ROME (AP) — The Brothers of Italy party, which won the most votes in Italy’s national election, has its roots in the post-World War II neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.
Keeping the movement’s most potent symbol, the tricolor flame, Giorgia Meloni has taken Brothers of Italy from a fringe far-right group to Italy’s biggest party.
A century after Benito Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, which brought the fascist dictator to power, Meloni is poised to lead Italy’s first far-right-led government since World War II and Italy’s first woman premier.
HOW DID POST-FASCISM BEGIN IN ITALY?
The Italian Social Movement, or MSI, was founded in 1946 by Giorgio Almirante, a chief of staff in Mussolini’s last government. It drew fascist sympathizers and officials into its ranks following Italy’s role in the war, when it was allied with the Nazis and then liberated by the Allies.
Throughout the 1950-1980s, the MSI remained a small right-wing party, polling in the single digits. But historian Paul Ginsborg has noted that its mere survival in the decades after the war “served as a constant reminder of the potent appeal that authoritarianism and nationalism could still exercise among the southern students, urban poor and lower middle classes.”
The 1990s brought about a change under Gianfranco Fini, Almirante’s protege who nevertheless projected a new moderate face of the Italian right. When Fini ran for Rome mayor in 1993, he won a surprising 46.9% of the vote — not enough to win but enough to establish him as a player. Within a year, Fini had renamed the MSI the National Alliance.
It was in those years that a young Meloni, who was raised by a single mother in a Rome working-class neighborhood, first joined the MSI’s youth branch and then went onto lead the youth branch of Fini’s National Alliance.
DOES THAT MEAN MELONI IS NEO-FASCIST?
Fini was dogged by the movement’s neo-fascist roots and his own assessment that Mussolini was the 20th century’s “greatest statesman.” He disavowed that statement, and in 2003 visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel. There, he described Italy’s racial laws, which restricted Jews’ rights, as part of the “absolute evil” of the war.
Meloni, too, had praised Mussolini in her youth but visited Yad Vashem in 2009 when she was a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s last government. Writing in her 2021 memoir “I Am Giorgia,” she described the experience as evidence of how “a genocide happens step by step, a little at a time.”
During the campaign, Meloni was forced to confront the issue head-on, after the Democrats warned that she represented a danger to democracy.
“The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws,” she said in a campaign video.
HOW DID BROTHERS OF ITALY EMERGE?
Meloni, who proudly touts her roots as an MSI militant, has said the first spark of creating Brothers of Italy came after Berlusconi resigned as premier in 2011, forced out by a financial crisis over Italy’s soaring debt and his own legal problems.
Meloni refused to support Mario Monti, who was tapped by Italy’s president to try to form a technocratic government to reassure international financial markets. Meloni couldn’t stand what she believed was external pressure from European capitals to dictate internal Italian politics.
Meloni co-founded the party in 2012, naming it after the first words of the Italian national anthem. “A new party for an old tradition,” Meloni wrote.
Brothers of Italy would only take in single-digit results in its first decade. The European Parliament election in 2019 brought Brothers of Italy 6.4% — a figure that Meloni says “changed everything.”
As the leader of the only party in opposition during Mario Draghi’s 2021-2022 national unity government, her popularity soared, with Sunday’s election netting it 26%.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PARTY’S LOGO?
The party has at the center of its logo the red, white and green flame of the original MSI that remained when the movement became the National Alliance. While less obvious than the bundle of sticks, or fasces, that was the prominent symbol of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, the tricolor flame is nevertheless a powerful image that ties the current party to its past.
“Political logos are a form of branding, no different than those aimed at consumers,” said Rutgers University professor T. Corey Brennan, who recently wrote “Fasces: A History of Rome’s Most Dangerous Political Symbol.”
He recalled that when Almirante made his final MSI campaign pitch to voters in the 1948 election at Rome’s Spanish Steps, he put the party’s flame symbol on top of the obelisk and illuminated it with floodlights.
“You can make whatever you want out of a flame, but everybody understood that Almirante was making a deeply emotional appeal to keep the spirit of fascism alive,” he said.
HOW DO ITALIANS FEEL ABOUT IT?
In general, the party’s neo-fascist roots appear to be of more concern abroad than at home. Some historians explain that by noting a certain historical amnesia here and Italians’ general comfort living with the relics of fascism as evidence that Italy never really repudiated the Fascist Party and Mussolini in the same way Germany repudiated National Socialism and Hitler.
While Germany went through a long and painful process reckoning with its past, Italians have in many ways simply turned a willful blindness to their own.
Historian David Kertzer of Brown University notes that there are 67 institutes for the study of the Resistance to Fascism in Italy, and virtually no center for the study of Italian Fascism.
In addition, Mussolini-era architecture and monuments are everywhere: from the EUR neighborhood in southern Rome to the Olympic training center on the Tiber River, with its obelisk still bearing Mussolini’s name.
The Italian Constitution bars the reconstitution of the Fascist party, but far-right groups still display the fascist salute and there continues to be an acceptance of fascist symbols, said Brennan.
“You don’t have to look very hard for signs,” Brennan said in a phone interview. “Fully a quarter of all manhole covers in Rome still have the fasces on them.”
DOES THAT MEAN ITALIANS SUPPORT FASCISM?
If history is any guide, one constant in recent political elections is that Italians vote for change, with a desire for something new seemingly overtaking traditional political ideology in big pendulum shifts, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.
Tocci said the Brothers of Italy’s popularity in 2022 was evidence of this “violent” swing that is more about Italian dissatisfaction than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment.
“I would say the main reason why a big chunk of that — let’s say 25-30% — will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.
Meloni still speaks reverently about the MSI and Almirante, even if her rhetoric can change to suit her audience.
This summer, speaking in perfect Spanish, she thundered at a rally of Spain’s hard-right Vox party: “Yes to the natural family. No to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sexual identity. No to gender ideology.”
Back home on the campaign trail, she projected a much more moderate tone and appealed for unity in her victory speech Monday.
“Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray it, as we never have.”
‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection
Tom LoBianco, Reporter – September 21, 2022
Supporters of former President Donald Trump seeking to control elections across the country have raised the specter of a second insurrection, akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and fears that they will help try to rig the election results for Trump if he seeks the presidency again.
But experts tracking an array of races for positions with control over elections — from governor to county election clerk — say it’s unclear what form a second insurrection could take.
The threat is clouded in part by uncertainty over how much lawmakers will clarify about the previously obscure Electoral Count Act (ECA) and what the Supreme Court will do regarding the “independent legislature” theory, which could block courts from intervening in how elections are run.
Changes to the ECA being debated in the Senate and House would clarify that a vice president cannot replace authentic electors with fake ones; would set a quicker timeline for judicial review of election challenges and a higher bar for objections from Congress; and would establish the governor of each state as the lone person who can submit certified electors to Congress.
But bipartisan groups tracking the threat of another insurrection have consistently warned that Trump supporters running to control state elections — from Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — could take the reins and attempt to certify whatever results they want.
“The problem is, the coup did not actually end on Jan. 6. It simply went into a brief hibernation and almost immediately began gathering energy to succeed next time,” said Norm Eisen, founder of the bipartisan group States United Democracy Center and a former top official in the Obama administration.
