Starting the End in Texas

Each and every Memorial Day the president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and says what needs to be said. Trump did his duty. He had never served. His sons had never served. And he didn’t think much of the military – all of his generals he had decided were fools and cowards and little babies after he heard what they had to say about his ideas. He knew more about the military than all of them combined, and he admired Putin and Kim, strong leaders. They didn’t. And his generals didn’t like him much, although they couldn’t say that until a few years had passed after he had dismissed them. Then they said that. So that wreath-laying ceremony was a bit awkward each year. The man who had kept insisting that John McCain had been a fool, not a hero at all – that he himself was more of a hero than John McCain would ever be – had to talk about people like John McCain. He said a few words. Other people had written them for him. The nation shrugged.

Joe Biden is different. His son Beau had served in Iraq with the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and then had come home to serve as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Major in the Delaware Army National Guard. And then he died of a brain tumor, on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. His father was proud of him and still is. Beau served his country honorably. Trump and his two sons may sneer at that sort of thing. What was in it for Beau and people like him? They must be suckers, losers, as Trump himself once said of all the war dead – but that’s old news. Trump is gone. And it was Memorial Day again.

Politico’s Ben Leonard covered the ceremony this year:

President Joe Biden marked Memorial Day with an address at Arlington National Cemetery, pledging to never forget or fail to honor fallen veterans’ sacrifice and saying that democracy is “worth fighting for” and “dying for.”

Democracy, which he called the “soul of America,” is in danger, Biden said on Monday.

“Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world,” Biden said, speaking to military officials and people who have lost military loved ones after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “What we do now, what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.”

So, there really was something worth fighting for:

Throughout the speech Monday, Biden praised veterans’ sacrifice for democracy and defended democracy’s aspirations, though he said the U.S. hadn’t always lived up to them. He called empathy “the fuel of democracy.”

The president said that “we all” take democracy “for granted,” saying “the biggest question” is whether the system of democracy can win out over opposing “powerful forces.”

“All that we do in our common life as a nation is part of that struggle,” Biden said. “A struggle for democracy. It’s taking place around the world, democracy and autocracy.”

Much of that is boilerplate, any president might have said the same, except for that bit about empathy being the fuel of democracy. Empathy is another word for political correctness. Trump hates that. His base hates that. Everyone remembers the “Fuck Your Feelings” t-shirts from a few years ago. Empathy is ruining the country. Empathy is weakness. And so on.

That’s not Biden, but that wasn’t his main point. These dead, in Arlington, fought for democracy. Trump’s party is fighting against it. Biden got specific:

After Biden over the weekend laid into an ultimately Democratic-blocked Texas bill that would have added new voting restrictions, calling it an “assault on democracy,” he nodded on Monday to a wave of states considering or implementing new limits.

“Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong,” the president said. “When people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently.”

So what else is new? Of course it does, but Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press writes this up a bit differently:

The president was joined Monday by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff in a somber ceremony at the Virginia cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is dedicated to deceased service members whose remains have not been identified.

His face tight with emotion, Biden walked up to the wreath, cupping it in his hands in silent reflection, then making the sign of the cross. His eyes were wet. The gathered dignitaries and military families were hushed and solemn; the chattering of cicadas loud.

In remarks that followed, Biden called on Americans to commemorate their fallen heroes by remembering their fight for the nation’s ideals.

“This nation was built on an idea,” Biden said. “We were built on an idea, the idea of liberty and opportunity for all. We’ve never fully realized that aspiration of our founders, but every generation has opened the door a little wider.”

That’s what his son Beau fought for:

“Generation after generation of American heroes are signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity and justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in an autocracy,” Biden said. “These Americans weren’t fighting for dictators; they were fighting for democracy. They weren’t fighting to exclude or to enslave, they were fighting to build and broaden and liberate.”

But he suggested these ideals are imperiled.

“The soul of America is animated by the perennial battle between our worst instincts, which we’ve seen of late, and our better angels,” he said. “Between Me First and We the People. Between greed and generosity, cruelty and kindness, captivity and freedom.”

And then he shifted to talk of Texas, briefly, because that’s where this was playing out. It had been a wild weekend. The domestic war for democracy had begun. The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner covered that:

Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber on Sunday have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too.

