On this day in 1880, the Republican candidate for president, James A. Garfield, spoke to thousands of supporters from the balcony of the Republican headquarters in New York City. Ten years before, in 1870, Americans had added the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, making sure that Black men could vote by guaranteeing that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
As soon as the amendment was ratified, though, white southerners who were dead set against their Black neighbors participating in their government began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds. Their objection to Black voting, they claimed, was that poor, uneducated Black men just out of enslavement were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services, like roads and schools, that could be paid for only with taxes levied on people with the means to pay, which in the post–Civil War South usually meant white men.
Complaining that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—white southerners began to keep Black voters from the polls. In 1878, Democrats captured both the House and the Senate, and former Confederates took control of key congressional committees. From there, in the summer of 1879, they threatened to shut down the federal government altogether unless the president, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, agreed to end the federal protection of Black Americans in the South.
The congressional leader who eventually forced them to back down was James A. Garfield (R-OH). Impressed by his successful effort to save the country, in 1880, party leaders nominated him for president.
Garfield was a brilliant and well-educated man and had served in the Civil War himself. On August 6 in New York City, he singled out the veterans in the crowd to explain how he saw the nation’s future.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “ideas outlive men; ideas outlive all earthly things. You who fought in the war for the Union fought for immortal ideas, and by their might you crowned the war with victory. But victory was worth nothing except for the truths that were under it, in it, and above it. We meet tonight as comrades to stand guard around the sacred truths for which we fought.”
“[W]e will remember our allies who fought with us,” he told them. “Soon after the great struggle began, we looked beyond the army of white rebels, and saw 4,000,000 of [B]lack people condemned to toil as slaves for our enemies; and we found that the hearts of these 4,000,000 were God-inspired with the spirit of liberty, and that they were all our friends.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “We have seen white men betray the flag and fight to kill the Union; but in all that long, dreary war we never saw a traitor in a black skin.” To great applause, he vowed, “[W]e will stand by these [B]lack allies. We will stand by them until the sun of liberty, fixed in the firmament of our Constitution, shall shine with equal ray upon every man, [B]lack or white, throughout the Union.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “Fellow-citizens, fellow-soldiers, in this there is the beneficence of eternal justice, and by it we will stand forever.”
Garfield won the presidency that year, but just barely. The South went solidly Democratic, and in the years to come, white northerners looked the other way as white southerners kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses that cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had voted, literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed, poll taxes that were enforced arbitrarily, and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. In 1880, the South became solidly Democratic, and with white men keeping Black people from the polls, it would remain so until 1964.
But then, exactly 85 years after Garfield’s speech, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The need for the law was explained in its full title: “An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, and for other purposes.”
Black Americans had never accepted their exclusion from the vote, and after World War II, they and other people of color who had fought for the nation overseas brought home their determination to be treated equally. White reactionaries responded with violence, but Black Americans continued to stand up for their rights. In 1957 and 1960, under pressure from President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress passed civil rights acts designed to empower the federal government to enforce the laws protecting Black voting.
In 1961 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) began intensive efforts to register voters and to organize communities to support political change. Because only 6.7% of Black Mississippians were registered, Mississippi became a focal point, and in the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, volunteers set out to register voters. On June 21, Ku Klux Klan members, at least one of whom was a law enforcement officer, murdered organizers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and, when discovered, laughed at the idea they would be punished for the murders.
That year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which strengthened voting rights. On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, marchers led by John Lewis (who would go on to serve 17 terms in Congress) headed for Montgomery to demonstrate their desire to vote. Law enforcement officers stopped them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and beat them bloody.
On March 15, President Johnson called for Congress to pass legislation defending Americans’ right to vote. “There is no constitutional issue here,” he told them. “The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of states’ rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.” Congress passed the measure. And on this day in 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.
“Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield,” he told the country. “I pledge [to] you that we will not delay, or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same right as all others to share in the process of democracy.”
“[M]en cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it,” he said. “The central fact of American civilization…is that freedom and justice and the dignity of man are not just words to us. We believe in them. Under all the growth and the tumult and abundance, we believe. And so, as long as some among us are oppressed—and we are part of that oppression—it must blunt our faith and sap the strength of our high purpose.”
