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December 29, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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When asked at a town hall on Wednesday to identify the cause of the United States Civil War, presidential candidate and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley answered that the cause “was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms, and what people could and couldn’t do…. I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are…. And I will always stand by the fact that, I think, government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people.”

Haley has correctly been lambasted for her rewriting of history. The vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, was quite clear about the cause of the Civil War. Stephens explicitly rejected the idea embraced by U.S. politicians from the revolutionary period onward that human enslavement was “wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically.” Instead, he declared: “Our new government is founded upon…the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” 

President Joe Biden put the cause of the Civil War even more succinctly: “It was about slavery.” 

Haley has been backpedaling ever since—as well as suggesting that the question was somehow a “gotcha” question from a Democrat, as if it was a difficult question to answer—but her answer was not simply bad history or an unwillingness to offend potential voters, as some have suggested. It was the death knell of the Republican Party.

That party formed in the 1850s to stand against what was known as the Slave Power, a small group of elite enslavers who had come to dominate first the Democratic Party and then, through it, the presidency, Supreme Court, and Senate. When northern Democrats in the House of Representatives caved to pressure to allow enslavement into western lands from which it had been prohibited since 1820, northerners of all political stripes recognized that it was only a question of time until elite enslavers took over the West, joined with lawmakers from southern slave states, overwhelmed the northern free states in the House of Representatives, and made enslavement national. 

So in 1854, after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act that allowed the spread of enslavement into previously protected western lands, northerners abandoned their old parties and came together first as “anti-Nebraska” coalitions and then, by 1856, as the Republican Party. 

At first their only goal was to stop the Slave Power, but in 1859, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln articulated an ideology for the new party. In contrast to southern Democrats, who insisted that a successful society required leaders to dominate workers and that the government must limit itself to defending those leaders because its only domestic role was the protection of property, Lincoln envisioned a new kind of government, based on a new economy.

Lincoln saw a society that moved forward thanks not to rich people, but to the innovation of men just starting out. Such men produced more than they and their families could consume, and their accumulated capital would employ shoemakers and storekeepers. Those businessmen, in turn, would support a few industrialists, who would begin the cycle again by hiring other men just starting out. Rather than remaining small and simply protecting property, Lincoln and his fellow Republicans argued, the government should clear the way for those at the bottom of the economy, making sure they had access to resources, education, and the internal improvements that would enable them to reach markets. 

When the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to start their own nation based in their own hierarchical society, the Republicans in charge of the United States government were free to put their theory into practice. For a nominal fee, they sold farmers land that the government in the past would have sold to speculators; created state colleges, railroads, national money, and income taxes; and promoted immigration. 

Finally, with the Civil War over and the Union restored on their terms, in 1865 they ended the institution of human enslavement except as punishment for crime (an important exception) and in 1868 they added the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to make clear that the federal government had power to override state laws that enforced inequality among different Americans. In 1870 they created the Department of Justice to ensure that all American citizens enjoyed the equal protection of the laws.

In the years after the Civil War, the Republican vision of a harmony of economic interest among all Americans quickly swung toward the idea of protecting those at the top of society, with the argument that industrial leaders were the ones who created jobs for urban workers. Ever since, the party has alternated  between Lincoln’s theory that the government must work for those at the bottom and the theory of the so-called robber barons, who echoed the elite enslavers’ idea that the government must protect the wealthy. 

During the Progressive Era, Theodore Roosevelt reclaimed Lincoln’s philosophy and argued for a strong government to rein in the industrialists and financiers who dominated society; a half-century later, Dwight Eisenhower followed the lead of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and used the government to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, promote infrastructure, and protect civil rights. 

After each progressive president, the party swung toward protecting property. In the modern era the swing begun under Richard Nixon gained momentum with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Since then the party has focused on deregulation, tax cuts, privatization, and taking power away from the federal government and turning it back over to the states, while maintaining that market forces, rather than government policies, should drive society. 

But those ideas were not generally popular, so to win elections, the party welcomed white evangelical Christians into a coalition, promising them legislation that would restore traditional society, relegating women and people of color back to the subservience the law enforced before the 1950s. But it seems they never really intended for that party base to gain control.

The small-government idea was the party’s philosophy when Donald Trump came down the escalator in June 2015 to announce he was running for president, and his 2017 tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy indicated he would follow in that vein. But his presidency quickly turned the Republican base into a right-wing movement loyal to Trump himself, and he was both eager to get away from legal trouble and impeachments and determined to exact revenge on those who did not do his bidding. The power in the party shifted from those trying to protect wealthy Americans to Trump, who increasingly aligned with foreign autocrats.

That realignment has taken off since Trump left office in 2021 and his base wrested power from the party’s former leaders. Leaders in Trump’s right-wing movement have increasingly embraced the concept of “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy” as articulated by Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin or Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has demolished Hungary’s democracy and replaced it with a dictatorship. On the campaign trail lately, Trump has taken to echoing Putin and Orbán directly.