Yes, this was the opening salvo in a war:

The surprise move, by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers, headed off the expected passage of S.B. 7, a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation, by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote.

The coordinated walkout just after 10:30 p.m. Central time jolted the national debate on voting rights, putting the spotlight on Democratic-backed federal legislation that has been stalled in the Senate all spring, even as state Republicans move to enact new voting rules.

“We knew today, with the eyes of the nation watching action in Austin, that we needed to send a message,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, said at a news conference held at a historically Black church in Austin early Monday, shortly after he and other lawmakers left the state Capitol. “And that message is very, very clear: Mr. President, we need a national response to federal voting rights.”

Wait. This is just like the last Civil War. It’s a states’ rights thing. As with slavery, the states, not the feds, should get the say here. They set the rules. And if that hurts some folks that’s not the federal government’s business:

Republicans control every branch of Texas government and hold firm majorities in both the House and Senate. While Gov. Greg Abbott (R) vowed late Sunday to bring the voting measure back at a special legislative session for redistricting later this year – and threatened to defund the legislature in a tweet on Monday – the walkout represented an unmistakable and shocking defeat for Republican leaders who had assumed the bill would pass ahead of the House’s midnight deadline to finish its 2021 business.

It failed to do so because Texas Democrats resolved early in the day to use every tool at their disposal to block a bill that they say would have made it harder for Texans to vote – particularly Black and Latino voters who embraced early-voting methods that would have been banned under the measure.

They seem to think that’s not right, and they see themselves as holding the fort until the nation’s government gets its act together:

After taking their stand, the state Democrats said they want allies elsewhere in the country to seize the moment and show the same kind of resolve – particularly in Washington, where Democrats control the presidency and both chambers of Congress yet are struggling to pave the way for two major pieces of voting legislation: the For the People Act, a sprawling overhaul of federal elections, ethics and campaign finance law; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reauthorize the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act by giving the federal government fresh power to police jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting administration.

“We did our part to stop SB 7,” tweeted state Rep. Erin Zwiener (D). “Now we need Congress to do their part.”

“State lawmakers are holding the line,” tweeted state Rep. James Talarico (D). “Federal lawmakers need to get their shit together and pass the For the People Act.”

They do want help:

In an interview, Martinez Fischer said that national leaders need to rise to the occasion.

“Breaking quorum is about the equivalent of crawling on our knees begging the president and the United States Congress to give us the For the People Act and give us the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” he said.

But it’s not that simple:

Much of the pressure to secure voting rights nationally falls primarily on two Democratic senators who have publicly expressed reluctance to eliminate their chamber’s filibuster, which requires 60 votes to allow legislation to move forward. In the current 50-50 Senate, that means major legislation cannot advance without support from at least 10 Republicans…

It would take a simple majority of every Senate Democrat, plus tiebreaker Vice President Harris, to eliminate the filibuster. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have led the opposition to taking that step.

Joe Manchin is the problem here. He says he will never, ever, vote to get rid of that filibuster. He believes in bipartisanship. Both parties can work things out in the Senate. He’d like to see bipartisan agreement on everything. The filibuster is fine. He hints that, ideally, he’d like to see 100-0 votes on everything. No one disagrees at all on any detail or the legislation does not pass – or something like that.

But all the Democrats want to do is survive:

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Tex.), a co-founder of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, said in an interview Monday that Congress must find a way to pass federal voting protections in part because Black voters are the Democrats’ most reliable constituency – and are under the gravest threat from GOP-proposed restrictions around the country.

“If we don’t pass these bills, then shame on us,” Veasey said. “And be prepared to see even more of these bills continue to make their way through the states.”

Veasey said Republicans have shamelessly broken procedural rules when it suited them, such as when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a Supreme Court nominee in President Barack Obama’s final months in office – then reversed himself last fall when the appointment fell to President Donald Trump. The alternative to no action, Veasey said, is “keeping our fingers crossed” that an increasingly conservative Supreme Court will strike down some of the new voting restrictions, which he said is not a safe bet.

