Discover more from Letters from an American
May 24, 2023
The Department of Homeland Security today issued a bulletin warning, “Lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland.” Both domestic extremists and foreign terrorists are using online extremist messaging and calls for violence to motivate supporters to launch attacks. Individuals upset about the 2024 election and new laws or court decisions might attack “US critical infrastructure, faith-based institutions, individuals or events associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, schools, racial and ethnic minorities, and government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement.” The advisory is in force for six months.
The announcement warned that a key factor in potential violence is “perceptions of the 2024 general election cycle,” a reference to disinformation suggesting that U.S. elections are rigged. This false allegation is a staple of former president Trump’s political messaging.
That disinformation led to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, of course, although many of those who have stood trial for participating in that attack have expressed regret—at least in front of the judge. But not all of them. Today Judge Christopher Cooper noted that Richard “Bigo” Barnett had “not shown any acceptance of responsibility” for his actions before sentencing him to four and a half years in prison. Barnett is an Arkansas man who was convicted on eight counts for his participation in the attack, during which he was famously photographed with his foot on then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre informed reporters about the budget negotiations and averting default, calling it a “manufactured crisis.” She called out members of the far-right Freedom Caucus for referring to the full faith and credit of the United States as a hostage, and reiterated that it is the duty of every member of Congress to avert the default that will cost millions of jobs lost, devastate retirement accounts, and throw the United States—and the world—into a recession.
“Let’s be clear about what Republicans are demanding in exchange for doing their job and preventing a default,” she said. “Earlier this year, they put forward an extreme package of devastating cuts that would slash…support for education, law enforcement, food assistance—the list goes on and on and on and on—by what now would be about 30 percent.”
While Jean-Pierre didn’t say it, the Republicans’ insistence that spending is out of control does not reflect reality. In fact, discretionary spending has fallen more than 40% in the past 50 years as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 11% to 6.3%. What has driven rising deficits are the George W. Bush and Donald Trump tax cuts, which will have added $8 trillion and $1.7 trillion, respectively, to the debt by the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
The U.S. is far below the average of the 37 other nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental forum of democracies with market economies, in our tax levies. According to the Center for American Progress, if we taxed at the average OECD level, over ten years we would have an additional $26 trillion in revenue. If we taxed at the average of European Union nations, we would have an additional $36 trillion.
What Jean-Pierre did say is that the Republicans’ demand for cuts in the name of fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction is belied by their protection of tax breaks skewed for the wealthy and corporations. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said those tax cuts would add $3.5 trillion to the debt over the next decade.
As the credit rating of the United States totters, House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) repeatedly told reporters the debt ceiling crisis is not his fault. Indeed, he cannot corral the votes of members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, who say they will not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless the Senate passes the extremist bill McCarthy got through the House by assuring party members that it was designed only to increase his bargaining power with Biden and that it would never become law. That passage is a nonstarter for Democrats and also for a number of vulnerable Republicans. And yet without it, McCarthy can’t get the votes he needs from the Freedom Caucus. And yet, the Republicans refuse to work with the Democrats, so the extremists can dictate what the House Republicans do.
We’re right back to the same fight we saw over McCarthy’s speakership, where extremists held the trump cards. “We’re not going to default,” McCarthy insisted.
In contrast, all the House Democrats have backed a discharge petition that would force a bill to increase the debt ceiling to the floor, but they need five Republicans to sign on to it. So far, no Republican has publicly stepped up.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s announcement today that he is running for president was awkward. He made the announcement on Twitter, whose owner, Elon Musk, has said he supports DeSantis, but the technology didn’t work and Twitter crashed repeatedly, leaving DeSantis’s audience unimpressed.
The campaign of rival Republican candidate Trump scoffed. A spokesperson said: “Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!” His commentary later in the day was even harsher.
President Joe Biden also threw shade. His team tweeted: “This link works.” The link went to the Biden-Harris campaign donation site.
On a more serious note, the president today used the one-year anniversary of the massacre at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and 2 teachers died and 17 more were injured, to call for gun safety measures. Since the Uvalde murders, Biden said, the U.S. has experienced 650 mass shootings and well over 40,000 deaths from gun violence. Guns are the top killers of children in the U.S.
Biden called for a ban on AR-15-type firearms and high-capacity magazines, and for the establishment of universal background checks, national red-flag laws, required safe storage of firearms, and an end to the immunity from liability that gun manufacturers enjoy. He noted that these commonsense measures are popular.
“To the families of the children and to the educators…we know that, one year later, it’s still so raw for you. A year of missed birthdays and holidays, school plays, soccer games, just that smile. A year of everyday joys gone forever. The bend in his smile. The perfect pitch of her laugh.
“God bless those 21 blessed souls lost on this day in Uvalde,” Biden said. “And may God bless their families. We’re thinking of you.”
OMB Historical Table 8.4 - OUTLAYS BY BUDGET ENFORCEMENT ACT CATEGORY AS PERCENTAGES OF GDP: 1962 – 2028, at https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/historical-tables/