Candidate Trump Leaned on Michigan Canvassers to Deny Civil Rights

[NB: check the byline, thanks. / ~Rayne]

Yesterday The Detroit News reported Donald Trump and GOP party chair Ronna Romney McDaniel pressured Wayne County canvassers Monica Palmer and William Hartmann on November 17, 2020 to refuse to certify the election results.

The source of the recordings on which Detroit News based their report is not clear.

~ ~ ~

There’s conjecture this may have been material from the House January 6 Committee obtained from McDaniel’s own cell phone.

However the wording of the Detroit News article puts some distance between McDaniel and the recording, making it more likely the source was in the same space with the canvassers:

“We’ve got to fight for our country,” said Trump on the recordings, made by a person who was present for the call with Palmer and Hartmann. “We can’t let these people take our country away from us.”

Emphasis mine.

The distancing was even more pointed in the following paragraph, describing what sounds more like protecting a source from organized crime operations:

The News listened to audio that was captured in four recordings by someone present for the conversation between Trump and the canvassers. That information came to The News through an intermediary who also heard the recordings but who was not present when they were made. Sources presented the information to The News on the condition that they not be identified publicly for fear of retribution by the former president or his supporters.

Could this have been McDaniel’s work? Sure. Why was this released now, especially when she continues to defend her role at that time?

If it was from the J6 Committee, again, why now, and why the protections for the source?

Detroit News matched the recordings with the J6 Committee’s records:

The timestamp of the first recording was 9:55 p.m. Nov. 17, 2020. The time was consistent with Verizon phone records obtained by a U.S. House committee that showed Palmer received calls from McDaniel at 9:53 p.m. and 10:04 p.m.

This suggests the source wasn’t Palmer nor the J6 Committee. Detroit News also reported they checked with Palmer:

Palmer acknowledged to The News that she and Hartmann took the call from Trump in a vehicle and that other people entered the vehicle and could have heard the conversation. She said she could not, however, identify who entered the vehicle or might have heard the conversation.

Palmer told The News repeatedly that she didn’t remember what was stated on the phone call with McDaniel and Trump.

There’s another possible source which might prove difficult to validate: the older of the two GOP canvassers, William Hartmann, died in 2021. It’s possible this was a recording he made as an aid to prepare a document he used to attempt to reverse his certification of the vote. Was this recording released by someone associated with his estate? With the buffer placed between Detroit News’s report and the source, it’s tough to say.

While Detroit News checked with Trump campaign spokesperson Steve Cheung about the recordings, Cheung said,

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, said Trump’s actions “were taken in furtherance of his duty as president of the United States to faithfully take care of the laws and ensure election integrity, including investigating the rigged and stolen 2020 presidential election.”

“President Trump and the American people have the constitutional right to free and fair elections,” Cheung said.

The Hill also followed up with Cheung while reporting on this same story:

In an emailed statement to The Hill, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said “[a]ll of President Trump’s actions were taken in furtherance of his duty as President of the United States to faithfully take care of the laws and ensure election integrity, including investigating the rigged and stolen 2020 Presidential Election.”

Wow. It’s as if Cheung was using a prepared script.

It’s a problematic script since the Executive Branch protects voters’ civil rights through the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section’s Election Crimes Branch with regard to and through the Civil Rights Division. These functions are supposed to act independently of the White House, and definitely without regard to a candidate or party.

Nothing in this story by either Detroit News or The Hill indicates Trump told the canvassers he was asking for an investigation into possible voter fraud by the DOJ or Michigan’s secretary of state and state attorney general. He and McDaniel simply leaned on two white MIGOP canvassers partially responsible for certifying a huge chunk of the state’s votes.

Worth noting the Wayne County board of canvassers’ meeting on November 17 ran from 6:00-9:32 p.m.; Trump is not mentioned specifically during the meeting. Palmer alone says she’s uncomfortable certifying the city of Detroit.

Which suggests Hartmann wasn’t initially obstructing the certification before Trump and McDaniel’s phone call 23 minutes after the canvassers’ meeting.

~ ~ ~

There are a few more points which should be taken into consideration with regard to the Detroit News’s report.

