How does the 25th Amendment work, and can it be used to remove Trump from office after US Capitol attack?



After President Trump incited violence on Jan. 6, some high-ranking officials say he is unfit to lead the United States.
Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Stephanie Newbold, Rutgers University – Newark

A day after President Donald Trump incited supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office, saying “This president should not hold office one day longer.”

The 25th Amendment, ratified by the states in 1967, declares that upon the removal, resignation or death of the president, the vice president assumes the presidency.

Commonly referred to as the Disability Clause, this constitutional provision also specifies that if the president is unable to perform the functions of his office, the vice president will serve as acting president.

If the president is unable to determine his own decision-making capacity, it is possible – though this is an untested area of law – that the vice president, independently or in consultation with the Cabinet, would determine if he himself assumes the role of acting president.

Removal, resignation or death

The 25th Amendment has been invoked only a few times in history.

In 2002 and 2007, President George W. Bush invoked the Disability Clause prior to scheduled colonoscopy procedures that required anesthesia and sedation. During this limited time, Vice President Dick Cheney became acting president.

President George W. Bush speaking to the press.
President George W. Bush, left, announces he will sign over the power of the presidency temporarily to Vice President Dick Cheney while he undergoes a colonoscopy.
Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

But there is no precedent for the type of situation currently facing the United States. Trump refuses to concede his loss in the 2020 presidential election and encouraged a mob who share his belief that the vote was “rigged” to attack Washington, D.C. On Jan. 7, Trump issued a brief statement promising an “orderly transition” on Jan. 20 but pledging to “continue our fight.”

The 25th Amendment contains no precise legal language that expressly outlines what the procedural processes should be if the president cannot determine his own fitness for office. Its lack of specificity about such a situation means that a potential constitutional crisis could result if it is invoked to remove an unfit president who is unwilling to give up power.

Line of succession

Should the president be incapacitated in office, there is legislation that clarifies the line of succession.

The 1886 Succession Act made members of the president’s Cabinet direct successors if the vice president could not serve.

Upon assuming the presidency in 1945 after President Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman requested Congress to amend the 1886 Succession Act to provide greater clarification of succession protocol. Truman wanted that succession to place the speaker of the house second in line after the vice president. After several years of negotiation, both houses of Congress agreed to this revision and passed the Presidential Succession Act in 1947.

The legislation specified that the line of succession begins with the vice president and is followed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretary of the U.S. Department of State, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the remaining secretaries of Cabinet departments in the order of when they were established as executive branch agencies.

Neither the Succession Act nor the 25th Amendment has ever been invoked for longer than a few hours. There are nearly two weeks left in Trump’s term.

This is an updated and condensed version of an article originally published on Oct. 4, 2020.The Conversation

Stephanie Newbold, Associate Professor, Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University – Newark

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

Why were the Capitol rioters so angry? Because they’re scared of losing grip on their perverse idea of democracy


Jordan McSwiney, University of Sydney

Hundreds of pro-Trump rioters today charged into the US Capitol, where Congress was set to certify Joe Biden’s presidency. Four people have reportedly died in relation to this protest, including a woman who was shot.

The protesters included “Proud Boys”, QAnon supporters and those who aren’t necessarily affiliated with a group but have engaged with these far-right ideologies.

The riot marked a disturbing escalation in the willingness and ability for the far right to mobilise against liberal democratic institutions, inspired by baseless claims peddled by the president: that this has been a stolen, fraudulent election.

It culminates years of President Donald Trump’s incitement and endorsement of these groups. Recall his endorsement of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (“there are very fine people on both sides”) and his refusal to condemn the Proud Boys (“stand back and stand by”). He even affirmed the Capitol building protesters, calling them “very special” and “great patriots”.

Trump tells Proud Boys: ‘Stand back and stand by’ during the first presidential election debate in September 2020.

Certainly the way Trump is responding has only served to embolden the protesters and inflame the situation.

While there’s no doubt that some of the protesters were individual citizens, members of far-right extremist groups played an important, visible role in the riots. So who are the far-right rioters, and why are they so angry?

Violence is their bread and butter

The Proud Boys are one of the significant groups driving the protests, known for using violence to achieve their political ends. They describe themselves as a men’s fraternity of “Western chauvinists”, but are effectively a white nationalist gang predicated on violence.