“They saw that the election refs applied the existing rules to produce the right result,” Eisen said of the 2020 election. “So now they’re going to replace the refs, and they’re going to replace the rules so they can change the results. It’s the election denier playbook, and you see this in state after state.”
The man at the center of the continued threat, Trump, has said repeatedly that he plans to run for president a third time. He has also taken a darker turn in his campaign rallies recently, eschewing the scripted approach of his return to Washington two months ago for wild conspiracy theories, some of which helped fuel his supporters to attack the Capitol. He has also been hinting at more violence from his supporters if he’s indicted for taking highly sensitive classified intelligence from the White House after his term.
Election director races used to be staid affairs, the rare white noise behind the unchecked turmoil of campaign politics. But like so many other things in politics, that flipped on its head after Trump descended the golden-colored escalator in Trump Tower seven years ago. The 2020 election and Trump’s subsequent efforts to deny his loss elevated these races to top-tier battles for the control of elections themselves.
Terrified election workers testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about the rampant death threats they received after being targeted by Trump. And many local election workers have resigned or refused to run again in the face of ongoing threats from Trump supporters.
In Arizona and Pennsylvania, two epicenters of efforts by Trump-backed candidates to wrest control of the election process, Republican nominees have proposed a mix of power grabs and more standard conservative election proposals.
Finchem, the Arizona secretary of state nominee — who recently had a performer sing the QAnon theme song at one of his fundraisers — has proposed ending electronic vote counting and mandating paper ballots (a proposal that Democrats pushed almost two decades ago). But Finchem has also proposed giving the Republican-controlled Arizona state Legislature the power to overturn election results.
Asked by Time magazine if he would certify a hypothetical Biden win, he said he would if the law is followed, but then implied he would never certify a Biden win in 2024 because such a thing would be a “fantasy.”
Across the country, Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, has pushed for voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, both long-standing Republican election policies.
But Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has also said he would have his handpicked secretary of state invalidate all Pennsylvania voters and force them to re-register. Mastriano submitted a measure that would expand the number of partisans who can challenge votes and vote counting potentially intimidating poll workers further.
Finchem and Mastriano, like dozens of other Trump supporters looking to take control of their states’ elections, have repeated the baseless claim that voter fraud was rampant through the 2020 election and that Trump never lost. But the stances of Trump-backed Republicans vary widely.
At one extreme sit Trump supporters like Couy Griffin, the New Mexico local official who invalidated an election result he didn’t like and later was removed from office for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. At the other end are those like New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, who campaigned in the primary repeating Trump’s election lie but promptly disavowed that lie after winning the Republican nomination last week.
In between are a slew of Trump supporters who have dressed up long-standing conservative election priorities, like requiring identification to vote, in Trumpian rhetoric, but have not repeated some of the wackier claims of voter fraud that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection, like allegations of Italian satellites or Chinese thermostats.
Still, it’s not clear exactly what Trump supporters in election offices could do to rig an election for the former president. The Electoral Count Act fix being debated in the Senate would close most of the loopholes that Trump and his allies, led by Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, tried to exploit in their fake elector scheme.
“The worrisome thing about these election deniers is that they would have, in those positions of power, they would have some real power. Maybe not to singlehandedly overturn the results, but they could try, and it could create a real chaos crisis and undermine confidence in our election systems and possibly lead to more violence like the Jan. 6 attack,” said Ben Berwick, general counsel for Protect Democracy, a group staffed with top former Democratic officials that tracks election director races across the country.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Trump’s former White House aides at the America First Policy Institute, dubbed the “White House in waiting” for the large number of former Cabinet secretaries and top advisers who took refuge there after Jan. 6, are calling for strict limits on who can vote and how, but are stopping well short of Trump’s most ardent loyalists who are pushing to flat-out change election results they don’t like, according to a report from the group published in August.
The co-chairs of AFPI’s election integrity center, former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, cast their proposals in terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, saying that accurate voting data is needed to instill faith in election results.
The group hinted at the election lies that led to Jan. 6, writing, “After the last presidential election, there were concerns that ballots may have been counted multiple times (so that there could be more ballots cast than voters who voted) or that ballots were destroyed (so that there could be more voters who voted than ballots cast).”
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Republican candidates are either saying they do not accept their own primary losses or refusing to say whether they’ll acknowledge reality if they lose in November.
“We’re in a situation where one of the two major parties in this country has been captured in whole or in part by antidemocratic forces, and that’s a real challenge in a system where the whole thing is built on the idea that the losers of an election, while they may not like it, they respect the outcome,” Berwick said. “If we lose that, then we’re headed down a path we can’t come back from.”
Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward contributed to this report.
Massachusetts seeks human trafficking probe targeting Florida Gov. DeSantis over migrants
John Bacon and Rachael Devaney, USA TODAY – September 18, 2022
Authorities in Massachusetts said Sunday that they have requested a federal human trafficking probe after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted of sending about 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to shine a national spotlight on immigration issues.
“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis and others accountable for these inhumane acts,” state Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted Sunday. “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
Fernandes said he had spoken with Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins and was “grateful to hear she is pushing for a response from the DOJ.”
The migrants were picked up in Texas, but DeSantis said the flights were part of a $12 million Florida program to transport undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary destinations. DeSantis denied claims that the migrants were duped into taking the flights with promises of jobs that did not exist. And he said he was “perplexed” to hear that President Joe Biden was “surging resources” to the Texas border in response to the flights.
“It’s only when you have 50 illegal aliens end up in a wealthy rich enclave that he (Biden) decides to scramble at this,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott have also sent migrants to other sanctuary cities, including New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., where some were dropped off outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Gov. Charlie Baker ordered shelter and humanitarian support be provided at Joint Base Cape Cod in cooperation with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and other officials. And 125 National Guard Members are aiding the effort.
Fernandes said the welcoming response being provided the migrants by his state reflects the best of what America can be.
“There is nothing tough about using women and children and families as your political tools,” Fernandes said on MSNBC. “Ron DeSantis is a coward.”
Surge of Venezuelan migrants at border
The Venezuelan migrants are among a global diaspora of millions of people who left the country to escape a depressed economy and a dictatorial regime amid power outages, lack of access to reliable water, rampant inflation and political turmoil. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the biggest surge of migrants in his Texas border city are Venezuelans. He said in recent days as many as 2,000 migrants have arrived in his city and he estimates 80% are Venezuelan.
Leeser, in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said the biggest challenge facing him, city officials and the U.S. Border Patrol is that up to half the Venezuelans arriving have no “sponsor,” a family member or friend who can arrange for their transportation and housing beyond the border. He said the vast majority of previous migrants had a sponsor to help them get to their next destination.
“So, we’re helping them working to get them to where they want to go,” he said. “So that’s been really important – that we don’t send anyone where they don’t want to go.”
Cuellar: Crime cartels exploiting weak border control
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Face the Nation that the Border Patrol, Homeland Security and other agencies must be provided equipment and personnel they need to enforce the law. Otherwise, he said, the U.S. will continue to see 8,000 people crossing the border a day. He said the border area he represents includes some of the poorest counties in the nation.