But he does have Biden:

Biden, for his part, has repeatedly pushed for passage of the For the People Act. The legislation would establish national standards for election administration, reversing many of the restrictions pursued by Republican-controlled legislatures in the wake of the 2020 election under pressure from Trump, who has claimed repeatedly without evidence that his defeat was tainted by widespread fraud.

Biden has also advocated for the restoration of provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down eight years ago.

Manchin has said no to all of that. Manchin has stopped them all, but there is this:

Abbott’s promise to revisit the voting bill in Texas means the legislature could take up a similar measure to S.B. 7 later in the year, when he plans to call a special session to redraw political districts with new census data.

But several voting rights advocates said the fact that Abbott, an outspoken Trump supporter and potential 2024 presidential contender, did not call for an immediate special session on voting suggested uncertainty about whether such a move would end well for him given the national attention that Sunday’s drama attracted.

That’s a public relations problem. He can boast he has kept Black and Latino and Asian and gay and poor voters and whomever from ever being able to vote ever again in Texas, and his base and the national base will love him for that. Everyone else will hate him for that. Does that make him a winner going forward? It seems he hasn’t decided that yet, but the bill is clear enough:

The bill would have imposed a raft of hurdles on casting ballots by mail and enhanced civil and criminal penalties for election administrators, voters and those seeking to assist them.

The measure would have made it illegal for election officials to send out unsolicited mail ballot applications, empowered partisan poll watchers and banned practices such as drop boxes and drive-through voting that were popularized in the heavily Democratic Harris County last year. It would have barred early voting hours on Sunday mornings, potentially hampering get-out-the-vote programs aimed at Black churchgoers.

The final version included numerous provisions inserted at the last minute, including language making it easier to overturn an election, no longer requiring evidence that fraud actually altered an outcome but only that enough ballots were illegally cast that could have made a difference. The legislation also would have changed the legal standard for overturning an election from “reasonable doubt” to “preponderance of the evidence” – a much lower evidentiary bar.

That’s a good way to end democracy. But there are other ways. That was Austin. Andrew Solender reports on big doings in Dallas:

Adherents of the rapidly growing pro-Trump conspiracy movement QAnon descended upon Dallas over Memorial Day weekend for a conference that spawned a number of viral moments which underscore both the severity of the group’s beliefs and its increasingly mainstream status in some GOP circles.

The For God & Country Patriot Roundup, which was steeped in QAnon regalia and hosted by major QAnon supporters, included appearances by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Texas GOP Chair Allen West and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

This crew has their own way of ending democracy:

Flynn, a former three-star general who received a pardon from Trump in November for lying to the FBI had the most viral moment of the event, who responded to an audience question by stating there is “no reason” the U.S. shouldn’t have a coup like the one in Myanmar in February, adding, “It should happen.”

Referencing a popular QAnon theory, former Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who helped lead his 2020 election lawsuits, discussed the baseless idea that Trump can be “reinstated” on a “new inauguration date,” with President Joe Biden being “told to move out of the White House.”

Gohmert, one of Congress’ most outspoken Trump allies, reportedly used his speech to play down the Jan. 6 attack – as he has done on the House floor – and even took a photo with a confessed Jan. 6 rioter.

Several reporters were kicked out of the event, including VICE reporter Vegas Tenold and Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer, who was seen on video being escorted out by police as a QAnon influencer mocked him as he insisted that he had a ticket…

The event – tickets for which went for $500 each – was reportedly organized by John Sabal, known in QAnon circles as “QAnon John.”

And a good time was had by all, although CNN reports this:

A message posted to a Parler account used by Flynn on Monday claimed Flynn’s words had been twisted and that he was not calling for a coup.

Lawyer Sidney Powell, who has represented Flynn in the past, said Monday that he had in no way encouraged “any act of violence or any military insurrection.” She claimed the media had “grossly distorted” Flynn’s comments. She did not explain why Flynn had answered the question the way he did.

Yeah, that’s on tape. That’s a problem, but Flynn was always a problem:

Powell was present at an Oval Office meeting in the closing weeks of Trump’s presidency during which Flynn suggested that Trump could invoke martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election, CNN has reported. It wasn’t clear whether Trump endorsed the idea, but others in the room forcefully pushed back and shot it down.

