The big question is: Will our democracy survive?
Wake up, America. These are no normal times. Based on his wide lead in the polls and what actions Donald Trump has said he'd take if re- elected president, America's on the brink of becoming a dictatorship.
This is no exaggeration. The threat is for real. And the warnings are everywhere.
In her new book, "Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning," released this week, former Congresswoman Liz Cheney sounds the alarm. Calling Donald Trump "the most dangerous man ever to inhabit the Oval Office," she warns that Trump would transform America's democracy into a dictatorship if he were re- elected - and refuses to leave office.
A front-page article in the New York Times assessing the prospects of a Trump win in 2024 carries the chilling headline: "Second Term Could Unleash Darker Trump." And the subhead: "Weaker Safeguards on Authoritarian Urges."
In the Washington Post, conservative columnist Robert Kagan posed two alarming questions: "Would Trump be a dictator? And can he be stopped?" Kagan's answers: (1) Yes, absolutely; and (2) Maybe not. "A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable," Kagan concludes, because we are sleepwalking into it by failing to take Trump's authoritarian statements seriously. "We are closer to that point today than we have ever been, yet we continue to drift toward dictatorship, still hoping for some intervention that will allow us to escape the consequences of our collective cowardice."
A special edition of The Atlantic, published this week under the ominous title "If Trump Wins," features two dozen articles on how a second Trump term would shred norms, weaponize government, warp the rule of law, and degrade democracy. Staff writer David Graham sounds the alarm: "A candidate who is running to potentially stay out of prison is a dangerous candidate...That warps his incentives, making him more likely to employ demagogic tactics, less concerned about the way history might judge him, and more inclined to use every avenue possible to win the election - even if it means bending or breaking the law."
Historian Heather Cox Richardson opens her seminal new book "Democracy Awakening" with this warning: "America is at a crossroads. A country that once stood as the global symbol of democracy has been teetering on the brink of authoritarianism."
And Chris Christie shook up this week's fourth GOP primary debate by warning that Trump would create an authoritarian state if he returns to the White House. "There's no mystery to what he wants to do," noted Christie. "He wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him."
Wake up, America. We should not dismiss or take lightly those warnings, because they're based on two sets of facts. First, the shameful but undeniable fact that, under Americans' professed devotion to democracy, there's always been a sometimes-not-so-hidden fascination with and attraction to authoritarianism. George Washington was the first to recognize that tendency when he stepped down, rather than stay in office for a third term.
In the 1920's, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was treated like a rock star in the United States, celebrated in at least 150 glowing articles in American newspapers and magazines. In 1939, the pro-Hitler German American Bund packed Madison Square Garden for a Nazi rally. In 2018, Americans merely shrugged when Donald Trump said he trusted Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence agencies.
Second set of facts, Trump's own record. We know how he ruled as an authoritarian in his first term: refusing to divest from his business; giving his daughter and son-in-law top jobs in the White House; using emergency powers to build his border wall; banning Muslims from entering the country; refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election and inciting an armed insurrection against the United States - all while praising dictators like Kim Jong Un and Viktor Orban.
And we know what he's promised if re-elected: "weaponizing" the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents or "vermin," Hitler's favorite expression; locking up members of the media who wrote unfavorable articles about him; threatening the assassination of former top general Mark Milley; purging the federal government of any employees he considers disloyal; deploying the military into American cities and invading Mexico.
Wake up, America. We face a choice in 2024 like none ever before. It's not right or left. It's democracy or dictatorship. That's the only issue the media should be talking about. That's the only issue we should care about.
Of course, Donald Trump promises he will not be a dictator, "except for day one." Feel any better?
(C)2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Santos and Trump: Throw the bums out!
As we should have learned by now, in the game of politics, it's dangerous to make any predictions. Remember 2016 and the prediction by all the pundits that there was no way Donald Trump would beat Hillary Clinton? Remember early 2020 and everybody's prediction that Joe Biden was politically dead in the water?
Nevertheless, here's one prediction I boldly make. You can take this one to the bank. Before the end of the week, and maybe before you read this column, you'll be able to refer to George Santos as the EX- congressman from New York. Kevin McCarthy doesn't need his vote anymore to stay in office, and neither does " MAGA Mike" Johnson. So House Republicans have finally decided it's time to throw the bum out.
