Friday, February 5, 2021

Impeaching a former president – 4 essential reads

House of Representatives members and staff walk the article of impeachment against Donald Trump across the Capitol. AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

As the U.S. Senate takes up the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, there are a lot of questions about the process and legitimacy of trying someone who is no longer in office, including what the point is and how impeachment works. The House has passed an article of impeachment, charging him with “incitement of insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and now the process turns to the Senate.

The Conversation has published several articles from scholars explaining aspects of the situation, as well as describing more generally what the purpose of impeachment was for the founders when they wrote the Constitution. This is a selection of excerpts from those articles.

Donald Trump, 'Stop The Steal' Rally
President Donald Trump greets the crowd at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., shortly before the Capitol riot. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

1. Does it matter that Trump is out of office?

The previous three impeachment trials of presidents – of Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Trump himself, the first time, in early 2020 – were conducted while the accused were still in office. Some Republicans have questioned whether it’s even constitutional to conduct an impeachment trial of a former president.

But Michael Blake, a political philosopher at the University of Washington, explains that trying him is useful morally and politically, setting a boundary around the powers of the presidency, even if Trump can no longer be expelled from office:

The impeachment of President Trump is an indication that there is a need to mark out, through a definitive statement, what no president ought to do. It will also set the moral limits of the presidency – and, thereby, send a message to future presidents.”

2. What happens if Trump is convicted?

Though Trump can no longer be removed from office, he may still face consequences. Kirsten Carlson, a law professor at Wayne State University, explains that there is an additional step:

The Senate also has the power to disqualify a public official from holding public office in the future. If the person is convicted …, only then can senators vote on whether to permanently disqualify that person from ever again holding federal office. … A simple majority vote is all that’s required then.”

3. What if he is not convicted?

Snap shot of the text of the articles of impeachment
Article 1 of the impeachment charges against Donald Trump invokes the 14th Amendment. U.S. House of Representatives

It is possible that two-thirds of the senators may not vote to convict Trump. But there is another way Congress might seek to bar Trump from holding office in the future.

Gerard Magliocca, a law professor at IUPUI, describes that approach, which would use Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. He writes that the amendment, created after the Civil War, bars people “from serving in a variety of government offices if they ‘shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion’ against the United States Constitution.”

However, it’s not enough for a majority of Congress to vote to declare Trump is ineligible to serve in office again, Magliocci explains: “only the courts, interpreting Section 3 for themselves, can bar someone from running for president.”

4. What is the real purpose of impeachment?

Even if immediate consequences are uncertain, the founders still understood that impeachment sent a powerful message, writes Clark Cunningham, a legal scholar at Georgia State University.

Based on his research into the people who wrote the Constitution and the statements they made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Cunningham explains that “the founders viewed impeachment as a regular practice with three purposes:

  • To provide a fair and reliable method to resolve suspicions about misconduct;
  • To remind both the country and the president that he is not above the law;
  • To deter abuses of power.”

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Symbols of white supremacy flew proudly at the Capitol riot – 5 essential reads

Rioters carrying white supremacist symbols were inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

Many Americans are trying to gain a deeper understanding of what was behind the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and, most importantly, why it happened.

At The Conversation, we asked several scholars who study symbols – including ancient Norse images and more recent flags from U.S. history – to explain what they saw during the riot, and what those symbols mean.

Reading their work, it’s inescapable that white supremacy is a common thread connecting many of the different groups who converged on Washington that day. Here are five articles from The Conversation’s recent coverage, explaining what many of the symbols mean.

A man carries the Confederate battle flag in the U.S. Capitol.
A man carries the Confederate battle flag in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, between portraits of senators who both opposed and supported slavery. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

1. The Confederate battle flag

Perhaps the most recognized symbol of white supremacy was the Confederate battle flag.

Since its debut during the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag has been flown regularly by white insurrectionists and reactionaries fighting against rising tides of newly won Black political power,” writes Jordan Brasher at Columbus State University, who has studied how the Confederacy has been memorialized.

He notes that in one photo from inside the Capitol, the flag’s history came into sharp relief, as the man carrying it was standing between “the portraits of two Civil War-era U.S. senators – one an ardent proponent of slavery and the other an abolitionist once beaten unconscious for his views on the Senate floor.”

Gadsden flags fly at a Jan. 6, 2021, protest at the Capitol.
Gadsden flags fly at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

2. The yellow Gadsden flag

Another flag with a racist history is the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. It was designed by slave owner and trader Christopher Gadsden when the American Revolution began, as Iowa State University graphic design scholar Paul Bruski writes.

Because of its creator’s history and because it is commonly flown alongside ‘Trump 2020’ flags, the Confederate battle flag and other white-supremacist flags, some may now see the Gadsden flag as a symbol of intolerance and hate – or even racism,” he explains.

