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Today, one of former president Trump’s messages on the struggling right-wing social media platform Truth Social went viral. 

In the message, Trump again insisted that the 2020 presidential election had been characterized by “MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION,” and suggested the country should “throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or…have a NEW ELECTION.” 

Then he added: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!” 

In other words, Trump is calling for the overthrow of the Constitution that established this nation. He advocates the establishment of a dictator. 

This outrageous statement seems to reflect desperation from the former president as his political star fades and the many legal suits proceeding against him get closer and closer to their end dates. 

The midterm elections, in which the high-profile candidates he backed lost, prompted some members of his party to suggest it’s time to move on to new candidates. At the same time, lawsuits are heating up. The Department of Justice continues to investigate Trump’s role in the attempt to overturn the 2020 election, an attempt that led to the events of January 6, 2021.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the Washington, D.C., District Court recently rejected Trump’s claims of executive privilege and ordered Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and deputy counsel, Patrick Philbin, to provide additional testimony to a federal grand jury. On Friday, they each testified for several hours. On November 29, Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who worked with Trump on his speech at the Ellipse, also testified before the grand jury, 

The Department of Justice is also investigating Trump’s theft of documents when he left the White House. The December 1 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit declaring that Judge Aileen Cannon had no authority to allow Trump a special master to review the materials the FBI took when they searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 2022, had a very clear, concise rundown of what the government has so far recovered from the former president, and the list was damning. 

In the first group of documents Trump returned to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), after significant pressure to do so, included “184 documents marked at varying levels of classification, including twenty-five marked top secret.” After a subpoena, Trump’s lawyers returned another 38 classified documents, seventeen of which were marked top secret. Trump’s team declared that a “diligent search” had turned up only these items, and there were no more left.

But the FBI learned that there were, in fact, more documents still at Mar-a-Lago and obtained a search warrant. On August 8, FBI agents retrieved about “13,000 documents and a number of other items, totaling more than 22,000 pages of material…. [F]ifteen of the thirty-three seized boxes, containers, or groups of papers contained documents with classification markings, including three such documents found in desks” in Trump’s office. Agents found more than 100 documents marked confidential, secret, or top secret.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Special Counsel Jack Smith to oversee these two investigations after Trump announced an early candidacy for president in 2024. Smith got down to work immediately, sending out a letter on Thanksgiving Day itself. It seems likely there is good reason for Trump to be concerned.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, and South Carolina’s Supreme Court has ordered Trump’s White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify to that grand jury, another reason for the former president to be concerned.

And the Trump Organization’s trial for tax evasion is reaching a verdict, while the House Ways and Means Committee has finally received six years of Trump’s tax returns after years of attempts by the former president to keep them out of Congress’s hands. At Lawfare, Daniel J. Hemel says that as a matter of law, the committee can make the returns public. He counsels against it for a number of reasons (although he says they should be made public) but notes that the Senate Finance Committee, which will remain in Democratic hands, can now get access to the material easily and will be able to release it. If his attempt to hide his taxes was anything other than principled, there is reason for Trump to be concerned about this as well. 

So, the former president has reason to try to grab headlines with an outrageous statement about overthrowing the Constitution.

But the real story here is not Trump’s panic about his fading relevance and his legal exposure; it’s that Trump remains the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party in 2024. The leader of the Republican Party has just called for the overthrow of our fundamental law and the installation of a dictator. 

White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement: “The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. The Constitution brings the American people together—regardless of party—and elected leaders swear to uphold it. It’s the ultimate monument to all of the Americans who have given their lives to defeat self-serving despots that abused their power and trampled on fundamental rights. Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation, and should be universally condemned. You cannot only love America when you win.”

But Republicans, so far, are silent on Trump’s profound attack on the Constitution, the basis of our democratic government. 

That is the story, and it is earth shattering.


Vaughn Hillyard @VaughnHillyard

Trump is calling for subversion of the Constitution & either declaring him 2020 presidential winner or holding a “new election,” saying there should be “termination of all rules, regulations, & articles, even those found in the Constitution” to undo Biden’s right to presidency.


2:06 PM ∙ Dec 3, 20222,560Likes820Retweets

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NOV 30

Today, after an eight-week trial and three days of deliberations, a jury of five women and seven men found Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 57, the founder and leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers gang, and Kelly Meggs, 53, who led the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, guilty of seditious conspiracy and other charges related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. It found Rhodes guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents and proceedings, and found Meggs guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.

The jury also found three additional defendants from the organization—Kenneth Harrelson, 42; Jessica Watkins, 40; and Thomas Caldwell, 68—guilty of related felony charges.

The Department of Justice proved that after President Joe Biden won the November 3, 2020, election, Rhodes, Meggs, and others began plotting to use force to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. 

Beginning in late December 2020, they planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around January 6, 2021, to stop Congress from certifying the electoral college vote that would officially elect Biden. They recruited others, organized combat training sessions, and smuggled paramilitary gear to the area around the Capitol. They planned to take control of the Capitol grounds and buildings on January 6. 

According to the Department of Justice, on that day, “Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins, along with other Oath Keepers and affiliates—many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia—marched in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol. Rhodes and Caldwell remained outside the Capitol, where they coordinated activities” and stayed in touch with quick reaction force teams outside the city, which were ready to bring in firearms to stop the transfer of power. 

That a jury has now found two people guilty of seditious conspiracy establishes that a conspiracy existed. Former federal prosecutor Randall D. Eliason, who teaches law at George Washington University, told reporters Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman, and Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: “Now the only remaining question is how much higher did those plans go, and who else might be held criminally responsible.” While federal prosecutors sought only to tie Rhodes to the other Oath Keepers, both sides agreed that Rhodes communicated with Trump allies Roger Stone, Ali Alexander, and Michael Flynn after the election. 

There are two more seditious conspiracy trials scheduled for December. One is for five other Oath Keepers; the other is against the leaders of the far-right gang the Proud Boys, led by Henry ‘Enrique’ Tarrio. 

Yesterday, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election are not covered by presidential immunity as his lawyers argued. The judge noted that he was acting not as a president in defense of the Constitution, but rather in a different role as a candidate when he tried to overturn the election. Sullivan said: “Persuasive authority in this district specifically recognizes that there is no immunity defense for Former President Trump for ‘unofficial acts’ which ‘entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term.’”

The South Carolina Supreme Court today unanimously ordered Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s last White House chief of staff, to testify before the Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Meadows was on the phone call Trump made to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger on January 2 to demand he “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” making his testimony key to the investigation. Meadows lives in South Carolina, where he tried to argue that he could not testify because of executive privilege. Lower South Carolina courts disagreed, and now the state’s supreme Court has said that Meadows’s arguments are “manifestly without merit.” 