– Each of Michigan’s 83 counties has a bipartisan four-member board of canvassers; each board is split 50-50 between GOP and Democratic Party members. The two canvassers Trump called are white MIGOP members who represent Wayne County. If you’re from the Detroit Metro area you already know these two canvassers already provide over weighted representation to white voters as Wayne County is a minority-majority county with whites composing less than 48% of the county’s population.

– Trump’s use of the phrase, “”We can’t let these people take our country away from us” during the phone call is a dog whistle racist plea to white MIGOP members not to allow a minority-majority county decide the election for Joe Biden. Emphasis mine; “you people” and “these people” are phrases often used to reinforce othering of non-whites.

– The number of votes which would have been affected by Palmer and Hartmann’s refusal to certify was more than 1.4 million, or nearly 20% of Michigan’s total active registered voters (7.15 million in November 2020). Wayne County is the most populous in Michigan, which may explain why pressure was placed on Wayne and not a formerly-red-trending-blue county like Kent, home to Grand Rapids.

The Detroit News is a right-leaning news outlet; the source did not choose to share the recordings with the left-leaning Detroit Free Press, a Gannett-owned outlet, nor did they go to the Lansing State Journal in the state’s capital city (also a Gannett outlet) or the right-leaning political news outlet Gongwer.

– The report was published a week after preliminary court hearings were held in relation to criminal charges filed against MIGOP fake electors who attempted to throw the election for Trump with a forged certification. The electors are established MIGOP members who held roles within the party’s apparatus at the time of the election.

– After the call to the Wayne County canvassers, Trump summoned Michigan state legislators Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield, who at the time were the state senate majority leader and the state house speaker respectively; they were to meet with Trump in Washington DC on November 19. In testimony before the House J6 Committee, Shirkey said Trump didn’t make an explicit ask of the two legislators but instead trash talked about Wayne County and parroted unsubstantiated voter fraud claims. Trump also hosted a conference call with the two state legislators and both Rudy Giuliani and Ronna McDaniel during which Giuliani continued the false claims of voter fraud. Trump made multiple calls to Shirkey after the legislators’ visit to DC as well as tweets – a social media post on January 3 included Shirkey’s personal phone number resulting in more than 4,000 text messages.

– There is a schism within the MIGOP which may have encouraged the release of the recordings to the Detroit News. Trump-y former Michigan secretary of state candidate and current MIGOP chair Kristina Karamo has been under fire for mismanagement of the party’s finances and violations of election laws. A faction of the party has been trying to remove her as chair. How much of the party’s problems may be related to Trump’s support of losing-candidate remains to be seen; she has not been able to raise sufficient funds to support the party and pay its debts.

~ ~ ~

Trump meeting directly with state legislators in an effort to pressure the state to overturn the 2020 election looks as much like legitimate protection of voters’ civil rights as the phone calls to the Wayne County canvassers — as in not at all legitimate.

It looks like additional evidence of an attempt to deny the civil rights of a majority of Michigan voters in 2020 — violating 18 USC 241 just as Trump was charged by Special Counsel — with special animus toward the minority-majority community of Wayne County — including the city of Detroit.

Is the trashing of the MIGOP’s finances and operations by a Trump-endorsed former SOS candidate payback for failing to deliver the state by denying those rights? Is it a twist of the shiv that a Black MIGOP chair is destroying the state party?


(h/t to harpie for the article link in comments)

The Fifteenth Amendment

Index to posts in this series

After the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction Act of 1867 were adopted the Freedmen in the former slave states had the vote. That left all the Black men in the Union and Border States and Tennessee, and that eventually was seen to be untenable. The Democrats, then the right-wing party, made universal Black suffrage an issue in the election of 1868. In The Second Founding, Eric Foner says this campaign “… witnessed some of the most overt appeals to racism in American political history.” P. 97. Grant won, but the popular vote was close, and Democrats made gains across the Union. That gave impetus to passage of an amendment to ensure the vote to all Black men.

Several amendments were introduced. The main choice was whether to support universal suffrage or only for Black men. The Radical Republicans wanted a bill setting national standards for voting, a position consonant with Art. 1 § 4 of the Constitution.