Cuellar said says sophisticated crime cartels are exploiting weak checkpoints to move people across the U.S.-Mexico border. He estimated they might make $8,000 a person – and about 4 million people over the last two years.
“That shows you how much these bad guys are being enriched,” he said. “Everybody that comes across is somehow controlled by the bad guys.”
‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy
David Leonhardt – September 17, 2022
The United States has experienced deep political turmoil several times before over the past century. The Great Depression caused Americans to doubt the country’s economic system. World War II and the Cold War presented threats from global totalitarian movements. The 1960s and ’70s were marred by assassinations, riots, a losing war and a disgraced president.
These earlier periods were each more alarming in some ways than anything that has happened in the United States recently. Yet during each of those previous times of tumult, the basic dynamics of American democracy held firm. Candidates who won the most votes were able to take power and attempt to address the country’s problems.
The current period is different. As a result, the United States today finds itself in a situation with little historical precedent. American democracy is facing two distinct threats, which together represent the most serious challenge to the country’s governing ideals in decades.
The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.
The violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, meant to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election, was the clearest manifestation of this movement, but it has continued since then. Hundreds of elected Republican officials around the country falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Some of them are running for statewide offices that would oversee future elections, potentially putting them in position to overturn an election in 2024 or beyond.
“There is the possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office,” said Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies democracy.
The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.
The run of recent Supreme Court decisions — both sweeping and, according to polls, unpopular — highlights this disconnect. Although the Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees seems poised to shape American politics for years, if not decades. And the court is only one of the means through which policy outcomes are becoming less closely tied to the popular will.
Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so because of the way districts are drawn.
“We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world,” said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University and a co-author of the book “How Democracies Die,” with Daniel Ziblatt.
The causes of the twin threats to democracy are complex and debated among scholars.
The chronic threats to democracy generally spring from enduring features of American government, some written into the Constitution. But they did not conflict with majority opinion to the same degree in past decades. One reason is that more populous states, whose residents receive less power because of the Senate and the Electoral College, have grown so much larger than small states.
The acute threats to democracy — and the rise of authoritarian sentiment, or at least the acceptance of it, among many voters — have different causes. They partly reflect frustration over nearly a half-century of slow-growing living standards for the American working class and middle class. They also reflect cultural fears, especially among white people, that the United States is being transformed into a new country, more racially diverse and less religious, with rapidly changing attitudes toward gender, language and more.
The economic frustrations and cultural fears have combined to create a chasm in American political life between prosperous, diverse major metropolitan areas and more traditional, religious and economically struggling smaller cities and rural areas. The first category is increasingly liberal and Democratic, the second increasingly conservative and Republican.
The political contest between the two can feel existential to people in both camps, with disagreements over nearly every prominent issue. “When we’re voting, we’re not just voting for a set of policies but for what we think makes us Americans and who we are as a people,” said Lilliana Mason, a political scientist and the author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity.” “If our party loses the election, then all of these parts of us feel like losers.”
These sharp disagreements have led many Americans to doubt the country’s system of government. In a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, 69% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans said that democracy was “in danger of collapse.” Of course, the two sides have very different opinions about the nature of the threat.
Many Democrats share the concerns of historians and scholars who study democracy, pointing to the possibility of overturned election results and the deterioration of majority rule. “Equality and democracy are under assault,” Biden said in a speech this month in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.”
Many Republicans have defended their increasingly aggressive tactics by saying they are trying to protect American values. In some cases, these claims rely on falsehoods — about election fraud, Biden’s supposed “socialism,” Barack Obama’s birthplace and more.
In others, they are rooted in anxiety over real developments, including illegal immigration and “cancel culture.” Some on the left now consider widely held opinions among conservative and moderate Americans — on abortion, policing, affirmative action, COVID-19 and other subjects — to be so objectionable that they cannot be debated. In the view of many conservatives and some experts, this intolerance is stifling open debate at the heart of the American political system.
The divergent sense of crisis on left and right can itself weaken democracy, and it has been exacerbated by technology.
Conspiracy theories and outright lies have a long American history, dating to the personal attacks that were a staple of the partisan press during the 18th century. In the mid-20th century, tens of thousands of Americans joined the John Birch Society, a far-right group that claimed Dwight Eisenhower was a secret communist.
Today, however, falsehoods can spread much more easily, through social media and a fractured news environment. In the 1950s, no major television network spread the lies about Eisenhower. In recent years, the country’s most watched cable channel, Fox News, regularly promoted falsehoods about election results, Obama’s birthplace and other subjects.
These same forces — digital media, cultural change and economic stagnation in affluent countries — help explain why democracy is also struggling in other parts of the world. Only two decades ago, at the turn of the 21st century, democracy was the triumphant form of government around the world, with autocracy in retreat in the former Soviet empire, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, South Korea and elsewhere. Today, the global trend is moving in the other direction.
In the late 1990s, 72 countries were democratizing, and only three were growing more authoritarian, according to data from V-Dem, a Swedish institute that monitors democracy. Last year, only 15 countries grew more democratic, while 33 slid toward authoritarianism.
Some experts remain hopeful that the growing attention in the United States to democracy’s problems can help avert a constitutional crisis here. Already, Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election failed, partly because of the refusal of many Republican officials to participate, and both federal and state prosecutors are investigating his actions. And while the chronic decline of majority rule will not change anytime soon, it is also part of a larger historical struggle to create a more inclusive American democracy.
Still, many experts point out that it still not clear how the country will escape a larger crisis, such as an overturned election, at some point in the coming decade. “This is not politics as usual,” said Carol Anderson, a professor at Emory University and the author of the book, “One Person, No Vote,” about voter suppression. “Be afraid.”
The Will of the Majority
The founders did not design the United States to be a pure democracy.
They distrusted the classical notion of direct democracy, in which a community came together to vote on each important issue, and believed it would be impractical for a large country. They did not consider many residents of the new country to be citizens who deserved a voice in political affairs, including Natives, enslaved Africans and women. The founders also wanted to constrain the national government from being too powerful, as they believed was the case in Britain. And they had the practical problem of needing to persuade 13 states to forfeit some of their power to a new federal government.
Instead of a direct democracy, the founders created a republic, with elected representatives to make decisions, and a multilayered government in which different branches checked one another. The Constitution also created the Senate, where every state had an equal say regardless of population.
Pointing to this history, some Republican politicians and conservative activists have argued that the founders were comfortable with minority rule. “Of course we’re not a democracy,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has written.
But the historical evidence suggests that the founders believed that majority will — defined as the prevailing view of enfranchised citizens — should generally dictate national policy, as George Thomas of Claremont McKenna College and other constitutional scholars have explained.
In the Federalist Papers, James Madison equated “a coalition of a majority of the whole society” with “justice and the general good.” Alexander Hamilton made similar points, describing “representative democracy” as “happy, regular and durable.” It was a radical idea at the time.
For most of American history, the idea has prevailed. Even with the existence of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court, political power has reflected the views of people who had the right to vote. “To say we’re a republic not a democracy ignores the past 250 years of history,” Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard University, said.
Before 2000, only three candidates won the presidency while losing the popular vote (John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes and Benjamin Harrison), and each served only a single term. During the same period, parties that won repeated elections were able to govern, including the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson’s time, the New Deal Democrats and the Reagan Republicans.