It has been adopted by the tea party movement and other Republican-leaning groups, but the flag still carries the legacy, and the name, of its creator.

U.S. Capitol storming, gallows, Trump supporters
A gallows symbolizing the lynching of Jews was among the hate symbols carried as crowds stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

3. Powerful anti-Semitism

Another arm of white supremacy doesn’t target Blacks. Instead, it demonizes Jewish people. And there were plenty of anti-Semitic symbols on display during the riot, as Jonathan D. Sarna explains.

He is a Brandeis University scholar of American anti-Semitism, and describes the ways that “[c]alls to exterminate Jews are common in far-right and white nationalist circles.” That included a gallows erected outside the Capitol, evoking a disturbing element of a 1978 novel depicting the takeover of Washington, D.C., along with mass lynchings and slaughtering of Jews.

A man wearing a horned hat and displaying Norse tattoos.
A man known as Jake Angeli, who has been arrested for his role in the Capitol riot, wears a horned hat and tattoos of Norse images. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

4. Co-opted Norse mythology

Among the most striking images of the riot were those of a man wearing a horned hat and no shirt, displaying several large tattoos. He is known as Jake Angeli, but his full name is Jacob Chansley, and he has been arrested for his role in the riot.

Tom Birkett, a lecturer in Old English at University College Cork in Ireland, explains that many of the symbols Chansley wears are from Norse mythology. However, he explains, “these symbols have also been co-opted by a growing far-right movement,” and Chansley appears – from other tattoos he wears – to be among them.

Birkett traces the use of Norse symbols back to the Nazis, and points out that they are a form of code hidden in plain sight: “if certain symbols are hard for the general public to spot, they are certainly dog whistles to members of an increasingly global white supremacist movement who know exactly what they mean.”

Rioters scale structures while flying flags outside the Capitol.
The yellow-and-red striped flag of the defeated American-backed Republic of Vietnam flies at the U.S. Capitol insurrection Jan. 6. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

5. An outlier, of sorts

Another flag was prominent at the Capitol riot, one that doesn’t strictly represent white supremacy: the flag of the former independent country of South Vietnam.

But Long T. Bui, a global studies scholar at the University of California, Irvine, explains that when flown by Vietnamese Americans, many of whom support Trump, the flag symbolizes militant nationalism:

[S]ome Vietnamese Americans view their fallen homeland as an extension of the American push for freedom and democracy worldwide. I have interviewed Vietnamese American soldiers who fear American freedom is failing,” he explains.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archivesThe Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is the 'boogaloo' and who are the rioters who stormed the Capitol? 5 essential reads

Rioters mass on the U.S. Capitol steps on Jan. 6. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

In the wake of the insurrection on Jan. 6, the U.S. is bracing for the possibility of additional violent demonstrations and potential riots at the U.S. Capitol and state capitol buildings around the nation. While many were in Washington, D.C., ostensibly to protest what they wrongly saw as a stolen election, their presence – and their actions – reflect a larger set of goals that American militants are hoping to seize upon to take more extreme action.

Several articles by scholars of violent extremism, white supremacy and militias explain the path down which these rioters and insurrectionists seek to take America. The Conversation U.S. has compiled excerpts of five of those articles, seeking to explain the rift that has torn wide open in American society.

U.S. Capitol storming, gallows, Trump supporters
A gallows, in part symbolizing the lynching of Jews as part of a massive race war, was among the hate symbols was erected as crowds stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

1. What is the ‘boogaloo’?

QAnon followers, the Proud Boys and the other far-right and alt-right groups that converged on Washington imagined that they were living out the great fantasy that underlies what many consider to be the bible of the white nationalism movement, a 1978 dystopian novel, ‘The Turner Diaries,’ by William Luther Pierce,” writes Jonathan D. Sarna, a scholar of anti-Semitism at Brandeis University.

“The novel depicts the violent overthrow of the government of the United States, nuclear conflagration, race war and the ultimate extermination of nonwhites and ‘undesirable racial elements among the remaining White population,’” he explains.

This widespread and extremely violent conflagration is often called the “boogaloo” by its adherents.

2. Militants seek to accelerate conflict

Amy Cooter, a sociologist at Vanderbilt University who has extensively studied the American militia movement, reports that some far-right groups have adopted what is called “accelerationism,” which she explains as “the idea that inducing chaos, provoking law enforcement, and promoting political tension will hasten the collapse of Western government … making room for them to establish a whites-only country.”

A group of rioters in the Capitol.
Rioters occupy the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

3. They aren’t alone

It might be tempting to think that these violent radicals are just individual malcontents, but Alexander Hinton, an anthropologist at Rutgers University – Newark, explains that “these people are not alone,” as the Capitol mob makes clear.

