) from the Keystone State. 

Millions of Americans suffer from depression. It can destroy lives and lead to suicide. Now there are indications that the pandemic has exacerbated mental illness across the country, including depression. This trend is especially acute in children. 

Historically, depression has also carried much stigma. And shame. And misunderstanding. This adds to the damage it can inflict in the shadows. 

If we are going to make headway, we need to face depression and other mental illnesses with honesty and empathy. It is a major service when someone of Fetterman’s stature courageously shares their story. Those who suffer similarly can feel seen and may be encouraged to seek help. The millions more who know a friend or loved one afflicted with this horrible illness can feel part of a broader community of support. 

Part of what makes depression so frustrating is that it seems to make no sense. Someone like Fetterman, who seemed to have it all — a loving family and a major professional success — can feel lost even at a moment when he should feel exhilarated. He checked himself into the hospital on his son’s birthday.

Regardless of what one may think of Fetterman’s politics, we should all wish him continued recovery for both his mental and physical ailments. It is a benefit to our nation to have people with his experiences in our government. There is a notion that politicians are supposed to be poised almost to the point of perfection. But we know they are human and subject to the same vices, biases, and illnesses as the rest of us. 

We need for our leaders to understand the struggles of their fellow citizens, and there are few better foundations for this kind of understanding than shared lived experiences. This is especially important when it comes to mental health. It’s okay for people to not be okay. And we can all work for a government more responsive to the needs of its people. 

Fetterman is set to return to the Senate on April 17. He will find Republican colleagues who also have made mental health a major priority. Hopefully we can continue to see a bipartisan path to progress. And health. And hope. 

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Plus: The Corruption of Lindsey Graham, a new e-book from The Bulwark


MAY 9, 2023

Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass. There are two important items in today’s edition. First, my Bulwark colleague Will Saletan has just published a powerful, deeply researched, book-length project about Lindsey Graham’s descent into MAGA corruption following the rise of Donald Trump. It’s really a story about how authoritarianism grows within a liberal democracy like ours, and I encourage you to set aside a few hours to give it the attention it deserves. It’s available to read at but also via a PDF and Kindle edition.  I’ll say more about that below. 

But we’ll start off today with the peculiar case of a group of American lawmakers whose travels abroad included a meeting with an infamous right-wing demagogue. I wrote in January about the recent Republican love affair with Italian populist ultra-conservatives like Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who was elected as part of a far-right coalition that swept into power in the country’s September elections. Last week, traveling American lawmakers met with one member of this Italian political movement whose CV is extreme enough that taking the meeting amounted to an act of recklessness on the Americans’ part.

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Credit: Office of Speaker Kevin McCarthy

Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a group of his fellow lawmakers met with a range of elected officials and important people during their recent two-week international congressional delegation, which included stops in Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. During a final leg in Italy last week, McCarthy and co. met with Pope Francis and Prime Minister Meloni.

But one of the other individuals the delegation met with in Italy was a man named Lorenzo Fontana. Fontana serves as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, which means that, as the speaker of Italy’s lower legislative house, he is McCarthy’s counterpart in Italian government. Fontana led McCarthy into the legislative chamber to raucous applause, and he also gave the speaker a gift: a copy of McCarthy’s grandfather’s original birth certificate. The whole of the American group—which included two Democrats, Reps. Jimmy Panetta of California (son of Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary who once held the same seat in Congress) and Jared Moskowitz of Florida—posed for a photo with Fontana. 

While meetings with a variety of international politicians made up the core of the congressional delegation’s itinerary, Fontana is different from other figures the Americans met during the trip. To be sure, he shares some beliefs in common with Prime Minister Meloni: Like her, he is an ultra-conservative who advocates the priority of the family, the upholding of tradition, the virtues of nationalism, and the importance of strict immigration policies.

What makes Fontana different from Meloni is that his right-wing populism goes far, far beyond hers. His views have pushed him to support some of the worst and most dangerous people across Europe, and he has also carved out a lane as one Italy’s leading homophobes.

Fontana is a member of Lega (the League), Italy’s very far-right party that formed a coalition with Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) last year to win the fall election. While it’s understandable that an American Republican might see conservative groups abroad as fundamentally similar to the GOP, Lega is simply not comparable to the Republican party. If it were operating in the United States, Lega would represent just a sliver of the larger GOP, a faction to the right of the Freedom Caucus whose median member would be someone like Paul Gosar, and whose still-further-right wing might be represented by someone like Richard Spencer.