“Speech of General James A. Garfield delivered to the ‘boys in blue.’” New York, August 6, 1880, at Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/
On this day in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a new tax law to help fund the United States government during the Civil War. Far more than writing a traditional revenue act to address the catastrophic war that had demonstrated its horrors just two weeks earlier at the Battle of Bull Run, Congress deliberately constructed the law to shift ownership of the American government away from the bankers who had previously provided Treasury funds, to the American people.
Over the next four years, the Republican Congress would put taxes on virtually every product in the country and then, to guarantee that “the burdens will be more equalized on all classes of the community, more especially on those who are able to bear them,” as Senate Finance Committee chair William Pitt Fessenden (R-ME) put it, they invented the nation’s first income tax.
In 1861, Congress levied a 3% tax on income over $800; in 1862, concerned that the level of taxation necessary to pay for the war would be too much for most Americans to bear, Congress placed a general tax at 3% and created a progressive income tax. It taxed income over $600 at 3% and income over $10,000 at 5%. “The weight must be distributed equally,” Representative Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT) said, “not upon each man an equal amount, but a tax proportionate to his ability to pay.” In 1864, Congress revised those numbers upward. They put general taxes at 5% and raised the income tax brackets to 5% for income from $600 to $5,000 and 7.5% for income from $5,000 to $10,000.
Morrill thought it was important for the federal government to collect the tax directly to illustrate that people were supporting the United States of America, not individual states, as they might think if states collected the taxes. The federal government had a right to “demand” 99% of a man’s property for an urgent necessity, he said. When the nation required it, “the property of the people… belongs to the Government.”
Indeed, the new taxes cemented loyalty to the United States. With their money behind the war effort, Americans became more and more committed to their cause. As the war costs mounted, far from objecting to taxes, Americans asked their congressmen to raise them, out of concern about the growing national debt. In 1864, Senator John P. Hale (R-NH) said: “The condition of the country is singular…I venture to say it is an anomaly in the history of the world. What do the people of the United States ask of this Congress? To take off taxes? No, sir, they ask you to put them on. The universal cry of this people is to be taxed.”
Enlisting more than 2 million soldiers and sailors into the war effort, moving them, equipping them, and arming them eventually cost the United States more than $5 billion. Taxes paid for about 21% of that cost.
This day in history seems relevant again in 2022 as today’s Republicans stand united against the Inflation Reduction Act.
This new bill, announced by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on July 27, will invest $386 billion into addressing climate change and new energy development, and $100 billion in new health care spending, including extending subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. The measure will raise about $790 billion in savings and revenue over a decade. It will save money by enabling Medicare to negotiate the prices for certain prescription drugs and by beefing up funding for the IRS to enforce existing tax laws. It also will raise revenue by requiring corporations to pay a minimum tax of 15%. The measure is projected to raise about $50 billion a year for 9 years, which will be used to reduce the federal deficit by $300 billion.
Last night, Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, the last Democratic holdout on the bill, said she would support it if leaders added drought money for Arizona and removed the carried interest loophole that lowers taxation for certain wealthy hedge fund managers. The carried interest loophole would have raised $14 billion, but Democrats instead added a 1% tax on stock buybacks, which is expected to make up that money.
The measure is expected to pass the House but can make it through the Senate only because Democrats will pass it under the system known as reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered. Republicans are dead set against the measure, although all of its pieces are widely popular. Indeed, the Inflation Reduction Act seems to reflect the sort of government the Republicans constructed during the Civil War: one that answered to the American people, and one in which the government is making an effort to distribute the costs of that government among people according to their ability to pay.
Today’s Republicans reject the idea. Instead, echoing Republican rhetoric since the 1980s, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has taken the position that taxes do not build the country, but destroy it. He says that Democrats “want to pile on giant tax hikes that will hammer workers and kill many thousands of American jobs.”
And yet, in the Wall Street Journal, Princeton economics professor Alan S. Blinder, who served as vice chair of the Federal Reserve from 1994 to 1996, points out that the proposed tax changes “are tiny compared with the Trump tax cuts,” which “slashed the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and allowed more items to be expensed.”
What is at stake in this contest is the same issue Republicans grappled with in the 1860s, guaranteeing that “the burdens [of taxation] will be more equalized on all classes of the community, more especially on those who are able to bear them.” Now, though, it is the Democrats taking up that cause.
The Senate will work on the bill this weekend.
The introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act caps what has turned out to be a spectacular week for the Biden administration. Jobs numbers out today showed not the downturn that many expected, but instead the addition of 528,000 new jobs, restoring the U.S. job numbers to where they were before the pandemic and putting unemployment at 3.5%, the lowest rate in 50 years. The United States Chips and Science Act (CHIPS) and the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) have both passed Congress. The president authorized and troops achieved the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. And gas prices have hit a 50-day low.
I have spent the day rereading the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the news of the day has heightened its relevance.
During the Trump administration, after an extensive investigation, the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election…by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”
But that effort was not just about the election. It was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society…a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood…the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions of the United States.” It was “a sustained campaign of information warfare against the United States aimed at influencing how this nation’s citizens think about themselves, their government, and their fellow Americans.”
That effort is not limited to foreign nationals. This week, Alex Jones, a purveyor of conspiracy theories and false information on his InfoWars network—the tagline is “There’s a War on For Your Mind!”—is part of a civil trial to determine damages in his defamation of the parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in which 26 people, 20 of them small children, were murdered.
Jones claimed that the massacre wasn’t real, and his listeners harassed the grieving families. A number of families sued him. In the case currently in the news, Jones refused for years to comply with orders to hand over documents and evidence, so finally, in September, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, issued a default judgment holding him responsible for all damages. Since the judge has repeatedly had to reprimand Jones for lying under oath during this trial, it seems that Jones intended simply to continue spinning a false story of his finances, his business practices, and his actions.
The construction of a world based on lies is a key component of authoritarians’ takeover of democratic societies. George Orwell’s 1984 explored a world in which those in power use language to replace reality, shaping the past and people’s daily experiences to cement their control. They are constantly reconstructing the past to justify their actions in the present. In Orwell’s dystopian fantasy, Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history for the Ministry of Truth to reflect the changing interests of a mysterious cult leader, Big Brother, who wants power for its own sake and enforces loyalty through The Party’s propaganda and destruction of those who do not conform.
Political philosopher Hannah Arendt went further, saying that the lies of an authoritarian were designed not to persuade people, but to organize them into a mass movement. Followers would “believe everything and nothing,” Arendt wrote, “think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” “The ideal subject” for such a dictator, Arendt wrote, was not those who were committed to an ideology, but rather “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist.”
It has been a source of frustration to those eager to return our public debates to ones rooted in reality that lies that have built a certain right-wing personality cannot be punctured because of the constant sowing of confusion around them. Part of why the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been so effective is that it has carefully built a story out of verifiable facts. Because House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew the pro-Trump Republicans from the committee, we have not had to deal with the muddying of the water by people like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who specializes in bullying and hectoring to get sound bites that later turn up in on right-wing channels in a narrative that mischaracterizes what actually happened.
But today something happened that makes puncturing the bubble of disinformation personal. In the damages trial, the lawyer for the Sandy Hook parents, Mark Bankston, revealed that Jones’s attorney accidentally shared a digital copy of two years’ worth of the texts and emails on Jones’s phone and, when alerted to the error, didn’t declare it privileged. Thus Bankston is reviewing the material and has said that Jones lied under oath. This material includes both texts and financial reports that Jones apparently said didn’t exist.
This is a big deal for the trial, of course—perjury is a crime—and it is a bigger deal for those who have believed InfoWars, since it reveals how profitable the lies have been. Bankston revealed that for all of Jones’s claims of low income, in 2018 InfoWars made between $100,000 and $200,000 a day, and some days they made $800,000. But there is more. People calculating the math will note that if indeed there are two years of records on that phone, the messages will include the weeks around the events of January 6, 2021.
Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng of Rolling Stone report that the January 6th committee will request the text messages and emails, which should cover the period around January 6. Jones, who has already spoken with the committee, played a role in the events of that day, whipping up supporters and speaking at a rally on January 5. He is also close to Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, who appeared often on Jones’s InfoWars show and provided Jones’s security. When he testified before the committee, Jones invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
The January 6 insurrection relied on the Big Lie that Donald Trump had won the 2020 election, a lie that has dramatically destabilized our country. Republicans have only deepened their commitment to that lie since January 6. After yesterday’s Republican primaries, in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, all key states for 2024, election deniers have clinched the Republican nomination for secretary of state—the person in charge of elections—or the governor who would appoint that officer.
In Arizona, Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake claimed there was fraud in her election, without evidence and even before the votes had been counted. “I’m gonna go supernova radioactive,” she told supporters. “We’re not gonna let them steal an election.” (Lake’s election is still unresolved as ballots are being counted.)