Politico reports that more than 75 House Republicans intend to vote to expel Santos for his alleged financial crimes and serial lies, and a dozen more are leaning in that direction. Assuming all Democrats vote for expulsion (a safe bet), that adds up to more than the two-thirds vote in the House necessary to toss him out.
But the big question is: How can Republicans with a straight face condemn George Santos while continuing to cuddle up to Donald Trump?
Santos would become only the sixth member, and the first Republican, to be expelled from Congress - and the first ever expelled without being a member of the Confederacy or without first being convicted of a federal offense or even having his day in court. The last congressman expelled was Ohio's James Traficant, booted in July 2002, but only after having been convicted on 10 federal counts, including bribery.
But House Republicans don't want to wait any longer to expel Santos. He's already facing 23 federal charges, including allegations by the Justice Department that he stole from donors by using campaign contributions for personal expenses and fraudulently collecting unemployment benefits. And, in a scathing report, the House Ethics Committee concluded its investigation of Santos this month by finding that he "sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit."
In fact, Santos' whole life is a lie. As a candidate, he claimed his grandparents from Ukraine escaped the Holocaust by "fleeing Hitler." His grandparents actually were born and spent their whole lives in Brazil. He said his mother was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and died from cancer caused by toxic fumes inhaled that day. She was actually in Brazil on 9/11. He claimed to graduate with honors from Baruch College with degrees in economics and finance, where he was also the star of the volleyball team. He never went to Baruch, nor played volleyball. He also never worked, as claimed, for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup.
Is there any doubt? If not this week, someday soon, George Santos will be expelled from Congress and deserves to be. But here's the rub. Once that happens, Republicans will be wall-to-wall on Fox News, bragging that they're the party with strong moral principles. Unlike Democrats' sticking with Bill Clinton or Joe Biden, they'll claim, when they discovered wrongdoing in their party, they took immediate action.
As my grandmother would say, Balderdash! (My grandfather would use a stronger term that also begins with "B"). Expelling George Santos doesn't mean Republicans have suddenly rediscovered their moral compass. It means they have no moral compass at all. First, because they didn't act to expel Santos until neither Kevin McCarthy nor Mike Johnson needed his vote to remain Speaker of the House. Second, because while they're finally willing to hold George Santos accountable, they refuse to take any action against Donald Trump.
Let's be honest. As shocking as George Santos' transgressions are, they're NOTHING compared to Donald Trump's! Don't forget. Donald Trump tried to bribe the p resident of Ukraine. Donald Trump still refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. Donald Trump personally asked state legislative leaders across the country to commit election fraud. Donald Trump summoned an armed mob to Washington to attack the U.S. Capitol. Donald Trump tried to overthrow the United States government. And now Donald Trump promises, if re- elected, to "weaponize" the federal government to exact revenge on his political enemies.
Yet Republicans not only tolerated Trump's crimes, they now enthusiastically endorse him as their 2024 presidential nominee - while throwing the book at George Santos. It's like locking up a pickpocket while letting the ax murderer walk free.
(C)2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
What the media won't tell you about Joe Biden
After all of Donald Trump's lies, you almost yearn for the good old days of George W. Bush. He didn't lie (except for "weapons of mass destruction"), he just mangled his words. My favorite "Bushism" came on Nov. 6, 2000, when he complained to a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas: "They misunderestimated me!"
Hah! Bush should complain! He was hardly misunderestimated at all, compared to the way people misunderestimate Joe Biden every day. Biden has accomplished more, and gotten less credit for it, than any president in history.
All the media writes about is Biden's poll numbers. Like last week, when the New York Times released a poll showing Biden trailing Trump in five battleground states. Which, of course, made "Nervous Nellie" Democrats wet the bed.
Yet nowhere in its breathless coverage did the Times point out that any poll taken at this point, one year from the election, is totally meaningless. There's so much that could happen in the next 12 months, including the fact that Donald Trump could very well be a convicted felon, or even behind bars. Relegate this year's NYT poll in the same trash can with its 2021 polls showing Republicans picking up some 60 seats in the House and regaining control of the U.S. Senate.
Here's what's lacking. With the media paying so much attention to Donald Trump, nobody's told the whole story of the Biden administration, its high points and low. Until now. But it's all there in a new book by the Atlantic's Franklin Foer about Biden and his first two years as president: "The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future."