Here are some highlights from Fontana’s career:

  • He has embraced Golden Dawn, a Greek political party and neo-nazi group.
  • He called Vladimir Putin “a light for us Westerners, who live in a great crisis of values.”
  • During the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea, he wore a “no to Russian sanctions” shirt. He was later invited to participate as an “election observer” in Crimea as part of Russia’s propaganda campaign justifying the invasion.
  • As the Minister for Families, Fontana fought to restrict adoption and surrogacy for gay couples. He has also said same-sex parents “don’t exist.”

To be clear, McCarthy’s meeting and photo-op with Fontana do not amount to an endorsement of the latter’s views. And yes, the protocols and niceties of diplomacy hold that officials usually meet with their counterparts when traveling abroad. But those protocols are not set in stone. And for McCarthy to meet with Fontana in this way was an act of carelessness, given the way these meetings are advertised to the public. Fontana’s profile will certainly be elevated by pictures of him welcoming an American congressional delegation and presenting a gift to the speaker of the House. Further, Fontana being able to refer to an account of the meeting published on McCarthy’s own official website—where Fontana is mentioned alongside the prime minister and the pope—will do much to further legitimize him as a figure of international standing.

A McCarthy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Vetting problems seem to be increasingly common for conservative lawmakers; many members of the House Republican Conference have been burned for posing with Proud Boys who were later convicted of sedition, unabashed white supremacists, and more. Of course, it’s possible that these problems might arise from more than simple negligence. Former Rep. Devin Nunes and some of Trump’s children are slated to share a stage with Hitler-praising internet personalities this coming weekend at Trump National Doral resort in Miami. It’s hard to take care to avoid associating with the hateful conspiratorial fringe if you just don’t care that much about it in the first place.

But the highest-ranking elected Republican currently in office should know better and do better, especially considering that during the same trip abroad, he showed that he won’t always take the far-right bait. Then, too, the rest of the international congressional delegation, including Panetta and Moskowtiz, should have had the foresight to have asked their staff to research the officials they met abroad to avoid exactly these problems. (Spokespeople for Panetta and Moskowitz also did not respond to requests for comment.)

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The Corruption of Lindsey Graham

As I mentioned above, Bulwark writer Will Saletan has just published a remarkable deep dive on Lindsey Graham. Read it and you’ll come away with a clearer understanding of what it looks like when authoritarians corrupt liberal democracies—because you’ll know what it looked like, step by step, when it happened to ours.

Here’s a snapshot:

When an authoritarian rises to power in a democratic country, it can be a shock. But over time, the shock wears off. As the new leader tramples norms and rules, people get used to it. That’s part of what happened to Graham and his colleagues in Trump’s first year. They got used to the president’s behavior. It began to feel normal.

Normalization is corrosive. It numbs you to the authoritarian’s crimes. You stop noticing what’s happening. Or you no longer care. Or you get used to defending the leader’s abuses, as Graham did.

The second stage is more serious. Once the authoritarian’s allies have normalized his behavior, they rally around him just as they would rally around any other leader of their party. And they attack his opponents just as they would if he were a normal president.

Graham’s trajectory over the past eight years brought him very low as he sought power and influence with a leader he once despised, in the process becoming the same kind of demagogue he used to hate. Saletan’s account of this process uses Graham’s story to illustrate the mechanics of emerging authoritarianism. I hope you’ll give the whole thing a read. It is worth every minute you spend on it.

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MAY 6, 2023

For years now, after one massacre or another, I have written some version of the same article, explaining that the nation’s current gun free-for-all is not traditional but, rather, is a symptom of the takeover of our nation by a radical extremist minority. The idea that massacres are “the price of freedom,” as right-wing personality Bill O’Reilly said in 2017 after the Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas, in which a gunman killed 60 people and wounded 411 others, is new, and it is about politics, not our history.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution, on which modern-day arguments for widespread gun ownership rest, is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

Today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges, and in local, state, and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunition and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons; prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children; to require all dealers to be licensed; and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later it elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II.

Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors.

Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

In 1972 the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan—for the first time.

When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

In 1981 a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, then-representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. But in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000 it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012 the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent over $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns.

Tonight, I am, once again, posting yet another version of this article.



