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Video: Rami Malek thanks his family in 'SNL' monologue

In his debut appearance as a "Saturday Night Live" host, the Academy Award winning actor talked about his penchant for playing villains, and love for his siblings.
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Americans Deserve Clarity, Not Ambiguity, on China and Taiwan | Opinion
If our leaders are to commit blood and treasure in Taiwan, we must know why it should matter to America.
Negro Leagues ambassador Buck O’Neil among among six voted into Baseball Hall of Fame
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Tesla Cybertruck 4x4 to add these Hummer and Rivian features
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Taliban declares women "free," not "property," but nobody celebrates
Activists protest as the U.S. says "much more is needed" than the extremist group's formal "decree" that a woman is "not a property" and can't be forced into marriage.
Russia and India Sign Military Agreement Despite U.S. Threat of Sanctions
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Crumbley search: Michigan detectives to interview man said to be named 'person of interest'
The Oakland County Sherrif's Office announced Sunday night that detectives would be interviewing an Oakland County resident on Monday who they believe may have a connection into the disappearance of James and Jennifer Crumbley.
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Jalen Rose's December 2 episode of "Renaissance Man" features a bravely honest interview with Charlamagne Tha God, the hugely popular radio host, TV personality, and arbiter of cultural and political influence. It's practically a public service announcement on the importance of transparency with mental health, and it's one that everyone should hear.
Prince William Says Traumatic Incident Made Him Ask: 'Why Do I Feel so Sad?'
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POLITICO Playbook: Return of the debt ceiling drama
And a former D.C. National Guard official levels explosive new claims about two Army leaders' response to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
NFL Week 13 winners and losers: Chiefs' revival, powered by defense, should scare AFC opponents
The revival of the Chiefs, behind a strong defense, should scare the rest of the AFC. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor is having a historical season.
Op-Ed: Yosemite has been at its best under pandemic restrictions. Keep the cap on crowds
The crowds that used to throng Yosemite show why it needs to limit admission in peak season.
Chicken tender shortages?
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Detroit Lions end 15-game winless run and pay tribute to Michigan school shooting victims
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Why America's journey toward racial justice shouldn't include reparations
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Who Just Gave Trump $1 Billion? Let’s Find Out.
Investments in a blank-check company backing the former president could turn out to be IOUs if he wins back the White House.
Letters to the Editor: Standardized tests are oppressive. Kudos to UC for abandoning them
Students who face challenges in high school or do poorly on the SAT often succeed in community college. That shows a problem with the tests, not the students.
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Students have faced a huge jump in ‘hostile behaviors,’ a new report finds. Attacks with weapons doubled.
U.S. students faced a huge jump in "hostile behaviors," including attacks with weapons, during the Trump administration, a new Government Accountability Office report has found.
Repair legacy of racism: Explore reparations in housing, education, entrepreneurship
America still has far to go to foster a fully just society and to mitigate the lasting consequences of institutionalized racism.
Advocates push nationwide movement for land return to Blacks after victory in California
Would the Bruce’s Beach case be a one-off, or a tipping point in a national struggle over Black land ownership?
Letters to the Editor: Roe vs. Wade put the Supreme Court in a 'partisan stench.' Overturn it
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Congress members blast proposed Discovery WarnerMedia merger
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Biden polling plummets and 2022 midterm red wave gathers strength
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In 1907, statistician Francis Galton observed something strange at a county fair: Attendees were participating in a game where they guessed the weight of an ox, with the closest answer to the truth winning a prize. To Galton’s surprise, while the guesses of the individual attendees varied wildly, the average of the crowd’s guesses was…
There’s a long history behind Stacey Abrams
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Best of theater 2021: ‘Come From Away’ on the Mall, Macbeth in London and a streaming movie
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The Democrats were once the party of ideals and optimism. But in the era of COVID and climate change, the message has turned dark.
Girl with sickle cell disease had a wish to be on a billboard. She and her twin now smile at passing cars in Md.
"I want to be a model," said Abi, 4, who was granted her dream as part of Make-A-Wish.
Girl with sickle cell disease had a wish to be on a billboard. She and her twin now smile at passing cars in Md.
"I want to be a model," said Abi, 4, who was granted her dream as part of Make-A-Wish.
As Mexican cumbia band tours U.S. South, every accordion squeeze brings nostalgia
Los Ángeles Azules have been making music for four decades. The Mexican band's songs bring people together.
A Saner, Freer Market for Health Care Could Incentivize Vaccines | Opinion
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Putin and Xi Working Together to Force Biden into a Two-Front Crisis He Can't Win
"I don't think the United States is prepared to go to war in Ukraine. I don't think the United States is prepared to go to war over Taiwan," former Naval War College researcher Lyle Goldstein told Newsweek.
Best of dance 2021: Paul Taylor live at the Kennedy Center, Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jacob Jonas’s short films
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What to know from NFL Week 13: The Ravens’ failed conversion reshapes the AFC
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January 6 Was Practice
Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Donald Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power.As we near the anniversary of January 6, investigators are still unearthing the roots of the insurrection that sacked the Capitol and sent members of Congress fleeing for their lives. What we know already, and could not have known then, is that the chaos wrought on that day was integral to a coherent plan. In retrospect, the insurrection takes on the aspect of rehearsal.Even in defeat, Trump has gained strength for a second attempt to seize office, should he need to, after the polls close on November 5, 2024. It may appear otherwise—after all, he no longer commands the executive branch, which he tried and mostly failed to enlist in his first coup attempt. Yet the balance of power is shifting his way in arenas that matter more.Trump is successfully shaping the narrative of the insurrection in the only political ecosystem that matters to him. The immediate shock of the event, which briefly led some senior Republicans to break with him, has given way to a near-unanimous embrace. Virtually no one a year ago, certainly not I, predicted that Trump could compel the whole party’s genuflection to the Big Lie and the recasting of insurgents as martyrs. Today the few GOP dissenters are being cast out. “2 down, 8 to go!” Trump gloated at the retirement announcement of Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment.[From the November 2020 issue: Barton Gellman on the election that could break America]Trump has reconquered his party by setting its base on fire. Tens of millions of Americans perceive their world through black clouds of his smoke. His deepest source of strength is the bitter grievance of Republican voters that they lost the White House, and are losing their country, to alien forces with no legitimate claim to power. This is not some transient or loosely committed population. Trump has built the first American mass political movement in the past century that is ready to fight by any means necessary, including bloodshed, for its cause.At the edge of the Capitol grounds, just west of the reflecting pool, a striking figure stands in spit-shined shoes and a 10-button uniform coat. He is 6 foot 4, 61 years old, with chiseled good looks and an aura of command that is undimmed by retirement. Once, according to the silver bars on his collar, he held the rank of captain in the New York Fire Department. He is not supposed to wear the old uniform at political events, but he pays that rule no mind today. The uniform tells the world that he is a man of substance, a man who has saved lives and held authority. Richard C. Patterson needs every shred of that authority for this occasion. He has come to speak on behalf of an urgent cause. “Pelosi’s political prisoners,” he tells me, have been unjustly jailed.Patterson is talking about the men and women held on criminal charges after invading the Capitol on January 6. He does not at all approve of the word insurrection.