In Washington, Trump advisor Stephen Miller testified today before the grand jury investigating the events of January 6, 2021. The Justice Department subpoenaed Miller in September. He also testified before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Also in Washington today, the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which provides federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages for the purposes of federal benefits like Social Security, and requires states to recognize such marriages, although it does not require them to perform such marriages. The law is an attempt to get out in front of the Supreme Court, whose right-wing members have suggested they would invalidate marriage equality after ending protections for reproductive rights. Thirty-six Republicans voted against the bill, with 12 Republicans joining the Democrats to pass it. 

The Senate bill amends one passed in July by the House, which will now have to agree to the changed measure and is expected to do so. House speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a vote for next week.

Today Pelosi also announced that Congress will take up the legislation Biden asked for yesterday: a law to put in place the deal between the railroad corporations and the railway unions. Four of 12 unions have rejected the deal because of its lack of paid sick days. In a letter to her colleagues, Pelosi expressed reluctance to bypass standard ratification procedures but said, “we must act to prevent a catastrophic strike that would touch the lives of nearly every family: erasing hundreds of thousands of jobs, including union jobs; keeping food and medicine off the shelves; and stopping small businesses from getting their goods to market.”

She promised to bring the measure up for a vote tomorrow. 

But, in typical Pelosi fashion, she has found a way to demonstrate to union members and to lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who are angry at Biden’s determination to avoid a strike, that those standing in the way of paid leave for the unions are not the Democrats. After the vote on the agreement, she will hold a “separate, up-or-down vote to add seven days of paid sick leave for railroaders to the Tentative Agreement.” Such a measure is likely to pass the House and die under a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

While the jury was handing down its verdict in the case of Stewart Rhodes, who said on tape that he would “hang f*ckin’ Pelosi from the lamppost,” Speaker Pelosi was lighting the Capitol Christmas tree with fourth-grader Catcuce Micco Tiger, who is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and has ancestry from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

Tiger won the role of youth tree lighter with an essay sharing the Cherokee origin story for evergreen trees. “After creating all plants and animals,” Pelosi explained, “our Creator asked them to fast, pray, and stay awake for seven nights. But at the end, only a few were awake. The trees that stayed awake were rewarded with the ability to keep their leaves yearlong and with special healing powers. It is a story of faith and gratitude—of hope enduring through the dark night.”

“And,” Pelosi added, “it is hope that we celebrate each holiday season—that through the cold and dark winter, spring will someday come.”  

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who defended the Capitol against the Oath Keepers on January 6, heard the jury’s verdict, then watched the tree lighting.


Adam Parkhomenko @AdamParkhomenko

The US Capitol Christmas tree was being lit by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was being convicted of seditious conspiracy in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Perfect.11:01 PM ∙ Nov 29, 20225,491Likes694Retweets

Rick Petree @RickPetree

@OneMargaux @FrankFigliuzzi1 It’s the clear message of this verdict: not only is seditious conspiracy chargeable, this particular seditious conspiracy is officially a *fact.* It happened. Conspiracies, by definition, have multiple participants. The table is set for Smith.2:19 AM ∙ Nov 30, 2022160Likes38Retweets

Rep. Eric Swalwell @RepSwalwell

Just saw Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn (@libradunn) at @uscapitol tree lighting. He had just witnessed the Rhodes guilty verdict for Seditious Conspiracy. I’m so happy for Harry and every officer from January 6 that they’re witnessing justice come to roost.


11:46 PM ∙ Nov 29, 202221,607Likes3,030Retweets

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NOV 26

Yesterday, Representative Mary Peltola (D-AK) won Alaska’s House seat for a full term after taking it this summer in a special election to replace Representative Don Young (R-AK), who died in office in March after 49 years in Congress. Peltola is the first woman to represent Alaska and, as Yup’ik, is the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress.

Peltola was endorsed by Alaskans of both parties, including Republicans like Senator Lisa Murkowski. Peltola promised to protect abortion and the salmon fisheries and was elected thanks to Alaska’s recent adoption of ranked choice voting, in which votes from poorly polling candidates are redistributed to those at the top until one gets more than 50%. This method of voting tends to favor moderates. Peltola’s reelection stopped former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, whom Trump endorsed, from reentering politics.

Murkowski has also won reelection, defeating a Trump-backed challenger endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party. Trump targeted Murkowski after she voted to convict him for incitement of insurrection during his second impeachment after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The reelections of Peltola and Murkowski illustrate that we are, in many different ways, at a sea change moment in American history.

In the past two years, Democrats have successfully pushed back on forty years of efforts to dismantle the business regulation, basic social safety net, promotion of infrastructure, protection of civil rights, and international cooperation that were the fundamental principles underpinning American government after the Depression and World War II. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with the Democratic Congress, have rebuilt some of the economic fairness of the old system and invested in infrastructure, while Biden, Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have strengthened the foreign alliances that the former president had undermined.

Democratic leadership is also changing in the House of Representatives as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have stepped out of the top three leadership roles in the House to make way for members of a new generation, presumably Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Pete Aguilar (D-CA). Pelosi’s team has defended the liberal consensus and expanded it into health care and measures to address climate change; the new generation of Democrats seems likely to center issues like childcare and racial equality more fully than their predecessors did.

These changes embrace the demographic change the last election made so clear. Gen Z—the generation born after 1997—is racially and ethnically diverse. Its members want the government to do more to solve problems than it has done in their lifetime, and they are now politically awake. That generation looks much like the Millennials from the generation preceding it—those born between 1981 and 1996—and both groups strongly favor Democratic policies.

Peltola reflects another change visible after the election: the record number of women elected to office this cycle. Peltola will add one more woman to the House of Representatives, bringing the total to 124, one more than the record set by the current Congress. Murkowski will bring the total of female senators to 25, which is one fewer than the record of 26, set in 2020 thanks to a few special appointments for unexpectedly empty seats.

But the place women’s representation really changed in 2022 was in the number of women elected to govern their states. In 2018, just 16 female candidates ran for governorships. In 2022, there were 36 governor’s contests, and 25 women ran in them. Until now there have been only 45 women governors in our history, and only 9 in office at one time.

Beginning in 2023, a record number of twelve women will hold governorships. Incumbent female governors in Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, Michigan and South Dakota were reelected. Voters in Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon elected new governors who are women. And New Yorkers elected Kathy Hochul, who took office initially in 2021 to replace resigning governor Andrew Cuomo.