But here the true level of US bigotry revealed itself. Several Union states made it clear they wouldn’t support suffrage for Germans and/or Irish Catholics (and as one of the latter, I’d say we’re pretty harmless). In the West, prejudice against Chinese immigrants was a powerful force, evoking racist comments akin to those directed at Black people. As time expired, we got the Fifteenth Amendment in its most limited form:

1. 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.

Section 2 authorizes Congress to make laws enforcing Section 1.

Section 1 is not a positive grant of suffrage to Black people. Instead, it authorizes the states to control suffrage as they see fit as long as they don’t use race as a condition. Thus it authorized Ohio to deny suffrage to German immigrants, and Rhode Island to grant suffrage only to Irish Catholic property owners; and it enabled the states to use non-racial laws to exclude Black men from the polls.

The Republicans worried that Northern states wouldn’t ratify a positive version, granting suffrage to all adult males, let alone a broader version, barring discrimination on the basis of, for example, religion. There was no question of enfranchising women or Native Americans. The final draft of the bill in each house included the right to hold office, but that was eliminated in conference, and the House version of a positive enfranchisement was dropped in favor of the Senate’s negative version.

Foner points out that legislators knew that the negative version could be gamed by the states, but assumed, or perhaps hoped, that the 14th Amendment would make that poisonous to the slave states, because discriminatory requirements would affect White people too. But that turned out to be a false hope, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Supreme Court. Also, it turns out that rich white Southerners weren’t opposed to blocking poor whites from the ballot box, or shielding them from the laws with other techniques.

The first few years after the Civil War saw the creation of a number of White vigilante groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. These groups wreaked terror on Black people across the former Confederacy, murdering and raping, pillaging and burning. The slave states did nothing to stop this hideous violence, and they did nothing for decades, leaving their Black populations to die, leave, or suffer in silence.

In the early 1870s Congress began consideration of laws to enforce the Reconstruction Amendments. Three bills, the Enforcement Acts, gave the federal government the power to punish violence against Black people, using federal courts and marshals. But they were inadequate to force the slave states to protect their Black citizens. Eventually Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which was a comprehensive effort to protect Black people from all kinds of private violence intended to deny Black people the rights guaranteed by the Reconstruction Amendments.

In the debates over all these laws, a substantial number of federal legislators called these laws violations of the principles of federalism. As we will see, the Supreme Court agreed, and struck down the new laws. Eventually because of the intransigence of the Court, the 13th Amendment was ignored, the 14th Amendment was gutted, and the 15th Amendment was barely useful.


1. Foner integrates into his text excerpts from the debates in Congress over the Amendments, and from newspaper articles, giving a flavor of the rhetoric and feelings of the speakers and perhaps those of the elites. Here’s a nice example:

“Tell me nothing of a constitution,” declared Joseph H. Rainey, a black congressman from South Carolina whose father, a successful barber, had purchased the family’s freedom in the 1840s, “which fails to shelter beneath its rightful power the people of a country.” By the people who needed protection, Rainey made clear, he meant not only blacks but also white Republicans in the South. If the Constitution, he added, was unable to “afford security to life, liberty, and property,” it should be “set aside.” P. 119. Fn omitted.

The other side was equally direct and eloquent:

In the debate over the Ku Klux Klan Act, Carl Schurz, representing Missouri in the Senate, said that preserving intact the tradition of local self-government was even more important than “the high duty to protect the citizens of the republic in their rights.” Lyman Trumbull complained that the Ku Klux Klan Act would “change the character of the government.” P. 120.

These anecdotes make this book a real pleasure to read. They remind us that our ancestors were thoughtful and forthright, or even bombastic, whether or not we agree with their sentiments today. I do not think the same of the former members of the Supreme Court, whose opinions are very difficult to read, and reek of unwillingness to deal with the Reconstruction Amendments and the facts of the cases they decided.

2. These quotes illustrate the issues around federalism. Both of the books in this series claim that the Reconstruction Amendments changed the nature of the US governing structure, by giving the federal government the power to protect the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of its citizens from private parties and from the states themselves. As we know, this hasn’t exactly worked out in practice. Even today and even in the supposedly less-racist cities and states, police and private citizens violate the civil rights of citizens, use all sorts of tricks to strip the power of minority voters, and treat citizens differently. SCOTUS is fine with that, as we saw in the ridiculous advisory opinion in 303 Creative.