Foer's book is not hagiography, but it's not hate-mongering, either. It's an honest assessment of Biden as a politician and as president, his strengths and weaknesses, where he has delivered and where he has not.
In a sense, the title says it all. Joe Biden may, in fact, be the last of the line of politicians we once knew, both Democrat and Republican, who believed in government, who believed in democracy, who came to Washington to get things done, not to tear things down - and whose success was based on what legislation they helped pass, not on how many clicks they got after throwing Molotov cocktails on social media and cable news every night.
After four years of Donald Trump, and especially after January 6,
Americans had lost faith in politics and politicians. When Biden took the oath of office, he knew expectations for his presidency were low. But he still believed in the power of politics, and was determined to prove the skeptics wrong. As Foer writes, Biden set out to "prove that democracy could still deliver for its citizens, that it hadn't lost its capacity to accomplish big things."
On my podcast, the Bill Press Pod (subscribe!), Foer told me he started out skeptical of Biden's ability to get anything done, but ended up impressed by how much he has, in fact, accomplished. It started in March 2021 with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, helping Americans recover from the health and economic impacts of the Covid pandemic and getting 100 million Americans vaccinated in the administration's first 100 days.
In November 2021, Biden accomplished what the last few presidents only talked about, signing the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He followed up in June 2022 by signing the first gun safety legislation in over 30 years, again with bipartisan support. On August 9, Biden signed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, providing $280 billion for domestic manufacturing of semiconductor computer chips. A week later, he signed the $891 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which includes the largest investment for climate change in history: a transformational bill, Foer argues, that "will change American life."
As portrayed by Foer, the dominant force of the Biden administration is Biden's own stubborn persistence: putting his head down, ignoring the critics and plowing ahead: delivering historic bipartisan legislation, ending the war in Afghanistan, leading support for Ukraine - and now, standing strongly behind Israel, while urging restraint in its response to Hamas terrorism. These are all important intersections, Foer argues, where "the advantages of having an older president were on display. He wasn't just a leader of the coalition, he was the West's father figure."
In the end, Foer grudgingly admits, Biden will be remembered as "the old hack who could." That may not be the best title you could give Biden, but it's a far better alternative than "that other old hack who couldn't, even if he tried."
Credit: Tribune Content Agency
Bill Press: Once again, pundits wrong - about Democrats and Biden
Some election results are hard to read. This one wasn't. Tuesday's off-year elections were a slam dunk for Democrats. To me, the all-caps headline on the conservative Drudge Report said it all: "DEMS WIN AGAIN. MAGA ELECTION NIGHTMARES."
Even the right-leaning POLITICO Playbook, which hinted of doom and gloom for Democrats, had to admit: "We're beginning to see a pattern here. Never mind American's nagging concerns about the economy. Never mind an expanding portfolio of global crises. And definitely never mind those year-out presidential polls. There's no two ways about it: It was another good night for Democrats, nearly across the board."
In many ways, it was a replay of 2022. Ahead of the midterms, because of President Biden's low poll numbers, pundits predicted a "red wave," warning that Democrats might lose dozens of seats in the House and lose control of the Senate. Instead, Democrats actually picked up one seat in the Senate, lost the House by only five seats and, while they were at it, added three new Democratic governors in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maryland.
This year, same story. Again exaggerating the impact of Biden's low approval rating, the commentariat class predicted New Jersey Democrats would lose control of the state legislature, Ohio's pro-abortion initiative could fail, Andy Beshear would have a tight race in Kentucky, and Glenn Youngkin would seize control of the Virginia Senate and catapult himself into the 2024 GOP presidential primary. They were wrong on all counts.
In deep-red Kentucky, Beshear coasted to victory over Daniel Cameron, 50.2 percent to 47.8 percent, in a state Donald Trump won in 2020 by 26 points. And this despite the fact that five different Republican PACs spent millions of dollars tying Beshear to Biden, while Cameron ran with Trump's full-throated endorsement. You don't have to be a genius to see the message there about which national politician is political poison, even in a red state.