“It wasn’t an insurrection,” he says at a September 18 rally called “Justice for January 6.” “None of our countrymen and -women who are currently being held are charged with insurrection. They’re charged with misdemeanor charges.”Patterson is misinformed on that latter point. Of the more than 600 defendants, 78 are in custody when we speak. Most of those awaiting trial in jail are charged with serious crimes such as assault on a police officer, violence with a deadly weapon, conspiracy, or unlawful possession of firearms or explosives. Jeffrey McKellop of Virginia, for instance, is alleged to have hurled a flagpole like a spear into an officer’s face. (McKellop has pleaded not guilty.)Patterson was not in Washington on January 6, but he is fluent in the revisionist narratives spread by fabulists and trolls on social media. He knows those stories verse by verse, the ones about January 6 and the ones about the election rigged against Trump. His convictions are worth examining because he and the millions of Americans who think as he does are the primary source of Trump’s power to corrupt the next election. With a sufficient dose of truth serum, most Republican politicians would likely confess that Biden won in 2020, but the great mass of lumpen Trumpers, who believe the Big Lie with unshakable force, oblige them to pretend otherwise. Like so many others, Patterson is doing his best to parse a torrential flow of political information, and he is failing. His failures leave him, nearly always, with the worldview expounded by Trump.We fall into a long conversation in the sweltering heat, then continue it for weeks by phone and email. I want to plumb the depths of his beliefs, and understand what lies behind his commitment to them. He is prepared to grant me the status of “fellow truth-seeker.”“The ‘Stop the Steal’ rally for election integrity was peaceful,” he says. “I think the big takeaway is when Old Glory made its way into the Rotunda on January 6, our fearless public officials dove for cover at the sight of the American flag.”What about the violence? The crowds battling police?“The police were seen on video in uniform allowing people past the bicycle-rack barricades and into the building,” he replies. “I mean, that’s established. The unarmed crowd did not overpower the officers in body armor. That doesn’t happen. They were allowed in.”Surely he has seen other video, though. Shaky, handheld footage, taken by the rioters themselves, of police officers falling under blows from a baseball bat, a hockey stick, a fire extinguisher, a length of pipe. A crowd crushing Officer Daniel Hodges in a doorway, shouting “Heave! Ho!”Does Patterson know that January 6 was among the worst days for law-enforcement casualties since September 11, 2001? That at least 151 officers from the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department suffered injuries, including broken bones, concussions, chemical burns, and a Taser-induced heart attack?Patterson has not heard these things. Abruptly, he shifts gears. Maybe there was violence, but the patriots were not to blame. In the mayhem of January 6, at least 151 police officers suffered injuries, including broken bones, concussions, and chemical burns. Above: A law-enforcement officer is attacked. (Mel D. Cole) “There were people there deliberately to make it look worse than what it was,” he explains. “A handful of ill-behaved, potentially, possibly agents provocateur.” He repeats the phrase: “Agents provocateur, I have on information, were in the crowd … They were there for nefarious means. Doing the bidding of whom? I have no idea.”“‘On information’?” I ask. What information?“You can look up this name,” he says. “Retired three-star Air Force General McInerney. You got to find him on Rumble. They took him off YouTube.”Sure enough, there on Rumble (and still on YouTube) I find a video of Lieutenant General Thomas G. McInerney, 84, three decades gone from the Air Force. His story takes a long time to tell, because the plot includes an Italian satellite and Pakistan’s intelligence service and former FBI Director James Comey selling secret U.S. cyberweapons to China. Eventually it emerges that “Special Forces mixed with antifa” combined to invade the seat of Congress on January 6 and then blame the invasion on Trump supporters, with the collusion of Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.In a further wrinkle, Pelosi, by McInerney’s account, became “frantic” soon afterward when she discovered that her own false-flag operation had captured a laptop filled with evidence of her treason. McInerney had just come from the White House, he says in his monologue, recorded two days after the Capitol riot. Trump was about to release the Pelosi evidence. McInerney had seen the laptop with his own eyes.It shook me that Patterson took this video for proof. If my house had caught fire 10 years before, my life might have depended on his discernment and clarity of thought. He was an Eagle Scout. He earned a college degree. He keeps current on the news. And yet he has wandered off from the empirical world, placing his faith in fantastic tales that lack any basis in fact or explicable logic.McInerney’s tale had spread widely on Facebook, Twitter, Parler, and propaganda sites like We Love Trump and InfoWars. It joined the January 6 denialist canon and lodged firmly in Patterson’s head. I reached the general by phone and asked about evidence for his claims. He mentioned a source, whose name he couldn’t reveal, who had heard some people saying “We are playing antifa today.” McInerney believed they were special operators because “they looked like SOF people.” He believed that one of them had Pelosi’s laptop, because his source had seen something bulky and square under the suspect’s raincoat. He conceded that even if it was a laptop, he couldn’t know whose it was or what was on it. For most of his story, McInerney did not even claim to have proof. He was putting two and two together. It stood to reason. In truth, prosecutors had caught and charged a neo-Nazi sympathizer who had videotaped herself taking the laptop from Pelosi’s office and bragged about it on Discord. She was a home health aide, not a special operator. (As of this writing, she has not yet entered a plea.)The general’s son, Thomas G. McInerney Jr., a technology investor, learned that I had been talking with his father and asked for a private word with me. He was torn between conflicting obligations of filial loyalty, and took a while to figure out what he wanted to say.“He has a distinguished service record,” he told me after an otherwise off-the-record conversation. “He wants what’s best for the nation and he speaks with a sense of authority, but I have concerns at his age that his judgment is impaired. The older he’s gotten, the stranger things have gotten in terms of what he’s saying.”I tell all of this and more to Patterson. McInerney, the Military Times reported, “went off the rails” after a successful Air Force career. For a while during the Obama years he was a prominent birther and appeared a lot on Fox News, before being fired as a Fox commentator in 2018 for making a baseless claim about John McCain. Last November, he told the WVW Broadcast Network that the CIA operated a computer-server farm in Germany that had helped rig the presidential vote for Biden, and that five Special Forces soldiers had just died trying to seize the evidence. The Army and U.S. Special Operations Command put out dutiful statements that no such mission and no such casualties had taken place.Of course, Patterson wrote to me sarcastically, “governments would NEVER lie to their OWN citizens.” He did not trust the Pentagon’s denials. There are seldom words or time enough to lay a conspiracy theory to rest. Each rebuttal is met with a fresh round of delusions.Patterson is admirably eager for a civil exchange of views. He portrays himself as a man who “may be wrong, and if I am I admit it,” and he does indeed concede on small points. But a deep rage seems to fuel his convictions. I asked him the first time we met if we could talk “about what’s happening in the country, not the election itself.”His smile faded. His voice rose.