Meredith Conroy and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux of FiveThirtyEight note that historically, voters are less likely to vote for women for solo offices than as group lawmakers, but Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, told Jennifer Shutt of the Idaho Capital Sun that a number of factors fed the success rate of women candidates this cycle. First, there is now a long enough history of women in high positions of leadership that voters have confidence in them, especially as some of them—like Kay Ivey in Alabama and Hochul in New York—stepped into their positions after their male predecessors resigned in disgrace.

Even more key, perhaps, was the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion guaranteed in 1973 by Roe v. Wade. Women turned out to protect their right to healthcare in this election and, not surprisingly, they turned to women governors who made protecting abortion care central to their reelection campaigns.

The female governors have a great deal of legislative experience, perhaps in part because their rise through the political ranks has been slow as it has been hampered by resistance. Republicans reelected female governors in South Dakota, Iowa, and Alabama and added Trump’s former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as governor of Arkansas. While Sanders has no experience in elected office, the other three—South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, and Alabama’s Kay Ivey—all have significant experience in their state governments and, in Noem’s case, in Congress.

The same is even more true on the Democratic side. Maine’s Janet Mills, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Arizona’s Katie Hobbs, New York’s Kathy Hochul, New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham, Oregon’s Tina Kotek, and Kansas’s Laura Kelly all have legislative experience; Maura Healey of Massachusetts twice won election as state attorney general.

While Noem made headlines for her fervent support of former president Trump, the new Democratic governors all ran as competent administrators who strongly opposed Trump-type politics. Maine’s Mills ran against a former governor who once described himself as “Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” and Michigan’s Whitmer was such a target of the former president that she became the target of a kidnapping and murder plot.

This focus on competence and moderation clearly boosted Peltola and Murkowski, along with female candidates for governor, but the expansion of representation still does not come close to reflecting the actual percentage of women in the U.S. population. Nor does it reflect racial and ethnic identities. Women representatives are more diverse than in the Senate, but only two women senators—Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI)—are Asian American, and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is Latina. Since Vice President Kamala Harris resigned from the Senate to take her current office, there have been no Black women in the Senate.

Of the women governors, only New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is Latina, and voters have not yet put a Black women governor at the head of a state. They did, though, put Karen Bass, a Black former congressional representative, in charge of Los Angeles, with record voter turnout. Bass will be the first female mayor in the city’s 241-year history, and her charge is a big one: the city’s 3.8 million people give it more inhabitants than 22 U.S. states. Voters have also embraced other diversity: the new governors in Massachusetts and Oregon are openly lesbian.

That female candidates won so many seats—some contests had women running against each other—is “a really good reminder that women get to be as diverse in their viewpoints and perspectives, priorities, et cetera, as their male counterparts,” Dittmar told Jasmine Mithani of The 19th. “We get to see that being a woman candidate, being a woman doesn’t mean the same thing for everybody.”

The expansion of our political representation to reflect the many different people in our diverse democracy can only be a good thing.


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NOV 23

For many Americans today, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, represents a dramatic break from what came before. Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullets hacked a chasm between an idyllic Camelot and the chaos and division of the modern era.

But at the time, Americans were eager to see not a break, but continuity. And no one recognized this need more viscerally than the two presidents who served on either side of President Kennedy—Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson—although their goals were very different.

One of the first people to whom Johnson turned upon his sudden elevation to the presidency was former president Eisenhower. After all, Eisenhower had stepped down from the leadership of the free world less than three years before, and Johnson understood that having Ike’s stamp of approval on his own unexpected presidency would give it stability and enable him to move his policies forward. Johnson hoped to get Eisenhower to tell the press that he would stand behind the new president.

For his part, Eisenhower disliked Johnson and distrusted his familiarity and was too smart to let Johnson box him in. A transcript of the telephone call Johnson placed to Eisenhower on the evening of November 22 reveals Johnson coaxing: “You know how much I have admired you through the years.”

Eisenhower replied: “The country is far more important than any of us.”

Although he publicly and repeatedly pledged his support to the government, the Republican ex-president declined to issue a joint statement declaring his political support for the Democrat Johnson.

But, like the new president, Eisenhower saw the need to emphasize to Americans that the country would survive the first murder of a president since Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley in 1901. Pulled out of a meeting at the United Nations to address the news of Kennedy’s assassination, Eisenhower spoke to reporters off the cuff to insist that Americans were too solid and faithful to let fanatics derail their government.

“I’m sure the entire citizenry of this nation will join as one man in expressing not only their grief but their indignation at this act, and will stand faithfully behind the government,” Eisenhower said. Relying on the lessons of history, he went on to detail how the nation had responded to every other presidential murder or assassination attempt in American history: attacks on Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. In each case, regardless of the partisan affiliation of either the president or the assassin, Eisenhower noted, Americans had rallied behind the government, and the nation had moved on.

For Eisenhower, the American government stood above the president and above party. “These things have happened,” he said, “and it seems inexplicable to me, because Americans are loyal, and it is just this occasional psychopathic sort of accident that occurs and I don’t know what we can do about it…. In civilized countries of the world this doesn’t happen….”



NOV 18

Yesterday, midterm results gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives after a campaign in which they emphasized inflation; today, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has received his party’s nomination to become speaker of the House, along with other Republican leadership, outlined for reporters their plans for the session. 

“We must be relentless in our oversight of this administration,” the number 2 Republican in the House, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, told his colleagues. They plan to begin a raft of investigations: into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, the origins of Covid-19, the FBI, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and so on. But not, apparently, inflation. 

Republicans have relied on congressional investigations to smear the Democrats since 1994, the year after the Democrats passed the so-called Motor Voter Act, making it easier to register to vote. After that midterm election, they accused two Democratic lawmakers of being elected thanks to “voter fraud” and used their power in Congress to launch long investigations that turned up no wrongdoing but convinced many Americans that the country had a problem with illegal voting (which is vanishingly rare).

House Republicans also led six investigations of the 2012 attack on two United States government facilities in Benghazi, Libya. That attack by a militant Islamic group while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state left four Americans dead. After several committees had found no significant wrongdoing, Republicans in the House created a select committee to reopen the case, and Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

And then, of course, there were Secretary of State Clinton’s emails before the 2016 election, and former president Donald Trump’s attempt in 2019 to force Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into a company on whose board Joe Biden’s son Hunter sat in order to weaken Biden before the 2020 election. 

House oversight of the executive branch is actually a really important part of the House’s role, and yet it is one that Trump Republicans have rejected when Democrats were at the helm. Just yesterday, former vice president Mike Pence did so, saying that Congress had “no right” to his testimony before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. In fact, presidents and vice presidents have acknowledged their responsibility to testify to Congress back as far as… George Washington. 