Some QAnon followers are obsessed with the idea that the US military will somehow put Trump back into office. Some believed and hoped Trump would declare martial law on Inauguration Day to stop Joe Biden from entering the White House…

Speaking at the same event in Dallas, Flynn earlier in the weekend falsely claimed, “Trump won. He won the popular vote, and he won the Electoral College vote.”

Says who? The man has lost it:

GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, whom House Republicans recently voted to remove from her leadership position after she publicly and repeatedly rejected Trump’s election claims, tweeted on Monday afternoon: “No American should advocate or support the violent overthrow of the United States.” A link to an article with the news of Flynn’s Sunday remarks accompanied the tweet.

Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat who vice-chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said later Monday that Flynn’s comments were “dangerous” and “incredibly concerning,” adding that she thinks official action against him should be considered.

“Flynn’s remarks border on sedition. There’s certainly conduct unbecoming an officer. Those are both things that can be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and I think that as a retiree of the military, it should certainly be a path that we consider to have consequences for these types of words,” Luria, a retired Navy commander, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on AC360.

The Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps could take that up. Beau Biden is no longer available, but there are others. Odd things happened in Dallas.

But they didn’t really matter. The action was in Austin. Paul Waldman notes this:

Democratic lawmakers staged a walkout that deprived the body of a quorum and killed the bill. It was a moral victory – but only a temporary one because the governor will now likely call a special session at which the bill can be passed.

Texas Republicans will not be denied. In all but declaring war on democracy, they and their colleagues in other states are mounting a rearguard action against an evolving electorate, freezing GOP power in place so voters in two or four or ten years won’t be able to translate their own preferences into action.

That would be bad enough on its own. But their chosen method not only makes voting more difficult for certain Americans but also sets the conditions for electoral chaos. These Republicans want local election officials to be vilified, harassed, intimidated and even targeted for prosecution, a process that could end with elections being simply thrown out if Republicans don’t win.

He worries about this:

And as has happened in close to 20 other states, the Texas bill would expand the rights of partisan poll watchers to inject themselves into the process of both voting and counting votes. It’s a recipe for chaos – which is exactly the point.

Partisan poll watchers already have the right to observe certain parts of the voting process, but rules usually require them to do so without creating a disruption. But given how Republicans now encourage their supporters to believe that fraud and conspiracy are the default in every election, what do you think will happen when they unleash their army of poll watchers who will have the right to go almost everywhere they want, not only at polling places but also in the more secure locations where the counting of votes takes place?

The wild allegations of those poll watchers will then be used by Republican legislators, and maybe even the right Republican judge, to declare that untold numbers of votes were “illegal” and therefore an election is void. Any election in which a Democrat wins will be met with a furious effort to undo it so that Republicans can retain power…

The bill doesn’t define what it means for a vote to be “illegally cast,” but we saw how Donald Trump routinely claimed that millions of votes were “illegal” if he suspected they were cast for his opponents. It isn’t at all far-fetched to imagine a Republican judge deciding, based on allegations from Republican poll watchers, that a close election for president or any other office contained too many “illegal” votes and is therefore void.

And then there’s the bigger picture:

Though it’s happening in Republican-run states all over the country, it’s no accident that Texas, Georgia and Arizona are at the center of these efforts to undermine democracy. What do they have in common? They’re all states run by Republicans that are trending Democratic – unless those who are currently in charge change the rules so the voters don’t much matter anymore…

The Republican legislators and governors in these states know very well what kind of threat the future poses for them. A combination of factors – immigration from outside the United States, migration of more liberal voters from within the country, the replacement of more conservative older voters with more liberal younger voters – is pushing all their electorates to the left.

But for now, they still hold the legislatures and governor’s mansions. So they’re going to use the power they have today to try to make it impossible for the voters to take their power away tomorrow.

So it comes down to this:

This is a battle over which party gets to rule. But more importantly, it’s about whether we have a democracy at all, whether all citizens are allowed to vote and the system respects their decisions.

And that’s worth fighting for. That’s what the dead would say on Memorial Day, and this year perhaps the dead did say that.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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