“There ain’t no fucking way we are letting go of 3 November 2020,” he said. “That is not going to fucking happen. That’s not happening. This motherfucker was stolen. The world knows this bumbling, senile, career corrupt fuck squatting in our White House did not get 81 million votes.”He had many proofs. All he really needed, though, was arithmetic. “The record indicates 141 [million] of us were registered to vote and cast a ballot on November 3,” he said. “Trump is credited with 74 million votes out of 141 million. That leaves 67 million for Joe; that doesn’t leave any more than that. Where do these 14 million votes come from?”Patterson did not recall where he had heard those figures. He did not think he had read Gateway Pundit, which was the first site to advance the garbled statistics. Possibly he saw Trump amplify the claim on Twitter or television, or some other stop along the story’s cascading route across the right-wing mediaverse. Reuters did a good job debunking the phony math, which got the total number of voters wrong. Richard Patterson, a retired firefighter, in the Bronx. Like tens of millions of other Trump supporters, Patterson firmly believes that the 2020 election was stolen. (Philip Montgomery for The Atlantic) I was interested in something else: the worldview that guided Patterson through the statistics. It appeared to him (incorrectly) that not enough votes had been cast to account for the official results. Patterson assumed that only fraud could explain the discrepancy, that all of Trump’s votes were valid, and that the invalid votes must therefore belong to Biden.“Why don’t you say Joe Biden got 81 million and there’s only 60 million left for Trump?” I asked.Patterson was astonished.“It’s not disputed, the 74 million vote count that was credited to President Trump’s reelection effort,” he replied, baffled at my ignorance. “It’s not in dispute … Have you heard that President Trump engaged in cheating and fraudulent practices and crooked machines?”Biden was the one accused of rigging the vote. Everybody said so. And for reasons unspoken, Patterson wanted to be carried away by that story.Robert A. Pape, a well-credentialed connoisseur of political violence, watched the mob attack the Capitol on a television at home on January 6. A name came unbidden to his mind: Slobodan Milošević.Back in June 1989, Pape had been a postdoctoral fellow in political science when the late president of Serbia delivered a notorious speech. Milošević compared Muslims in the former Yugoslavia to Ottomans who had enslaved the Serbs six centuries before. He fomented years of genocidal war that destroyed the hope for a multiethnic democracy, casting Serbs as defenders against a Muslim onslaught on “European culture, religion, and European society in general.”By the time Trump unleashed the angry crowd on Congress, Pape, who is 61, had become a leading scholar on the intersection of warfare and politics. He saw an essential similarity between Milošević and Trump—one that suggested disturbing hypotheses about Trump’s most fervent supporters. Pape, who directs the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, or CPOST, called a staff meeting two days after the Capitol attack. “I talked to my research team and told them we were going to reorient everything we were doing,” he told me.Milošević, Pape said, inspired bloodshed by appealing to fears that Serbs were losing their dominant place to upstart minorities. “What he is arguing” in the 1989 speech “is that Muslims in Kosovo and generally throughout the former Yugoslavia are essentially waging genocide on the Serbs,” Pape said. “And really, he doesn’t use the word replaced. But this is what the modern term would be.”Pape was alluding to a theory called the “Great Replacement.” The term itself has its origins in Europe. But the theory is the latest incarnation of a racist trope that dates back to Reconstruction in the United States. Replacement ideology holds that a hidden hand (often imagined as Jewish) is encouraging the invasion of nonwhite immigrants, and the rise of nonwhite citizens, to take power from white Christian people of European stock. When white supremacists marched with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, they chanted, “Jews will not replace us!”Trump borrowed periodically from the rhetorical canon of replacement. His remarks on January 6 were more disciplined than usual for a president who typically spoke in tangents and unfinished thoughts. Pape shared with me an analysis he had made of the text that Trump read from his prompter.“Our country has been under siege for a long time, far longer than this four-year period,” Trump told the crowd. “You’re the real people. You’re the people that built this nation.” He famously added, “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”Just like Milošević, Trump had skillfully deployed three classic themes of mobilization to violence, Pape wrote: “The survival of a way of life is at stake. The fate of the nation is being determined now. Only genuine brave patriots can save the country.”Watching how the Great Replacement message was resonating with Trump supporters, Pape and his colleagues suspected that the bloodshed on January 6 might augur something more than an aberrant moment in American politics. The prevailing framework for analyzing extremist violence in the U.S., they thought, might not be adequate to explain what was happening.When the Biden administration published a new homeland-security strategy in June, it described the assault on the Capitol as a product of “domestic violent extremists,” and invoked an intelligence assessment that said attacks by such extremists come primarily from lone wolves or small cells. Pape and his colleagues doubted that this captured what had happened on January 6. They set about seeking systematic answers to two basic questions: Who were the insurgents, in demographic terms? And what political beliefs animated them and their sympathizers?Pape’s three-bedroom house, half an hour’s drive south of Chicago, became the pandemic headquarters of a virtual group of seven research professionals, supported by two dozen University of Chicago undergraduates. The CPOST researchers gathered court documents, public records, and news reports to compile a group profile of the insurgents.“The thing that got our attention first was the age,” Pape said. He had been studying violent political extremists in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East for decades. Consistently, around the world, they tended to be in their 20s and early 30s. Among the January 6 insurgents, the median age was 41.8. That was wildly atypical.Then there were economic anomalies. Over the previous decade, one in four violent extremists arrested by the FBI had been unemployed. But only 7 percent of the January 6 insurgents were jobless, and more than half of the group had a white-collar job or owned their own business. There were doctors, architects, a Google field-operations specialist, the CEO of a marketing firm, a State Department official. “The last time America saw middle-class whites involved in violence was the expansion of the second KKK in the 1920s,” Pape told me.Yet these insurgents were not, by and large, affiliated with known extremist groups. Several dozen did have connections with the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, or the Three Percenters militia, but a larger number—six out of every seven who were charged with crimes—had no ties like that at all.Kathleen Belew, a University of Chicago historian and co-editor of A Field Guide to White Supremacy, says it is no surprise that extremist groups were in the minority. “January 6 wasn’t designed as a mass-casualty attack, but rather as a recruitment action” aimed at mobilizing the general population, she told me. “For radicalized Trump supporters … I think it was a protest event that became something bigger.”Pape’s team mapped the insurgents by home county and ran statistical analyses looking for patterns that might help explain their behavior. The findings were counterintuitive. Counties won by Trump in the 2020 election were less likely than counties won by Biden to send an insurrectionist to the Capitol. The higher Trump’s share of votes in a county, in fact, the lower the probability that insurgents lived there. Why would that be? Likewise, the more rural the county, the fewer the insurgents. The researchers tried a hypothesis: Insurgents might be more likely to come from counties where white household income was dropping. Not so. Household income made no difference at all.Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.The CPOST team decided to run a national opinion survey in March, based on themes it had gleaned from the social-media posts of insurgents and the statements they’d made to the FBI under questioning. The researchers first looked to identify people who said they “don’t trust the election results” and were prepared to join a protest “even if I thought the protest might turn violent.” The survey found that 4 percent of Americans agreed with both statements, a relatively small fraction that nonetheless corresponds to 10 million American adults.In June, the researchers sharpened the questions. This brought another surprise. In the new poll, they looked for people who not only distrusted the election results but agreed with the stark assertion that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” And instead of asking whether survey subjects would join a protest that “might” turn violent, they looked for people who affirmed that “the use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.” “Stop the Steal” protesters in Detroit on November 6, 2020. Republican county authorities later attempted to rescind their votes to certify Detroit’s election results. (Philip Montgomery) Pollsters ordinarily expect survey respondents to give less support to more transgressive language. “The more you asked pointed questions about violence, the more you should be getting ‘social-desirability bias,’ where people are just more reluctant,” Pape told me.Here, the opposite happened: the more extreme the sentiments, the greater the number of respondents who endorsed them. In the June results, just over 8 percent agreed that Biden was illegitimate and that violence was justified to restore Trump to the White House. That corresponds to 21 million American adults. Pape called them “committed insurrectionists.” (An unrelated Public Religion Research Institute survey on November 1 found that an even larger proportion of Americans, 12 percent, believed both that the election had been stolen from Trump and that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”)Why such a large increase? Pape believed that Trump supporters simply preferred the harsher language, but “we cannot rule out that attitudes hardened” between the first and second surveys. Either interpretation is troubling. The latter, Pape said, “would be even more concerning since over time we would normally think passions would cool.”In the CPOST polls, only one other statement won overwhelming support among the 21 million committed insurrectionists. Almost two-thirds of them agreed that “African American people or Hispanic people in our country will eventually have more rights than whites.” Slicing the data another way: Respondents who believed in the Great Replacement theory, regardless of their views on anything else, were nearly four times as likely as those who did not to support the violent removal of the president.The committed insurrectionists, Pape judged, were genuinely dangerous. There were not many militia members among them, but more than one in four said the country needed groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. One-third of them owned guns, and 15 percent had served in the military. All had easy access to the organizing power of the internet.What Pape was seeing in these results did not fit the government model of lone wolves and small groups of extremists. “This really is a new, politically violent mass movement,” he told me. “This is collective political violence.”Pape drew an analogy to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, at the dawn of the Troubles. “In 1968, 13 percent of Catholics in Northern Ireland said that the use of force for Irish nationalism was justified,” he said. “The IRA was created shortly thereafter with only a few hundred members.” Decades of bloody violence followed. And 13 percent support was more than enough, in those early years, to sustain it.“It’s the community’s support that is creating a mantle of legitimacy—a mandate, if you would, that justifies the violence” of a smaller, more committed group, Pape said. “I’m very concerned it could happen again, because what we’re seeing in our surveys … is 21 million people in the United States who are essentially a mass of kindling or a mass of dry wood that, if married to a spark, could in fact ignite.”The story of Richard Patterson, once you delve into it, is consonant with Pape’s research. Trump appealed to him as an “in-your-face, brash ‘America First’ guy who has the interest of ‘We the People.’ ” But there was more. Decades of personal and political grudges infuse Patterson’s understanding of what counts as “America” and who counts as “we.”Where Patterson lives, in the Bronx, there were 20,413 fewer non-Hispanic white people in the 2020 census than in 2010. The borough had reconfigured from 11 percent white to 9 percent.Patterson came from Northern Irish stock and grew up in coastal Northern California. He was a “lifetime C student” who found ambition at age 14 when he began to hang around at a local fire station. As soon as he finished high school he took the test to join the Oakland fire department, earning, he said, outstanding scores.“But in those days,” he recalled, “Oakland was just beginning to diversify and hire females. So no job for the big white kid.” The position went to “this little woman … who I know failed the test.”Patterson tried again in San Francisco, but found the department operating under a consent decree. Women and people of color, long excluded, had to be accepted in the incoming cohort. “So, again, the big white kid is told, ‘Fuck you, we got a whole fire department of guys that look just like you. We want the department to look different because diversity is all about an optic.’ ” The department could hire “the Black applicant instead of myself.”Patterson bought a one-way ticket to New York, earned a bachelor’s degree in fire science, and won an offer to join New York’s Bravest. But desegregation had come to New York, too, and Patterson found himself seething.In 1982, a plaintiff named Brenda Berkman had won a lawsuit that opened the door to women in the FDNY. A few years later, the department scheduled training sessions “to assist male firefighters in coming to terms with the assimilation of females into their ranks.” Patterson’s session did not go well. He was suspended without pay for 10 days after a judge found that he had called the trainer a scumbag and a Communist and chased him out of the room, yelling, “Why don’t you fuck Brenda Berkman and I hope you both die of AIDS.” The judge found that the trainer had “reasonably feared for his safety.” Patterson continues to maintain his innocence.Later, as a lieutenant, Patterson came across a line on a routine form that asked for his gender and ethnicity. He resented that. “There was no box for ‘Fuck off,’ so I wrote in ‘Fuck off,’ ” he said. “So they jammed me up for that”—this time a 30-day suspension without pay.Even while Patterson rose through the ranks, he kept on finding examples of how the world was stacked against people like him. “I look at the 2020 election as sort of an example on steroids of affirmative action. The straight white guy won, but it was stolen from him and given to somebody else.”Wait. Wasn’t this a contest between two straight white guys?Not really, Patterson said, pointing to Vice President Kamala Harris: “Everybody touts the gal behind the president, who is currently, I think, illegitimately in our White House. It is, quote, a woman of color, like this is some—like this is supposed to mean something.” And do not forget, he added, that Biden said, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”What to do about all this injustice? Patterson did not want to say, but he alluded to an answer: “Constitutionally, the head of the executive branch can’t tell an American citizen what the fuck to do. Constitutionally, all the power rests with the people. That’s you and me, bro. And Mao is right that all the power emanates from the barrel of a gun.”Did he own a gun himself? “My Second Amendment rights, like my medical history, are my own business,” he replied.Many of Patterson’s fellow travelers at the “Justice for January 6” protest were more direct about their intentions. One of them was a middle-aged man who gave his name as Phil. The former Coast Guard rescue diver from Kentucky had joined the crowd at the Capitol on January 6 but said he has not heard from law enforcement. Civil war is coming, he told me, and “I would fight for my country.”Was he speaking metaphorically?“No, I’m not,” he said. “Oh Lord, I think we’re heading for it. I don’t think it’ll stop. I truly believe it. I believe the criminals—Nancy Pelosi and her criminal cabal up there—is forcing a civil war. They’re forcing the people who love the Constitution, who will give their lives to defend the Constitution—the Democrats are forcing them to take up arms against them, and God help us all.”Gregory Dooner, who was selling flags at the protest, said he had been just outside the Capitol on January 6 as well. He used to sell ads for AT&T Advertising Solutions, and now, in retirement, he peddles MAGA gear: $10 for a small flag, $20 for a big one.Violent political conflict, he told me, was inevitable, because Trump’s opponents “want actual war here in America. That’s what they want.” He added a slogan of the Three Percenters militia: “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.” The Declaration of Independence, which said something like that, was talking about King George III. If taken seriously today, the slogan calls for a war of liberation against the U.S. government.