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As Proud Boys founder Gavin McGuinnes described in 2017, to reach the highest level of the organisation’s hierarchy a member must “kick the crap out of an antifa” (anti-fascist).

However, the most direct antecedent to what we’re seeing today is the storming of the Michigan State House last month by armed men involved in militia groups and other Trump-supporting protesters.

The events in Michigan followed a series of tweets by Trump, one of which urged his followers to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in response to stay-at-home orders issued to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 infections.




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Far-right groups have used COVID to expand their footprint in Australia. Here are the ones you need to know about


What’s fuelling their anger?

The general appeal of groups like the Proud Boys is the retaliation to a perceived loss of white male supremacy and the erosion of privileges that were exclusively for the white man.

More specifically, in relation to what’s happening in Washington, their anger is fuelled by Trump’s claims of election fraud and a stolen election, including the baseless “Dominion” theory — a QAnon-related conspiracy about voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems involving Hugo Chavez and George Soros.

There is a wide spectrum of messaging from Trump’s supporters in today’s riots in Washington and outside other statehouses around America, from the comparatively banal claims of election fraud to dangerously unhinged calls for violence.

For example, Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist podcaster and “Groyper” (a network of “alt-right” figures), yesterday called for his followers to kill legislators during a live stream.

But behind their anger is almost a perverse democratic sentiment. Many no doubt genuinely believe their democratic rights have been subverted by liberal elites and “traitor Republicans” who don’t buy into Trump’s messages.

And so along with anger, there is also a sense of fear: fear that American democracy has been overturned at the hands of their “opponents”, even as they themselves actively undermine liberal democratic values and institutions.




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‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


Misinformation, conspiracies and false flags

Already, conspiracy theories and misinformation about today’s protests are being widely disseminated online. In particular, the riots are being spun as a “false flag”, with claims the rioters were actually antifascist provocateurs wanting to make Trump look bad.

Crucially, this isn’t just fringe internet conspiracy, but one being pushed by people with institutional clout. For example, Lin Wood, an attorney who until recently was embedded in Trump’s legal team, has spread this particular theory on Twitter, while alternative news outlets such as Newsmax repeated this line in their live coverage of the protest.

Misinformation plays a huge role in garnering extremist right wing views, and is being distributed widely across Facebook and other social media, as well as in mainstream press. And it’s not only in the US. Sky News in Australia, to give a local example, has been repeating without any clarification Trump’s lies of election fraud.

Unfortunately, tech companies have shown they’re unwilling to address this tidal wave of misinformation in a meaningful way.

Twitter will now slap a warning on a Trump post, and recently suspended his account for 12 hours — a temporary move followed by Facebook and Instagram. But countless white supremacists are still on there. For example, American white supremacist and founding figure of the “alt-right” Richard Spencer is still active on Twitter.




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Social media giants have finally confronted Trump’s lies. But why wait until there was a riot in the Capitol?


This a real danger, not only for the US, but for liberal democracies around the world, as misinformation continues to erode trust in institutions and stoke violent action.

So how do we begin addressing the far right?

To start, news and social media outlets must begin to take misinformation and hateful and extremist content seriously. This could be through more serious investment in content moderation for social media platforms, and refusing to uncritically publish patently false information, such as claims of voter fraud, for news media.

Similarly, a president who refuses to endorse organised white supremacists or conspiracy communities like QAnon would help reduce their legitimacy. As long as Trump continues speak of a “stolen election” and “very fine people”, the far right will feel validated in their violent actions and words.




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Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough


While it is important security agencies take the very real threat of far-right violence seriously, we should look to other approaches to address and disrupt the far right beyond policing.

In Germany, for example, there has been some success with intervention at the interpersonal level. Educating role models for young people such as teachers and sports coaches to act as circuit breakers in the radicalisation process will help stem the flow of new recruits.

Young people are often targeted by far-right groups for recruitment. So role models like teachers are given skills to identify early signs of radicalisation, such as certain symbols or even fashion brands. They can engage with an individual who may be on the precipice of extremism, and offer them another path.

Given the very real danger posed by the far right, there needs to be a more rigorous approach to combating the allure of far-right extremist misinformation.




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Biden’s job gets easier after Senate wins in Georgia – but don’t expect a progressive revolution


The Conversation


Jordan McSwiney, PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

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

Social media giants have finally confronted Trump’s lies. But why wait until there was a riot in the Capitol?


Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology

Amid the chaos in the US Capitol, stoked largely by rhetoric from President Donald Trump, Twitter has locked his account, with 88.7 million followers, for 12 hours.

Facebook and Instagram quickly followed suit, locking Trump’s accounts — with 35.2 million followers and 24.5 million, respectively — for at least two weeks, the remainder of his presidency. This ban was extended from 24 hours.

The locks are the latest effort by social media platforms to clamp down on Trump’s misinformation and baseless claims of election fraud.

They came after Twitter labelled a video posted by Trump and said it posed a “risk of violence”. Twitter removed users’ ability to retweet, like or comment on the post — the first time this has been done.

In the video, Trump told the agitators at the Capitol to go home, but at the same time called them “very special” and said he loved them for disrupting the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

That tweet has since been taken down for “repeated and severe violations” of Twitter’s civic integrity policy. YouTube and Facebook have also removed copies of the video.

But as people across the world scramble to make sense of what’s going on, one thing stands out: the events that transpired today were not unexpected.

Given the lack of regulation and responsibility shown by platforms over the past few years, it’s fair to say the writing was on the wall.

The real, violent consequences of misinformation

While Trump is no stranger to contentious and even racist remarks on social media, Twitter’s action to lock the president’s account is a first.

The line was arguably crossed by Trump’s implicit incitement of violence and disorder within the halls of the US Capitol itself.

Nevertheless, it would have been a difficult decision for Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram), with several factors at play. Some of these are short-term, such as the immediate potential for further violence.

Then there’s the question of whether tighter regulation could further incite rioting Trump supporters by feeding into their theories claiming the existence of a large-scale “deep state” plot against the president. It’s possible.




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But a longer-term consideration — and perhaps one at the forefront of the platforms’ priorities — is how these actions will affect their value as commercial assets.

I believe the platforms’ biggest concern is their own bottom line. They are commercial companies legally obliged to pursue profits for shareholders. Commercial imperatives and user engagement are at the forefront of their decisions.

What happens when you censor a Republican president? You can lose a huge chunk of your conservative user base, or upset your shareholders.

Despite what we think of them, or how we might use them, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube aren’t set up in the public interest.

For them, it’s risky to censor a head of state when they know that content is profitable. Doing it involves a complex risk calculus — with priorities being shareholders, the companies’ market value and their reputation.




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Walking a tightrope

The platforms’ decisions to not only force the removal of several of Trump’s posts but also to lock his accounts carries enormous potential loss of revenue. It’s a major and irreversible step.

And they are now forced to keep a close eye on one another. If one appears too “strict” in its censorship, it may attract criticism and lose user engagement and ultimately profit. At the same time, if platforms are too loose with their content regulation, they must weather the storm of public critique.

You don’t want to be the last organisation to make the tough decision, but you don’t necessarily want to be the first, either — because then you’re the “trial balloon” who volunteered to potentially harm the bottom line.

For all major platforms, the past few years have presented high stakes. Yet there have been plenty of opportunities to stop the situation snowballing to where it is now.

From Trump’s baseless election fraud claims to his false ideas about the coronavirus, time and again platforms have turned a blind eye to serious cases of mis- and disinformation.

The storming of the Capitol is a logical consequence of what has arguably been a long time coming.

The coronavirus pandemic illustrated this. While Trump was partially censored by Twitter and Facebook for misinformation, the platforms failed to take lasting action to deal with the issue at its core.

In the past, platforms have cited constitutional reasons to justify not censoring politicians. They have claimed a civic duty to give elected officials an unfiltered voice.

This line of argument should have ended with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, when Trump responded to the killing of an anti-fascism protester by claiming there were “very fine people on both sides”.

An age of QAnon, Proud Boys and neo-Nazis

While there’s no silver bullet for online misinformation and extremist content, there’s also no doubt platforms could have done more in the past that may have prevented the scenes witnessed in Washington DC.

In a crisis, there’s a rush to make sense of everything. But we need only look at what led us to this point. Experts on disinformation have been crying out for platforms to do more to combat disinformation and its growing domestic roots.

Now, in 2021, extremists such as neo-Nazis and QAnon believers no longer have to lurk in the depths of online forums or commit lone acts of violence. Instead, they can violently storm the Capitol.

It would be a cardinal error to not appraise the severity and importance of the neglect that led us here. In some ways, perhaps that’s the biggest lesson we can learn.