The situation has changed in the 21st century. The Democratic Party is in the midst of a historic winning streak. In seven of the past eight presidential elections, stretching back to Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, the Democratic nominee has won the popular vote. Over more than two centuries of American democracy, no party has previously fared so well over such an extended period.
Yet the current period is hardly a dominant Democratic age.
What changed? One crucial factor is that, in the past, the parts of the country granted outsize power by the Constitution — less populated states, which tend to be more rural — voted in broadly similar ways as large states and urban areas.
This similarity meant that the small-state bonus in the Senate and Electoral College had only a limited effect on national results. Both Democrats and Republicans benefited and suffered from the Constitution’s undemocratic features.
Democrats sometimes won small states like Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming in the mid-20th century. And California was long a swing state: Between the Great Depression and 2000, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates won it an equal number of times. That the Constitution conferred advantages on residents of small states and disadvantages on Californians did not reliably boost either party.
In recent decades, Americans have increasingly sorted themselves along ideological lines. Liberals have flocked to large metropolitan areas, which are heavily concentrated in big states like California, while residents of smaller cities and more rural areas have become more conservative.
This combination — the Constitution’s structure and the country’s geographic sorting — has created a disconnect between public opinion and election outcomes. It has affected every branch of the federal government: the presidency, Congress and even the Supreme Court.
In the past, “the system was still anti-democratic, but it didn’t have a partisan effect,” Levitsky said. “Now it’s undemocratic and has a partisan effect. It tilts the playing field toward the Republican Party. That’s new in the 21st century.”
In presidential elections, the small-state bias is important, but it is not even the main issue. A subtler factor — the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College in most states — is. Candidates have never received extra credit for winning state-level landslides. But this feature did not used to matter very much, because landslides were rare in larger states, meaning that relatively few votes were “wasted,” as political scientists say.
Today, Democrats dominate a handful of large states, wasting many votes. In 2020, Biden won California by 29 percentage points; New York by 23 points; and Illinois by 17 points. Four years earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s margins were similar.
This shift means that millions of voters in large metropolitan areas have moved away from the Republican Party without having any impact on presidential outcomes. That’s a central reason that both George W. Bush and Trump were able to win the presidency while losing the popular vote.
“We’re in a very different world today than when the system was designed,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “The dynamic of being pushed aside is more obvious and I think more frustrating.”
Republicans sometimes point out that the system prevents a few highly populated states from dominating the country’s politics, which is true. But the flip is also true: The Constitution gives special privileges to the residents of small states. In presidential elections, many voters in large states have become irrelevant in a way that has no historical antecedent.
The Curse of Geographic Sorting
The country’s changing population patterns may have had an even bigger effect on Congress — especially the Senate — and the Supreme Court than the presidency.
The sorting of liberals into large metropolitan areas and conservatives into more rural areas is only one reason. Another is that large states have grown much more quickly than small states. In 1790, the largest state (Virginia) had about 13 times as many residents as the smallest (Delaware). Today, California has 68 times as many residents as Wyoming, 53 times as many as Alaska and at least 20 times as many as another 11 states.
Together, these trends mean that the Senate has a heavily pro-Republican bias that will last for the foreseeable future.
The Senate today is split 50-50 between the two parties. But the 50 Democratic senators effectively represent 186 million Americans, while the 50 Republican senators effectively represent 145 million. To win Senate control, Democrats need to win substantially more than half of the nationwide votes in Senate elections.
This situation has led to racial inequality in political representation. The residents of small states, granted extra influence by the Constitution, are disproportionately white, while large states are home to many more Asian American, Black and Latino voters.
In addition, two parts of the country that are disproportionately Black or Latino — Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — have no Senate representation. Washington has more residents than Vermont or Wyoming, and Puerto Rico has more residents than 20 states. As a result, the Senate gives a political voice to white Americans that is greater than their numbers.
The House of Representatives has a more equitable system for allocating political power. It divides the country into 435 districts, each with a broadly similar number of people (currently about 760,000). Still, House districts have two features that can cause the chamber’s makeup not to reflect national opinion, and both of them have become more significant in recent years.
The first is well known: gerrymandering. State legislatures often draw district boundaries and in recent years have become more aggressive about drawing them in partisan ways. In Illinois, for example, the Democrats who control the state government have packed Republican voters into a small number of House districts, allowing most other districts to lean Democratic. In Wisconsin, Republicans have done the opposite.
Because Republicans have been more forceful about gerrymandering than Democrats, the current House map slightly favors Republicans, likely by a few seats. At the state level, Republicans have been even bolder. Gerrymandering has helped them dominate the state legislatures in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, even though the states are closely divided.
Still, gerrymandering is not the only reason that House membership has become less reflective of national opinion in recent years. It may not even be the biggest reason, according to Jonathan A. Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford University. Geographic sorting is.
“Without a doubt, gerrymandering makes things worse for the Democrats,” Rodden has written, “but their underlying problem can be summed up with the old real estate maxim: location, location, location.” The increasing concentration of Democratic voters into large metro areas means that even a neutral system would have a hard time distributing these tightly packed Democratic voters across districts in a way that would allow the party to win more elections.
Instead, Democrats now win many House elections in urban areas by landslides, wasting many votes. In 2020, only 21 Republican House candidates won their elections by at least 50 percentage points; 47 Democrats did.
Looking at where many of these elections occurred helps make Rodden’s point. The landslide winners included Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver; Rep. Jerry Nadler in New York City; Rep. Jesús García in Chicago; Rep. Donald Payne Jr. in northern New Jersey; and Rep. Barbara Lee in Oakland, California. None of those districts are in states where Republicans have controlled the legislative boundaries, which means that they were not the result of Republican gerrymandering.
Again and again, geographic sorting has helped cause a growing disconnect between public opinion and election results, and this disconnect has shaped the Supreme Court as well. The court’s membership at any given time is dictated by the outcomes of presidential and Senate elections over the previous few decades. And if elections reflected popular opinion, Democratic appointees would dominate the court.
Every current justice has been appointed during one of the past nine presidential terms, and a Democrat has won the popular vote in seven of those nine and the presidency in five of the nine. Yet the court is now dominated by a conservative, six-member majority.
There are multiple reasons (including Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to retire in 2014 when a Democratic president and Senate could have replaced her). But the increasingly undemocratic nature of both the Electoral College and Senate play crucial roles.
Trump was able to appoint three justices despite losing the popular vote. (Bush is a more complex case, having made his court appointments after he won reelection and the popular vote in 2004.) Similarly, if Senate seats were based on population, none of Trump’s nominees — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — would likely have been confirmed, said Michael J. Klarman, a law professor at Harvard. Senate Republicans also would not have been able to block Obama from filling a court seat during his final year in office.
Even Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation relied on the Senate’s structure: The 52 senators who voted to confirm him represented a minority of Americans.
The current court’s approach has magnified the disconnect between public opinion and government policy, because Republican-appointed justices have overruled Congress on some major issues. The list includes bills on voting rights and campaign finance that earlier Congresses passed along bipartisan lines. This term, the court issued rulings on abortion, climate policy and gun laws that seemed to be inconsistent with majority opinion, based on polls.