“Most far-right extremists are part of larger extremist communities, communicating by social media and distributing posts and manifestos,” he writes. “Their messages speak of fear that one day, whites may be outnumbered by nonwhites in the U.S., and the idea that there is a Jewish-led plot to destroy the white race. In response, they prepare for a war between whites and nonwhites.”

4. They have supporters in the military

White nationalists – people who believe whites are under attack in America and therefore seek to establish a whites-only nation where nonwhites do not have civil rights protections – “find new members and support in the U.S. military.”

That’s one conclusion of political scientists Jennifer Spindel at the University of New Hampshire, Matt Motta at Oklahoma State and Robert Ralston at the University of Minnesota, who note that “Since 2018, white supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the United States than any other domestic extremist movement.”

The connections are deep, the scholars explain: “The links between the U.S. military and white nationalists date back to the 1990s, with many believers seeing military service as an opportunity to hone their fighting skills and recruit others.”

Two people wearing military-like gear
Two members of the Proud Boys wear military-like gear at a rally in Oregon in September 2020. John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

5. And there are supporters in the police

White supremacist groups also seek to recruit police officers, writes Vida Johnson, a law professor at Georgetown University: “With their enormous power, department-issued weapons and access to sensitive information, … police departments have become attractive recruiting grounds for white supremacist groups.”

As far back as 2006, the FBI warned about this problem, she explains. But even 15 years later, Johnson says it is hard to find out how many officers are involved.

However, she notes that “since 2009, police officers in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana have been identified as members of white supremacist groups. Meanwhile, more than 100 police departments in 49 different states have had to deal with scandals involving racist emails, texts or online comments sent or made by department staff,” including one this month involving a high-ranking officer in the New York Police Department.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives

[Get our most insightful politics and election stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Why does the Electoral College exist, and how does it work? 5 essential reads

Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt signs an official tally of the Electoral College votes from the 2016 presidential election, in January 2017. AP Photo/Zach Gibson
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

On Dec. 14, the members of the Electoral College will meet in state capitols across the country and cast their ballots for president and vice president. The expected vote total: 306 for Democrat Joe Biden and 232 for Republican Donald Trump. It will be their votes – not the votes of the nearly 160 million Americans who cast ballots on or before Nov. 3 – that will determine whose presidential term will begin on Jan. 20, 2021.

Over the past several months, The Conversation has asked scholars of the Electoral College to explain how this system was developed and how it works and to describe whether – and how – it gives advantages to certain people based on where they live. We’ve collected highlights from several of those articles here.

The Committee on Postponed Questions
These 11 men agreed on a compromise that created the Electoral College. The Conversation, from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

1. Where did it come from?

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated three potential ways to pick a president, explains Purdue University civics educator Philip J. VanFossen: “election by Congress, selection by state legislatures and a popular election – though the right to vote was generally restricted to white, landowning men.”

The idea of a popular election – where the candidate who got the most votes won – was attractive. But the 11 committee members realized the Southern states would not agree, because they wanted to wield more political power based on their ownership of enslaved people.

They ultimately settled, VanFossen writes, on “a system of electors, through which both the people and the states would help choose the president. [It] was a partly national and partly federal solution, and … mirrored other structures in the Constitution.”

That system assigned two U.S. senators to each state, and a number of U.S. representatives based on states’ relative populations – and a number of electors equal to the sum of the senators and representatives. No state would have fewer than three electors, no matter how few people lived there.

2. Benefiting less populous states

That system means voters in different states are treated differently, writes LaGrange College political scientist John Tures.

As he explains, “some critics have complained that the Electoral College system encourages candidates to ignore voters in smaller states like Oklahoma and Mississippi, instead focusing on campaigning in big states like California and New York, which have lots of electoral votes.”

But in reality, the Electoral College gives an advantage to voters in less populous states, Tures finds: “[V]oters in small states have more Electoral College votes per capita than larger, more diverse states, using several different measures – and therefore more power to choose a president than they would have in a national popular election.”

He notes that a similar system for electing Georgia’s governor was overturned in 1963 in a U.S. Supreme Court “ruling that it violated the fundamental principle of ‘one person, one vote.’”

3. A matter of race

Ignoring that principle has repercussions today, reports political scientist William Blake of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County: “The system continues to give more power to states whose populations are whiter and more racially resentful.”

His analysis of states’ racial breakdowns and electoral votes finds that “states whose people exhibit more intense anti-Black attitudes, based on their answers to a series of survey questions, tend to have more electoral votes per person.” That’s a measure of how many electoral votes a state has in proportion to the number of people who live there.

Statistically, he found that “if two states’ population numbers indicate each would have 10 electoral votes, but one had substantially more racial resentment, the more intolerant state would likely have 11.”