“Yo, hey—hey,” Dooner called out to a customer who had just unfurled one of his banners. “I want to read him the flag.” Protesters rally in Michigan in the days after the election. (Philip Montgomery) He recited the words inscribed on the Stars and Stripes: “A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”“George Washington wrote that,” he said. “That’s where we’re at, gentlemen.”I looked it up. George Washington did not write anything like that. The flag was Dooner’s best seller, even so.Over the course of Trump’s presidency, one of the running debates about the man boiled down to: menace or clown? Threat to the republic, or authoritarian wannabe who had no real chance of breaking democracy’s restraints? Many observers rejected the dichotomy—the essayist Andrew Sullivan, for instance, described the former president as “both farcical and deeply dangerous.” But during the interregnum between November 3 and Inauguration Day, the political consensus leaned at first toward farce. Biden had won. Trump was breaking every norm by refusing to concede, but his made-up claims of fraud were getting him nowhere.In a column headlined “There Will Be No Trump Coup,” the New York Times writer Ross Douthat had predicted, shortly before Election Day, that “any attempt to cling to power illegitimately will be a theater of the absurd.” He was responding in part to my warning in these pages that Trump could wreak great harm in such an attempt.[The Ticket podcast: Barton Gellman on how Trump could tamper with the 2020 vote]One year later, Douthat looked back. In scores of lawsuits, “a variety of conservative lawyers delivered laughable arguments to skeptical judges and were ultimately swatted down,” he wrote, and state election officials warded off Trump’s corrupt demands. My own article, Douthat wrote, had anticipated what Trump tried to do. “But at every level he was rebuffed, often embarrassingly, and by the end his plotting consisted of listening to charlatans and cranks proposing last-ditch ideas” that could never succeed.Douthat also looked ahead, with guarded optimism, to the coming presidential election. There are risks of foul play, he wrote, but “Trump in 2024 will have none of the presidential powers, legal and practical, that he enjoyed in 2020 but failed to use effectively in any shape or form.” And “you can’t assess Trump’s potential to overturn an election from outside the Oval Office unless you acknowledge his inability to effectively employ the powers of that office when he had them.”That, I submit respectfully, is a profound misunderstanding of what mattered in the coup attempt a year ago. It is also a dangerous underestimate of the threat in 2024—which is larger, not smaller, than it was in 2020.It is true that Trump tried and failed to wield his authority as commander in chief and chief law-enforcement officer on behalf of the Big Lie. But Trump did not need the instruments of office to sabotage the electoral machinery. It was citizen Trump—as litigant, as candidate, as dominant party leader, as gifted demagogue, and as commander of a vast propaganda army—who launched the insurrection and brought the peaceful transfer of power to the brink of failure.All of these roles are still Trump’s for the taking. In nearly every battle space of the war to control the count of the next election—statehouses, state election authorities, courthouses, Congress, and the Republican Party apparatus—Trump’s position has improved since a year ago.To understand the threat today, you have to see with clear eyes what happened, what is still happening, after the 2020 election. The charlatans and cranks who filed lawsuits and led public spectacles on Trump’s behalf were sideshows. They distracted from the main event: a systematic effort to nullify the election results and then reverse them. As milestones passed—individual certification by states, the meeting of the Electoral College on December 14—Trump’s hand grew weaker. But he played it strategically throughout. The more we learn about January 6, the clearer the conclusion becomes that it was the last gambit in a soundly conceived campaign—one that provides a blueprint for 2024.The strategic objective of nearly every move by the Trump team after the networks called the election for Joe Biden on November 7 was to induce Republican legislatures in states that Biden won to seize control of the results and appoint Trump electors instead. Every other objective—in courtrooms, on state election panels, in the Justice Department, and in the office of the vice president—was instrumental to that end.Electors are the currency in a presidential contest and, under the Constitution, state legislators control the rules for choosing them. Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the 19th century, every state has ceded the choice to its voters, automatically certifying electors who support the victor at the polls, but in Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court affirmed that a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.” No court has ever said that a state could do that after its citizens have already voted, but that was the heart of Trump’s plan.Every path to stealing the election required GOP legislatures in at least three states to repudiate the election results and substitute presidential electors for Trump. That act alone would not have ensured Trump’s victory. Congress would have had to accept the substitute electors when it counted the votes, and the Supreme Court might have had a say. But without the state legislatures, Trump had no way to overturn the verdict of the voters.Trump needed 38 electors to reverse Biden’s victory, or 37 for a tie that would throw the contest to the House of Representatives. For all his improvisation and flailing in the postelection period, Trump never lost sight of that goal. He and his team focused on obtaining the required sum from among the 79 electoral votes in Arizona (11), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10).Trump had many tactical setbacks. He and his advocates lost 64 of 65 challenges to election results in court, and many of them were indeed comically inept. His intimidation of state officials, though it also failed in the end, was less comical. Trump was too late, barely, to strong-arm Republican county authorities into rejecting Detroit’s election tally (they tried and failed to rescind their “yes” votes after the fact), and Aaron Van Langevelde, the crucial Republican vote on Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers, stood up to Trump’s pressure to block certification of the statewide results. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused the president’s request to “find” 11,780 votes for Trump after two recounts confirming Biden’s win. Two Republican governors, in Georgia and Arizona, signed certificates of Biden’s victory; the latter did so even as a telephone call from Trump rang unanswered in his pocket. The acting attorney general stared down Trump’s plan to replace him with a subordinate, Jeffrey B. Clark, who was prepared to send a letter advising the Georgia House and Senate to reconsider their state’s election results.[Read: How close did the U.S. come to a successful coup?]Had Trump succeeded in any of these efforts, he would have given Republican state legislators a credible excuse to meddle; one success might have led to a cascade. Trump used judges, county boards, state officials, and even his own Justice Department as stepping-stones to his ultimate target: Republican legislators in swing states. No one else could give him what he wanted.Even as these efforts foundered, the Trump team achieved something crucial and enduring by convincing tens of millions of angry supporters, including a catastrophic 68 percent of all Republicans in a November PRRI poll, that the election had been stolen from Trump. Nothing close to this loss of faith in democracy has happened here before. Even Confederates recognized Abraham Lincoln’s election; they tried to secede because they knew they had lost. Delegitimating Biden’s victory was a strategic win for Trump—then and now—because the Big Lie became the driving passion of the voters who controlled the fate of Republican legislators, and Trump’s fate was in the legislators’ hands. A woman bears a flag inscribed with the Second Amendment at a gun-rights rally in Virginia in 2020. (Philip Montgomery) Even so, three strategic points of failure left Trump in dire straits in the days before January 6.First, although Trump won broad rhetorical support from state legislators for his fictitious claims of voter fraud, they were reluctant to take the radical, concrete step of nullifying the votes of their own citizens. Despite enormous pressure, none of the six contested states put forward an alternate slate of electors for Trump. Only later, as Congress prepared to count the electoral votes, did legislators in some of those states begin talking unofficially about “decertifying” the Biden electors.The second strategic point of failure for Trump was Congress, which had the normally ceremonial role of counting the electoral votes. In the absence of action by state legislatures, the Trump team had made a weak attempt at a fallback, arranging for Republicans in each of the six states to appoint themselves “electors” and transmit their “ballots” for Trump to the president of the Senate. Trump would have needed both chambers of Congress to approve his faux electors and hand him the presidency. Republicans controlled only the Senate, but that might have enabled Trump to create an impasse in the count. The trouble there was that fewer than a dozen Republican senators were on board.Trump’s third strategic setback was his inability, despite all expectations, to induce his loyal No. 2 to go along. Vice President Mike Pence would preside over the Joint Session of Congress to count the electoral