The Great Sedition Trial of 1944

There was a period of American history that isn’t often talked about called the “Brown Scare”. Coverage of the two “Red Scares” often leaves the “Brown Scare” forgotten. The “Brown Scare” of 1940-1944 was the idea that like with the “Red Scare”, that there were Nazi agents in numerous facets of American life. If a politician or public figure was a non-interventionist, there would be accusations that they were a Nazi, in league with the Nazis, or an active agent of the Nazis. There were certainly some figures for which this was true, such as George S. Viereck and Prescott F. Dennett of the “Make Europe Pay Its War Debt Committee” and the “Islands for War Debt Committee”, who were paid agents of the Nazis trying to influence American politics away from war in Europe. However, such efforts were unsuccessful and were rather limited. Additionally, in the case I mentioned, it happened before American involvement in World War II.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a4/Pelley_wanted.jpg
One of the defendants in the Great Sedition Trial, founder of the paramilitary Silver Shirts group.

It is often forgotten that the Dies Committee (House Committee on Un-American Activities) also directed attention to elements of what is regarded as the “far right” and if it is remembered, it is remembered that it focused a lot more on communism. In retrospect, this is justified as Soviet intelligence operations have since the declassification of the Venona Papers been revealed to have been far better at infiltration than Nazi intelligence operations…in the Roosevelt Administration there were no “secret Nazis” among the president’s advisors, but there was Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White as a Soviet agent and Roosevelt’s economic advisor Lauchlin Currie, who was a paid agent of the NKVD as well as numerous agents in the State, Treasury, and Agriculture departments. The pinnacle of the “Brown Scare” came in the form of U.S. v. McWilliams, et al., or as it became more commonly known, “The Great Sedition Trial of 1944”. FDR had for some time pushed Attorney General Francis Biddle for a trial of American fascists and this was the product.

There were thirty-three defendants in this indictment, which included non-interventionists and actual fascists. Many of them were anti-Semites of some stripe. Prosecutor O. John Rogge, a committed New Dealer, sought to prove that these defendants were trying to undermine the morale of American troops or to cause them to revolt, which if proven would warrant convictions under the Smith Act of 1940. Some of the most prominent were:

Joe McWilliams – The principal defendant in the case. As a young man, McWilliams was a communist, but he became a professional fascist and anti-Semite after having a bout of ill health in 1935, despite being aided in this time by Jewish friends. He became a nationally infamous hateful crank and was called “Joe McNazi” by radio commentator Walter Winchell. In 1940, he held a rally for non-interventionism in which the crowd turned violent after he denounced businessmen, Jews, and communists for the world’s problems. McWilliams advocated the use of violence against communists and Jews and in 1940, he ran for the nomination of the Republican Party for New York’s 18th congressional district (which he lost badly). He seemed to be the nut that the Roosevelt Administration, particularly Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, loved to pick to portray as representing opponents of American involvement in European wars. McWilliams also worked briefly for Democratic Senator Robert R. Reynolds of North Carolina, a man with a terrible habit of associating himself with disreputable organizations and characters that he viewed as patriotic.

George E. Deatherage (what a name to inspire dread!) – An enthusiastic fascist who founded a second incarnation of the Knights of the White Camellia as a fascist group, the first which had been a terrorist organization in the Reconstruction Era in the South. Deatherage wrote speeches for retired General George Van Horn Moseley (a notorious anti-Semite) and collaborated with Nazi propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer with the Welt-Dienst/World-Service agency prior to American involvement in World War II.

Elmer J. Garner – A journalist from Kansas who was a traditional populist in thought, with his Farmers’ Advance possibly being the first Populist newspaper in Kansas. Consistent with the Populist Party platform, he called for “free silver” and public ownership of utilities at the turn of the century and had embraced much of the New Deal in the 1930s. Garner consistently stood for Prohibition, non-interventionism, and nativism but got the negative attention of the Roosevelt Administration for negative writings on Roosevelt’s foreign policy and for often employing anti-Semitism in his writings, including calling for the impeachment of “Roosevelt and his Jewish Camarilla” (Encyclopedia of the Great Plains). Although he softened his opposition to Roosevelt with the start of the war, Garner was nonetheless a target. He was eighty years old by the time of the trial and died only two weeks after its start. 

George Sylvester Viereck – George Viereck was a poet, German nationalist, and a paid propagandist of the Nazis who became socially acquainted with numerous non-interventionist activists and politicians. He tried to push a narrative to Americans (which he apparently believed as he offered mild criticism of anti-Semitism) that Hitler was comparable to FDR and that anti-Semitism was only peripheral to Nazism, an approach condemned by his Jewish friends. Viereck had also written pro-German material during World War I. In 1940 he set up a publishing firm in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, called Flanders Hall, which existed to distribute pro-Nazi material and was busted for a scheme to mail out material free of postage through the Congressional frank. Although by mid-1941 he had ended his arrangement with the Nazis, it was too late for him and he was indicted weeks before Pearl Harbor for failing to disclose activities that should have been present when he registered as a German agent in 1938. He was convicted in 1942 and served five years in prison.

Prescott F. Dennett – Worked for Viereck as treasurer of “Make Europe Pay Its War Debt Committee” and the “Islands for War Debt Committee”, was also in the pay of the Nazis before World War II. He was convicted along with Viereck for the Congressional mailing scheme.