We need a discussion of the purposes of federalism in this country, and we need to discuss publicly what it means to be an American citizen as opposed to a citizen of Mississippi or Minnesota. Why is it that our fundamental rights arise from citizenship in Mississippi or Minnesota, instead of from our national document, the Constitution? I’m pretty sure most uses of federalism are to discriminate against or punish people the benighted legislature doesn’t like.

3. Constitutional amendments and laws don’t change people’s minds. The Civil War didn’t really change any minds. Is it possible that elites, including supreme courts can’t get out of their own privileged pasts?

The L-Word Not Used [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. Update at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

I wish MSNBC did a better job of getting their content up on YouTube; I really need a link to Nicolle Wallace’s interview of Morgan State University’s Dr. Jason Johnson and his reaction to testimony by Fulton County GA election worker Shaye Moss. (temporary link:

Before answering Wallace’s request for reaction, Johnson expressed concern about ‘performative Blackness’ — behaving as whites might expect of a Black American — but his fury was absolutely righteous.

Johnson acknowledged Shaye and her family should not have been subjected to the harassment unleashed on them by Donald Trump, but he went a bit further. He could identify with Moss’s grandmother as his own. This assault on the conduct of elections was personal.

Many of us are shocked, angry, dismayed by the harrying intimidation Moss and her mother and grandmother endured simply because Moss and her mother were election workers. Some of us have been moved to tears.

But what we’re missing is what Dr. Johnson avoided saying in his care to avoid offending white Americans with ‘performative Blackness’.

What was described by the testimony today was the mobilization of a lynch mob.

When watching or reading news coverage of today’s hearing, written, produced, and delivered by predominantly white Americans, listen closely for the generalization of terror. Election workers in multiple states were all subjected to harassment by angry protesters incited by Trump.

But Shaye Moss and her family endured another layer of terror — that of recognizing the horror aimed at Black Americans since the Civil War for having the temerity of exercising their rights as citizens, for supporting others’ right to vote.

As Johnson explained it, election officials — all of them white — were able to avail themselves of some security provided by the state due to their governmental roles.

But Moss and her mother and grandmother were only election workers, not officials.

They were on their own to work out how to protect themselves from the threat of mob violence over months’ time.

The white election officials will go on about their lives, perhaps facing the occasional in-your-face annoyance from Trumpers, but they won’t have to worry they’ll continue to be targets of violence.

Moss and her family know how lynch mobs work. Her visually obvious stress today may reflect this deep cultural knowledge unfamiliar to white Americans.

This is not to minimize the experience of officials like Rusty Bowers, whose daughter was not only seriously ill but likely mortally so as she passed away 22 days after January 6. It must have been horrifying to know his wife and daughter were subjected to harassment at such a critical time in their lives.

It must have horrifying to know one’s young teen was alone at home in the case of another election official, unable to predict how the protesters would act as time went on.

Neither, though, were targeted simply for being election workers who were Black in a white-minority county, doing their jobs while not having any authority to change anything about the election.

Hunted down and harassed by a mob because mother Ruby passed her daughter Shaye a mint. Fearful going forward, always looking over their shoulder, because they know these kinds of mobs and how they operate.

White pundits and reporters have and will discuss the terror Trump inflicted on election officials, but they’ve not yet mentioned the specific kind of terror Moss and her family experienced and continue to experience.

~ ~ ~

There’s another facet which surfaced as Moss testified and her mother’s testimony was streamed. Moss explained how she enjoyed serving her community’s exercise of the vote, in keeping with her grandmother’s teaching that the vote was critically important.

This was an expression of secular communion — ministering to the community especially those most in need of aid to participate.

Where Arizona’s Rusty Bowers explained his belief in a spiritual link between the nation’s founders and the drafting of the Constitution as well as his deep respect for that relationship, Moss expressed a link which was similar to that bond between members of faith communities. It is a vital thing which brings the community together regularly and unifies them in the act of perpetuating democracy.

The lynch mob Trump dispatched broke that link, severing Moss from that which her forebear impressed upon her.

This was a psychic and spiritual injury inflicted by Trump, his minions and mob, upon a Black American family and community.