MAY 6, 2023

  • Today’s job numbers came in higher than expected, with the U.S. adding 253,000 nonfarm jobs in April. Unemployment fell yet again, to 3.4%, matching a rate not seen since 1969. Black unemployment is at an all-time low of 4.7%. For Hispanics it’s 4.4%, and for Asian Americans, 2.8%. The rate for adult women is 3.1%. Average hourly wages rose 0.5%.
  • This good economic news didn’t come from nowhere. The Biden administration has focused on building infrastructure, bringing supply chains home, and bolstering new manufacturing. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act have invested in workers.
  • At the same time, the administration has taken measures to claw back some of the power the country has ceded to business leaders over the past decades. It has taken steps to promote competition, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s negotiation of a global minimum corporate tax to stop nations from racing to attract investment by cutting taxes, and the Justice Department’s enforcement of antitrust laws, which has led to a number of directors resigning from interlocking boards.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a ban on noncompete agreements, which prevent people from moving from job to job. The FTC estimates that getting rid of the agreements would increase wages by nearly $300 billion per year and enable about 30 million Americans to move to better jobs.
  • Biden’s approach to governance is not just a change in policy from the past forty years. It is a demonstration of the tedious, hard, incremental work of moving the ball forward in a modern democracy.
  • The extraordinary work that goes into governance showed last night in a keynote address National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gave on the administration’s approach to Middle East affairs at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Moving away from the nation’s previous tight focus on terrorism, Sullivan emphasized a theme that the Biden administration has highlighted since the president took office: “the integration of foreign policy and domestic policy.”
  • Sullivan emphasized that the administration’s template for foreign affairs is “realistic and pragmatic” but also “ambitious and optimistic about [what] the United States and our allies can achieve together over time.” The administration’s new framework for U.S. engagement in the Middle East, he said, “is built on five basic elements: partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy and de-escalation, integration, and values.”
  • Over the past two years, the U.S. has strengthened partnerships in the Middle East with “strategic dialogues, high-level visits—including two presidential visits—exchanges, and over 200 military exercises,” and it continues to strengthen ties between allies. It has deterred violence through counterstrikes but prefers to rely on diplomacy and de-escalation of tensions. “[E]very day, we are plugging away at proactive and creative diplomacy across the Middle East region,” Sullivan said.
  • Most notably, the administration helped to end the war in Yemen by setting the terms for a truce mediated by the United Nations. That truce has held—so far—for fourteen months. “Humanitarian aid and fuel are flowing through Yemen’s ports, the civilian airport in Sanaa has reopened, and the parties are actively in discussions on a roadmap to ultimately bring this war to an end.”
  • Sullivan said that the administration is working to help countries in the Middle East integrate into an interconnected region, and finally, he talked about values. “Just as we always strive to perfect our own democracy at home, we will always raise concerns regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms in our engagements around the world, including in the Middle East,” he said.
  • Sullivan noted that U.S. values include women’s rights and the ability to criticize leaders without fear. Enabling populations to unleash their full potential means religious tolerance and protection of minorities. It means pressure on other countries to acknowledge freedom, and it means remaining a key source of humanitarian aid.
  • As if in illustration of regional partnerships, today Saudi Arabia and the United States issued a joint statement on the start of talks between the warring parties in Sudan. The statement emphasized regional alliances, noting: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States…would like to stress the efforts of the countries and organizations which supported these talks, including Quad countries (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the League of Arab States, and partners from the Trilateral Mechanism (UNITAMS [U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan], the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development).”
  • The careful cultivation of allies and complicated pressures enabled Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pull together an international coalition to stand against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The pressure of that coalition appears to be helping Ukrainian forces undermine Russia: today, in one of a series of videos, the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group that has been fighting for Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, expressed fury at the Kremlin for leaving his men without supplies and vowed to leave the key city of Bakhmut on May 10. Standing surrounded by corpses, he raged: “Those are soldiers we lost today. Their blood is still fresh…. They were someone’s sons or fathers. You, f*ckers, who don’t give us ammo, will burn in hell.”
  • Prigozhin could simply be jockeying for power, but a less ambiguous sign that Russia is in trouble is that Belarus has set up new border controls for Russians trying to enter their borders.
  • The slow, careful work of governance undertaken by the Biden administration is a very different thing than what is offered by members of a party whose goal for forty years was to slash government and to use the military to make the world conform to U.S. goals, and whose goal now seems to be to ram through minority rule without bothering to follow the laws.
  • When asked about Iran’s attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, Sullivan implicitly criticized the impulsivity of the previous president, who abruptly pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities. “[T]he best way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is an effective agreement that stops them from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. He continued: “I regard the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, without anything to replace it or any strategy to deal with it other than the imposition of sanctions—which we have continued and added to actually,” with concern.
  • Today, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves illustrated the Republicans’ simplistic approach to governance when he announced his reelection campaign with a 12-second campaign video of his face superimposed on cowboy actor Clint Eastwood, shooting at Mexican “bandits.” The imagery tied directly into the history of the modern-day Republican Party, which rose on the image of the cowboy who would cut through the “socialism” of a government that used tax money to keep the playing field level and restore individual men to power.
  • But that was always just an image, and now, shown up against the reality of the complicated and hard work of governance, it has become cartoonish.