Lawrence Dennis – Lawrence Dennis was the nation’s leading intellectual advocate of fascism, who had come to believe that capitalism was done for and that communism must be repelled. He collaborated with Harold Lord Varney, Joseph P. Kamp, and former Populist Alabama Congressman Milford W. Howard on The Awakener, a publication which opposed the New Deal. Dennis, however, departed the publication in 1935 due to the magazine’s rejection of fascism. He had attempted to join the US Army during World War II, but was rejected based on his politics. In 1946, Dennis would write A Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944, a biting critique of the trial. Dennis was also secretly black. Dennis had been a child preacher at the turn of the century and was identified as “black” or “mulatto” during that time, but as an adult he was able to pass due to his lighter complexion and always cutting his hair short.

Elizabeth Dilling – Wrote The Red Network – A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, which contained the names of over 1300 suspected communists and sympathizers. She included on this list Jane Addams, Albert Einstein (who she falsely claimed had his property confiscated by the Nazis for being a communist), Sigmund Freud, and Mahatma Gandhi. Dilling had visited the USSR in 1931 and was repulsed by the dreadful conditions there as well as its rejection of Christianity. She initially seemed to reject anti-Semitism but later embraced it, strongly believing that Judaism and communism were connected. Dilling contributed to anti-Semitic publications after World War II.

Robert E. Edmondson – Edmondson was an anti-Semitic pamphleteer who organized the Pan-Aryan Conference and ran the Edmondson Economic Service, through which he charged the economy was being manipulated by Jews. He accused FDR of being secretly Jewish and of being under the sway of Bernard Baruch, Felix Frankfurter, and Louis Brandeis (all Jews) in 1936. Like Deatherage, Edmondson also collaborated with Nazi propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer prior to American involvement in World War II. He would push the fluoridation conspiracy after World War II.

William Dudley Pelley – A former journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had won two O. Henry Awards and founder of the Silver Shirts, a paramilitary organization fashioned after the Nazi stormtroopers. Pelley advocated for a system in which the state owned all property and distributed it to whites based on “loyalty”, reinstatement of slavery for blacks, and the deportations of all Jews out of the United States. His organization never had more than 15,000 members and he had already disbanded the organization by the time of American involvement in World War II. Pelley had also already been incarcerated by the time of the indictment for publishing a seditious magazine. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for sedition and other charges in 1942, being released in 1950. Pelley would subsequently become fascinated by UFOs and would write about them as well as mysticism extensively until his death in 1965.

James True – An obscure crank journalist who ran James True Associates and America First, Inc., through which he peddled grossly anti-Semitic literature. He may have been the originator of the term “America First” for the cause of non-interventionists. True also literally patented and tried to sell a nightstick for the apparent purpose of combatting Jews on the streets to police departments. He was called before the Dies Committee as part of their investigations into fascism, in which he testified his belief that Jews were responsible for communism and that they control the United States through the government and monetary system. By 1944, however, True was, at 64 years old, in poor health and had collapsed on day seven of the trial. On account of his ill health, he was unable to attend most of the trial and died before its conclusion.

Gerald B. Winrod – An evangelical reverend known as the “Jayhawk Nazi” for being from Kansas and spreading anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi material. He believed that Hitler was a Christian who would save Europe from communism and that the New Deal had been perpetrated by communists and Jews. In 1938, he downplayed his anti-Semitism to try to run for the Senate as a Republican, but was defeated in the primary. Winrod’s publication was called The Defender, in which after World War II he railed against Jews, lionized Joseph McCarthy, and promoted curing ailments through faith healing. The latter contributed to his death from pneumonia in 1957 when he refused to see a doctor.

On April 17, 1944, the trial began but the case from the very start was weak, as it attempted to prove that there was a deliberate effort to aid the Nazis from the defendants based on the similarity of their writings to Nazi propaganda. Prosecutor O. John Rogge hoped this trial would strike a blow against racial and religious hatred. While many of these people were anti-Semites and racists, the government’s case was not to convict them of bigotry, it was to convict them of undermining the morale of American troops and/or trying to incite them to revolt. A mistrial was declared on November 29, 1944 due to the death of Judge Edward C. Eicher from a heart attack. By this time, the trial had attracted ridicule and scorn from many corners of American life. Time Magazine wrote disapprovingly of the trial that it was the “biggest and noisiest sedition trial in United States history…no one in Washington doubted that a ludicrously undignified trial had hastened the death of a scrupulously dignified judge” (Time Magazine). The ACLU campaigned against the trial, while predictably the CPUSA offered full-throated support of the trial. By late 1946, even Rogge was doubting that he could win convictions. As Justice Laws wrote in his dismissal of the case,

“If these defendants are guilty, it would seem that any serious doubt as to their guilt would be resolved in more than five years of intensive investigation by able counsel and investigators of the Department of Justice. If they were clearly guilty, the prosecution should have unwaveringly assured the Court to this effect at least upon completion of the investigation in Germany. Usually the Court will permit the prosecutor to decide whether he will bring a case to trial. But where it appears, as here, there is serious doubt as to the success of the case, and that the defendants, because of long delays granted over their objections, cannot obtain a fair trial the Court should exercise its discretion to deny prosecution. It would be both unjust and un-American to do otherwise” (69 F. Supp. 812.).