It is not clear, though, that upcoming Republican investigations will have the teeth the older ones did. True believers are demanding the investigations—and some are already hoping for impeachments—but this tactic might not be as effective now that Americans have been reminded what it’s like to have a Congress that accomplishes major legislation. Democratic strategists are also launching a rapid-response team, the Congressional Integrity Project, to push back on the investigations and the investigators.

The switch in control of the House of Representatives has brought another historic change.

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she is stepping down from party leadership, although she will continue to serve in the House. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect,” she told her colleagues. Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is also stepping away from a leadership position. Both of them are over 80.

Pelosi was elected to Congress in a special election in 1987, becoming one of 12 Democratic women (now there are more than 90). She was first elected speaker in 2007, the first woman ever to hold that role. She was speaker until the Democrats lost the House in 2011, then was reelected to the position in 2019, and has held it since. Jackie Calmes of the Los Angeles Times tweeted: “As an ex–Congress reporter, I can speak to the records of 8 of the 55 House speakers, 4 Dem[ocrat]s & 4 R[epublican]s back to Tip O’Neill. I’m not alone in counting Pelosi as the best of the bunch. 2 Dem[ocratic] presidents owe their leg[islati]v[e] successes to her; 2 GOP presidents were repeatedly foiled by her.”

Pelosi began her speech to her colleagues by remembering her first sight of the U.S. Capitol when her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was sworn in for his fifth congressional term representing Baltimore. She was six.

She called attention to the Capitol in which they stood: “the most beautiful building in the world—because of what it represents. The Capitol is a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”

“In this room, our colleagues across history have abolished slavery; granted women the right to vote; established Social Security and Medicare; offered a hand to the weak, care to the sick, education to the young, and hope to the many,” she reminded them, doing “the People’s work.”

“American Democracy is majestic—but it is fragile. Many of us here have witnessed its fragility firsthand—tragically, in this Chamber. And so, Democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm,” she said, and she praised the voters last week who “resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection” and “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Despite our disagreements on policy, she said, “we must remain fully committed to our shared, fundamental mission: to hold strong to our most treasured Democratic ideals, to cherish the spark of divinity in each and every one of us, and to always put our Country first.”

She said it had been her “privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people,” and noted pointedly—because she worked with four presidents—“I have enjoyed working with three Presidents, achieving: Historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush. Transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama. And forging the future—from infrastructure to health care to climate action—with President Joe Biden. Now, we must move boldly into the future….” 

“A new day is dawning on the horizon,” she said, “And I look forward—always forward—to the unfolding story of our nation. A story of light and love. Of patriotism and progress. Of many becoming one. And, always, an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”


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NOV 12

In 1918, at the end of four years of World War I’s devastation, leaders negotiated for the guns in Europe to fall silent once and for all on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. That armistice was not technically the end of the war, which came with the Treaty of Versailles. Leaders signed that treaty on June 28, 1919, exactly five years to the day after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off the conflict. But the armistice declared on November 11 held, and Armistice Day became popularly known as the day “The Great War,” which killed at least 40 million people, ended.

In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated Armistice Day, saying that Americans would reflect on the anniversary of the armistice “with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations….”

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution noting that since November 11, 1918, “marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed,” the anniversary of that date “should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

In 1938, Congress made November 11 a legal holiday to be dedicated to world peace.

But neither the “war to end all wars” nor the commemorations of it, ended war.

Just three years after Congress made Armistice Day a holiday, American armed forces were fighting a Second World War, even more devastating than the first. Then, in 1950, American forces went to Korea.

In 1954, to honor the armed forces of those later conflicts, Congress amended the law creating Armistice Day by striking out the word “armistice” and putting “veterans” in its place. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a veteran who had served as the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe and who had become a five-star general of the Army before his political career, later issued a proclamation asking Americans to observe Veterans Day: “[L]et us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

Central to Eisenhower’s vision, and to the American vision for world peace after World War II, was the idea of a rules-based international order. Rather than trying to push their own boundaries and interests whenever they could gain advantage, countries agreed to abide by a series of rules that promoted peace, economic cooperation, and security. The new system provided places for countries to discuss their differences—like the United Nations, founded in 1945—and mechanisms for them to protect each other, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), established in 1949, which has a mutual defense pact that says any attack on a NATO country will be considered an attack on all of them.

In the years since, these agreements have multiplied and been deepened and broadened to include more countries and more ties. While the U.S. has sometimes failed to honor them, their central theory remains important: no country should be able to attack its neighbor, slaughter its people, and steal its lands at will. It is a concept that has preserved decades of relative peace compared to the horrors of the early twentieth century, and it is one the current administration is working hard to reestablish as autocrats increasingly reject the idea of a rules-based international order and claim the right to act however they wish.

In the modern world, Ukraine’s battle to throw off a Russian invasion is a defense of the rules-based international system. Today, Ukrainians celebrated as Ukrainian soldiers forced Russian invaders out of the southern city of Kherson in one of the Ukrainian regions Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed for Russia just a month ago.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a televised message for people in the United States today:

“On behalf of all Ukrainians, Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service.

“For almost 250 years the men and women of the United States armed forces have prevailed against tyranny, often against great odds. ​Your example inspires Ukrainians today to fight back against Russian tyranny. Special thanks to the many American veterans who have volunteered to fight in Ukraine, and to the American people for the amazing support you have given Ukraine. With your help, we have stunned the world and are pushing Russian forces back. Victory will be ours. God bless America and Slava Ukraini.”


Володимир Зеленський @ZelenskyyUa

For almost 250 years the men and women of the United States armed forces have prevailed against tyranny. ​Your example inspires Ukrainians today to fight back against Russian aggression. On behalf of all Ukrainians, Happy Veterans Day and thank you for your service.


12:45 PM ∙ Nov 11, 202287,017Likes15,688Retweets



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Not sure if you’ve heard, but the U.S. midterm elections are tomorrow.

Just kidding, of course. Not sure anyone can think of much else.

Remember, though, this election is full of wild cards. Traditionally—but not always—the party of the president does poorly in the first midterm election. But we are in uncharted territory: never before in our history have more than half of Americans lost the recognition of a constitutional right, as the Supreme Court took from us with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision in June, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to an abortion.

Never, too, have we had to vote in an election where more than half the candidates of one of the parties deny that the president was fairly elected. Those candidates have suggested that, had they been in power in 2020, they would have put former president Donald Trump in power even though he lost the popular vote by more than 7 million and lost in the Electoral College. Their position is a profound attack on our democracy.

For all the polls showing that Democrats are going to win in huge numbers or Republicans are, no one knows how it will turn out. The polls are deeply problematic this time around, and at least some of them are attempts by Republicans to boost the hopes of their donors and to keep Democrats from voting. Perhaps even more than most elections, this one will come down to turnout.