Those leaders insist that the equality at the heart of democracy destroys a nation by welcoming immigrants, which undermines national purity, and by treating women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people as equal to white, heteronormative men. Their focus on what they call “traditional values” has won staunch supporters among the right-wing white evangelical community in the U.S.

Ironically, MAGA Republicans, whose name comes from Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” want the United States of America, one of the world’s great superpowers, to sign onto the program of a landlocked country of fewer than 10 million people in central Europe.

MAGA’s determination to impose white Christian nationalism on the United States of America is a rejection of the ideology of the Republican Party in all its phases. Rather than either an active government that defends equal rights and opportunity or a small government that protects property and relies on market forces, which Republicans stood for as recently as eight years ago, today’s Republicans advocate a strong government that imposes religious rules on society. 

They back strict abortion bans, book bans, and attacks on minorities and LGBTQ+ people. Last year, Florida governor Ron DeSantis directly used the state government to threaten Disney into complying with his anti-LGBTQ+ stance rather than reacting to popular support for LGBTQ+ rights. Missouri attorney general Andrew Bailey early this month used the government to go after political opposition, launching an investigation into Media Matters for America after the watchdog organization reported that the social media platform X was placing advertising next to antisemitic content. “I’m fighting to ensure progressive tyrants masquerading as news outlets cannot manipulate the marketplace in order to wipe out free speech,” Bailey said. 

Domestically, the new ideology of MAGA means forcing the majority to live under the rules of a small minority; internationally, it means support for a global authoritarian movement. MAGA Republicans’ current refusal to fund Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression until the administration agrees to draconian immigration laws—which they are also refusing to participate in crafting—is not only a gift to Putin. It also suggests to any foreign government that U.S. foreign policy is changeable so long as a foreign government succeeds in influencing U.S. lawmakers. Under this system, American global leadership will no longer be viable.

When Nikki Haley said the cause of the Civil War “was how government was going to run, the freedoms, and what people could and couldn’t do,” she did more than avoid the word “slavery” to pander to MAGA Republicans who refuse to recognize the role of race in shaping our history. She rejected the long and once grand history of the Republican Party and announced its death to the world. 

Notes:

https://archive.org/details/alexanderhstephe6114clev/page/720/mode/2up (p. 721)

https://twitter.com/JoeBiden/status/1740221284284256645

https://www.npr.org/2023/12/28/1221988690/nikki-haley-didnt-say-slavery-caused-the-civil-war-now-shes-facing-major-backlas

https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2023/12/16/trump-authoritarians-putin-orban-poisoning-blood/

https://theconversation.com/as-russia-ramps-up-traditional-values-rhetoric-especially-against-lgbtq-groups-its-won-putin-far-right-fans-abroad-219102

https://thehill.com/homenews/4355644-missouri-ag-launches-investigation-of-media-matters/

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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/opinion/donald-trump-trial-prison.html

https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/04/18/congress/hfc-on-alert-00153097

https://www.jns.org/house-rules-committee-debates-israel-aid-package-as-house-speaker-confronts-right-flank/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-new-york-court-criminal-trial/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/jesse-watters-goes-juror-by-juror-to-sow-doubt-in-trump-hush-money-case

https://www.salon.com/2024/04/18/juror-quits-over-fear-of-being-outed-after-fox-news-host-singled-her-out/

https://www.rawstory.com/jake-laturner/#cxrecs_s

https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/18/politics/mike-johnson-speakership-rules

https://www.rawstory.com/freedom-caucus-2667810851/

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8034

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8035

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/04/18/trump-campaign-funnels-money-to-his-businesses/73344744007/

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/mike-johnson-gaetz-motion-to-vacate-ukraine

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/jake-laturner-retire-house-gop-kansas

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/27/house-members-retiring-quitting-productivity

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/us/politics/house-israel-ukraine-aid-package-explainer.html

YouTube:

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watch?v=xSvP8IAdvxA

Twitter (X):

JoyceWhiteVance/status/1780982656714362966

jayinkyiv/status/1781069691005419854

aaronblake/status/1780970065552113792

ronfilipkowski/status/1781066506463252709

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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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Senate nominee bankrolled by far-right activist trashing MLK and the Civil Rights Act Judd Legum

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Founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk, speaks on July 15, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last month, Bernie Moreno won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Ohio. Moreno benefited from an early endorsement from Turning Point Action, the far-right activist group founded by Charlie Kirk. On May 10, 2023, Kirk posted on X that he was “proud to support Bernie,” and Moreno had Turning Point Action’s “full endorsement.” 

In response, Moreno wrote that he was “honored to be endorsed by Charlie Kirk and Turning Point Action.” Moreno said that “[f]ew have done more to fight back against the radical left than they have,” and he looks “forward to working with them to defend for our America First conservative values in the US Senate.” 

In 2023, Kirk repeatedly featured Moreno as a guest on his popular podcast and consistently promoted Moreno’s candidacy to his 2.9 million followers on X. At the end of 2023, Kirk donated the maximum legal amount of $5,000 to Moreno’s campaign through the Turning Point PAC. 