None had been proven to have had Nazi connections by the time war was declared and it wasn’t proven that they had written their works for the purpose of undermining the war effort. Truth be told, these people didn’t have many supporters but latched on to causes that attracted much greater support, such as anti-communism and non-interventionism, to push their fringe perspectives and made for easy targets by their far more prominent foes.

References

Daley, J. (2018, October 3). The Screenwriting Mystic Who Wanted to Be the American Führer. The Smithsonian.

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https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-screenwriting-mystic-who-wanted-be-american-fuhrer-180970449/

Dennis, Lawrence. American National Biography Online.

Retrieved from

Elizabeth Dilling. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from

https://spartacus-educational.com/USAdillingE.htm

Feingold, H.L. (1995). A time for searching. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Garner, Elmer (1864-1944). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

Retrieved from

http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.pd.023

Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States: Volumes 6-7: Testimony of James True.

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Johnson, N.M. (1968). George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist. University of Iowa.

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Nilsson, J. (2012, March 10). Star-Spangled Fascists. The Saturday Evening Post.

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https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2012/03/star-spangled-fascists/

Radosh, R. (2002, June 30). Even Worse Than We Thought. Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved from

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-jun-30-bk-radosh30-story.html

Ribuffo, L.P. Winrod, Gerald (1900-1957). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

Retrieved from

http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.pd.058

Trial’s End. (1944, December 11). Time Magazine.

Sedition Trial of 1944. CSUN Digital Library.

Retrieved from

https://digital-library.csun.edu/in-our-own-backyard/sedition-trial-of-1944

Troy, G. (2016, September 4). When America Rejected its Homegrown “Joe McNazi”. The Daily Beast.

Retrieved from

https://www.thedailybeast.com/when-america-rejected-its-homegrown-joe-mcnazi

United States v. McWilliams, 69 F. Supp. 812.

Retrieved from

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/69/812/2265902/

Political Dominance is Not Permanent: A Look at West Virginia’s Politics

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The political affiliations of states are not permanent, and the proof of it is in the state of West Virginia. The voters of this state have time and again switched their political loyalties. In fact, there are multiple eras that can be found with West Virginia: Republican Founding (1863-1875), Democratic Takeover (1875-1895), Republican Return (1895-1933), Democratic Dominance (1933-2001), Transition (2001-2015), and Republican Dominance (2015-present).


The state of Virginia was majorly divided on slavery and when the political leadership of Virginia decided to join the Confederacy, the people of the western portion of the state decided to form a separate state: West Virginia. Although the political leadership was staunchly unionist, it was also not super bullish on civil rights and radical Republicanism. Some of the unionists were themselves slaveowners, including one of the state’s first Republican senators, Waitman T. Willey. In 1868, one of its Republican senators, Peter G. Van Winkle, voted against impeaching President Andrew Johnson.


In 1870, the state began moving to the Democrats with the election of two representatives and that year Democrat Henry G. Davis was elected to the Senate. In 1874, the economic decline precipitated by the Panice of 1873 produced great losses for the Republicans, and West Virginia’s delegation went entirely Democratic with the remaining Republican representative losing reelection. Democrat Allen T. Caperton, a former Confederate senator, succeeded retiring Republican Arthur Boreman, who had signed the West Virginia law abolishing slavery as governor. Democrats dominated the scene in West Virginia from 1875 to 1895, but just as a major economic downturn brought Democrats to dominance in the 1874 election, the major downturn under Cleveland brought Republicans to dominance. They would remain so in the state until the 1932 election.

The Democratic dominance produced by the New Deal would last remarkably long, with Republicans until 2000 only winning the state in the presidential elections of 1956, 1972, and 1984. Democrats held both Senate seats from 1959 to 2015 and the delegation to Congress was only Democratic from 1969-1981 and from 1983-2001. Union organization of coal miners was a major factor in keeping the state Democratic for as long as it was given the increasingly socially liberal politics of the national Democratic Party. Many of the state’s Democratic officials were considerably more conservative than the national party on social issues, so this held off Republicans for some time. However, with the 2000 election the state’s movement to the Republicans began with George W. Bush’s win by over six points and the election of Shelley Moore Capito to the House. Bush’s appeal to family values after the Clinton impeachment helped move the state into the Republican column.


The state grew even more Republican after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, with his energy policies widely denounced in the state as the “war on coal”. In 2010, both of the state’s senators were Democrats, and Shelley Moore Capito stood as the only Republican representative. Today, Republicans hold all three House seats and Capito holds one of the Senate seats. Republicans had made gains everywhere, winning control over the Senate and the House of Delegates, and getting Governor Jim Justice to switch from Democrat to Republican. The only remaining Democrat is Joe Manchin, who is without question the least liberal among Democratic senators and even he had a close call in his 2018 reelection bid.
The deciding factor for politics in West Virginia has been economics, and while one might think the 2008 election would have brought the state more Democratic, the Republicans are friendlier on energy policy to the coal industry, and West Virginia has been one of the most hurting states in terms of economic trends. In 2020, the state voted for Trump by almost 69% of the vote, and he won all counties. He even improved his already high performance in the state. Only Wyoming had a greater percentage for Trump this year, and Wyoming has been entirely Republican in its national voting behavior since 1978. Republicans have also achieved supermajorities in the Senate and House of Delegates with the 2020 election. Although right now Democrats are certainly on the outs in the state, it may be that within the next forty years the state moves back into the Democratic column. Nothing is permanent and nothing is impossible in American politics.