There are, though, some stories worth following:

There has been a crazy amount of money invested in this year’s contests, much of it by a very few people. Ronald Lauder, for example, the 78-year-old heir to the cosmetics fortune, has dumped at least $11 million into getting a Trump Republican, Representative Lee Zeldin, elected governor of New York. Billionaire Peter Thiel put $30 million into super PACs backing Republican senate candidates J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona.

Today, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and the leader of the private military company the Wagner Group, who is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, boasted that Russians had interfered in U.S. elections and continue to do so. “We have interfered, we are interfering and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.” He added: “During our pinpoint operations, we will remove both kidneys and the liver at once.”

Prigozhin is apparently behind the Russia-based “troll farms” that try to affect U.S. elections. Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times writes that Russians have indeed targeted the 2022 elections to make right-wing voters angry and undermine trust in U.S. elections. Their hope is to erode support for Ukraine’s struggle to repel Russian invasion by electing Republicans who side with Putin.

Republicans are not acting as if they expect big wins tomorrow. Many of the Republican candidates have refused to say they would accept the election results, and Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson is already saying that Democrats will steal the election.

Others are fighting to get Democratic mail-in ballots thrown out, especially in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Still others are trying to game the vote count already, claiming that results that are not announced by the end of the day on Tuesday are suspicious. But votes postmarked on Election Day can take days to arrive. In addition, a number of Republican-dominated states have made it illegal to count mail-in votes before Election Day, creating backlogs that take time to work through. It sounds as if they, like Trump in 2020, are expecting to lose the actual vote and to fight to steal it.

The Department of Justice will be monitoring the polls in 64 jurisdictions in 24 states to make sure those jurisdictions comply with federal voting rights laws. Officials remind voters that any disruptions at polling places should be reported to officials. Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson expressed thanks to the Department of Justice for “real support for protecting voters,” which she said was missing in 2020 under the former president.

Aside from tomorrow’s election, there is an epic fight brewing in the Republican Party. Former president Donald Trump threatened to announce tonight at a rally in Ohio that he is running for president in 2024, likely because he believes such an announcement will make it harder for the Department of Justice to indict him for his theft of classified documents when he left the White House. He is also concerned that Florida governor Ron DeSantis will steal his thunder and capture the 2024 nomination, but because they are competing for the same voters, an announcement from Trump will undercut DeSantis.

Republican Party leaders urged Trump to hold off on the announcement, worrying it would energize Democratic voters before Election Day. In the end, Trump’s announcement tonight was: “I’m going to be making a very big announcement on Tuesday, November 15, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida…. We want nothing to detract from the importance of tomorrow.”

Finally, for all the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s election, there is one thing of which I am 100% certain. Far more Americans today are concerned about our democracy, and determined to reclaim it, than were even paying attention to it in 2016. There are new organizations, new connections, new voters, new efforts to remake the country better than it has ever been, and the frantic efforts of the Republicans to suppress voting, gerrymander the country, and now to take away our right to choose our leaders indicates we are far more powerful than we believe we are. No matter what happens tomorrow, that will continue to be true, and I am ever so proud to be one of you.


Matt Ortega @MattOrtega

This is absolute bullshit. Some states, like Pennsylvania, prohibit counting early votes until election day. No serious person claims votes must be counted by x time or day or be discarded, especially as Republicans demand time consuming hand counts.

Aaron Rupar @atrupar

Trump lawyer Christina Bobb previews that MAGAs will try to declare victory as votes are being counted: “There should absolutely be a result no later than the middle of the night, early Wed. morning. I think those areas that don’t have a result, it’s gonna look very suspicious” AM ∙ Nov 8, 2022708Likes278Retweets

Aaron Rupar @atrupar

Trump lawyer Christina Bobb previews that MAGAs will try to declare victory as votes are being counted: “There should absolutely be a result no later than the middle of the night, early Wed. morning. I think those areas that don’t have a result, it’s gonna look very suspicious”


12:09 AM ∙ Nov 8, 20222,140Likes780Retweets

Brian Tyler Cohen @briantylercohen

Trump: “I’m going to be making a very big announcement on Tuesday, November 15 at Mar-a-Lago in Florida… We want nothing to detract from the importance of tomorrow.”3:08 AM ∙ Nov 8, 20221,541Likes207Retweets

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 While most of us have been watching the jockeying around the election, our legal system has continued to work on its own clock.

Yesterday morning, Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein, and Nicholas Wu of Politico reported more about the eight emails lawyer John Eastman, who wrote the memo outlining a plan by which then–vice president Mike Pence could steal the 2020 election for Donald Trump, tried to hide from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. The emails included discussions between Eastman, fellow Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, and others about how to stop Congress from counting the certified 2020 electoral ballots on January 6, 2021.

In the emails, Chesebro urged arranging to get a case before Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court so he could issue a stay that would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election in Georgia. They should “frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt.” Thomas oversees the circuit court that includes Georgia, and he would “end up being key” to getting Biden’s victory overturned.

Eastman responded: “I think I agree with this.” Such a move by Thomas could “kick the Georgia legislature into gear.”

As a young lawyer, Eastman clerked for Thomas, and Dan Froomkin of PressWatchers noted that Eastman and others were in this same period of time writing to Thomas’s wife, Ginni, who was urging state legislators to overturn the election by submitting fake slates of electors.

Froomkin pointed to a New York Times article from June 15, 2022, which explained that on December 24, 2020, five days after Trump had announced a “protest” at the Ellipse to be held on January 6, Eastman wrote to Chesebro that Eastman had heard there was a “heated fight” among the Supreme Court justices about whether they should take up the election issue. Chesebro replied that the “odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”

So we seem to have a deliberate attempt to throw a court case to Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife was urging the overthrow of the election, and to pressure the Supreme Court to act by creating chaos in the streets, all in order to keep former president Trump in the White House.

In the case of the 11,000 government documents the former president took to Mar-a-Lago, the Department of Justice has offered immunity in the case to Kash Patel, a man closely tied to former president Trump, to testify about Trump’s handling of those documents. Patel has previously invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, after telling the right-wing Breitbart media network that Trump declassified the documents before he left the White House in January 2021. Prosecutors cannot use anything Patel says against him at trial so long as he testifies truthfully. A federal judge ordered him to testify before a grand jury, which he did today.

In the case of the Trump Organization’s fraudulent business practices, New York Judge Arthur Engoron today ordered an independent monitor to oversee the Trump Organization and blocked it from transferring assets without court approval. Trump lawyers complained that this move was “about seizing control of a successful company,” but the attorney general’s office said it was trying to guard against “ongoing fraudulent activity or deceptive activity.” In September, on the same day the New York attorney general’s office brought suit against the Trump Organization for fraudulent business practices, representatives from that organization created a new company called Trump Organization II. The judge has appointed a monitor to make sure the old company doesn’t transfer assets to the new company to avoid legal action.