At the same time, Kirk, known for his embrace of fringe views and conspiracy theories, launched a sustained attack on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. At a December 2023 convention hosted by Turning Point USA, Kirk said that King “was awful” and “not a good person.” Kirk’s critique extended not just to King himself but to the civil rights movement itself. “We made a huge mistake when we passed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s,” Kirk declared, trashing the legislation that outlawed segregation in public places and many businesses. 

In his convention speech, Kirk blasted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an effort to “re-found the county” and “get rid of the First Amendment.” He criticized courts for enforcing the law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. “Federal courts just yield to the Civil Rights Act as if it’s the actual American Constitution,” Kirk complained. 

A spokesperson for Turning Point USA, Andrew Kolvet, defended Kirk’s attacks, saying respect for King’s legacy was based on “fake history.” 

Kirk announced he was “gonna tell the truth about MLK Jr” on MLK Day in January 2024. According to Kirk, a podcast episode attacking King and the civil rights movement was being put together by his producer, Blake Neff. In 2020, Neff was forced to resign from Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News after it was revealed Neff was posting racist comments online under a pseudonym.

The episode, titled “The Myth of MLK,” kicks off with Vince Everett Ellison – a right-wing activist who claims that voting for a Democrat will send you to Hell. Ellison describes King as “despicable,” “immoral,” and “perverted.” Kirk repeatedly suggests that King’s legacy has harmed “Black America.” He asks Ellison if the lives of Black Americans have improved “the more that we have worshipped MLK.” Kirk also invites Ellison to talk about how “MLK’s narrative and political activism led to the modern welfare state.” Ellison responds by accusing the civil rights community of keeping Black people poor, adding that the devil “rest[s] his head at the DNC” and that the DNC “use[d] MLK and all of those perverts with him.”

“I could say declaratively this guy is not worthy of a national holiday. He is not worthy of god-like status. In fact, I think it’s really harmful,” Kirk says after the conversation with Ellison ends. Then Kirk, alongside Neff, spends roughly 30 minutes attempting to demonize the Civil Rights Act. According to Neff, the Civil Rights Act is “directly against this colorblind world that conservatives think MLK brought.” Kirk tells listeners that “in reality the language and the application of the Civil Rights Act…is a color preference act, not a color blindness.” Kirk adds that the Civil Rights Act “is making it harder for us to pursue Excellence as a society” because, as Neff puts it, “you have to discriminate against men, against white people.”

On X, Kirk wrote that the “deification of MLK and his proto-DEI ideology marks the exact moment that the progress of black America goes sideways.” Kirk suggested that MLK was responsible for the “disintegration” of “their cities,” the “collapse” of “their families.” Because of MLK, Kirk claims, “they” are “enormously dependent on government support.” 

Kirk’s crusade against King and the civil rights movement did not appear to impact his relationship with Moreno. On March 14, 2024, Turning Point Action donated $100,000 to the Buckeye Values PAC, Moreno’s Super PAC. 

Buckeye Values PAC is tightly aligned with Moreno’s campaign and was responsible for organizing and financing a key rally featuring Trump and Moreno on March 18, the day before the Ohio primary. 

The day after his primary victory, on March 20, Moreno appeared again on Kirk’s podcast. At the beginning of the interview, Moreno expressed his gratitude for Kirk’s support. “Thank you, Charlie,” Moreno said. “And thank you for your early endorsement. You were with me from the very beginning.”

The Moreno campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

Moreno suggested white people should get reparations

Moreno himself has also had controversies involving racial issues. When he launched his campaign for Senate, Moreno floated the idea of reparations for white descendants of Union soldiers that were killed during the Civil War. “They talk about reparations. Where are the reparations for the people, for the North, who died to save the lives of Black people?” Moreno said. “I know it’s not politically correct to say that, but you know what, we’ve got to stop being politically correct.” 

“We stand on shoulders of people like John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington… That same group of people later, white people, died to free Black people,” Moreno said. A campaign spokesperson for Moreno told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Bernie was right when he said political correctness is killing our country, and the crocodile tears from the left expose the Democrat hypocrisy he was referring to in the clip.”

Moreno’s companies have “faced multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination against employees in the run-up to the sale of his high-end Cleveland car dealership,” the AP reported. One 2017 lawsuit involved “a Black former service manager” at a dealership owned by Moreno, who “alleged that he was targeted for discipline and then demoted after taking concerns to human resources about white peers and a subordinate being paid the same or more than him.” He “claimed racial discrimination led to his demotion and eventual wrongful termination.” The lawsuit was “settled out of court,” and the terms of the settlement “were kept private.”

A campaign spokesperson said that “Moreno is ‘a proud minority businessman’ who based his company ‘on the colorblind principles of merit and hard work.’” The statement said that “Bernie has always been committed to giving opportunities to all of his workers, regardless of race, color, gender or creed.”

 

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