A Post-Election Analysis



This election was a bit of a surprise in a number of ways, which I will dive into after taking care of two obligatory matters.


First, an obligatory roasting of the polls. The pollsters were off this year, but not as badly as I initially thought they were. It is clear that they haven’t “fixed” the problems that resulted in them botching the call in 2016. In the states of Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin, average polling was over five points off. Polling bias was once again Democratic, but to a lesser extent than in 2016. On the bright side, their prediction was of a Biden victory, and that is what we have. Also, their calling of how states would vote was not as off as in 2016, in which average polling got four states wrong, whereas the calls were off only on Florida and Georgia. However…


The Maine Senate race polling is a scandal. Not a single poll posted on RCP since February put Susan Collins ahead, yet she won reelection by over eight points. What gives, pollsters?


House polling and prognostication is also a scandal, as gains for Democrats in the House were widely predicted but instead Republicans gained. As of writing, not a single Republican incumbent has lost reelection in the House. Two Democrats took Republican seats in North Carolina that had been redistricted to them and the incumbents had opted to retire, and they took retiring Rob Woodall’s seat in Georgia.


Second, an obligatory assessment of my predictive performance.


I was wrong about Maine and Minnesota for the Senate. I invoke the “I was relying on the polls” defense for Collins (no poll since February had her in the lead!), but for Minnesota, I admitted when I called that it was a wild card call, and it turns out that’s all it was. In fact, aside from the Georgia and Nevada vote for president, it is the only state that had a Republican bias in its polling.


I was wrong about Georgia(!) and Pennsylvania going to Trump.

I was right about everything else. If I didn’t mention it in my pre-election post, it was because I believed it would go in the predictable direction…how the polls had it. Incidentally, I think given our Electoral College, there is literally no reason to poll national popular vote. Only poll the vote of states that are swing in the election.

I was right about Gardner losing reelection and McSally losing the election. Gardner wasn’t a tough call as he was the doomed Republican incumbent of the election, while McSally only led in literally one poll throughout the campaign season. However, she lost by less than the poll average. I feel embarrassed for the pollsters that reported double-digits for Kelly.

I was right on Ernst in Iowa and Tillis in North Carolina. I am most proud about the latter, because he was behind in polling and I used the following reasoning to reach this conclusion: first, almost all the polls showed Tillis losing in 2014 yet he still won, and second, Cunningham had an extramarital affair scandal. I thought these two factors meant the race going to Tillis, and I was right!

I was right about Peters winning reelection in Michigan, even if it does depress me that there will be no Senator James. The average polls were over five points in favor of Peters, which I thought was too much for James to overcome. I wanted to be wrong here.

I thought that Montana was too favorable to Trump to elect Bullock over Daines, and I was right.

I never took seriously the idea that Cornyn would lose reelection in Texas, and I thought Graham would win despite a lot of publicity for Harrison.

In all, this Senate election has produced two polling upsets: Susan Collins and Thom Tillis holding their seats. You might consider David Perdue in Georgia a third because Jon Ossoff led in average polling, but this is now a runoff, so the race has no winner yet.

Also, final obligatory note: Mitch McConnell is unpopular every day except Election Day it seems. To be fair, Democrats fielded a candidate, Amy McGrath, with a weak and contradictory message who lost in 2018 in a district that was less Republican than Kentucky overall: when she ran for the House, she’s anti-Trump and when she runs for the Senate she praises Trump? Not buying it. Not when Senate Democrats voted unanimously to impeach him.

Now, on to the meat…the analysis.

The Biden campaign had hoped that the election’s overarching narrative would be the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 policy failures. This did not prove to be the case. There were other narratives that were running through the minds of the voters. One in particular was emphasis on the economy, and the US’s recovery has been considerably quicker than expected. Another was concern about the rioting that accompanied the protests over racial injustice this year. Americans value both people and property. Yet another was a dislike of the left-wing radicalism promoted by the likes of Warren, Sanders, Harris, and The Squad. The American people don’t like socialism, “defund the police”, or “cancel culture”. Unfortunately for the GOP, they don’t like Trump either. The results of this election are this: the voters don’t want Trump on the throne but they also don’t want to hand the Democrats the keys to the kingdom.

Although it is undoubtedly true that there were many politicians and people in the media who were indeed out to get Donald Trump, it is also true that no person is more responsible for Donald Trump’s loss than Donald Trump.

Although his political honeymoon was remarkably short at the start of his presidency, up until March 2020 Trump stood a reasonably good chance of winning reelection. Biden was not the strongest choice, and the Democratic candidates had called for many things that were way to the left for the American public (illegal immigrants get govt. healthcare, decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing, single-payer healthcare, etc.) and embraced radical left narratives on the nature of racism in America. Now, it is normal for candidates in the primary to appeal to the party base and then backtracking later before the general electorate…however, the influence of the radicals was particularly strong in this primary season, and provided plenty of advertising fodder for the Trump campaign. Just on the horizon was COVID-19’s appearance and spread throughout the United States. At the time, Trump had survived an impeachment effort backed by all Senate Democrats, and one that was from the beginning tremendously unlikely to succeed. However, with COVID-19, Trump had a golden opportunity to unite the nation with decisive, business-like, and calm leadership. He squandered this with petty fixations, publicly speculating inappropriately on potential cures, and continuing divisive rhetoric. The nation needed a uniter, and quite simply, uniting isn’t in his playbook.