Trump promptly attacked the decision, calling Engoron “a puppet judge” and saying the decision is “Communism come to our shores.” Later, he told a crowd that “a radical left lunatic judge in New York City who is totally controlled by my worst enemies in the Democrat Party…started a process of property confiscation that is akin to Venezuela, Cuba, or the old Soviet Union.”

The characterization of a decision to make sure the Trump Organization does not continue to break the law after a pattern of fraudulent behavior as “Communism” is a product of the U.S. interpretation of the 1991 fall of the USSR. Republicans then made the mistake of assuming that democracy and unfettered capitalism always traveled together. Over the years, Republicans have largely ignored the “democracy” part of that equation and continually doubled down on the idea that the American system means that businesses should be able to do whatever they wished. In that warped formulation, any oversight must be like Soviet-style communism.

Trump also called his followers on his social media site to “fight back against radical tyranny and save our Country!”

This call for violence echoes the former president’s calls to stop the counting of the certified electoral votes on January 6, 2021, and it illustrates why it is so important for the Department of Justice to enforce the laws. If there is no penalty for lawbreaking, there is no deterrent from breaking laws going forward. But, in fact, the Justice Department has been calling to account those who participated in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol: in September, former New York City police officer Thomas Webster was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

With actual penalties mounting against those who answered to Trump’s previous calls for violence, it is unclear how many will answer again, although Trump appeared to be trying to rally them with what observers say is a frivolous lawsuit filed yesterday against the New York attorney general, Letitia James, complaining that “she attacks great and upstanding businesses.”

Penalties appear to be mounting for those breaking the law for Republican election victories. Republican operatives Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of telecommunications fraud for robocalls to depress the Black vote in Cleveland in 2020 and are facing fines and up to a year in prison. And earlier this week, a judge ordered two leaders of True the Vote, a right-wing organization pushing the voter fraud conspiracy theories at the heart of the debunked film 2000 Mules, to jail for contempt of court. An election logistics software company they have publicly accused of stealing the election for Biden has sued them for defamation; they claim to have evidence of election fraud but have refused to produce it.

Meanwhile, the Trump Organization is currently on trial in New York for criminal tax fraud. Prosecutors allege the company avoided taxes by paying executives with apartments, cars, and school tuitions.

While legal news has piled up, the upcoming midterm elections have not gone away. Tonight, television personality Oprah Winfrey, who was largely responsible for bringing Republican Mehmet Oz to national prominence on her television show, endorsed his Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, for senator from Pennsylvania.—

Notes: Froomkin/ @froomkinThese same lawyers were emailing with Ginny Thomas at the time. One wrote that the “odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”…Twitter avatar for @sarahdwireSarah D. Wire@sarahdwireTrump lawyers saw Justice Thomas as ‘only chance’ to stop 2020 election certification via @politico2:51 PM ∙ Nov 2, 2022241Likes131Retweets @AcynTrump: Just moments ago, a radical left lunatic judge in NY City who is totally controlled by my worst enemies in the Democrat Party… started a process of property confiscation that is akin to Venezuela, Cuba, and the old Soviet Union 12:52 AM ∙ Nov 4, 20221,060Likes172Retweets Alene @JoyceWhiteVanceActually, the judge’s ruling makes the business environment in NY safer and more secure for businesses, by rooting out wrongdoers who benefit from fraudulent behavior and skew the markets for insurance, among other things. New York enacted Blue Sky laws to protect its citizens. 11:32 PM ∙ Nov 3, 20223,773Likes822RetweetsShareYou’re a free subscriber to Letters from an American. For the full experience, become a paid subscriber.Upgrade to paid LIKECOMMENTSHARE © 2022 Heather Cox Richardson
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The Biden White House has tried since President Joe Biden’s inauguration to move past the Trump years and to focus instead on strengthening democracy by rebuilding the American middle class and by renewing our alliances and friendships with democratic allies. As his message has repeatedly been drowned out by the cultural messaging of the Republicans, Biden has begun to criticize their economic plans more directly, especially in the last few weeks. Today the White House released a fact sheet laying out exactly what it would look like to have the Republicans’ economic plans put into effect.

The Republican Party as a whole has not put forward a legislative agenda before this election to attract voters. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told donors, lobbyists, and senators in December 2021 that the party would focus only on attacking Biden and the Democrats. A Republican operative told Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene of Axios, “One of the biggest mistakes challengers often make is thinking campaigns are about them and their ideas…. No one gives a sh*t about that. Elections are referendums on incumbents.”

Other Republicans disagreed with McConnell and have offered plans that cater to their base but run the risk of alienating non-MAGA voters. The White House highlighted some of those points today, focusing on prescription drug costs, Social Security, and Medicare.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in August with Democratic votes alone, allows Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies, caps the annual cost of medication at $2,000, caps insulin costs for those on Medicare at $35 a month, and lowers health care premiums for those whose coverage comes from the Affordable Care Act. 

The White House said that Republicans want to repeal these measures, and in October, Senate Republicans James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee (UT), Cynthia Lummis (WY), and Marco Rubio (FL) in fact introduced the “Protecting Drug Innovation Act” to remove the negotiation ability, price caps, and health care premium adjustments in the Inflation Reduction Act “as if such parts had never been enacted.” Lee explained that “price controls never work” but instead “exacerbate the problems they seek to resolve. Mandating fixed prescription drug prices will ultimately result in the shortening of American lives.”

Republican leaders have also called for policies that threaten Social Security and Medicare. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which funds senatorial campaigns, issued an eleven-point plan to “Rescue America” that called for—among other things—sunsetting all laws five years after passage and reauthorizing the ones that lawmakers wanted to keep. (Scott later added a twelfth point to the plan: cutting taxes.) 

When challenged that his plan would threaten Medicare, Scott has repeated a talking point that Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, CNN, and have all called false: that Democrats are threatening Medicare because they “cut $280 billion out of Medicare.” In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act saves the government—and therefore taxpayers—somewhere between $237 billion and $288 billion by permitting it to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies; it does not cut services. In other words, Scott is lying that reduced government spending on Medicare thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act—savings the Republicans want to end—is the same thing as calling to sunset the program in five years. 