May 2, 2023


MAY 3, 2023

The end of the semester is always rough and I’ve had too many long nights, so tonight I am going to offer just one explanation about the debt clause in the Fourteenth Amendment: 

The debt ceiling crisis continues to dominate the news, with some speculation now that White House officials are wondering whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution might require the government to continue to pay its bills whether Congress actually raises the debt ceiling or not.

The fourth section of the Fourteenth Amendment reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

This statement was a response to a very specific threat. 

During the Civil War, the U.S. Treasury issued more than $2.5 billion in bonds to pay for the war effort. To make those bonds attractive to investors, Congress had made most of them payable in gold, along with their interest. That gold backing made them highly valuable in an economy plagued by inflation. 

In contrast, most working Americans used the nation’s first national currency, the greenbacks, introduced by Congress in 1862 and so called because they were printed with green ink on the back and black ink on the front—as our money still is; check out a dollar bill. Because greenbacks were backed only by the government’s ability to pay, their value tended to fluctuate. As Congress pumped more and more of them into the economy to pay expenses, inflation made their value decrease. 

National taxes funded the bonds, which meant that workers whose salary was paid in the depreciating greenbacks paid taxes to the government, which in turn paid interest to bondholders in rock-solid gold. After the war, workers noted that inflation meant their real wages had fallen during the war, while war contracts had poured money into the pockets of industrialists. 

Workers couldn’t do much about the war years and still faced years of paying off the wartime bonds. They began to call for repaying war bonds not in gold but in depreciated currency, insisting that taxpayers should not be bled dry for rich bondholders. Democrats, furious at wartime policies that had enriched industrialists and favored bankers, promised voters that if voters put them in control of Congress, they would put this policy into law.

Republican legislators who had created the bonds in the first place were horrified at the idea that Democrats were claiming the right to change the terms under which the debt had been sold. This, they said, was “repudiation” and would turn those who had invested in the United States against it. 

Bonds were about far more than just money. When the war broke out, the Treasury had turned to bankers to underwrite the war. But the bankers were notably reluctant to bet against the cotton-rich South and refused to provide the amount of help necessary. To keep the government afloat, Treasury officers had been forced to turn to ordinary Americans, who for four years had shouldered the financial burden of supporting their government. 

“It is your war,” Treasury Secretary William Pitt Fessenden wrote to the public in 1864. “Much effort has been made to shake public faith in our national credit, both at home and abroad…yet we have asked no foreign aid. Calm and self-reliant, our own means thus far have proved adequate to our wants. They are yet ample to meet those of the present and the future.” 

On April 3, 1865, the day the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, fell, bond salesman Jay Cooke hung from his office window a sign that featured the nicknames of the two most popular bond issues, along with an even larger banner that read:

“The Bravery of our Army

The Valor of our Navy

Sustained by our Treasury

Upon the Faith and 

Substance of

A Patriotic People.”

The debt was a symbol of a newly powerful national government that represented ordinary Americans rather than the elite enslavers who had controlled it before the war. “There has never been a national debt so generously distributed among and held by the masses of the people as all the obligations of the United States,” wrote an Indianapolis newspaper in 1865. “This shows at once the strength of popular institutions, and the confidence the people have in their perpetuity.” 

Undermining the value of U.S. bonds was an attack not just on the value of investments, but on the nation itself. When Republican lawmakers wrote the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866, they recognized that a refusal to meet the nation’s financial obligations would dismantle the government, and they defended the sanctity of the commitments the government had made. When voters ratified that amendment in 1868, they added to the Constitution, our fundamental law, the principle that the obligations of the country “shall not be questioned.”


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