This got even worse with the aftermath to the killing of George Floyd by the police, with anti-racism demonstrations occurring throughout the United States and the world. While much of the demonstrations were non-violent, violence was prevalent enough to result in killings, injuries, looting, and arson in a number of major American cities. This helped people become more concerned about the radical left, which was quite useful in the hands of Donald Trump who delivered a swift rhetorical condemnation of rioting…but he again harmed himself when he cleared out a group of peaceful protestors with tear gas so he could make a public appearance. He also sent troops to Portland who may have exceeded their constitutional boundaries. Such an infamous act by a president against a group of protestors had not been seen since Herbert Hoover ordered the dispersing of the Bonus Marchers in 1932.

The first debate was one of the most painful televised experiences I have ever witnessed. Donald Trump decided that a good strategy would be to regularly interrupt Joe Biden so as to throw him off track, which seemed to work initially but he continued to do so when it had stopped working and also insulted his intelligence. Biden pulled no punches either, accusing the president of being a racist (for ending “critical theory” based racial sensitivity training), a clown, and the worst president ever. No one you could say liked the first debate, and it was certainly not a win for Trump, who would have been better off letting Biden talk more. This itself is not a death sentence for a campaign…President Barack Obama did famously poorly in his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012 but he recovered in the next two debates and went on to win the election. However, Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis prevented three debates, and what’s more he had previously refused to do a second one if virtual as he didn’t want his mic cut off. Although in the next debate Trump performed reasonably well, it didn’t move the needle enough. Just like towards the end of October 2016, Trump had a surge in the polls.

Here we stand today with an election outcome that is in fact not uncertain, rather the notion of its uncertainty or illegitimacy is in truth almost entirely a media campaign by the lame duck Trump Administration. Trump blew what could have been a turnaround year against a candidate who would have in any other election year not even been nominated. In most places, he ran behind down-ticket Republicans.

Trump, however, has given the GOP some good lessons. Before he was nominated, they were having some trouble connecting with working class voters, and now Republicans have an idea of where they can mine votes and some sense of how to do it. Additionally, Trump improved upon the GOP’s performance with minority voters. Some of these gains could be attributed to Democrats’ tepid and delayed response to rioting and fears that Democratic policies would be steps to systems such as Cuba’s and Venezuela’s. However, there is yet more work to be done in the suburbs, which were once a place the GOP could count on for votes. People are put off by Trump the man, but not necessarily the overall policies of the administration. The Senate looks like it will stay in GOP hands and the Republican House gains are putting Pelosi’s Democratic majority at an uncomfortably thin margin. This leaves us with a 50-50 nation with multiple competing narratives influencing voters and with animosities old and new continuing to stew. We will likely focus a whole lot on what divides us in the next two years, but perhaps we can find some small areas in which we agree that can bear fruit. A Biden Administration, like the last six years of the Obama Administration, will have to largely rely on executive orders for whatever partisan actions can be achieved with that limited avenue and will be forced to negotiate with Republicans on other domestic matters. On international affairs, although it is fundamentally a purview of the executive, the Biden Administration will have a difficult time getting through any remotely controversial treaties and will have to rely upon executive agreements.

Although the COVID-19 narrative was not dominant, COVID-19 itself played a decisive role in the election. Although it did not claim Trump, it claimed his presidency. Trump’s failure to unite the nation during this public health crisis by focusing on petty nonsense, partisan bickering, empty speculation on questionable treatments for COVID-19 (at best), and his turning the wearing of masks into a political issue did him much political harm. Yes, its true that the government lied to the public initially about whether you needed to wear a mask with COVID-19 so that the public wouldn’t do with masks what they did with toilet paper, but get over it! When the government changed its assessment of the necessity of mask-wearing, I knew they had lied. There was no way that there was some study that changed their view on the nature of the disease. They knew all along. This being said, there was no need for President Trump to continue this fiction through not wearing a mask beyond its necessary end date. Additionally, Trump’s getting COVID-19 prevented a debate from occurring, and he NEEDED three debates after the first one. In these senses, COVID-19 killed the Trump presidency. However, the Democrats’ courting of radical leftists helped make the race closer than anticipated, even if the man they ran is not personally on the same page as those people.

The Democrats ultimately so far have only won two of the Senate seats polls foretold they’d win: Arizona and Colorado. Instead of Republicans losing seats in the House, they gained, yet another scandal in polling and election prognostication. However, some of these wins I really wasn’t surprised about, especially the Charleston, SC and Oklahoma City districts given that they had repeatedly elected Republicans for many years before. Nonetheless, the results in Florida were stunning for the Democrats, who should have known that courting people who were pushing policies on the Castro and Chavez end of things would have scared Cubans and other Latinos off. I can also report that the Democratic Party of California has a ceiling: the vote on the most important propositions went in a conservative direction and as of writing, the GOP has won back two Orange County seats in Congress.