This article has been updated to reflect the news that Facebook and Instagram extended their 24-hour ban on President Trump’s accounts.The Conversation

Timothy Graham, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

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

Biden’s job gets easier after Senate wins in Georgia – but don’t expect a progressive revolution


Jared Mondschein, University of Sydney

History took place in the United States today.

Two Democrats were announced the winners of the run-off elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats, allowing the Democrats to take back control of the chamber from the Republicans.

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were the first Democrats to win a Georgia Senate race in a quarter of a century. It also marked the first time since Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1932 that a president lost a re-election campaign and both chambers of Congress in a single term.

Ossoff, Warnock and Biden at a pre-election rally in Georgia
(From left) Ossoff, Warnock and Biden at a pre-election rally in Georgia.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Also today, a number of Republicans in Congress launched their last-ditch effort to contest the outcome of a presidential election — just the third such formal objection in US history.

And thousands more people died from COVID-19, as the US continues to notch some of its highest single day death tolls since the pandemic began.

But today will be most remembered for something else entirely: the first attack on the US Capitol since the War of 1812 against the British.




Read more:
‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


Many warned that President Donald Trump’s violent and divisive rhetoric was inevitably going to lead to violence, though few would have predicted the Capitol itself would be overrun.

Today’s violence will remain a shocking moment for generations of Americans. Trump’s own former defence secretary, James Mattis, invoked the language of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to say that the political leaders who enabled the violence will “will live in infamy”.

Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol
Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol during the certification of the election results.
zz/STRF/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

No massive mandate for the Democrats

As Democrats prepare to take control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, their attention must be focused on how to address the divisiveness and extreme partisanship that has become rooted in the US, allowing such a dramatic assault on democracy to take place.

Hoover’s landslide election loss to Roosevelt in 1932 similarly gave the Democrats control of the White House and Congress. The Democrats used this opportunity to launch the New Deal — a series of government programs and initiatives intended to lift the US out of the Great Depression. It was unprecedented in its size and ambition.

Many of these programs — ranging from Social Security (a government safety net for elderly Americans) to government regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — were later expanded upon and continue through to today.




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Even if Biden has a likely win, leading a deeply divided nation will be difficult


Unlike Roosevelt and his fellow Democrats in 1932, however, Joe Biden and his Democratic colleagues did not win landslide elections in 2020.

In fact, while Biden’s 306 Electoral College votes matched the total won by Trump in 2016, his pathway to victory was smaller.

Trump’s 2016 victory came from a combined 77,000 votes in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden’s 2020 win came as a result of a combined 45,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin.

In other words, if merely 45,000 votes in those three states went for Trump, there would have been a tie in the Electoral College, likely resulting in a Trump win.

Similarly, the Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia did not win in landslides, either. And with the Senate now evenly divided by the parties, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will spend a lot of time breaking 50-50 ties of her former colleagues in the chamber.

And beyond the White House and Senate, the Democrats actually lost, on balance, a total of 10 seats to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, thereby slimming their majority to only four seats.

Democrats celebrated their two wins in Georgia.
Democrats celebrated their two wins in Georgia, their first in a US Senate race in the state since the 1990s.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

How Biden will navigate the new Congress

But there are still clear advantages for the Democrats taking control of the Senate.

With Republicans no longer controlling when, or even if, votes occur in the Senate, everything from Supreme Court justices and Cabinet appointments to major pieces of legislation will no longer be contingent on Republican Mitch McConnell, the outgoing Senate majority leader.

In such a narrowly divided chamber, though, the onus will be on the Biden administration not to lose a single Democrat.

In many ways, the most powerful position in the Senate switches from McConnell to Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two most conservative Democratic senators. They will likely prove to be the limits as to just how progressive a Biden agenda will be.

Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin
Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin could become a crucial swing vote in the Senate.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

The Biden administration will need to get approval from a “large tent” of Democrats, including Manchin and Sinema, as well as progressives like Elizabeth Warren and the independent Bernie Sanders.

Ultimately, this slim hold on power will remain a hallmark of at least the first two years of the Biden administration.

That doesn’t, however, mean it will necessarily be divisive. In coming to the White House with more Washington experience than probably any other president in US history, Biden will need to prove that decades of experience as a “Washington insider” actually helps.

What will change for Biden — and what we can expect

Even before the Georgia races were called in the Democrats’ favour,
Merrick Garland was tipped to be Biden’s choice for attorney general. Following four years of Trump’s blatant attempts to politicise the Department of Justice, no attorney general selection has been as consequential in decades.