“The Republican justices wouldn’t say this and may not believe it,” Klarman said, “but everything they’ve done translates into a direct advantage for the Republican Party.”
In response to the voting rights decision, in 2013, Republican legislators in several states have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, especially in heavily Democratic areas. They have done so citing the need to protect election security, even though there has been no widespread fraud in recent years.
For now, the electoral effect of these decisions remains uncertain. Some analysts point out that the restrictions have not yet been onerous enough to hold down turnout. In the 2020 presidential election, the percentage of eligible Americans who voted reached the highest level in at least a century.
Other experts remain concerned that the new laws could ultimately swing a close election in a swing state. “When you have one side gearing up to say, ‘How do we stop the enemy from voting?’ that is dangerous to a democracy,” Anderson, the Emory professor, said.
An upcoming Supreme Court case may also allow state legislatures to impose even more voting restrictions. The court has agreed to hear a case in which Republican legislators in North Carolina argue that the Constitution gives them, and not state courts, the authority to oversee federal elections.
In recent years, state courts played an important role in constraining both Republican and Democratic legislators who tried to draw gerrymandered districts that strongly benefited one party. If the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina legislature, gerrymandering might increase, as might laws establishing new barriers to voting.
Amplifying the Election Lies
If the only challenges to democracy involved these chronic, long-developing forces, many experts would be less concerned than they are. American democracy has always been flawed, after all.
But the slow-building ways in which majority rule is being undermined are happening at the same time that the country faces an immediate threat that has little precedent. A growing number of Republican officials are questioning a basic premise of democracy: that the losers of an election are willing to accept defeat.
The roots of the modern election-denier movement stretch back to 2008. When Obama was running for president and after he won, some of his critics falsely claimed that his victory was illegitimate because he was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii. This movement became known as birtherism, and Trump was among its proponents. By making the claims on Fox News and elsewhere, he helped transform himself from a reality television star into a political figure.
When he ran for president himself in 2016, Trump made false claims about election fraud central to his campaign. In the Republican primaries, he accused his closest competitor for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz, of cheating. In the general election against Hillary Clinton, Trump said he would accept the outcome only if he won. In 2020, after Biden won, the election lies became Trump’s dominant political message.
His embrace of these lies was starkly different from the approach of past leaders from both parties. In the 1960s, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater ultimately isolated the conspiracists of the John Birch Society. In 2000, Al Gore urged his supporters to accept George W. Bush’s razor-thin victory, much as Richard Nixon had encouraged his supporters to do so after he narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960. In 2008, when a Republican voter at a rally described Obama as an Arab, Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee and Obama’s opponent, corrected her.
Trump’s promotion of the falsehoods, by contrast, turned them into a central part of the Republican Party’s message. About two-thirds of Republican voters say that Biden did not win the 2020 election legitimately, according to polls. Among Republican candidates running for statewide office this year, 47% have refused to accept the 2020 result, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.
Most Republican politicians who have confronted Trump, on the other hand, have since lost their jobs or soon will. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, for example, eight have since decided to retire or lost Republican primaries, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
“By any indication, the Republican Party — upper-level, midlevel and grassroots — is a party that can only be described as not committed to democracy,” Levitsky said. He added that he was significantly more concerned about American democracy than when his and Ziblatt’s book, “How Democracies Die,” came out in 2018.
Juan José Linz, a political scientist who died in 2013, coined the term “semi-loyal actors” to describe political officials who typically do not initiate attacks on democratic rules or institutions but who also do not attempt to stop these attacks. Through their complicity, these semi-loyal actors can cause a party and a country to slide toward authoritarianism.
That’s what happened in Europe in the 1930s and in Latin America in the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, it has happened in Hungary. Now there are similar signs in the United States.
Often, even Republicans who cast themselves as different from Trump include winking references to his conspiracy theories in their campaigns, saying that they, too, believe “election integrity” is a major problem. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, for example, have both recently campaigned on behalf of election deniers.
In Congress, Republican leaders have largely stopped criticizing the violent attack on the Capitol. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, has gone so far as to signal his support for colleagues — like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. — who have used violent imagery in public comments. Greene, before being elected to Congress, said that she supported the idea of executing prominent Democrats.
“When mainstream parties tolerate these guys, make excuses for them, protect them, that’s when democracy gets in trouble,” Levitsky said. “There have always been Marjorie Taylor Greenes. What I pay closer attention to is the behavior of the Kevin McCarthys.”
The party’s growing acceptance of election lies raises the question of what would happen if Trump or another future presidential nominee tried to replay his 2016 attempt to overturn the result.
In 11 states this year, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, a position that typically oversees election administration, qualifies as an “election denier,” according to States United Action, a research group. In 15 states, the nominee for governor is a denier, and in 10 states, the attorney general nominee is.
The growth of the election-denier movement has created a possibility that would have seemed unthinkable not so long ago. It remains unclear whether the loser of the next presidential election will concede or will instead try to overturn the outcome.
‘There Is a Crisis Coming’
There are still many scenarios in which the United States will avoid a democratic crisis.
In 2024, Biden could win reelection by a wide margin — or a Republican other than Trump could win by a wide margin. Trump might then fade from the political scene, and his successors might choose not to embrace election falsehoods. The era of Republican election denial could prove to be brief.
It is also possible that Trump or another Republican nominee will try to reverse a close defeat in 2024 but will fail, as happened in 2020. Then, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, rebuffed Trump after he directed him to “find 11,780 votes,” and the Supreme Court refused to intervene as well. More broadly, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, recently said that the United States had “very little voter fraud.”
If a Republican were again to try to overturn the election and to fail, the movement might also begin to fade. But many democracy experts worry that these scenarios may be wishful thinking.
Trump’s most likely successors as party leader also make or tolerate false claims about election fraud. The movement is bigger than one person and arguably always has been; some of the efforts to make voting more onerous, which are generally justified with false suggestions of widespread voter fraud, predated Trump’s 2016 candidacy.
To believe that Republicans will not overturn a close presidential loss in coming years seems to depend on ignoring the public positions of many Republican politicians. “The scenarios by which we don’t have a major democracy crisis by the end of the decade seem rather narrow,” Mounk of Johns Hopkins said.
And Levitsky said, “It’s not clear how the crisis is going to manifest itself, but there is a crisis coming.” He added, “We should be very worried.”
The most promising strategy for avoiding an overturned election, many scholars say, involves a broad ideological coalition that isolates election deniers. But it remains unclear how many Republican politicians would be willing to join such a coalition.
It is also unclear whether Democratic politicians and voters are interested in making the compromises that would help them attract more voters. Many Democrats have instead embraced a purer version of liberalism in recent years, especially on social issues. This shift to the left has not prevented the party from winning the popular vote in presidential elections, but it has hurt Democrats outside of major metropolitan areas and, by extension, in the Electoral College and congressional elections.
If Democrats did control both the White House and Congress — and by more than a single vote, as they now do in the Senate — they have signaled that they would attempt to pass legislation to address both the chronic and acute threats to democracy.
The House last year passed a bill to protect voting rights and restrict gerrymandering. It died in the Senate partly because it included measures that even some moderate Democrats believed went too far, such as restrictions on voter identification laws, which many other democracies around the world have.