Overall, this election provides a mixed verdict and establishes once again we are a nation divided. There is, you might say a strange brilliance to the voters’ choices: they don’t like Trump or the Democrats so enough split their tickets to divide power. Partisans will not care for the next two years, but this is the verdict the voters have delivered and if they want to get anything done in the next two years that isn’t through executive order or agreement, they’ll have to think of some things they agree on and act on those. After all, there will be “must-pass” bills that will come before Congress in the next session. This election also reflects a “2020” spirit in the sense that Florida was more Republican than Georgia and Ohio was more Republican than Texas. Also, this is the first election since 1960 that the winner didn’t win Ohio, ending the state’s streak as a bellwether for elections. I suppose the new sentiment about Ohio will be, “As Ohio goes, so goes Florida”. There is also a great irony in this election: Trump’s win in 2016 before faithless electors be faithless was 306 to 232. This is the exact figure of Biden’s victory this year.

Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, and The Rise of Arizona Republicans

My post-election analysis will have to be next post at earliest. As of writing, some states still haven’t finished counting and I want a final count of the states before I proceed so I can elucidate how truly off the polls were this year as well as the core takeaways. This being said, Biden has almost certainly won. Trump would have to win Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to prevail, and it is unlikely in the extreme that if voter fraud happened in the latter state that it was enough to have made a difference. This would require around 24,000 ballots to have been for Trump and fraudulently switched to Biden. Voter fraud does exist, but to pull something off to that extent would be extraordinary, and as Carl Sagan has said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Arizona seems to have shifted, albeit slightly, to blue. For the first time since the Truman Administration, Democrats hold both Senate seats. It seems like Biden will win Arizona, the first time a Democrat has done so since 1996. This can be attributed at least in part to Arizona voters disliking Donald Trump for his disrespect to the now late Senator John McCain. Also, the increasing support for Democrats can be attributed to demographic changes, with Latinos (who overall tend to vote Democrat) rising in population in the state. If the state is on an inevitable path to being a blue state with this growth, it would actually be going back to what it used to be.

For Arizona’s first forty years the state was staunchly Democratic and quite the small rural state. A grand total of one time the state had elected a Republican, Ralph Cameron, to represent the state in the Senate and this was in the 1920 Republican landslide. Although the state voted for Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover the first time around, the state was following national trends and the vote for Coolidge was a plurality. Cameron’s election turns out to have been a fluke, as he was easily defeated in the 1926 midterms by the state’s first-ever Congressman, Carl Hayden, who would serve until 1969, when he was in his nineties.

Barry Goldwater - Wikipedia

Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, 1953-1965, 1969-1987.

The Great Depression and FDR’s presidency delayed for twenty years potential movement from the Democratic to Republican Party among states. However, after 1936 the vote from Arizona was slowly but steadily moving to the Republicans. This manifested itself in a tremendous way when the Republicans not only won Arizona by almost 17 points in the 1952 presidential election, but Barry Goldwater also toppled Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland by 2.5 points. In the House, 16-year incumbent John Murdock was defeated for reelection by John Rhodes by 8 points. By stark contrast, in 1946 McFarland had won reelection by nearly 40 points while Murdock had in 1950 won reelection by over 20 points. The state was becoming suburban as opposed to rural, and at the time rural areas were still places in which Democrats, including New Deal Democrats, could still win. However, as more and more Republican voters moved into the state’s growing suburbs, the more conservative and Republican the state became. In the tough Republican year of 1958, Rhodes won reelection by nearly 20 points while Goldwater easily defeated McFarland in a rematch.

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John Rhodes, R-Arizona, 1953-1983.

Goldwater would continue to win the approval of Arizonans, even in his ill-fated 1964 presidential run and would be returned to the Senate in the 1968 election, serving until 1987. Rhodes would serve as Minority Leader from 1973 to 1981 and was reelected until he retired in 1983. These two were the Arizona GOP’s fathers and pioneers and made the state a hotbed of conservative Republicanism: between 1952 and 2016, Arizona would only in 1996 vote for a Democrat for president, and this was a plurality.

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Today, it seems what helped the GOP in the 1950s appears to be harming them now…continued growth of the suburbs are, rather than producing Republican voters, producing more Democratic voters, likely of an overall center-left persuasion who are most turned off by conservative culture war politics. They may be turned off by radical left politics as well as bad for their wallets, but this doesn’t seem to be the perception these voters have of Arizona’s Democratic Party at the moment and in any case they view it as preferable to a staunchly conservative Republican Party.

LBJ, Douglas MacArthur, and the Perils of Enforced Lying

There is an all-too common phenomenon among leaders, be it in politics, the military, public, or private sector in which they have a certain pre-conception about how things are and enforce this among their staff through positive and negative reinforcement. This isn’t simply a matter of bosses telling employees to do their jobs, it is a matter of rewarding “yes men” even when the evidence does not warrant said pre-conception and providing negative reinforcement for those who try to tell the truth. This is what I like to call “enforced lying”…lies that are held to be sacrosanct are enforced by leaders, motivating their staff to lie to them lest their careers suffer. This can have catastrophic consequences and my two historical examples lie with President Lyndon B. Johnson and General Douglas MacArthur. Both had very high opinions of themselves and could be difficult to deal with personally.