In Ohio, abortion again proved to be a winning issue for Democrats. Since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, abortion opponents have lost in every state where the issue has been on the ballot. Last year, measures guaranteeing reproductive rights passed in California, Vermont, Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana. Ohio's now the seventh state to do so. And in 2024 that issue will be on the ballot in several more states, including Arizona, South Dakota, Missouri, and Florida. Again, the message is clear: abortion's a losing issue for Republicans, no matter what games some Republican governors try to play.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin learned that lesson the hard way this week. He peddled Virginia's 15-week ban as an alternative to the 12-week ban enacted in several other red states - betting that what he labeled his "reasonable" approach to abortion would satisfy female voters, win Republican control of the state assembly and senate - and propel him into the 2024 GOP presidential primary. But voters weren't fooled. Democrats now control both houses of the legislature and Youngkin's presidential dreams are dead.
There were several other bright spots on Tuesday night. Democrats also held onto control of both houses of the New Jersey state legislature. In Pennsylvania, despite $20 million spent against him by abortion opponents, Democrat Dan McCaffery easily won an open seat on the Supreme Court. Former Obama aide Gabe Amo became the first African-American elected to Congress from Rhode Island. Cherelle Parker was elected Philadelphia's first female mayor. And, like icing on the cake, Ohio also became the 24 th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
In my favorite bit of good news, Yusef Salaam, one of five teenagers wrongly imprisoned in the 1989 Central Park jogger rape case, and later exonerated when the real rapist confessed to the crime, won a seat on the New York City Council. While they were still in prison, then-developer Donald J. Trump ran full-page ads in newspapers demanding they receive the death penalty.
What a great string of victories. It makes you want to jump up and sing "Happy Days Are Here Again!"
But if there's a message there for Republicans - abortion's a loser and Trump's a loser - there's also a message there for Democrats, which is: the only measure of voting behavior is voting behavior. And, on that score, the record is clear. Biden may not be all that exciting, but he's a winner. In his own persistent, unexciting way, Biden won for Democrats in 2020, 2022, and 2023. And he'll do the same in 2024. If only Democrats stop whining and focus on winning.
(C)2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Danger! MAGA Mike's got his Bible out!
Little did I realize how prophetic he was. On my podcast last November, Rev. Jim Wallis, head of the Center on Faith and Justice at Georgetown University, told me that "White Christian Nationalism" represented the single greatest threat to democracy today - and would get even more dangerous as their "false gospel" spread.
As Wallis explained, White Christian Nationalism preaches that our Founding Fathers were all white Christians, that they founded a white Christian nation, that white Christians are the only true Americans, and that the Bible, not the Constitution, is our founding document. And they are wrong on all counts.
But if Christian nationalism was a danger a year ago, it's even more of a danger today - now that a Christian Nationalist, Louisiana's " MAGA Mike" Johnson, holds the powerful position of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
And there's no doubt where Johnson stands. He made that clear on the first day of his speakership. Making an obligatory appearance with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Johnson told the world: "Someone asked me today in the media, they said...' People are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?' I said,' Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it - that's my worldview.'"
Whoa! Stop! Read that again. Let that sink in. It's shocking that the man entrusted with the powerful position of Speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line for the presidency of the United States, says he's guided by the Bible, not by the Constitution. That statement itself is so un-American it should scare everyone, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or non-believer.
Does Johnson know anything about American history? Most of our Founders were Deists, not Christians. They went out of their way to establish a new country based on the principles of natural law, and not on the tenets of any religious creed. We are not a Christian nation. The word "God" doesn't even appear in the Constitution. To protect religion from government, and government from religion, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson built a "wall of separation" between church and state - which Johnson and fellow Evangelicals are now determined to tear down, with disastrous consequences.
Johnson's embrace of the Bible is the most brazen abuse of Scripture since Donald Trump held up his Bible (upside down!) outside St. John's Church during the Black Lives Matter protests. But Johnson's flaunting of the Bible is much more dangerous because, unlike Trump, Johnson has actually read the Bible and takes every word of it literally.
The danger, of course, is that Johnson will follow the Bible, and not the Constitution, in making public policy decisions. Which is not without precedent.
For over a hundred years, "Christian" preachers used the story of Noah as told in Genesis 9 to justify the institution of slavery. It was all spelled out in the Bible, they said, under the "Curse of Ham," whereby certain races were destined for perpetual slavery. Slaveholders weren't doing anything wrong, pastors argued, they were merely doing God's will.
Ever since St. Paul declared, "I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man" (Timothy 2), the Bible's also been used to justify keeping women in the kitchen. This year (2023!), the Catholic Church reaffirmed its opposition to women priests and the Southern Baptist Convention expelled two women pastors and decreed that all pastoral roles are limited to men only.
