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August 24, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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[Note: There is a discussion of rape in paragraph 8.]

Today a former U.S. president and the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination turned himself in to be arrested in Georgia. He had to because a grand jury of ordinary Americans indicted him, along with 18 other defendants, for conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

For the first time in U.S. history, there is a mugshot of a former president.

And, for that matter, mugshots of his chief of staff and key advisors. With noon tomorrow, August 25, the deadline for the defendants to surrender, they have been showing up since Tuesday, when Scott Hall, accused of breaching election equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, became the first of the defendants to surrender.

Since then, several of the lawyers behind the election scheme, including John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Rudy Giuliani have surrendered.

So have Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff, and David Shafer, the former chair of the Georgia Republican Party.

All but one—Harrison Floyd, the former executive director of Black Voices for Trump, who is charged with harassing election worker Ruby Freeman and who had previously assaulted an FBI agent—have been released on bail.

Trump is the first president to be charged with crimes, and he is facing an astonishing 91 counts in four different cases, two at the state level in New York and Georgia, and two at the federal level.

In addition, Trump, his two elder sons, and the Trump Organization are also facing an October trial in a civil fraud case in New York City, after which he has a January trial in a defamation suit from writer E. Jean Carroll for denying that he raped her (a judge recently agreed that his sexual assault of her was rape by common understanding, although the narrow definition of rape in the New York penal code meant that a New York jury in May did not find him liable for it).

And then there are the criminal charges. In New York he is charged with 34 counts surrounding an alleged hush-money scheme before the 2016 election.

He has been charged with 40 counts in the federal case concerning his theft and concealment of national security documents at his organization’s Mar-a-Lago property. In a separate federal case, he is charged with 4 counts of conspiring to defraud the government, obstruct an official proceeding, and take away voters’ right to have their vote counted.

In the Georgia case for which he was arrested today, he has been charged with 13 crimes under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute of Georgia, a law that permits a group working together for a criminal purpose to be charged as a criminal organization.

True to form, Trump appears to have timed his surrender to make the evening news. And then, after he surrendered, he posted his mugshot himself on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, telling his supporters “NEVER SURRENDER!”

In our system, Trump, like any defendant, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But here’s the thing: At last night’s Republican primary debate, all the candidates except former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (polling at 3.3%) and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (polling at 0.7%) pledged they would support Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee even if he’s convicted.

In the 1960s, Republicans made a devil’s bargain, courting the racists and social traditionalists who began to turn from the Democratic Party when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to make inroads on racial discrimination. Those same reactionaries jumped from the Democrats to create their own party when Democratic president Harry S. Truman strengthened his party’s turn toward civil rights by creating a presidential commission on civil rights in 1946 and then ordering the military to desegregate in 1948. Reactionaries rushed to abandon the Democrats permanently after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, joining the Republicans at least temporarily to vote for Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who promised to roll back civil rights laws and court decisions.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was the final straw for many of those reactionaries, and they began to move to the Republicans as a group when Richard Nixon promised not to use the federal government to enforce civil rights in the states. This so-called southern strategy pulled the Republican Party rightward.

In 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, a few miles from where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964 for their work registering Black Mississippians to vote, and said, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan tied government defense of civil rights to socialism, insisting that the government was using tax dollars from hardworking Americans to give handouts to lazy people, often using code words to mean “Black.”

Since then, as their economic policies have become more and more unpopular, the Republicans have kept voters behind them by insisting that anyone calling for federal action is advocating socialism and by drawing deep divisions between those who vote Republican, whom they define as true Americans, and anyone who does not vote Republican and thus, in their ideology, is anti-American.

From there it has been a short step to arguing that those who do not support Republican candidates should not vote or are voting illegally (although voter fraud is vanishingly rare). And from there, it appears to have been a short step to trying to overturn the results of an election where 7 million more Americans voted for Joe Biden, a Democrat, than voted for Trump and where the Electoral College vote for Biden was 306 to 232, the same margin Trump called a landslide in 2016 when it was in his favor.

The Republicans on stage last night have abandoned democracy, and in that they accurately represent their party. It is no accident that in addition to the Georgia party chair indicted for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Wisconsin Republican Party chair Brian Schimming was also mentioned in the Georgia indictment as part of the conspiracy for his role in the scheme to use false electors to steal the election for Trump, though he was not charged; former Arizona Republican chair Kelli Ward is in the crosshairs for her own participation in the scheme in Arizona; and in a different case, former Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddoch has pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges for her part in the attempt to steal the White House.

State leaders have taken their cue from the top: Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel also apparently participated in Trump’s fake elector scheme to steal the presidency.

It is quite a thing to see leading Republicans—including a former president—in mugshots for their assault on our democracy and to know that party leadership supports their actions. Indeed, it is unprecedented, and for those who remember what a grand party the Republicans have been at times in their history—Lincoln, after all, was a Republican, and so were Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower—it is a sad end.

But an end it is. The authoritarians who have taken over the party have abandoned their history and are now building something altogether different.

Notes:

https://www.axios.com/2023/08/15/indictment-trump-prison-rico

https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/trump-fulton-county-georgia-08-14-23/h_3e279320f2ba518105782f61371e030f

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/13/nyregion/trump-letitia-james-deposition.html

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-york-attorney-general-letitia-james-trump-lawsuit-ready-for-trial/

https://www.reuters.com/legal/us-judge-declares-donald-trumps-appeal-e-jean-carroll-case-frivolous-2023-08-18/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/07/donald-trump-rape-language-e-jean-carroll

https://www.axios.com/2023/08/22/trump-codefendant-surrender-georgia-jail

https://www.mlive.com/politics/2023/07/former-michigan-gop-co-chair-pleads-not-guilty-in-trump-electors-case.html

https://www.cbs58.com/news/state-gop-chair-named-in-latest-trump-inditement-heres-what-we-know

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/arizona-attorney-general-probing-alternate-electors-2020-presidential-rcna94113

https://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/will-arizona-be-the-next-state-to-indicted -former-president-donald-trump

https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-jan-6-investigation-fake-electors-608932d4771f6e2e3c5efb3fdcd8fcce

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/08/23/willie-floyd-fulton-maryland-fbi-arrest/

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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