Those of us who have been moved to tears at the loss Moss and her family experienced may not be able to articulate what this damage was because we have not been taught to value this social act of unification. For white Americans in particular this damage may not be perceived as lasting.

But it’s real and it was shredded by that racist entitled monster Trump.

~ ~ ~

This post may disturb community members here, most of whom are white. They may feel discomfort at the idea of a lynch mob incited by an American president when white election officials were also targeted by angry protesters (waiting for the hashtag NotAllElectionOfficials).

Don’t give into this discomfort. Do not be blind to role race plays when the GOP congressional caucus has obstructed voter rights protections, when states with GOP-led legislatures have failed to ensure voter suppression targeting BIPOC voters has ended.

Lynching isn’t always violent physical death or terror which diminishes Black Americans’ lives. Sometimes it’s the slow whittling away of their citizenship, one squelched civil rights bill at a time.

You want to make it up to Moss and her family and her community? Figure out how to fix this and ensure their full civil rights including the right to vote. The filibuster, for example, should never impede civil rights to which all Americans are entitled.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 2:50 PM ET 22-JUN-2022 —

Susan A. Kitchens captured the entire segment on MSNBC’s Deadline with Nicolle Wallace, posting it in a Twitter thread. Dr. Jason Johnson’s remarks are a must-watch.

The attempt to overturn the 2020 election for the corrupt benefit of Donald J. Trump wasn’t just seditious conspiracy or obstruction of government proceedings, or conspiracy to defraud the United States.

It was a massive attack on civil rights by intimidation of election workers and officials in an effort to deny Americans their voting rights. This cannot go undeterred and unpunished; failure to do so represents a collapse of American democracy.

Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Three Things: A Call to Action for Voting Rights [UPDATE-2]

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Update(s) at the bottom of the post. /~Rayne]

It’s time to go to the phones and demand your elected members of Congress not only support civil rights but fulfill their oaths of office.

Before I forget, here’s what you’re going to need:

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 or use

You may also look up your senators’ local offices online and call the one closest to you.

When you call you’re going to remind them the people are guaranteed under the Constitution a republican (little r) form of government under Article IV, Section 4:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…

The text may specifically say the states are guaranteed this, but it means that every state and in turn its citizens shall be assured their government is of, by, and for the people, with government’s powers arising from their consent. No closed clique will govern opaquely for narrower interests.

To that end every citizen must be assured the right to vote as part of that guarantee. We expect our elected officials to deliver on that, not to act like some star chamber.

Call and demand this through the support of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act, letting no procedural rule like the filibuster get in the way of the greater obligation to fulfill their oaths.

~ 3 ~

John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, S.4 (JLVRAA) undoes much of the damage done to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 caused by the Supreme Court’s absurd decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013).

Because of Shelby County v. Holder, states have been able to violate citizens’ voting rights as states are no longer held to a federal standard to ensure they do not discriminate against voters.

This violates the 14th Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause; depending on the state in which U.S. citizens resided, they may not be assured the same voting rights as citizens in other states.


– Prevents states from reverting to discriminatory polling policies including but not limited to literacy tests and poll taxes with a new federal preclearance policy evaluating polling changes;

– Establishes adequate advance notice to citizens of changes to voting rules by states;

– Allows the U.S. Attorney General to assign observers where racial discrimination against voters is most likely;

– Not only requires federal approval for policies impacting the ability to cast a ballot or register to vote, but ensures availability of language assistance for ESL voters as well as fairness in redistricting.

This bill does not replace the 1965 Voting Rights Act but works hand in glove with it to protect every citizen’s right to vote.

~ 2 ~

The For the People Act, S.1 also supports the 1965 Voting Rights Act by:

– Expanding automatic voter registration to every state;

– Restoring voting rights to Americans who have completed their felony sentences;

– Establishing independent redistricting commissions in every state to end partisan redistricting.

– Changes ethics and campaign finance rules to reduce improper and unethical influence on legislation.

You’d think this would be a no-brainer piece of legislation.

~ 1 ~

This video by David Pepper offers the clearest explanation I’ve found as to why the filibuster must go when it comes to voting rights.

Our rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. Our elected members of Congress have a duty to ensure the guarantee is fulfilled as part of their oath of office.