Citing Scripture, Johnson himself, as former attorney for The Alliance Defending Freedom, not only condemned homosexuality as "sinful and destructive" and opposed same-sex marriage, but actually authored a brief arguing that homosexual acts should be criminalized. Johnson doesn't want to get government off our backs, he wants to invite government into our bedrooms!
As a proud Louisianan, Johnson has not yet said whether he'll abide by the Bible's prohibitions on eating shrimp, crab, oysters, or barbecued pork. Or whether he really believes the universe is only 6,000 years old. Or whether his wife sacrifices two birds on the altar after every menstrual period.
But enough already! You get the point. The Bible has its place, but not in making public policy. For that, lawmakers should stick to the Constitution.
One thing for sure. There's one verse of the Bible MAGA Mike will never take literally. The admonition of Jesus in Matthew 19:21: "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor."
Credit: Tribune Content Agency
If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, and try again. After weeks of making total fools of themselves - 23 days, 14 new names, three nominees, and four rounds of voting - House Republicans finally elected a new Speaker.
Let's be honest. There are only two reasons Mike Johnson got the job. Not because he's well-known. Most Americans never heard of him, nor had most Republican senators. Not because he's qualified. In eight years in the House, he's never run anything. Never even chaired a committee.
First, Johnson got the job out of sheer fatigue. After three weeks, Republicans were so tired of mud-wrestling among themselves that, as one member put it, they'd take any "live body" available.
Second, the real reason - in fact, the only reason - Johnson got the job is because Donald Trump anointed him. But only after stabbing Republican Whip Tom Emmer in the chest. On every issue, Emmer's about as conservative as they come. But for Trump, he made one fatal mistake. On January 6, he voted to certify the election of Joe Biden.
For Trump, this was payback time. "I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House," Trump posted on Truth Social. "RINO Tom Emmer, who (sic) I do not know well, is not one of them." And with that, Emmer was dead in the water. Trump actually boasted: "I killed him."
Please! Stop for a second and think what that means. Leaders of the House of Representatives - which, last time I checked, was half of an independent branch of the United States government - select a new leader. But, before they make it official, they have to first make sure it's OK with "Daddy." And when Daddy says no, they quickly dump the guy they wanted and look for somebody else Daddy might approve of.
That tells you all you need to know about the fecklessness of today's Republicans. As the Bulwark's Charlie Sykes noted: "Henceforth, belief in the Big Lie - and support for Trump's coup - is THE litmus test for leadership in the GOP. If you don't have a coup on your resume, don't bother to apply."
One thing for sure: Mike Johnson won't have any problem passing that test. He not only believes the Big Lie, he was Trump's go-to guy in the House in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
On November 7, the day the networks finally declared Joe Biden the winner, Johnson tweeted: "I have just called President Trump to say this: Stay strong and keep fighting, sir! The nation is depending upon your resolve." In mid-December, Johnson rounded up 126 Republicans to sign an amicus brief in a longshot lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general contesting election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - a suit rejected by the Supreme Court 7-2.
And on the morning of January 6, Johnson led efforts not to certify the Electoral College results later that day, tweeting out to fellow Republicans: "We MUST fight for election integrity, the Constitution, and the preservation of our republic!" Even after Trump's armed mob trashed the Capitol, 147 fellow Republicans followed Johnson's call to "fight for election integrity" by voting to overturn the 2020 election.
Because he doesn't camp out on cable television, Johnson's not known as one of what John McCain called the House's " wacko birds." But make no mistake about it. He's on the extreme-right fringe of the party. He supports a national abortion ban. He's declared homosexuality "inherently unnatural" and a "dangerous lifestyle." He's previously written legal briefs in support of reversing the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision and making homosexual activity a crime. And he's a fanatic opponent of same-sex marriage, writing in 2004: "If we change marriage for this tiny, modern minority, we will have to do it for every deviant group. ... There will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet."
Don't be fooled by Johnson's professorial appearance. He's as extreme as the worst of them. As one wag observed, he's as far-right as Jim Jordan, but " with a jacket and a smile." Not for nothing did firebrand Matt Gaetz and Donald Trump immediately dub Johnson " MAGA Mike." And so shall he be forever known.
Donald Trump's MAGA forces have taken over the House of Representatives and elected one of their own. It's bad for the House and bad for the entire country. But Daddy's happy.
Credit: Tribune Content Agency