If indeed Jones’s phone turns out to have key texts that go to the January 6 committee, it might provide more facts that will help to diminish the Big Lie. Tonight another piece of information about that lie came from Maggie Haberman and Luke Broadwater, who reported in the New York Times that John Eastman, the lawyer who produced the memo explaining the plan to have then–vice president Mike Pence overturn the 2020 presidential election, told Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani that they must continue to fight even after January 6, suggesting they contest Georgia’s election of Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock to the Senate in the hope that those races might yield the evidence of voter fraud that until then they hadn’t found. “A lot of us have now staked our reputations on the claims of election fraud, and this would be a way to gather proof,” he wrote.
Eastman also asked Giuliani to help him collect a $270,000 fee from the Trump campaign for his work on overturning the election, and he implied that the effort could be ongoing.
Way back in 2004, an advisor to President George W. Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that people like Suskind were in “the reality-based community”: they believed people could find solutions based on their observations and careful study of discernible reality. But, the aide continued, such a worldview was obsolete. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore…. We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
I wonder if reality is starting to reassert itself.
The Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate on Russian Active Measures, Campaigns, and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, pp. 3-12.
Tonight, President Joe Biden announced that a drone strike managed by the Central Intelligence Agency at 9:48 Eastern time on Saturday killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, 71, who took control of al-Qaeda after the death of leader Osama bin Laden. The precision strike hit Zawahiri as he stood on a balcony in a prosperous section of Kabul, Afghanistan. There were no civilian casualties.
Zawahiri believed that attacking the U.S. and allied countries was essential to undermining the pro-Western Arab regimes that were standing in the way of uniting Muslims around the world. In 1998, he wrote, “To kill Americans and their allies—civilian and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in every country in which it is possible to do it.” In that year, he was a senior advisor to bin Laden when al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people and wounding more than 4500 others. He planned the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, which killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more. He helped to plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Under the Doha Agreement of February 29, 2020, negotiated by the Trump administration and the Taliban without the involvement of the then-Afghan government, the U.S. agreed to withdraw all its forces so long as the Taliban promised not to permit terrorist organizations to operate within their territory. And yet the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan a year ago provided Zawahiri with the ability to operate comfortably in that country.
When President Biden withdrew remaining troops from Afghanistan in August of last year, he said the U.S. would be better served by fighting terrorism with “over-the-horizon” attacks rather than with soldiers on the ground. The elimination of Zawahiri proved his point. “No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Judge Dabney Fredrich sentenced Capitol rioter Guy Reffitt to more than 7 years in prison, 3 years of probation, $2000 in fines, and mental health treatment. In March, a Washington, D.C., jury found Reffitt guilty of five charges in connection with the events of January 6, including obstructing an official proceeding and threatening his children to keep them from reporting him to law enforcement officials. Reffitt was a recruiter for a militia gang. He brought a gun to the riot, boasted of leading the charge into the Capitol, and threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He had been eager to take his case to trial, but after being found guilty, he said he was a “f*ck*ng idiot” who was parroting “founding fathers and stupid sh*t like that” around the time of the riot.
Prosecutors wanted to attach penalties for terrorism to the sentencing, but Fredrich declined, sayng that would creae an “unwarranted disparity” between his sentence and those of other rioters.
The cargo ship Razoni left Odesa today on its way to Lebanon with 26,000 tons of corn from Ukraine. On July 22 the United Nations and Turkey signed agreements with Russia and Ukraine to open Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea to allow exports of grain to relieve a growing food shortage. Ukraine and Russia export billions of dollars’ worth of agricultural products, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut off exports and sent food prices soaring.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, wrote on Facebook that Ukraine’s ports would be fully operational in a few weeks, and cheered the help for the global food shortage. Meanwhile, Russia bought into the deal because it allows Russia to export grain and fertilizer, which western sanctions have frozen.
Still, Russia has repeatedly bombed the region around Odesa since the deal was signed.
Today, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have stripped it of protections for abortion rights. With 86% of the vote in, 62% of voters supported abortion protections; 37% wanted them gone. That spread is astonishing. Kansas voters had backed Trump in 2020; Republicans had arranged for the referendum to fall on the day of a primary, which traditionally attracts higher percentages of hard-line Republicans; and they had written the question so that a “yes” vote would remove abortion protections and a “no” would leave them in place. Then, today, a political action committee sent out texts that lied about which vote was which.