This is particularly pertinent because Biden has vowed to restore the Justice Department’s independence, which would prove crucial if it faces public pressure to investigate the actions of the prior administration.

Garland’s choice as attorney general is expected to restore independence to the Justice Department.
Shawn Thew/EPA

Garland is not only President Barack Obama’s former Supreme Court nominee, whom McConnell famously refused to allow a vote on. He’s also a circuit judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, one of the most consequential courts in the country.

It was the fact Biden can now replace Garland’s seat on this powerful bench with another Democrat — thanks to Democratic control of the Senate – that gave him the opportunity to make the selection.




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Derisively labelled by some a political “weather vane”, Biden is not known to be a particularly ideological politician. Unlike most other presidents, he was not elected with a well-known ideological or political slogans focused on the future (for example, “Build the wall”, “Yes, we can” or “It’s the economy, stupid”).

Instead, Biden’s most well-known 2020 slogan, “Restoring the soul of America”, seemed to herald a return to prior years.

While many Americans may be pining for more normalcy, Biden has already seemed to acknowledge that doing so would not address the root causes of the sort of mayhem that occurred on Capitol Hill.

The most pressing priorities, as defined by the Biden administration, are COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.

Taking control of the Senate, as well as the unprecedented unrest in Washington, will both widen the scope and redouble the urgency of the Biden team’s plans for addressing these issues.

But we shouldn’t expect a progressive revolution: the president-elect’s moderate tendencies are unwavering and unlikely to leave him simply because of Democrats eked out wins in Georgia. With that said, when the political spectrum has become stretched beyond conventional recognition, such moderation can often appear to be radical.The Conversation

Jared Mondschein, Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

‘Delighting in causing complete chaos’: what’s behind Trump supporters’ brazen storming of the Capitol


David Smith, University of Sydney

After weeks of President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about voter fraud and other improprieties costing him the presidential election, Washington erupted in chaos today as his supporters stormed the Capitol during a joint session of Congress to certify the results.

While shocking to watch, in hindsight, today’s riots feel almost inevitable.

Trump has spent weeks insisting the election was stolen, with very little push-back from the Republican Party. There have been some notable people who have challenged him, but even while this riot was going on, there were more than 100 Republican lawmakers trying to block certification of the election. This has been a highly opportunistic process on the part of Republican legislators.

For Trump, this is the whole game; at this point, it seems there is nothing else he cares about. He is desperately trying to hang on to power.

Amid all of this, it was inevitable at least some Americans would take the word of their current president very seriously. Having fired them up in this way, it becomes much harder to control mob behaviour. His belated tweet telling protesters to go home and go in peace (now removed by Twitter) was far too little, too late.

Looking at some of these images coming in from Washington, there is almost an element of “cosplay” (“costume play”). A lot of the rioters were dressed up in bizarre paraphernalia. On some level, I think they know they can’t actually seize power. There’s almost this carnival element to it of these people delighting in causing complete chaos.

Whether it’s Trump or his rioting supporters, if they can’t get their own way, if they can’t win, they’ll just create as much chaos as possible and revel in the absurdity of it.

Another thing that’s very obvious is these protesters didn’t fear the police. They were able to push their way past the police, they were able to force entry into the Capitol building and they’re then making jokes with reporters. They believed the police would not retaliate against them fatally — although four people died, including one woman who was shot by police.

The contrast with the Black Lives Matter protests is striking. A Black Lives Matter protest would never have been allowed to get that close to the Capitol. These are people acting with all kinds of impunity.

Undermining election results at all costs

In storming the Capitol and trying to stop a legitimate process of certifying the election, the rioters are following the lead of Trump and many congressional Republicans. It’s been trend for a while for Republicans that if they lose an election, they do as much as possible to nullify the results.

This is not necessarily trying to overturn the result. But if you look at recent elections in North Carolina and Wisconsin where Democratic governors won, that was followed by Republicans in the legislatures stripping as much power as possible from the governorship.

This idea that an election is only legitimate if we win has been put into practice by Republican legislators across the country for quite a while now.




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With Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November, there have been very few Republicans who have actually acknowledged this was the will of the people.