LBJ, Robert McNamara, and Vietnam

Image result for lyndon b. johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson had conflicting agendas as president. On one hand, he wanted political support for his Great Society programs but on the other he wanted to win the war in Vietnam without spending the money and putting the resources needed for winning to even be possible. He would have likely lost sufficient support to pass the Great Society had he done so. Johnson would not heed the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who counseled him that they needed to expand the war and limited who he would heed to three people: Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and Dean Rusk. The one he listened to most was McNamara. McNamara was a brilliant man, but was also very opinionated and sure about things. He was also, according to H.R. McMaster in Dereliction of Duty, “a very talented and persuasive sycophant. He sensed what the President wanted and gave it to him. He gave the President what he wanted in the form of this strategy of graduated pressure. He was his front man on it. He lied blatantly to the American people, to the Congress, to reporters on a constant basis.” The war was, from what we know now, thought of even among the war’s planners to be unwinnable. John McNaughton, the head of the Pentagon’s International Security Affairs division, regarded the objective as to “maintain American credibility” rather than win the war for South Vietnam (McMaster). Lyndon B. Johnson’s cloistering of himself with his group of three advisors for Vietnam indicated his unwillingness to be told the truth: that the war should either be fully committed to or the US should get out. The Joint Chiefs of Staff pushed for escalation, but Johnson didn’t heed them, fearing China getting involved and the possibility of a nuclear war.


This is matches up with Pierre Rinfret’s account of his time in the Johnson Administration. He wrote, “President Johnson was paranoiac about winning the war in Vietnam. He was absolutely convinced we could do it with or without the approval of the American people and the Congress. It was a total phobia with him. His problem was that everybody more or less lied to him including the infamous McNamara, who was the worst of the bunch. Most of the advisors around President Johnson told him what he wanted to hear and he could not stand the truth anyway. He would not, refused, to listen to anyone who pleaded the case for getting out of Vietnam. I sat in on occasion with some of the advisors and I was always amazed to discover that he was lied to and mislead by his advisors. If you told him that we could not win the war without a total dedication to war (as we did) he would call you names!” (Rinfret) Ironically, Johnson himself was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry during World War II by the next subject of this post, Douglas MacArthur.


Douglas MacArthur, Charles Willoughby, and Korea

MacArthur, in uniform, speaks from a rostrum with several microphones.

General Douglas MacArthur was overrated, most often by himself. He worshipped himself and sought the counsel of people who went along with him. As Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution writes, “He had built an intelligence community in his area of command that listened attentively to what he wanted and gave him intelligence that reinforced his already held views. MacArthur wanted total control of the war and its execution, not second-guessing by his subordinates or outside interference by Washington, especially by the White House and the Pentagon”. MacArthur believed during the Korean War that the Chinese forces would never cross the Yalu River to attack UN forces and stop their supply line, and his intelligence officer, Charles Willoughby, provided him with intelligence that found just that. This ran contrary to multiple intelligence reports that reported this would happen. MacArthur dismissed the other reports and accepted Willoughby’s report. However, there was a major problem: he had fabricated the intelligence to fit MacArthur’s views.


Willoughby viewed his job as pleasing MacArthur rather than providing accurate intelligence. This intelligence fabrication caused the deaths of thousands of UN soldiers at the Battle of Chongju on October 19, 1950 when China invaded Korea…one of the worst battle defeats in American history and has led to Willoughby being regarded as one of the worst intelligence officers if not the worst in American history. The trouble was that “…the general was focused on limiting and controlling sources of intelligence, not allowing contrary or dissenting opinions, and simultaneously surrounding himself with yes-men” (Gady).


Conclusion

Leaders need to have reality checks over their own views and they fail to do so at the peril of themselves and those they lead. In the cases of Johnson and MacArthur, these mistakes came at the cost of the lives of thousands of soldiers under their leadership. For Johnson, it destroyed his presidency and for MacArthur, the very ego that resulted in the disaster of the Battle of Chongju resulted in his being fired by President Truman for insubordination.


References

Gady, F. (2019, January 27). Is This the Worst Intelligence Chief in the US Army’s History? The Diplomat.


Retrieved from


https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/is-this-the-worst-intelligence-chief-in-the-us-armys-history/

McMaster, H.R. (1998, January 1). Dereliction of Duty. Air Force Magazine.

Retrieved from


https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0198dereliction/

Riedel, B. (2017, September 13). Catastrophe on the Yalu: America’s intelligence failure in Korea. Brookings Institution.


Retrieved from


https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/09/13/catastrophe-on-the-yalu-americas-intelligence-failure-in-korea/

Rinfret, P. Lyndon Baines Johnson: A President Gone Wrong. Parida.


Retrieved from

http://web.archive.org/web/20060510202347/http://www.parida.com/lbj.html

The 2020 Election

2020 may be an unconventional year on polling given the highly irregular nature of voting this year…namely how many people are voting by mail or dropping off their ballots rather than showing up in person to the polls on Election Day. This year will also tell us how real the “shy Trump voter” phenomenon is and, most importantly, whether it makes a difference. Republicans are generally behind in the polls and it may indeed be true that the Trump Administration’s handling of COVID-19 is the defining issue of the election, as the Biden campaign has been betting on. Incumbents have lost before due to factors that were even less in their control than this…in 1956 Missouri Republican Congressman Dewey Short, who had represented his Springfield based district since 1935, lost reelection because the state was suffering a major drought and the state’s voters took it out on Republicans in the polls that year. It is possible that the economy’s stronger rate of recovery than predicted will help the president, but it may be too late. I suspect that the subject of protests and “cancel culture” will not have the impact the president desires, but the latter may turn into a prime issue in a future election. There are many Senate seats in the balance this year, and for most the GOP is on defense. Although in the last three national elections, average polls have been biased to Democrats, they grew less so in 2018 as opposed to 2016. What the poll bias will be this year is up in the air given certain additional factors. There are two possible things that potentially harm the Democrats this year despite polling edges: their late entry into door-to-door campaigning (which is the most effective campaigning, I know from experience) and the aforementioned “shy Trump voter” phenomenon. I know to a certain extent that this is real (I have talked to a few self-reported “shy Trump voters”) but how real or relevant is yet to be known. The GOP has an additional buffer seat with Democrat Doug Jones almost certainly losing reelection there. Democrats may have an edge, however, with apparently high turnout. As of today, Biden is up 2.3 points on RCP poll averages in battleground states. This is outperforming Clinton’s 1.1 advantage in 2016. Let’s look at the poll averages now versus when Trump won in 2016 in current battleground states.