votes, and in a memo distributed in early January, Trump’s legal adviser John Eastman claimed, on “very solid legal authority,” that Pence himself “does the counting, including the resolution of disputed electoral votes … and all the Members of Congress can do is watch.” If Congress would not crown Trump president, in other words, Pence could do it himself. And if Pence would not do that, he could simply disregard the time limits for debate under the Electoral Count Act and allow Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz to filibuster. “That creates a stalemate,” Eastman wrote, “that would give the state legislatures more time.”Time. The clock was ticking. Several of Trump’s advisers, Rudy Giuliani among them, told allies that friendly legislatures were on the brink of convening special sessions to replace their Biden electors. The Trump conspiracy had made nowhere near that much progress, in fact, but Giuliani was saying it could be done in “five to 10 days.” If Congress went ahead with the count on January 6, it would be too late.On the afternoon of January 5, Sidney Powell—she of the “Kraken” lawsuits, for which she would later be sanctioned in one court and sued in another—prepared an emergency motion addressed to Justice Samuel Alito. The motion, entered into the Supreme Court docket the next day, would go largely unnoticed by the media and the public amid the violence of January 6; few have heard of it even now. But it was Plan A to buy Trump some time.Alito was the circuit justice for the Fifth Circuit, where Powell, on behalf of Representative Louie Gohmert, had sued to compel Mike Pence to take charge of validating electors, disregarding the statutory role of Congress. The vice president had “exclusive authority and sole discretion as to which set of electors to count or even whether to count no set of electors,” Powell wrote. The Electoral Count Act, which says quite otherwise, was unconstitutional.Powell did not expect Alito to rule on the merits immediately. She asked him to enter an emergency stay of the electoral count and schedule briefs on the constitutional claim. If Alito granted the stay, the clock on the election would stop and Trump would gain time to twist more arms in state legislatures.Late in the same afternoon, January 5, Steve Bannon sat behind a microphone for his live War Room show, backswept gray hair spilling from his headphones to the epaulets on a khaki field jacket. He was talking, not very guardedly, about Trump’s Plan B to buy time the next day.“The state legislatures are the center of gravity” of the fight, he said, because “people are going back to the original interpretation of the Constitution.”And there was big news: The Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania Senate, who had resisted pressure from Trump to nullify Biden’s victory, had just signed their names to a letter averring that the commonwealth’s election results “should not have been certified by our Secretary of State.” (Bannon thanked his viewers for staging protests at those legislators’ homes in recent days.) The letter, addressed to Republican leaders in Congress, went on to “ask that you delay certification of the Electoral College to allow due process as we pursue election integrity in our Commonwealth.”For weeks, Rudy Giuliani had starred in spurious “fraud” hearings in states where Biden had won narrowly. “After all these hearings,” Bannon exulted on air, “we finally have a state legislature … that is moving.” More states, the Trump team hoped, would follow Pennsylvania’s lead.Meanwhile, the Trumpers would use the new letter as an excuse for putting off a statutory requirement to count the electoral votes “on the sixth day of January.” Senator Cruz and several allies proposed an “emergency” 10-day delay, ostensibly for an audit.This was a lawless plan on multiple grounds. While the Constitution gives state legislatures the power to select electors, it does not provide for “decertifying” electors after they have cast their ballots in the Electoral College, which had happened weeks before. Even if Republicans had acted earlier, they could not have dismissed electors by writing a letter. Vanishingly few legal scholars believed that a legislature could appoint substitute electors by any means after voters had made their choice. And the governing statute, the Electoral Count Act, had no provision for delay past January 6, emergency or otherwise. Trump’s team was improvising at this point, hoping that it could make new law in court, or that legal niceties would be overwhelmed by events. If Pence or the Republican-controlled Senate had fully backed Trump’s maneuver, there is a chance that they might in fact have produced a legal stalemate that the incumbent could have exploited to stay in power.Above all else, Bannon knew that Trump had to stop the count, which was set to begin at 1 p.m. the next day. If Pence would not stop it and Alito did not come through, another way would have to be found.“Tomorrow morning, look, what’s going to happen, we’re going to have at the Ellipse—President Trump speaks at 11,” Bannon said, summoning his posse to turn up when the gates opened at 7 a.m. Bannon would be back on air in the morning with “a lot more news and analysis of exactly what’s going to go on through the day.”Then a knowing smile crossed Bannon’s face. He swept a palm in front of him, and he said the words that would capture attention, months later, from a congressional select committee.“I’ll tell you this,” Bannon said. “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen. Okay, it’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in.” Earlier the same day, he had predicted, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”Bannon signed off at 6:58 p.m. Later that night he turned up in another war room, this one a suite at the Willard Hotel, across the street from the White House. He and others in Trump’s close orbit, including Eastman and Giuliani, had been meeting there for days. Congressional investigators have been deploying subpoenas and the threat of criminal sanctions—Bannon has been indicted for contempt of Congress—to discover whether they were in direct contact with the “Stop the Steal” rally organizers and, if so, what they planned together.Shortly after Bannon signed off, a 6-foot-3-inch mixed martial artist named Scott Fairlamb responded to his call. Fairlamb, who fought under the nickname “Wildman,” reposted Bannon’s war cry to Facebook: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” The next morning, after driving before dawn from New Jersey to Washington, he posted again: “How far are you willing to go to defend our Constitution?” Fairlamb, then 43, answered the question for his own part a few hours later at the leading edge of a melee on the West Terrace of the Capitol—seizing a police baton and later punching an officer in the face. “What patriots do? We fuckin’ disarm them and then we storm the fuckin’ Capitol!” he screamed at fellow insurgents.Less than an hour earlier, at 1:10 p.m., Trump had finished speaking and directed the crowd toward the Capitol. The first rioters breached the building at 2:11 p.m. through a window they shattered with a length of lumber and a stolen police shield. About one minute later, Fairlamb burst through the Senate Wing Door brandishing the baton, a teeming mob behind him. (Fairlamb pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer and other charges.)Another minute passed, and then without warning, at 2:13, a Secret Service detail pulled Pence away from the Senate podium, hustling him out through a side door and down a short stretch of hallway.Pause for a moment to consider the choreography. Hundreds of angry men and women are swarming through the halls of the Capitol. They are fresh from victory in hand-to-hand combat with an outnumbered force of Metropolitan and Capitol Police. Many have knives or bear spray or baseball bats or improvised cudgels. A few have thought to carry zip-tie wrist restraints. Some are shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” Others call out hated Democrats by name.These hundreds of rioters are fanning out, intent on finding another group of roughly comparable size: 100 senators and 435 members of the House, in addition to the vice president. How long can the one group roam freely without meeting the
Try to Imagine the Death of American Democracy