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has called for making the funding for Social Security and Medicare discretionary, meaning it would have to be voted on annually, rather than leaving it as mandatory, covered by statute. “We’ve got to turn everything into discretionary spending, so it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson told a right-wing radio show. “Because, again, as long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”

Like the plans of other Republicans, those of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), chaired by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, start from the position that taxes on the wealthy hurt workers by causing “the misallocation of capital, creating a less robust economy, and leading to slower wage growth and job creation.” The RSC released a budget in September that rejected the idea of raising taxes to stabilize Medicare and Social Security and instead called for increasing the age for Medicare eligibility to 67 and that for Social Security eligibility to 70. 

The Republican argument for weakening these popular programs is that they are too big a drain on the federal budget and that it is important to continue cutting taxes on the wealthy in order to free up capital for them to reinvest in the economy. This has been Republicans’ argument since 1980, but it has never produced either the economic growth or the tax revenue its supporters promised. In contrast, Biden and the Democrats maintain that cutting the nation’s social safety net will create hardship that will not be offset by tax cuts for the wealthy.  

Biden and former president Barack Obama, who has been speaking in states with close races, have repeatedly made the point that Americans pay into Social Security throughout their working lives and have earned the payments they eventually receive. Today, in front of an audience in Florida, Biden read directly from Scott’s plan to sunset laws, quoted Johnson’s plan to make Social Security discretionary, and said “Who in the hell do they think they are?”


Sarah Reese Jones @PoliticusSarah

Biden literally reads Rick Scott’s plan to get rid of Social Security and Medicare to the audience in Florida, and after talking about Scott and Sen. Ron Johnson says, “Who in the hell do they think they are?”


7:28 PM ∙ Nov 1, 202213,777Likes5,207Retweets

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Where Will This Political Violence Lead? Look to the 1850s.

In the mid-19th century, a pro-slavery minority — encouraged by lawmakers — used violence to stifle a growing anti-slavery majority. It wasn’t long before the other side embraced force as a necessary response.

The destruction of the city of Lawrence, Kansas, and the massacre of its inhabitants by the Rebel guerrillas, August 21, 1863. Quantrill’s Raid. | Wikimedia Commons


10/29/2022 01:10 PM EDT

Early Friday morning, an intruder broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and bludgeoned her husband, Paul Pelosi, 82, on the head with a hammer.

Details are still scant, but early indications suggest that the suspect, David Depape, is an avid purveyor of anti-Semitic, QAnon and MAGA conspiracy theories. Before the attack, the assailant reportedly shouted, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?”

This is the United States of America in 2022. A country where political violence — including the threat of political violence — has become a feature, not a bug.

Armed men wearing tactical gear and face coverings outside ballot drop boxes in Arizona. Members of Congress threatening to bring guns onto the House floor — or actually trying to do it. Prominent Republican members of Congress, and their supporters on Fox News, stoking violence against their political opponents by accusing them of being pedophilesterrorists and groomers — of conspiring with “globalists” (read: Jews) to “replace” white people with immigrants.

And of course, January 6, and subsequent efforts by Republicans and conservative media personalities to whitewash or even celebrate it.

Pundits like to take refuge in the saccharine refrain, “this is not who we are,” but historically, this is exactly who we are. Political violence is an endemic feature of American political history. It was foundational to the overthrow of Reconstruction in the 1870s and the maintenance of Jim Crow for decades after.

But today’s events bear uncanny resemblance to an earlier decade — the 1850s, when Southern Democrats, the conservatives of their day, unleashed a torrent of violence against their opponents. It was a decade when an angry and entrenched minority used force to thwart the will of a growing majority, often with the knowing support and even participation of prominent elected officials.

That’s the familiar part of the story. The less appreciated angle is how that growing majority eventually came to accept the proposition that force was a necessary part of politics.

The 1850s were a singularly violent era in American politics. Though politicians both North and South, Whig and Democrat, tried to contain sectional differences over slavery, Southern Democrats and their Northern sympathizers increasingly pushed the envelope, employing coercion and violence to protect and spread the institution of slavery.

It began with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which stripped accused runaways of their right to trial by jury and allowed individual cases to be bumped up from state courts to special federal courts. As an extra incentive to federal commissioners adjudicating such cases, it provided a $10 fee when a defendant was remanded to slavery but only $5 for a finding rendered against the slave owner. Most obnoxious to many Northerners, the law stipulated harsh fines and prison sentences for any citizen who refused to cooperate with or aid federal authorities in the capture of accused fugitives. Southern Democrats enforced the law with brute force, to the horror of Northerners, including many who did not identify as anti-slavery.

The next provocation was the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854, which effectively abrogated the Missouri Compromise and opened the western territories to slavery. It wasn’t enough that Democrats rammed through legislation allowing the citizens of the Kansas and Nebraska territories to institutionalize slavery if they voted to do so in what had long been considered free territory. They then employed coercion and violence to rig the territorial elections that followed.

Though anti-slavery residents far outnumbered pro-slavery residents in Kansas, heavily armed “Border ruffians,” led by Missouri’s Democratic senator David Atchison, stormed the Kansas territory by force, stuffing ballot boxes, assaulting and even killing Free State settlers, in a naked attempt to tilt the scales in favor of slavery. “You know how to protect your own interests,” Atchison cried. “Your rifles will free you from such neighbors. … You will go there, if necessary, with the bayonet and with blood.” He promised, “If we win, we can carry slavery to the Pacific Ocean.”

The violence made it into Congress. When backlash against the Kansas Nebraska Act upended the political balance, driving anti-slavery Democrats and Whigs into the new, anti-slavery Republican party, pro-slavery Democrats responded with rage. In 1856, Charles Sumner, a staunch anti-slavery Republican, delivered a speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas.” In response, a Democratic congressman from South Carolina beat him nearly to death on the Senate floor with a steel-tipped cane — not entirely dissimilar from the hammer-wielding conspiracy theorist who attempted to murder Paul Pelosi Friday.

“Bleeding Sumner,” as the outrage came to be known, was not a one-off. Pro-slavery congressmen began showing up armed on the House floor. They threatened their Northern colleagues with whippings and beatings. They talked openly of civil war and rebellion.

In some ways, none of this was new. Pro-slavery forces had long been violent and anti-democratic. When abolitionists in the 1830s began sending anti-slavery literature to Southern slaveholders, the pro-slavery forces tried to ban them from using the postal service. They destroyed the printing presses of abolitionist publishers and, in 1837, famously lynched Elijah P. Lovejoy, an abolitionist clergyman — after dumping his press in the river.

But the 1850s were different — not just in the intensification of pro-slavery violence, but in the reaction it elicited.

Southerners had long assumed that their Northern antagonists would buckle and fold. Anti-slavery men and women tended to draw their faith from evangelical Protestantism, which favored moral suasion over coercion. They were pacifists by nature. They seemed unlikely, when faced with threat and violence, to fight back.