For Florida, the polling momentum seems to be breaking for Trump. Possibly undecideds are moving in his direction.

Biden wins in Michigan and Nevada.

Trump wins in Georgia, although the victory is narrow.

Trump is ahead in Iowa, just like last time in the polls. He wins there.

Trump is ahead in Ohio, just like last time in the polls. I think he prevails there.

Trump wins in Pennsylvania, polling momentum is moving his way.

Trump wins a narrow victory in Texas.

For the Senate:

Although the race seems to be narrowing a little bit in Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly has had, however, a consistent polling advantage over Republican Martha McSally. There is only one poll in this entire election season that has put McSally ahead. Arizona seems to be moving away from the GOP, at least for the time being. Kelly wins the seat.

Colorado seems to have been the race in which it was a foregone conclusion that the incumbent would lose on the Republican side. Cory Gardner’s profile has fallen since he was elected in 2014 and the state will certainly not be voting for Trump in 2020. It is possible that he runs ahead of the president, but that will not be enough to save his keister, and this is despite Democrat John Hickenlooper’s missteps during the campaign. Although it is true that the “doomed” incumbent in 2016 appeared to be Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and he pulled off a victory, Hickenlooper has repeatedly been considerably outside the margin of error in recent polling of the race while Johnson’s numbers had moved into that margin by Election Day. Gardner goes down.

Georgia is looking like a nail-biter for the GOP. Perdue seems to be faltering in the polls lately to Jon Ossoff. Right now, it is unknown with Georgia’s other Senate seat whether it will be Kelly Loeffler or Doug Collins who faces off against Democrat Raphael Warnock in the runoff. The Democrats have their best shot with Ossoff and they could pull off a surprise if allegations of insider trading haunt Loeffler sufficiently should she best Collins in the runoff. My gut tells me the GOP holds both seats, with the former being very close.

Iowa seems to be moving in the president’s and Senator Joni Ernst’s direction lately. This seat is vital to keep if the Republicans want a shot at maintaining a Senate majority in the event of a Biden presidency. I think she narrowly pulls off winning another term.

Susan Collins is certainly in trouble in Maine. She hasn’t led in a single poll in facing against Democrat Sara Gideon since February, and it seems likely that Gideon takes the seat in a state that is not going to vote for Trump. Although Collins voted against Barrett in an effort to save her seat, its probably not enough.

Unfortunately for John James in Michigan, incumbent Gary Peters has led in nearly all polling for this race and averages over five points ahead. James may lose by less than the poll average here, but it would require a major upset for him to win this one. Major upsets are quite rare…but Trump did score one when he won Wisconsin in 2016. Don’t bet on it for this race. Peters wins another term.

Minnesota may indeed be the sleeper race for the GOP. Jason Lewis has been performing far stronger than was expected at the start of the campaign season and if he wins, he may be the one to save the GOP majority. The race has been narrowing in October, and the last two polls were within the margin of error. I am granting myself one wild prediction for a Senate race: Lewis wins.

Montana is rather iffy for Steve Daines as he is facing the only candidate the Democrats could field that has a chance of winning the seat in former Governor Steve Bullock. However, I give Daines a slight edge as Trump is leading in Montana and if he has made it clear he is an ally of the president and Bullock as someone who would have voted to impeach the president as did all Democratic senators, he will win another term.

Although Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham got hit with an extramarital affair scandal, Republican incumbent Thom Tillis is still endangered as he is widely regarded as mediocre and is still on average behind in polls, but within the margin of error. If North Carolina tips to Trump, which it seems to be doing lately in the polls, Tillis may just survive. Indeed, Tillis won in the 2014 election despite the Democrats’ valiant efforts to help Kay Hagan survive reelection and her leading in nearly every poll. Perhaps he will pull it off again. However, he is running behind the president, and President Trump is only slightly up. I think Tillis pulls through by the skin of his teeth.

Lindsey Graham gets an unusually close race against challenger Jaime Harrison, but he pulls through…enough voters mark their ballots for Trump and Graham for him to survive.

Thus, my overall prediction is the GOP has 52 seats in the Senate at the end of this.

I call the following:

  • Incumbents Perdue, Ernst, Peters, Daines, Tillis, and Graham win reelection. Incumbents Jones, McSally, Gardner, Collins, and Smith are sent packing.
  • Trump wins Florida, Iowa and Ohio.
  • Biden wins Michigan and Nevada.
  • At least two upsets occur in Senate races.
  • The race is closer than the polls have it.