Danielle Del Plato A year after the insurrection, I’m trying to imagine the death of American democracy. It’s somehow easier to picture the Earth blasted and bleached by global warming, or the human brain overtaken by the tyranny of artificial intelligence, than to foresee the end of our 250-year experiment in self-government.The usual scenarios are unconvincing. The country is not going to split into two hostile sections and fight a war of secession. No dictator will send his secret police to round up dissidents in the dead of night. Analogies like these bring the comfort of at least being familiar. Nothing has aided Donald Trump more than Americans’ failure of imagination. It’s essential to picture an unprecedented future so that what may seem impossible doesn’t become inevitable.Before January 6, no one—including intelligence professionals—could have conceived of a president provoking his followers to smash up the Capitol. Even the rioters livestreaming in National Statuary Hall seemed stunned by what they were doing. The siege felt like a wild shot that could have been fatal. For a nanosecond, shocked politicians of both parties sang together from the hymnal of democracy. But the unity didn’t last. The past months have made it clear that the near miss was a warning shot.[Read: January 6 was practice]If the end comes, it will come through democracy itself. Here’s one way I imagine it could happen: In 2024, disputed election results in several states lead to tangled proceedings in courtrooms and legislatures. The Republican Party’s long campaign of undermining faith in elections leaves voters on both sides deeply skeptical of any outcome they don’t like. When the next president is finally chosen by the Supreme Court or Congress, half the country explodes in rage. Protests soon turn violent, and the crowds are met with lethal force by the state, while instigators firebomb government buildings. Neighborhoods organize self-defense groups, and law-enforcement officers take sides or go home. Predominantly red or blue counties turn on political minorities. A family with a Biden-Harris sign has to abandon home on a rural road and flee to the nearest town. A blue militia sacks Trump National Golf Club Bedminster; a red militia storms Oberlin College. The new president takes power in a state of siege.Few people would choose this path. It’s the kind of calamity into which fragile societies stumble when their leaders are reckless, selfish, and shortsighted. But some Americans actually long for an armed showdown. In an article for the Claremont Review of Books imagining how the cultural conflict between blue California and red Texas might play out, Michael Anton, a former Trump White House adviser, recently wrote:If the Lone Star way of life is to survive, Texans must fight for it. Then we shall see whether California’s long experiment with postmodern deracination and anti-masculinity can stand up to Texas’s more robust embrace of the old virtues. I’m not a betting man, but were that conflict to erupt, my money would be on Texas.Imagining the worst is a civic duty; cheering it on is political arson.Another, likelier scenario is widespread cynicism. Following the election crisis, protests burn out. Americans lapse into acquiescence, believing that all leaders lie, all voting is rigged, all media are bought, corruption is normal, and any appeal to higher values such as freedom and equality is either fraudulent or naive. The loss of democracy turns out not to matter all that much. The hollowed core of civic life brings a kind of relief. Citizens indulge themselves in self-care and the metaverse, where politics turns into a private game and algorithms drive Americans into ever more extreme views that have little relation to reality or relevance to those in power. There’s enough wealth to keep the population content. America’s transformation into Russia is complete.We know what’s driving us toward this cataclysm: not simply Trump, but the Republican Party. By the usual standards, Trump’s postpresidency has been as pathetic as the forced exile of any minor dictator—Idi Amin poolside in Jeddah. Much of Trump’s nongolfing time is devoted to fending off criminal charges against his business. Banned from Twitter and Facebook, he started a blog that was so anemic, he had to shut it down. His sore-loser rallies are desultory. And yet, in the year since the insurrection, the party has aligned itself so completely with his sense of grievance and lust for revenge that there’s no room for dissent.Establishment Republicans believe they’ve found a way to return to power: mollify the base and keep Trump at a distance, while appealing to suburban moderates with conventional issues such as education and inflation. Sooner or later, the party will be cleansed of Trump’s stain. But this is wishful thinking, and not just because he’s almost certain to run again in 2024. A party can’t be half-democratic and half-authoritarian. The insurrection and the lie that instigated it are not tools that Republicans can put away when it suits them. The corruption is too deep.[David A. Graham: January 6 has become the New Lost Cause of Donald Trump]Most Republican voters believe that the last election was stolen and that the next one likely will be too. Some have come to embrace the insurrection as a sacred cause. Ashli Babbitt, the invader killed by a Capitol Police officer, has become a martyr. Steve Bannon’s podcast, which rallies the conspiracy-minded to take over the party from the ground up, has tens of millions of downloads. “Election security” (a euphemism for the myth of rampant fraud) has become the top issue for candidates in heavily Republican states like Oklahoma, where an extremist pastor named Jackson Lahmeyer is running against Senator James Lankford over his vote to certify President Joe Biden’s win. Even the “moderate” Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s new governor, refused to acknowledge Biden as the legitimate president until after the state’s Republican nominating convention. Republicans who dared to criticize Trump have become the objects of more visceral hatred than any Democrat; most have prudently gone silent. Those few who have the temerity to tell the truth are being pushed out of the party.Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers around the country have spent the year stacking state election offices with partisans who can be counted on to do Trump’s bidding next time. State legislatures have tried, in many cases successfully, to pass laws that will make it easier to manipulate or overturn election results and intimidate nonpartisan officials by criminalizing minor infractions. In state after state, Republicans have tried to make it harder for Americans, especially Democratic constituencies, to vote. This tireless campaign of legislation and disinformation has set in motion an irreversible process of electoral sabotage.In a sense, the Republican Party now functions like an insurgency. It has a legal, legitimate wing that conducts politics as usual and an underground wing that threatens violence. The first wing is made up of leaders such as Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, who oppose Democratic bills, stoke conservative anger over progressive policies, and try to stay clear of Trump’s fantasies and vendettas. But every day they collaborate with party figures in the underground wing, whose lies mobilize the base, and whose goal is not so much to refight the last election as to give a pretext for fixing future ones. McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham quietly bemoan Trump’s obsession with fraud, as if “Stop the Steal” is just a personal fixation that hurts the party, not a path to power.Not even Senator Mitt Romney will take a single step that could save democracy. The Freedom to Vote Act is a compromise bill between progressive and moderate Democrats that would establish national rules for voting rights—heading off state laws that limit ballot access and enable partisan attempts to throw out legitimate votes. But Romney won’t join Democrats to pass it, or even let it be brought up for debate. (No Republican will—which is why the filibuster has become such a powerful weapon in the hands of antidemocrats.) Romney doesn’t lack moral courage. He voted twice, once as the lone Republican, to throw Trump out of office. But after that crisis passed, he returned to the narrow thinking of a party man. It seems Romney can’t bring himself to imagine that democracy is threatened not just by Trump, but by his own party.Democrats suffer from a different failure of imagination. They regularly sound the alarm about the threat to democracy, but it is one of many alarms, along with those over the pandemic, child care, health care, criminal justice, guns, climate change. All of these deserve urgent attention, but they can’t be equally urgent. Biden has spent far less of his political capital on saving democracy than on passing an infrastructure bill. According to a Grinnell College poll in October, only 35 percent of Democrats believe that American democracy faces a “major threat.” The figure is twice as large for Republicans—whose belief in a major threat is the threat. Delusion about the danger prevails in both parties.When Democrats talk about the threat, they focus on disenfranchisement, describing the new Republican election laws as “Jim Crow 2.0.” The language, by provocatively invoking that terrible history, highlights the racial bias in the laws. But the threat we face is a new one; it requires new thinking. Through most of American history, both parties, while excluding large numbers of Americans from the franchise, basically accepted the choice of the electorate—and that is no longer true. The supreme danger now is not that voters in urban counties will have a harder time finding a drop box, or that some states will shorten the mail-ballot application window. The danger is that the express will of the American people could be overthrown.Failures of imagination result from the expectation that what has always happened will continue to happen, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. They console us with the belief that the worst won’t befall people like us. Europe had never known a Hitler, and so the Western powers thought they were dealing with a comic-opera maniac, even as he made no secret of his plans for a genocidal slave empire. The United States had never seen mass slaughter by foreign terrorists on its soil, and so the planes of September 11 seemed to come out of the blue, though al‑Qaeda had been trying to kill Americans for a decade. Citizens of liberal democracies are particularly unequipped to see these eruptions in history coming, because our system of government is founded, as Jefferson wrote, on a belief in “the sufficiency of human reason for the care of human affairs.” It’s hard to accept that the foundation of democracy is quite this fragile.