The House also passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., which would reduce the Senate’s current bias against metropolitan areas and Black Americans. The United States is currently in its longest stretch without having admitted a new state.
Democracy experts have also pointed to other possible solutions to the growing disconnect between public opinion and government policy. Among them is an expansion of the number of members in the House of Representatives, which the Constitution allows Congress to do — and which it regularly did until the early 20th century. A larger House would create smaller districts, which in turn could reduce the share of uncompetitive districts.
Other scholars favor proposals to limit the Supreme Court’s authority, which the Constitution also allows and which previous presidents and Congresses have done.
In the short term, these proposals would generally help the Democratic Party, because the current threats to majority rule have mostly benefited the Republican Party. In the long term, however, the partisan effects of such changes are less clear.
The history of new states makes this point: In the 1950s, Republicans initially supported making Hawaii a state because it seemed to lean Republican, while Democrats said that Alaska had to be included, too, also for partisan reasons. Today, Hawaii is a strongly Democratic state, and Alaska is a strongly Republican one. Either way, the fact that both are states has made the country more democratic.
Over the sweep of history, the American government has tended to become more democratic, through women’s suffrage, civil rights laws, the direct election of senators and more. The exceptions, like the post-Reconstruction period, when Black Southerners lost rights, have been rare. The current period is so striking partly because it is one of those exceptions.
“The point is not that American democracy is worse than it was in the past,” Mounk said. “Throughout American history, the exclusion of minority groups, and African Americans in particular, was much worse than it is now.
“But the nature of the threat is very different than in the past,” he said.
The makeup of the federal government reflects public opinion less closely than it once did. And the chance of a true constitutional crisis — in which the rightful winner of an election cannot take office — has risen substantially. That combination shows that American democracy has never faced a threat quite like the current one.
Panel: Archives still not certain it has all Trump records
Farnoush Amirit – September 13, 2022
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Archives is still not certain that it has custody of all Donald Trump’s presidential records even after the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago club, a congressional committee said in a letter Tuesday.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform revealed that staff at the Archives on an Aug. 24 call could not provide assurances that they have all of Trump’s presidential records. The committee in the letter asked the Archives to conduct an assessment of whether any Trump records remain unaccounted for and potentially in his possession.
“In light of revelations that Mr. Trump’s representatives misled investigators about his continued possession of government property and that material found at his club included dozens of ‘empty folders’ for classified material, I am deeply concerned that sensitive presidential records may remain out of the control and custody of the U.S. Government,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, wrote in the letter.
The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a months long back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump’s handling of records.
Trump wants his White House records back so he can add them to his presidential library
Donald Trump asked for all documents taken from his Mar-a-Lago home to be returned so that he can give the files to the National Archives and Records Administration, while also claiming they will be needed again later for his presidential library.
The request also comes weeks after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and even more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The search came after lawyers for Trump provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.
But the letter notes a call between Archives staff and the committee on Aug. 24, where lawmakers were informed that documents could still be missing.
As a result, Maloney wrote, the committee is asking the agency to conduct an “urgent review” of all of the government records that have been recorded from the Trump White House to determine whether any additional records remain unaccounted for and potentially in the possession of the former president.
In addition, the committee also asked for the Archives to get a personal certification from Trump “that he has surrendered all presidential records that he illegally removed from the White House after leaving office.”
The committee is asking the Archives to provide an initial assessment of this review by Sept. 27.
‘Deeply Problematic’: Experts Question Judge’s Intervention in Trump Inquiry
Charlie Savage –September 6, 2022
WASHINGTON — A federal judge’s extraordinary decision Monday to interject in the criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents at his Florida residence showed unusual solicitude to him, legal specialists said.
This was “an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.
Siding with Trump, the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, ordered the appointment of an independent arbiter to review the more than 11,000 government records the FBI seized in its search of Mar-a-Lago last month. She granted the arbiter, known as a special master, broad powers that extended beyond filtering materials that were potentially subject to attorney-client privilege to also include executive privilege.
Cannon, a Trump appointee who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, also blocked federal prosecutors from further examining the seized materials for the investigation until the special master had completed a review.
In reaching that result, Cannon took several steps that specialists said were vulnerable to being overturned if the government files an appeal, as most agreed was likely. Any appeal would be heard by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Trump appointed six of its 11 active judges.
Paul Rosenzweig, a former homeland security official in the George W. Bush administration and prosecutor in the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, said it was egregious to block the Justice Department from steps like asking witnesses about government files, many marked as classified, that agents had already reviewed.
“This would seem to me to be a genuinely unprecedented decision by a judge,” Rosenzweig said. “Enjoining the ongoing criminal investigation is simply untenable.”
Born in Colombia in 1981, Cannon graduated from Duke University in 2003 and the University of Michigan Law School in 2007. After clerking for a Republican-appointed appeals court judge in Iowa, she worked as an associate for a corporate law firm for three years before becoming an assistant federal prosecutor in Florida.
In her Senate questionnaire, she described herself as having been a member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2005. Trump nominated her in May 2020, and the Senate confirmed her on Nov. 12, nine days after he lost reelection.
After Cannon was assigned to Trump’s special master lawsuit, she made the unusual move of publicly declaring that she was inclined to instate one even before hearing arguments from the Justice Department. But she could have done so in a far more modest fashion.
“Judge Cannon had a reasonable path she could have taken — to appoint a special master to review documents for attorney-client privilege and allow the criminal investigation to continue otherwise,” said Ryan Goodman, a New York University law professor. “Instead, she chose a radical path.”
A specialist in separation of powers, Peter M. Shane, who is a legal scholar in residence at NYU, said there was no basis for Cannon to expand a special master’s authority to screen materials that were also potentially subject to executive privilege. That tool is normally thought of as protecting internal executive branch deliberations from disclosure to outsiders like Congress.
“The opinion seems oblivious to the nature of executive privilege,” he said.
The Justice Department is itself part of the executive branch, and a court has never held that a former president can invoke the privilege to keep records from his time in office away from the executive branch itself.
The department had argued that even if a special master were appointed, there would be no legal basis for that person to examine issues of executive privilege. It cited a 1977 Supreme Court case involving the papers of former President Richard Nixon, who had tried to use executive privilege to shield them even though the sitting president disagreed.
But Cannon wrote that she was not convinced and believed the Justice Department’s stance “arguably overstates the law.” In that case, she said, the Supreme Court also stated that former presidents retained some residual power to invoke executive privilege.
The Supreme Court also said the incumbent officeholder is in the best position to assess such issues. But Cannon wrote that the justices had not “ruled out the possibility” that a former president could ever prevail over the current one.
“Even if any assertion of executive privilege by plaintiff ultimately fails in this context,” she wrote, “that possibility, even if likely, does not negate a former president’s ability to raise the privilege as an initial matter.”
She did not address a 1974 Supreme Court case that upheld the Watergate prosecutor’s demand for White House tapes as part of a criminal investigation despite the attempt by Nixon, then the sitting president, to block it by asserting executive privilege.