That was probably true in 1850. But by mid-decade, something changed.

It probably began with the Fugitive Slave Act, which inspired resistance — increasingly, violent resistance — on the part of Northerners. When in 1852 President Franklin Pierce sent a battery of Army and Navy servicemen to seize Anthony Burns, a fugitive who had escaped to Boston, many former moderates found became angry, and radicalized. Amos Lawrence, a conservative businessman and politician, later attested, “We went to bed one night old fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs & waked up stark mad Abolitionists.”

Armed anti-slavery mobs increasingly proved willing to engage in standoffs with federal officials. Outside Christiana, Pennsylvania, a Maryland slaveowner and his son, accompanied by armed marshals, showed up at a farmhouse and imperiously demanded the return of a Black man whom they claimed was their runaway slave. Local residents, Black and white alike, engaged in a gun fight with the “man stealers,” leaving one of them dead and two others wounded.

Something changed in the tenor of anti-slavery rhetoric as well. Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person and lay preacher, declared that he was a “peace man,” but white men who willingly acted as “bloodhounds,” hunting down human beings to return them to slavery, had “no right to live.” “I do believe that two or three dead slaveholders will make this law a dead letter.” In a speech entitled “Is It Right and Wise to Kill a Kidnapper?” Douglass conceded that perhaps it was not strategically smart, given the disbalance of power, but he affirmed that it “is in all cases, a crime to deprive a human being of life” and not a sin to kill those who would. “For a white man to defend his friend unto blood is praiseworthy,” Douglass wrote in 1854, “but for a Black man to do the same thing is crime. It was glorious for Patrick Henry to say, ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ It was glorious for Americans to drench the soil, and crimson the sea with blood, to escape the payment of three-penny tax upon tea; but it is a crime to shoot down a monster in defense of the liberty of a Black man and to save him from bondage.”

His was a minority opinion in the mid-1850s, but it was catching steam.

A new generation of leaders welcomed an eye-for-an-eye approach to keeping the western territories free. Subsidized by a group of Massachusetts businessmen and religious abolitionists, the New England Emigrant Aid Company offered material assistance to Northern homesteaders willing to relocate to Kansas to populate the state with an anti-slavery majority. It also furnished them with rifles (known popularly as “Beecher’s Bibles,” an homage to Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent anti-slavery clergyman) and ammunition to help settlers stave off attacks by border ruffians who pillaged Free State property and rigged territorial elections. By 1857 the normalization of political violence advanced so far that when a prominent abolitionist urged the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society to furnish material support for armed insurrections by enslaved people, even Wendell Phillips, a leading abolitionist and heretofore a pacifist, rose to agree. “I want to accustom Massachusetts to the idea of insurrection,” he said, “to the idea that every slave has the right to seize his freedom on the spot.”

It was this embrace of retributive justice and support for violent liberation that led figures like Thomas Wentworth Higginson (a Unitarian minister), Gerrit Smith (a wealthy reformer and founder of a nonsectarian church in upstate New York), Theodore Parker (also a Unitarian clergyman), and Frederick Douglass to furnish John Brown with funds for his failed attempt to organize an uprising of enslaved people. Brown, a religious zealot who came to believe that he was God’s instrument in the service of emancipation, was widely scorned as a fanatic when in 1859 he was hanged for murder, incitement of an enslaved people’s rebellion, and “treason” against the state of Virginia. Within a few short years, many Union soldiers would come to memorialize him in song as they marched through the South.

Members of Congress, too, tired of being under the Southern Democrats’ boot. When Galusha Grow, a Republican from Pennsylvania, wandered over to the Democratic side of the House floor in 1858, Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina snarled, “Go back to your side of the House, you Black Republican puppy.” Grow, a future House speaker, clocked Keitt with a right hook and sent him spinning.

In 1860 Rep. Owen Lovejoy, a Republican from Illinois and brother of the slain editor, rose to deliver a blistering anti-slavery harangue. In response, Rep. Roger Pryor of Virginia physically assaulted him, prompting Rep. John Potter of Wisconsin to intercede. Potter so thoroughly walloped Pryor that the Virginian felt compelled to challenge him to a duel — a common ploy, as Northerners tended to view dueling as barbaric, and normally declined. Potter astonished his Southern colleague by accepting the challenge and stipulating (as was the right of the challenged party) bowie knives as his weapon of choice. Pryor, recognizing that he’d likely be hacked to death, backed out, claiming that knives were beneath the dignity of a gentleman’s duel. (Potter might well have taken his cue from Benjamin Wade, a radical Republican senator from Ohio who, when challenged to a duel by a Southern colleague, stipulated squirrel riffles at 20 paces.)

Within a year, full-blown war had broken out.

Today, political violence is on the rise. It doesn’t always emanate from the right. Several years ago, a left-wing radical attempted to gun down several Republican congressmen and nearly succeeded in killing GOP Whip Steve Scalise. But in the main, the coercion and bellicosity reside on the right. We see it in the rise of far-right, white power militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who in some cases enjoy semiformal relationships with local Republican Party organizations and leaders. We see it in MAGA rallies, where former President Donald Trump regularly incites violence against journalists and political opponents, oftentimes with GOP officeholders and candidates standing silently beside him. We see it in the growing number of political ads in which Republican candidates brandish assault weapons and even shoot things up.

On some level, none of this is new. The United States has seen more than its share of political violence — from Redemption (the process by which white Southerners violently ended Reconstruction in the South) and Jim Crow, to presidential assassinations in 1865, 1881, 1901 and 1963. As recently as the early 1970s, bombings and sabotage were a common tool of far-left domestic terrorists. All told, between January 1969 and April 1970 there were over 5,000 terrorist bombings in the United States and 37,000 bomb threats, many emanating from the radical left, not including the attempted bombings of over two dozen high schools.

But here is the difference this time: In 1970, liberal members of the Senate didn’t march alongside members of the Weather Underground, pump their fists in the air and egg them on. They didn’t align themselves with violent extremists — court their votes, grant interviews to their underground newspapers, appear at their conferences. That’s the stuff of the 1850s, when mainstream Democrats turned away from democracy and openly embraced violence, vigilantism and treason to protect a world they saw at risk of disappearing.

The decision of so many American conservatives to embrace political violence, or the language and symbolism of political violence, is a troubling reality. We can’t have a functioning democracy if one side refuses to accept its norms and rules.

But history suggests we might have more to worry about.

Democratic violence in the 1850s ultimately led a majority of Republicans, who represented the political majority, to draw a line in the sand and enforce it by violence when necessary. If history is a guidepost, we are on the precipice of dangerous future in which politics devolves into a contest of force rather than ideas. That’s a future everyone should want to avoid.


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