[From the September 2021 issue: 9/11 was a warning of what was to come]For all the violence and oppression of American history, we’ve enjoyed the steadiest democratic run in the modern world. Political stability and national wealth allowed many Americans to go long periods relatively untouched by politics. The end of Trump’s cruel and frenzied presidency seemed to promise a return to the old comforts of the private sphere. Realizing that his defeat gives no respite exhausts me even more than his years in office.There is no easy way to stop a major party that’s intent on destroying democracy. The demonic energy with which Trump repeats his lies, and Bannon harangues his audience, and Republican politicians around the country try to seize every lever of election machinery—this relentless drive for power by American authoritarians is the major threat that America confronts. The Constitution doesn’t have an answer. No help will come from Republican leaders; if Romney and Susan Collins are all that stand between the republic and its foes, we’re doomed.There is a third scenario, though, beyond mass violence or mass cynicism: a civic movement to save democracy. In an age of extreme polarization, it would take the form of a broad alliance of the left and the center-right. This democratic coalition would have to imagine America’s political suicide without distractions or illusions. And it would have to take precedence over everything else in politics.[George Packer: Can civics save America?]Citizens will have to do boring things—run for obscure local election offices and volunteer as poll watchers—with the same unflagging energy as the enemies of democracy. Decent Republicans will have to work and vote for Democrats, and Democrats will have to work and vote for anti-Trump Republicans or independents in races where no Democrat has a chance to win. Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration will have to make the Freedom to Vote Act their top priority, altering or ending the filibuster to give this democratic fire wall a chance to become law.It will be no easy matter to defy the prevailing forces in American politics—those that continually push us toward the extremes, to the benefit of elites in technology, media, and politics. A cycle of mutual antagonism normalizes illiberal thinking on all sides. The illiberalism of progressives—still no match for that of the antidemocratic right—consists of an ideology of identity that tolerates little dissent. As a political strategy, it has proved self-destructive. Ignoring ordinary citizens’ reasonable anxieties about crime, immigration, and education—or worse, dismissing them as racist—only encourages the real racists on the right, fails to turn out the left, and infuriates the middle. The ultimate winner will be Trump.The overriding concern of democratic citizens must be the survival and strength of the alliance. They will have to resist going to the mat over issues that threaten to tear it apart. The point is not to abandon politics, but to pursue it wisely. Avoid language and postures that needlessly antagonize people with whom you disagree; distinguish between their legitimate and illegitimate views; take stock of their experiences. This, too, requires imagination.Finding shared ground wherever possible in pursuit of the common good is not most people’s favorite brand of politics. But it’s the politics we need for the emergency that’s staring us in the face, if only we will see it.This article appears in the January/February 2022 print edition with the headline “Imagine the Worst.”
A Party, and Nation, in Crisis
In October of 1860, The Atlantic’s first editor, James Russell Lowell, wrote of Abraham Lincoln that he “had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.” Lowell, in his endorsement, was mainly concerned not with Lincoln’s personal qualities but with the redemptive possibilities of his new party. The Republicans, Lowell wrote, “know that true policy is gradual in its advances, that it is conditional and not absolute, that it must deal with facts and not with sentiments.”There is insufficient space in any one issue of this magazine to trace the Republican Party’s decomposition from Lincoln’s day to ours. It is enough to say that its most recent, and most catastrophic, turn—toward authoritarianism, nativism, and conspiracism—threatens the republic that it was founded to save.[From the October 1860 issue: James Russell Lowell endorses Abraham Lincoln for president] Stock Montage / Getty Stating plainly that one of America’s two major parties, the party putatively devoted to advancing the ideas and ideals of conservatism, has now fallen into autocratic disrepute is unnerving for a magazine committed to being, in the words of our founding manifesto, “of no party or clique.” Criticism of the Republican Party does not suggest an axiomatic endorsement of the Democratic Party, its leaders and policies. Substantive, even caustic, critiques can of course be made up and down the Democratic line. But avoiding partisan entanglement does not mean that we must turn away from the obvious. The leaders of the Republican Party—the soul-blighted Donald Trump and the satraps and lackeys who abet his nefarious behavior—are attempting to destroy the foundations of American democracy. This must be stated clearly, and repeatedly.“There will be no recovery from this crisis until the Republican Party recommits itself to democracy,” says this magazine’s David Frum, who was one of the first writers to warn that America possessed no special immunities against demagoguery and authoritarianism.In 2020, we asked another of our staff writers, Barton Gellman, to examine the ways in which Trumpism was weakening the norms and structures of American democracy. We published his cover story “The Election That Could Break America” before the election, and well before the insurrection of January 6. “Something far out of the norm is likely to happen,” Gellman wrote. “Probably more than one thing. Expecting otherwise will dull our reflexes. It will lull us into spurious hope that Trump is tractable to forces that constrain normal incumbents.”As we know, the system held, but barely, America having been blessed, once again, by dumb luck. (The bravery of police officers on Capitol Hill, and the wisdom of a handful of state and local officials, also helped.) When President Joe Biden was safely inaugurated, two weeks after the attack on the Capitol, a belief took hold that Trump, and Trumpism, might very well go into eclipse.But that belief was wrong. Which is why we asked Bart to examine, once again, the state of our democracy and the various attempts by Trump and other leading Republicans to claim power through voter suppression, subterfuge, and any other means necessary. His current cover story, “January 6 Was Practice,” suggests that we are close—closer than most of us ever thought possible—to losing not only our democracy, but what’s left of our shared understanding of reality.You will find in this issue other essays and reporting that illuminate the political, moral, and epistemological challenges we face today, including an investigation by Vann R. Newkirk II into Republican voter-suppression efforts, and an article by Kaitlyn Tiffany on a child-sex-trafficking panic intensified by the far right’s descent into conspiratorial thinking. The crisis is in good measure a crisis of the Republican Party. A healthy democracy requires a strong conservative party and a strong liberal party arguing for their views publicly and vigorously. What we have instead today is a liberal party battling an authoritarian cult of personality. As David Brooks writes in his essay “I Remember Conservatism”: “To be a conservative today, you have to oppose much of what the Republican Party has come to stand for.”The Atlantic, across its long history, has held true to the belief that the American experiment is a worthy one, which is why we’re devoting this issue, and so much of our journalism in the coming years, to its possible demise.This article appears in the January/February 2022 print edition with the headline “A Party, and Nation, in Crisis.”
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