“Even if there is some hypothetical situation in which a former president could shield his or her communications from the current executive branch,” Shane said, “they would not be able to do so in the context of a criminal investigation — and certainly not after the material has been seized pursuant to a lawful search warrant.”
Cannon allowed a separate review of the documents, by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to continue. It is assessing the risk to national security that the insecure holding of sensitive documents at Mar-Lago may have caused.
David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford University law professor, said he was glad that work had been allowed to continue given its importance. But he said there was an inherent contradiction in allowing the executive branch to use the files for that purpose while blocking it from using them for an active criminal investigation.
“There is this odd situation where one part of the executive branch can use the materials and another not,” he said.
In reasoning that she had a basis to install a special master, Cannon relied heavily on a 1975 appeals court ruling. It held that courts had jurisdiction to decide whether to order the IRS to return a businessman’s records that he claimed had been taken unlawfully, and laid out a multipronged test for such situations.
One part of the test is whether the government had displayed a “callous disregard” for the constitutional rights of the person subjected to the search. On that issue, she sided with the Justice Department, which had obtained a warrant from a magistrate judge.
But she said the other parts of the test favored Trump. They included whether he had an individual interest in and need for the seized property, would be “irreparably harmed” by a denial of that request and lacked any other remedy.
While Trump does not own the government documents he repeatedly failed to return, the warrant permitted the FBI to take anything else of his that he had left in the same containers as evidence of how he stored sensitive information.
Cannon noted that a department report said this had included “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes and accounting information.”
“In addition to being deprived of potentially significant personal documents, which alone creates a real harm,” she wrote, Trump faced “an unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public.” A footnote insinuated that the Justice Department might leak those files to reporters.
In weighing such factors, she emphasized Trump’s status as a former president.
“As a function of plaintiff’s former position as president of the United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own,” she wrote. “A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a Harvard Law School professor, said anyone targeted by a search warrant fears reputational harm, but that does not mean they can get special masters appointed. He called Cannon’s reasoning “thin at best” and giving “undue weight” to the fact that Trump is a former president.
“I find that deeply problematic,” he said, emphasizing that the criminal justice system was supposed to treat everyone equally. “This court is giving special considerations to the former president that ordinary, everyday citizens do not receive.”
Samuel W. Buell, a Duke University law professor, agreed.
“To any lawyer with serious federal criminal court experience who is being honest, this ruling is laughably bad, and the written justification is even flimsier,” he wrote in an email. “Donald Trump is getting something no one else ever gets in federal court, he’s getting it for no good reason, and it will not in the slightest reduce the ongoing howls that he is being persecuted, when he is being privileged.”
Corporate landlords are gobbling up mobile home parks and rapidly driving up rents — here’s why the space is so attractive to them
Vishesh Raisinghani – August 30, 2022
The hunt for yield has pushed private equity firms and professional investors into new segments of the real estate market.
In recent years, sophisticated investors have snapped up multi-family units and single-family homes. Now, corporate landlords are targeting the most cost-effective segment of the real estate market: mobile home parks.
The most affordable housing available
Manufactured homes or mobile homes are considered the most affordable non-subsidized housing option in America. That’s because the owners own only the prefabricated unit and not the land under the home. The land is usually leased from the landlord of a trailer park.
The average monthly rent for a mobile home in 2021 was $593. That’s significantly lower than the average one-bedroom condo rental rate of $1,450. The mobile park rental also often includes utilities and insurance.
Rents typically rise 4% to 6% annually and renters have the flexibility to move their housing unit to another park. These factors make the manufactured home highly attractive to low-income households.
As of 2020, nearly 22 million Americans lived in mobile homes. That’s 6.7% of the total population or about one in 15 people across the country. However, the economic inefficiencies that make these manufactured homes affordable also make them attractive to professional investors.
Investing in mobile home parks
Factors such as below-market rents and disrepair make mobile home parks attractive for investors seeking to add value. The typical mobile home park lot costs $10,000, which means 80 lots would be worth $800,000 on average.
Put simply, the entry price for these parks is much lower than multi-family apartments and condo buildings across the country.
Professional investors can also raise rents significantly to improve the valuation of the property. Attracting tenants with higher incomes or improving the park’s amenities and infrastructure are other value-add strategies that make this asset class appealing.
The fact that moving a typical mobile home costs between $3,000 to $10,000 also means that most tenants are unable to afford the move. This gives landlords immense pricing power.
Meanwhile, the yield is much higher. The capitalization rate (the ratio of net operating income to market price) could be as high as 9%, according to real estate partners Dave Reynolds and Frank Rolfe, who together are the fifth-largest owner of mobile home parks in the U.S.
The largest mobile park landlord is real estate veteran Sam Zell. Zell’s Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) owns 165,000 units across the country and the asset is a key element of his $5.4 billion fortune.
In recent years, larger investors such as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and private equity firms such as The Carlyle Group, Brookfield, Blackstone, and Apollo have also added exposure to this asset class.
Even Warren Buffett is involved. His firm’s subsidiary, Clayton Homes, is the largest manufacturer of mobile homes in the U.S., and also operates two of the biggest mobile home lenders, 21st Mortgage Corp. and Vanderbilt Mortgage.
You can invest too
Retail investors looking for exposure to mobile home parks have plenty of options. Acquiring a park is, perhaps, the most straightforward way to access this asset class. However, publicly-listed stocks and real estate investment trusts offer exposure too.
Sam Zell’s Equity LifeStyle Properties is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker ELS. Sun Communities Inc. (SUI) owns 146,000 units across the U.S. and some in Canada, while Legacy Housing Corp. (LEGH) builds, sells, and finances manufactured homes.
Retail and institutional investors could see more upside from this segment as the economic inefficiencies are ironed out.
I have finally seen enough. Donald Trump will be indicted by a federal grand jury.
You heard me right: I believe Trump will actually be indicted for a criminal offense. Even with all its redactions, the probable cause affidavit published today by the magistrate judge in Florida makes clear to me three essential points:
(1) Trump was in unauthorized possession of national defense information, namely properly marked classified documents.
(2) He was put on notice by the U.S. Government that he was not permitted to retain those documents at Mar-a-Lago.
(3) He continued to maintain possession of the documents (and allegedly undertook efforts to conceal them in different places throughout the property) up until the FBI finally executed a search warrant earlier this month.
That is the ball game, folks. Absent some unforeseen change in factual or legal circumstances, I believe there is little left for the Justice Department to do but decide whether to wait until after the midterms to formally seek the indictment from the grand jury.
The cruelest irony for Trump is that it never needed to be this way.
Put aside that in the chaos following his election loss Trump’s team never undertook the normal procedure for properly sorting through and archiving his presidential records in coordination with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Put aside that properly marked classified records were shipped to Mar-a-Lago and sat there for months until he began turning stuff over to NARA in late 2021.
If he had fully cooperated at that point, and returned all of the records to NARA last year, this likely never would have become a criminal matter. DOJ would have declined to take any action, notwithstanding the existence of the classified records, and it would have been a “no harm, no foul” situation. Just another minor story in the Trump saga of incompetence.