Their oath is NOT to changeable, non-permanent procedures which have benefited a narrower class of citizens.

Insist your senators fulfill their oath and end the filibuster for any civil rights legislation including the JLVRAA and Freedom to Vote Act.

This applies equally to every member of Congress, no matter what state or party affiliation; they’ve sworn the same oath to defend and uphold the Constitution.

~ 0 ~

Perhaps I could have written a shorter hortatory post; if I’d felt less than I do about this I might have, but these bills are essential to the preservation of our democratic republic.

Bottom line: call your senators and demand they fulfill their oaths by passing the JLVRAA and Freedom to Vote Act, ending the filibuster as necessary to pass these bills.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121 or use

Now go – get in good trouble. Let us know how you did in comments.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 5:00 PM —

Looks like there may have been a breakthrough on a procedural basis:

Fingers crossed this works. Can’t be certain we have 50 senators supporting these two bills yet.

If your senators are Republicans or Independents, call them anyhow. All 100 senators swore the same oath.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-2 — 1:00 P.M. 13-JAN-2022 —

Last evening Michael Li of the Brennan Center noted the two voting rights bills have been consolidated, which may make the “message between the Houses” procedure much easier.

This morning Democracy Docket’s Marc Elias noted a change adding anti-subversion wording:

So the new “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act” isn’t just a consolidation but an improved bill.

I need to confirm the improvement may get around that corrupt twit Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s block of three election security bills which were intended to prevent foreign interference and tampering with electronic voting machines over the internet. (By the way, racist Blackburn is up for re-election in 2025. Ditch her, Tennesseeans.)

The problem even with the procedural maneuvering remains Sen. DINO Sinema who has given a speech this morning which Sen. McConnell praised. That should tell you all you need to know.

Keep calling your senators including GOP senators. The ones who are more centrist like Murkowski in Alaska may be amenable — especially Murkowski given the percentage of voters in her state who are Native American.

The Strongbad Bite, Ack!: Kagan’s Neocon Hypocrisy

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Neoconservative Robert Kagan’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post — The Strongmen Strike Back — made me think of a classic episode of MST3K:

Pick one of Dave Ryder’s many names — Big McLargeHuge is my personal favorite — and then imagine Kagan’s op-ed as a cheesy, sweeping space opera. A production which the screenwriter and director took far too seriously, expecting the audience to treat it as if it were Oscar worthy.

Yes, authoritarians abound around the world. The U.S. has unfortunately called some of them allies though it shouldn’t cater to authoritarian leaders given its values based upon liberal democracy.

While fretting about the emergence of autocrats, Kagan is blind to his own role in the promulgation of authoritarianism. Has he forgotten neoconservatives’ insistence the U.S. launch the Iraq War, relying on increased nationalism and authoritarianism in response to 9/11? What blindness; what hypocrisy.

Far worse though, is Kagan’s difficulty facing mounting autocracy here at home. To say the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are responses to problems here while ignoring the white nationalist impulse behind them is shallow and uninformed.

— Sanders had the benefit of 20-plus years of anti-Clinton propaganda and eight years of anti-Obama racism greasing the way for him to carpetbag into the Democratic Party.
— Trump had more than 13 years of glitzy production effort by former General Electric property NBC to construct his BigBlond McStrongboss persona on top of his appeal to the racist element pervasive in white American culture.

Ignoring these factors combined with a feckless GOP field of also-rans is just plain stupid.

Not to mention the role of the GOP-majority Congress’ strategy of stifling all rational legislation after they took the reins in 2010.

What’s particularly galling in Kagan’s overlong and droning piece whining about the rise of authoritarian strongmen is that he doesn’t mention Putin by name at all with regard to free and open elections and voting whether in Russia or in the U.S. Not once. Zero. Nada.

Not as a killer of Russian journalists. Not as an assassin of Russian dissidents and political opponents. Not even as the propagandistic image created we might call Punch BigSixPack.

He makes rather thin observations about Putin’s autocratic regime, but makes no mention of how this particular strongman interfered with the very thing Kagan wants us to be believe he is defending — our liberal democracy.

No acknowledgment at all that this particular strongman made a concerted effort not only to interfere with our democratic processes but to seat a kleptoautocrat as our nation’s leader.