Part of that is because Trump’s victory four years ago was so unexpected, a lot of Republicans believe this was a new era in American politics. Part of that was the ability of Trump to win without actually winning the popular vote. Now that Biden has won, there’s a real unwillingness to acknowledge elections can still be lost legitimately by Republicans.

Delegitimising the election certification process was one of the goals of the protesters.
John Minchillo/AP

A failure of leadership from senior Republicans

From the beginning, Kevin McCarthy, the number one Republican in the House of Representatives, was absolutely behind these ridiculous stolen election claims. He’s never backed away from them.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, let these things go on for weeks before he made the most minimal statement that the Electoral College has spoken. It is no surprise that McConnell was then completely unable to control Republicans in the Senate who wanted to contest the certification of the election results.

Republicans have learned the lesson that the way to get the most attention, the way to further your career, is to take the most pro-Trump stance possible. So, it was no surprise so many lawmakers would back this effort to block certification of the election. They’re raising money off this, they’re creating YouTube videos to show their supporters.

It’s become Trump’s party. A lot of people see the path to political advancement backing Trump at every point.

There were a lot of Republican legislators who hoped Trump would eventually give up. In the days after the election, some were saying we should let Trump play out his legal options, he will do the right thing eventually and he’ll step aside for the good of the nation.

Trump told a rally before the Capitol breach today, ‘we will never concede’.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

But he was never, ever, ever going to step aside or concede. What he does is he just keeps people on board with him. Anyone who waits for Trump to do the right thing inevitably ends up supporting him when he does the wrong thing.

This is a lesson Republicans should have learned, but they’re scared of his supporters. None of them have supporters who would potentially risk their lives to storm the Capitol building.

The best check on power? The people

There have been surprises in both the strengths and weaknesses of America’s institutions over the last few years. For example, federalism has turned out to be quite an effective check on presidential power when it’s been exercised by someone like Trump, which is perhaps not something Democrats would have necessarily believed before.

On the other hand, we’ve seen this massive erosion of norms, especially in Congress. This has been going on for quite a while and McConnell has been one of the major eroders of norms for a long time. Congress was never really an effective check on Trump.




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Joe Biden wins the election, and now has to fight the one thing Americans agree on: the nation’s deep division


Ultimately, after the election, it was local and state officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Aaron Van Langevelde, a member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, who said enough is enough when members of Congress weren’t doing it.

And despite the fact Trump has packed the federal courts and Supreme Court with conservative judges, none of his legal challenges went anywhere.

But in the end, the lesson is the most effective check is the election. It is the voice of the people. For every norm that Trump broke, for every anti-democratic thing he did, there was a bigger backlash.

We saw an election with one of the biggest turnouts in history. We had four years of pretty consistent protests in the streets. And in the end, this is the most important check on the presidency that there is.The Conversation

David Smith, Associate Professor in American Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Iraq’s brutal crackdown on suspected Islamic State supporters could trigger civil war



File 20190206 174857 lq01ke.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Family members of Sunni men and boys in Iraq accused of supporting ISIS hold up pictures of their arrested relatives.
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

Eric Keels, University of Tennessee and Angela D. Nichols, Florida Atlantic University

Large portions of the Islamic State in Iraq have been either killed, captured or forced underground over the past three years.

Eleven years after the U.S. invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, triggering a war between Islamic State militants and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, Iraq has finally achieved some measure of stability.

But the Iraqi government isn’t taking any chances that this terrorist organization, commonly known as “IS,” could regroup.

Over 19,000 Iraqis suspected of collaborating with IS have been detained in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. Most of them are Sunni Muslims, according to reporting by Ben Taub of the New Yorker. Sunnis are members of the sect of Islam from which IS predominantly recruits.

Suspected terrorists are often tortured into offering confessions that justify death sentences at trial. According to Amnesty International, common forms of torture include “beatings on the head and body with metal rods and cables, suspension in stress positions by the arms or legs, electric shocks, and threats of rape of female relatives.”

The government’s crackdown on Sunnis – even those with no evidence of ties with Islamic militants – sends a troubling signal about Iraq’s prospects for peace.

Our research into conflict zones shows that when post-war governments use violence against citizens, it greatly increases the risk of renewed civil war.

Repression following civil wars

The period after an armed conflict is fragile.

Citizens traumatized by violence wish fervently for peace. Defeated armed factions may have their sights set on revenge.

The post-war government’s priority, meanwhile, is to consolidate its control over the country. Sometimes, leaders use violent repression to ensure their grip on power.