But Trump just could not bring himself to play by the rules. He turned over 15 boxes last January but did not turn over all the records. Political operatives from conservative organizations started whispering into his ear that he had legal precedent on his side to refuse to turn over the classified records to NARA (he did not). His lawyers surprisingly wrote a rather condescending letter to DOJ in May 2022, effectively arguing that even if there were still classified records at Mar-a-Lago the FBI lacked the authority to take any criminal action against Trump given his former status as president. Then, in June 2022 after the FBI executed a subpoena to recover more records at Mar-a-Lago, two Trump lawyers wrote (and one signed) a sworn affidavit reassuring the government there were no more classified records at the property.
We now know that statement was not true. The FBI found multiple more classified records, including some with markings for Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) during the search this month, and not just located in the storage room with the other boxes of records. They found records located in different parts of Mar-a-Lago.
Of course, there are various arguments for why a prosecution might not succeed in this situation.
There is the contention by Trump and his allies that he declassified the documents, whether through a “standing order” or more specific verbal action. No evidence has been produced corroborating that assertion, and there certainly is no indication that the classification markings themselves were ever revised to reflect the declassification. The Trump lawyers in May certainly did not provide any such evidence in their letter to DOJ, and they similarly provided no evidence of it in their “motion” filed earlier this week in district court in Florida seeking a Special Master.
And that is before we even consider if the classification status would matter for an Espionage Act prosecution, which only requires that the information relate to the national defense.
There is also the issue of selective political prosecution and supposed bad faith by the government in its decision to pursue the case. This is something that has been mentioned ad nauseum by Trump allies on cable news, and was briefly mentioned in the “motion” filed earlier this week in court. Lacking from those arguments is anything beyond rank speculation. That will not fly in court. Just ask Sidney Powell how well it works to try to litigate in court the way you argue on cable news. Hint: it does not go well.
All in all, this case should and in my opinion will result in an indictment. Sure, an indictment does not equal a conviction. Trump is still assumed innocent until proven guilty. There are unknown variables like whether the prosecution would occur in Florida or in D.C. We do not know what evidence Trump might have to substantiate his declassification claim. And we do not know what the courts would say about his various arguments.
Get the popcorn ready either way.
Bradley P. Moss is a Partner and national security attorney at the Washington, D.C. Law Office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
Trump frantically packed up documents to take with him in the last days of his presidency after finally accepting he was leaving the White House, report says
Kelsey Vlamis – August 13, 2022
FBI agents recovered classified materials during a raid on Mar-a-Lago Monday, court documents say.
Sources told NBC News that in the last days of Trump’s presidency aides rushed to pack up documents.
One source said Trump didn’t seriously start preparing to exit the White House until after January 6.
Between the January 6 Capitol attack, challenges to the 2020 election, and his impending second impeachment, President Donald Trump had some chaotic final days in office.
Amid the chaos and the realization that every election challenge was failing, Trump began instructing aides to pack up documents he planned to take with him to Mar-a-Lago, according to an NBC News report published Saturday.
Two sources with knowledge of the situation told the outlet Trump’s aides were hurriedly stuffing documents and other materials into banker boxes that were then shipped to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach club and residence.
One source said Trump only seriously began making plans to leave the White House after January 6, his final two weeks in office, after months of baselessly claiming he had won the election.
“It was a chaotic exit,” the source told NBC. “Everyone piled everything — staff, the White House movers — into the moving trucks. When they got to Mar-a-Lago, they piled everything there in this storage room, except for things like the first lady’s clothes. Everything in a box went there.”
The source said Trump was in a “dark place” at the time and that “he didn’t care about the boxes,” adding: “If you had brought him into that storeroom, and asked, ‘Which are your presidential papers?’ he couldn’t tell you.”
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and claimed he had declassified all the records at Mar-a-Lago, though he did not provide documentation of the declassification.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that one of Trump’s lawyers told the Justice Department in June that all classified documents had been returned. But, given the recovery of additional classified documents on Monday, the report raised questions about how cooperative and forthcoming the former president and his team have been with investigators.
Trump’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
During his four years in office, Trump developed a reputation for being flippant with presidential records, which are required by law to be preserved. Reports have said Trump would rip up papers or even flush them down the toilet. Some of his former staff members also said he would ask to keep certain documents.
The WNBA star and her lawyers had asked for leniency after officials at a Russian airport allegedly found less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage in February, but a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years, just below the maximum-possible sentence of 10.
Across Russia, there are 35 women’s penal colonies that house an estimated 60,000 inmates, Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, and Yekaterina Kalugina, a Russian human rights activist who observed Griner and her living conditions in March, tell PEOPLE.
The cells have just over 11 feet of private space, with most cells holding anywhere between 40 to 60 women who sleep in bunk beds.
Jim Heintz/AP/Shutterstock Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court
Melnikov and Kalugina say much of what goes on in the colonies depends on the prison governor, with some being more strict than others. (Both say they cannot reveal which colony Griner is located.)
“Brittney is being held in a detention cell within a penal colony,” Melnikov says. At the detention center, the spaces are cramped and there’s only a small exercise yard, but there is a benefit to staying there — each day counts as two towards a prison sentence.
Kalungina expects that the guards will keep Griner in the detention center until Russia and the U.S. decide if they’ll go through with her prisoner exchange.
Melnikov adds that “she is likely to stay there for the time of her appeal, which might be up to three months if she isn’t pardoned and exchanged before then, but if her appeal fails, she might be sent on to another colony.”
ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brittney Griner
Inside the colony, there’s more space and Griner will have to work eight hours a day. For most prisoners, this means sewing, cleaning, cooking and serving food, but, because of her career as a WNBA player, Griner can see about coaching women’s basketball. There’s a precedent for such an arrangement — Russian soccer players Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamayev coached inmates while they served time in one of the colonies.
Melnikov says that it’s up to the prison governor to decide if Griner can coach.
“I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress,” he says. “Prisoners are encouraged to play sports or do yoga and so on, and basketball is popular. I think that would be the best thing for her.”
Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner
Each morning, Melnikov says, the prisoners “are woken at 6 a.m., they wash, dress, make their beds, stand to attention for the register, go to breakfast and then start an eight-hour working day, usually as a seamstresses. But we are trying to encourage governors to use the talents of the inmates. For example, working with art.”
Prisoners in the colony get some free time outside of their work requirements, Melnikov says.
“Their free time is set by the governor, from half an hour to two hours a day and during that time they can just chat with each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, play sports, play board games and call friends and family.”
The prisoners are supposed to get a minimum wage of $180 a month, Melnikov says, which they can spend in the prison shop on items like toiletries, tampons, cigarettes and fresh fruit and vegetables, and they can also pay for the internet to send emails.
Generally, though, the conditions are difficult. Tuberculosis is common in the colonies, many prisoners are malnourished from the limited food and the medical care is poor. Most need friends and family to send them food and basic toiletries, but that isn’t possible for some prisoners.
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For now, though, Griner is again waiting to hear what will happen to her. She’s staying in the detention center, where she can choose to work to get outside and see other people, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t know if she’ll be exchanged, have a successful appeal, or if she’ll live out her next nine years in a Russian penal colony.
When Griner heard about the potential exchange, she was “quite happy to know that she’s not been forgotten and that there are some possible developments,” her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, previously told PEOPLE. “But she’s quite realistic about what’s going on.”