Further, Kagan fails to mention the steady attack by the Republican Party at state and national level on our voting rights and infrastructure. The GOP has systematically attacked the foundation of the United States’ liberal democracy in which every citizen possesses the right to vote, by way of suppressive voter identification laws to implementation of hackable and inauditable electronic voting machines, to failure to renew the Voting Rights Act and denying voters at the polls by way of fake software check systems.

Yes, fake — when a system does exactly the opposite of what it is allegedly designed to do as in the case of Crosscheck, it’s fake. And the GOP pushed its use across the country, especially where minority citizens lived in greater concentrations.

And none of this was Robert Kagan’s concern when bemoaning the alleged decline of liberal democracy.

But he’s a historian and he wrote looking at world history, one might say. As if history hasn’t also informed us about blind spots in ideology or the possibility historians have their own hidden agendas.

This bit is egregious:

…The world’s autocracies, even the “friendly” ones, are acquiring the new methods and technologies pioneered by Russia and China. And, as they do, they become part of the global surveillance-state network. They are also enhancing the power and reach of China and Russia, who by providing the technology and expertise to operate the mechanisms of social control are gaining access to this ever-expanding pool of data on everyone on the planet. …

The only attribution he makes to the origin of the digital panopticon is a link in that paragraph to a January 17 article in WaPo, How U.S. surveillance technology is propping up authoritarian regimes. Yes, us, the U.S., we are the progenitor of the ubiquitous surveillance state — but not only because of intelligence and defense technology. Our internet platforms offering search tools and social media provide the base on which surveillance thrives.

Kagan never calls out these privately-owned companies, from Facebook to Google, though these companies also played a role in Russia’s interference with our elections. Their role is purely incidental, accidental, while Kagan holds China up as an example of social surveillance ubiquity:

Developments in China offer the clearest glimpse of the future. Through the domination of cyberspace, the control of social media, the collection and use of Big Data and artificial intelligence, the government in Beijing has created a more sophisticated, all-encompassing and efficient means of control over its people than Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler or even George Orwell could have imagined. What can be done through social media and through the employment of artificial intelligence transcends even the effective propaganda methods of the Nazis and the Soviet communists. At least with old-fashioned propaganda, you knew where the message was coming from and who was delivering it. Today, people’s minds are shaped by political forces harnessing information technologies and algorithms of which they are not aware and delivering messages through their Facebook pages, their Twitter accounts and their Google searches.

What a lack of insight and imagination. Kagan wants us to look abroad to condemn authoritarianism, gear up our foreign policy with defense against ‘strongmen’ in mind, while failing to live our values here at home on an individual, collective, society-wide basis. The U.S. can’t be a legitimate democratic leader when it not only blindly spawns surveillance-as-an-incidental-product, but when creating new forms of old suppressions.

For example:

— North Dakota’s GOP-led state legislature demanded the Sioux acquire physical street addresses before they could vote during the midterm election year;
— Florida’s Republican legislators submitted a proposal to deny voting rights to former convicts if they have not paid all their fines and fees, constituting a poll tax on former felons after voters chose to restore rights after imprisonment;
— Georgia’s secretary of state (now governor) refused to recuse himself while running for governor after having conducted racially-biased voter roll purges;
— Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take up bill H.R. 1 after it passed the House. The bill bolstered voting rights and improved accountability by candidates and incumbents to voters.

If we truly wanted to promote liberal democracy abroad, we need to practice it here at home — put on our own oxygen mask before helping others.

One person who advocated for an improved democracy here was John Dingell. In one of his last op-eds he called for

— the abolishment of the Senate, which dilutes the votes of individuals in populous states;
— automatic and comprehensive voter registration at age 18, to encourage full participation of citizens in voting;
— protection of the press because an electorate can’t make informed decisions without free and open access to information;
— elimination of money from campaigns as it has a corrupt influence on candidates and unduly shapes opinions of the electorate.

Do read Dingell’s op-ed because he expanded upon each of these points I have only summarized. He did far more to encourage liberal democracy here in the U.S. in that one instructive essay as BigJohn TwitterDean than Kagan did in his space opera-ish piece hyping the Autocrat McStrongbads abroad.

This is an open thread.