Discover more from Letters from an American
November 3, 2023
Today, Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who was former president Trump’s Interior Secretary until he left under accusations of misconduct, introduced a bill to ban Palestinians from the United States and to revoke any visas issued to Palestinians since October 1 of this year. Although the U.S. has resettled only about 2,000 Palestinians in the last 20 years, ten other far-right members of the House signed onto Zinke’s bill, which draws no distinction between Hamas and Palestinian civilians.
This blanket attack on a vulnerable population echoes Trump’s travel ban of January 27, 2017, just a week after he took office. Executive Order 13769 stopped travel from primarily Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—for ninety days. The list of countries appeared random—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, countries from which terrorists have sometimes come directly to the U.S., weren’t on the list—and appeared to fulfill a campaign promise and assert a new view of executive power.
Insisting that immigrants endanger the country is a key tactic of authoritarians. Excluding them is a central principle of those eager to tear down democracy: they insist that immigration destroys a nation’s traditions and undermines native-born Americans. With tensions in the nation mounting over the crisis in the Middle East, this measure, introduced now with inflammatory language, seems designed to whip up violence.
Representative Greg Landsman (D-OH) called out his Republican colleagues on social media. “Un-American and definitely NOT in the Bible, [Speaker Johnson],” he wrote. “You going to tell them to pull this bill?”
But, far from trying to work across the aisle, Johnson has been throwing red meat to his base. In the last two days, for example, the House has voted to slash 39% of the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 13% of the budget of the National Park Service. It voted to require the Biden administration to advance oil drilling off the Alaska coast. It has voted on reducing the salary of the EPA administrator, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of the Interior to $1 each.
Yesterday, Johnson told reporters he considers extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) close friends and said “I don’t disagree with them on many issues and principles.”
To direct his communications team, Johnson has tapped Raj Shah, a former executive from the Fox News Corporation, who was a key player in promoting the lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. As the head of the “Brand Protection Unit,” Shah demanded that the Fox News Channel continue to lie to viewers who would leave the station if it told the truth. Johnson has hired Shah to be his deputy chief of staff for communications and, according to Alex Isenstadt of Politico, “help run messaging for House Republicans.”
The extremists are doubling down on Trump and his election lies even as his allies are admitting in court that they are, indeed, lies. Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows is in trouble with the publisher of his memoir after admitting that under oath that the election had been fair. The publisher is suing him for millions in damages for basing his book on the idea that the election had been stolen and representing that “all statements contained in the Work are true.”
The publisher says it has pulled the book off the market.
House extremists continue to back Trump even as he is openly calling for an authoritarian second term. In September, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had to take “appropriate measures” for his own security after Trump accused him of disloyalty to him, personally, and suggested that in the past, such “treason” would have been punished with death.
On Wednesday, Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage, and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that Trump was frustrated in his first term by lawyers who refused to go along with his wishes, trying to stay within the law, so Trump's allies are making lists of lawyers they believe would be “more aggressive” on issues of immigration, taking over the Department of Justice, and overturning elections.
They are looking, they say, for “a different type of lawyer” than those supported by the right-wing Federalist Society, one “willing to endure the personal and professional risks of association with Mr. Trump” and “to use theories that more establishment lawyers would reject to advance his cause.”
John Mitnick, who served in Trump’s first term, told the reporters that “no qualified attorneys with integrity will have any desire to serve as political appointees” in a second Trump term. Instead, the lawyers in a second term would be “opportunists who will rubber-stamp whatever Trump and his senior White House staff want to do.”
Trump has also made it clear he and his allies want to gut the nonpartisan civil service and fill tens of thousands of government positions with his own loyalists. Led by Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, Trump’s allies believe that agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission should not be independent but should push the president’s agenda.
This week, Trump vowed to take over higher education too. In a campaign video, he promised to tax private universities with large endowments to fund a new institution called “American Academy.” The school, which would be online only, would award free degrees and funnel students into jobs with the U.S. government and federal contractors.
“We spend more money on higher education than any other country, and yet they’re turning our students into communists and terrorists and sympathizers of many, many different dimensions,” Trump said. “We can’t let this happen.” In his university, “wokeness or jihadism” would not be allowed, he said.
In admirable understatement, Politico’s Meridith McGraw and Michael Stratford noted: “Using the federal government to create an entirely new educational institution aimed at competing with the thousands of existing schools would drastically reshape American higher education.”
Trump has made no secret of his future plans for the United States of America.
Meanwhile, Republicans appear determined to push their agenda over the wishes of voters. In Ohio, where voters on Tuesday will decide whether to amend the state constitution to make it a constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” Republicans first tried to make it harder to amend the state constitution, and then, when voters rejected that attempt, the Republican-dominated state senate began to use an official government website to spread narratives about the constitutional amendment that legal and medical experts called false or misleading.
Adding reproductive health protections to the state constitution is popular, but In an unusual move, the Republican secretary of state, Frank LaRose, quietly purged more than 26,000 voters from the rolls in late September. LaRose is a staunch opponent of the constitutional amendment and is himself running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In Virginia, where Republicans are hoping to take control of the state legislature to pass new abortion restrictions as well as the rest of Republican governor Glenn Youngkin’s agenda, a study by the Democratic Party of Virginia shows that officials are flagging the mail-in ballots of non-white voters for rejection much more frequently than those of white voters. As of today, 4.82% of ballots cast by Black voters have gotten flagged, while only 2.79% of the ballots of white voters have been flagged.
In Richmond, The Guardian’s Sam Levine reported, city officials flagged more than 11% of ballots returned by Black voters but only about 5.5% of ballots cast by white voters. After the ballots are fixed, or cured, the rate of rejection for Black voters remains more than twice as high as that of white voters.
Virginia officials also reported last week that they had accidentally removed more than 3,400 eligible voters from the rolls.