It is a risky strategy.

We studied 63 countries where civil war occurred between 1976 and 2005, including El Salvador, Sierra Leone and Sudan. The results, which were published in the academic journal Conflict, Security and Development in January, show a 95 percent increase of another civil war in places where governments engaged in the kind of torture, political imprisonment, killings and disappearances that Iraq’s government is now undertaking.

The Iraqi Special Forces shoots at an Islamic State militant drone, December 2016.
AP Photo/Manu Brabo

Civil war is most likely to break out in former conflict zones if civilians believe they will be targeted by the state regardless of whether or not they actually support an insurgency.

Often, our results show, people respond to indiscriminate clampdowns by arming themselves. That is easy to do in conflict zones, which are home to many former rebels with extensive battlefield training and access to weapons, including both active militant groups and the remnants of vanquished insurgencies.

Assessing the risk of renewed war in Iraq

Sadly, Iraq has been down this road before.

In 2007, the U.S. military surge sent more than 20,000 additional American troops into combat in Iraq to help the government of Nuri al-Maliki – which came to power after Hussein’s demise – fight Al-Qaida and other Islamic militants.

The U.S. enlisted Sunni insurgents to help them find, capture or kill Al-Qaida operatives during this period of the Iraq war, which is often called “the surge.”

That decision inflamed the centuries-old sectarian divide between Iraq’s two dominant religious groups, Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi leads a Shia-dominated government.
ACMCU/Twitter, CC BY

During former Iraqi President Hussein’s rule, Sunni Muslims controlled the country, and his government actively repressed Shia citizens. Since Hussein’s ouster, however, Iraq’s government has been run by Shia Muslims.

After the U.S. withdrew its troops in 2011, the U.S.-backed al-Maliki government began a brutal campaign to consolidate its authority. From 2012 to 2013, he expelled all Sunni officials from Iraq’s government and silenced opponents using torture, political imprisonment, killings and disappearances.

At the time, our study of renewed fighting in conflict zones had just begun. The preliminary findings made us concerned that al-Maliki’s use of violence to assert control over Iraq could restart the civil war by pushing angry Sunnis into the arms of militant groups.

Unfortunately, we were right.

Starting in 2014, the Islamic State began moving swiftly from Syria – where it was based – to conquer major cities across neighboring western Iraq.

Iraqi Sunnis, who were excluded from politics after Hussein’s overthrow and fearful of government repression, did little to stop the incursion. Islamic militants increased their recruitment among Iraqi Sunnis by promising a return to Sunni dominance in Iraq.

Many Sunnis took up arms against their own government not because they supported IS’s goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East but because they hated al-Maliki’s administration.

By June 2014, the Islamic State had captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just 250 miles north of Baghdad. It took three years of fighting and the combined force of Iraqi, U.S. and Kurdish troops, as well as Iranian-backed militias, to rid the country of this terrorist organization.

In September 2017, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Abadi claimed victory over IS in Iraq. The international community turned its focus toward Syria, where Islamic militants were continuing their war on citizens and the government.

What’s next for Iraq

Still, the Islamic State remains a persistent and legitimate threat to both Syria and Iraq, with some 30,000 active fighters in the region. Its commanders have reportedly buried large stockpiles of munitions in Iraq in preparation for renewed war.

American intelligence officials have warned against President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, saying it will give IS more freedom to regroup there and in Iraq.

The Iraqi government’s crackdown on Sunnis is, in part, an effort to eliminate this threat, since IS could draw renewed support from disaffected Sunni Iraqis across the border.

But many observers think Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi is also exacting revenge on Sunnis for previously joining IS in armed warfare against Iraq’s government.

Rather than prevent more fighting, our research suggests, Iraq’s clampdown on Sunnis may spark another civil war.The Conversation

Eric Keels, Research Associate at One Earth Future Foundation & Research Fellow at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee and Angela D. Nichols, Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University

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

New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart



File 20181105 83629 14vrjt8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, but nonetheless 80.63% turned out to vote in the independence referendum.
Shutterstock

Denise Fisher, Australian National University

The November 4 referendum in New Caledonia was a breathtaking example of democracy in action, with new consequences for the French territory, France and our region.

The vote had been long-deferred, long-awaited and for some, long-feared. It took place peacefully, a major and poignant achievement that was unimaginable 30 years ago, before the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed. They were designed to end civil war, promising the hand-over of a number of autonomies, to be followed by this referendum.