4. Vulnerable to interference

The Electoral College makes American democracy more vulnerable to hackers, fraudsters and others who might seek to alter the results, explains mathematician Steven Heilman at USC Dornsife.

Noting that “changing just 269 votes in Florida from George W. Bush to Al Gore would have changed the outcome of the entire [2000] national election,” Heilman highlights just how close so many national elections have been over the course of the country’s history.

As he details, “The Electoral College divides one big election into 51 smaller ones – one for each state, plus the District of Columbia. Mathematically speaking, this system is built to virtually ensure narrow victories, making it very susceptible to efforts to change either voters’ minds or the records of their choices.”

Maine’s electors take their oaths before casting their ballots in December 2016. Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

5. Is there a better way?

Westminster College political scientist Joshua Holzer describes the various ways that different countries pick their presidents, and “found better human rights protections in countries that elect presidents who are supported by a majority of voters – which is something U.S. Electoral College does not guarantee.”

He explains plurality voting – a method widely used across the U.S., in which the person who gets the most votes wins. He also looks at runoff voting, with “potentially two rounds of voting. If someone wins more than half the votes in the first round, that candidate is declared the winner. If not, the two candidates with the most first-round votes face off in a second round of voting.”

After laying out other variations, including contingent voting and ranked-choice voting, that let voters express more nuanced preferences, Holzer concludes with a description of an effort that is underway right now, to effectively convert the Electoral College system into a nationwide popular vote.

But, as he observes, that would come with its own problems – just different ones.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Election 2020: 89 articles to teach you about how American elections really work

How did the U.S. political system get the way it did? jsmith/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Catesby Holmes, The Conversation; Jeff Inglis, The Conversation, and Naomi Schalit, The Conversation

Editors’ note: In a world transformed by a pandemic, few of the fundamentals in Americans’ lives – schools, jobs, even how to shop for groceries – have remained the same. The same is true with the election, where the most basic of the institution’s elements – how, where and when to vote, among them – have changed.

When The Conversation US’s politics editors met to figure out how to provide readers with coverage that would be useful and informative, the approach was clear: a civics lesson. Over the course of roughly 100 articles, our scholars have explained how the U.S. election system works, retold the history of how it got that way and examined what effects and significance those mechanisms have for the nation today.

Here, our team has collected all of these articles, divided thematically, from the very beginning of campaigning through what happens after Election Day itself.

A candidate elbow-bumping a voter in a restaurant
Eugene DePasquale, left, Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, in Harrisburg, Penn., Sept. 19, shows that even the traditional handshake with voters has changed in pandemic-era campaigns. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images


Basic elements of political campaigning

Campaigning in a pandemic

Campaign tactics

A graphic showing text notifications.
Campaigns send lots of texts. Jake Olimb/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images

Political conventions

Money in politics

Cory Booker can use money left over from his presidential campaign to run for reelection to the Senate. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Candidates’ debates

Media and public perception

President Elizabeth Keane, played by actress Elizabeth Marvel, stands at a podium in an episode of 'Homeland.'
President Elizabeth Keane of ‘Homeland’ is a craven politician who has a ruinous tenure in office. Showtime


Vice presidential and Cabinet picks

Rep. Bella Abzug speaks to a crowd of some 10,000 at ‘The War is Over’ celebration in Central Park on May 11, 1975, where she called for unconditional amnesty for Vietnam War draft dodgers in Sweden and Canada. Bettman/Contributer/Getty

International perspectives

A man stands at an outdoor voting booth.
A voter casts a ballot at a mobile voting station in California in May 2020. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The process of voting

History of voting

Voter suppression

Milwaukee voters wait in a social-distancing line, some wearing masks, before voting in the state’s spring elections on April 7. AP Photo/Morry Gash

Many voters face obstacles

Specific voting groups and blocs

Asian Americans leave a polling palce
Asian American voters leave a Temple City, California, polling place in 2012, in the state’s first legislative district that is majority Asian American. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

How to vote

A polling place in a public building with booths and voters.
Voting is important. Make sure you know how to do it! Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Voting in person

Voting by mail

Mailed ballots sit in a box.
In most states, ballots must be mailed in official envelopes. AP Photo/Hans Pennink
A woman looks at papers.
Staff of the House of Representatives review Illinois’ Electoral College vote report in January 2017. Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Electoral College

Election integrity

A white sign with red text that says 'Every Vote Counts.'
Every vote counts – but what does it mean when election results go to court? Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Potential for violence

Who decides the outcome?

The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993.
Under the Electoral Count Act, Congress supervises the counting of the Electoral College ballots in early January after the presidential election happens. Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

How it all endsThe Conversation

Catesby Holmes, International Editor | Politics Editor, The Conversation; Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation, and Naomi Schalit, Senior Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.