The result favoured staying with France by 56.4% to 43.6%. Key characteristics were the strong turnout, especially by young Kanaks, the relatively strong vote for independence, and bitter division between the two sides.




Read more:
Explainer: New Caledonia’s independence referendum, and how it could impact the region


Voting queues were long, with many waiting two hours to vote. Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, and the turnout was an extraordinary 80.63% of those eligible to vote (all Indigenous Kanaks, and a large proportion of those from other communities with longstanding residence in New Caledonia). This is the highest in recent history, with levels at the last French national elections 37% (2017) and provincial elections 67% (2014).

As French President Emmanuel Macron noted hours after the polls closed, France has fulfilled its promise and delivered a transparent process, legitimised by the unprecedented high turnout, the attendance of 13 UN observers and a Pacific Islands Forum observer team.

What does it mean for New Caledonia?

This relatively close result is probably the best all round for stability. The campaign has been bitter, and even commentary between leaders in television coverage of the results saw strong denunciation, particularly by loyalists.

While potentially stoking fear among loyalists for the future, the sizeable independence vote nonetheless may give pause to their tendency to triumphalism, challenging opinion polls and their own belief that they would win at least 60% and possibly 70% of the vote.

In their confidence, just days before the vote, the loyalists declared that with a massive win, they would seek to reverse the Noumea Accord guarantee of a second and potentially third referendum, an inflammatory step for independence supporters.

For independence leaders, the result vindicates their careful strategy of negotiating under the Noumea Accord for potentially two more votes in 2020 and 2022 in the event of a “no” vote, automatic participation for all Indigenous Kanaks, and mobilising the young.

Young Kanaks voted in large numbers, peacefully, and apparently for independence. This was so even in mainly European Noumea, which returned a surprising 26.29% “yes” vote.

With natural population growth, their numbers will increase as 18-year-olds become eligible to vote in 2020 and 2022. In contrast, the number of voters from other long-standing communities will vary little during this time-frame.

Independence leaders can also work to improve the vote from Kanak island communities, whose turnout remained at traditional lower levels, and those who may have responded this time to one independence party’s call for a boycott.

What does it mean for France?

The relatively close result means both sides may be more likely to participate constructively in the ongoing dialogue process set up by France.

Macron has urged New Caledonians to overcome division and continue the 30-year process “in favour of peace”, emphasising dialogue. He referred to a future within France and the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the territory on November 5 to continue dialogue and urge calm.

The task of France remains delicate: to manage, impartially, a process respecting the positions of both sides. It’s complicated by the fact the 43.6% favouring independence are largely Indigenous Kanaks. They are not leaving, they have regional support, and their interests must be considered in any long-term future.




Read more:
Rebel music: the protest songs of New Caledonia’s independence referendum


On the positive side, positions canvassed by independence and loyalist parties alike threw up areas of shared interest that can form the basis of future cooperation. Provincial elections in May 2019 will clarify their support, but risk being undermined by extremist parties on both sides.

What are the implications for the region?

The result guarantees continued regional and international interest in the next steps. Reports of the Pacific Islands Forum and UN observer teams will be considered by their organisations. New Caledonia continues to be represented by the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Separatists in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), set for their own independence referendum next year, and West Papua, both the subject of MSG attention, will take heart.

Macron’s invocation of his Indo-Pacific vision engaging New Caledonia specifically to counter China gives a new edge to the interest in the referendum process by regional countries and partners.

Australia, meanwhile, will continue to retain a close interest in stability in our near neighbour, respecting the process while continuing cooperation with France.The Conversation

Denise Fisher, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

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

Australia: Gillard Survives While Labor Dies


The ALP has completed its quest for personal destruction by sticking with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd ruling himself out as leading the ALP ever again. It is a sad day for the ALP, except for the fact that the ALP doesn’t realise it is. In my view they have ensured they will be in opposition following the federal election, completely ignoring the views of those they are asking to vote for them. I anticipate that the ALP will now suffer an enormous hiding unless ALP supporters can somehow see past the disregard that the party has shown to them and votes for a Prime Minister they don’t want.

The link below is to an article covering the latest dramas unfolding in Canberra throughout the day:

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/in-depth/martin-ferguson-joins-labor-exodus-following-failed-leadership-coup/story-fnhqeu0x-1226603503254