Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Freedom of the press and from rule by vengeance are on the ballot

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump has promised, if re-elected, to weaponize the Justice Department against his enemies, including Joe Biden.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, is of counsel toLawyers Defending American Democracy.

The rule of law, including the media’s right to speak freely for us and criticize our leaders, isat stake this election. The risk comes from Donald Trump, the candidate whose brand has become revenge and retaliation against anyone who opposes him.

A free press is vital to a free people. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a 1786 letter to James Currie, his daughter’s physician: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Why? Because ordinary Americans are busy with their lives and their survival. So much of the burden of speaking out in an effort to keep the government honest is carried for all of us by journalists. It’s also done, of course, by those who have the ability to use their voices on social media, in letters to editors and in other forums.

Trump has talked ofterminating the Constitution. It includes, of course, the First Amendment’s protections for individuals’ speech and for the press. He’s threatened to investigate MSNBC, the cable news outlet that criticizes him regularly. Trump, mimicking Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s catchwords for those he slated for elimination, called the network an “enemy of the people.”

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

On June 5, Trump told Fox News that he “would have ‘every right’ to go after his adversaries.” The next night, it happened again when Dr. Phil suggested to Trump that if re-elected, “you don’t have time to get even.” Trump agreed to disagree: “[R]evenge does take time. ... And sometimes revenge can be justified, Phil. I have to be honest.”

History, Yale professor Jason Stanley has noted, is riddled with moments when the people, to their eternal regret, have disbelieved the threats of would-be authoritarians. “Believe what they say,” Stanley told The Associated Press. Trump “is literally telling you he’s going to use the apparatus of the state to target his political opponents.”

Indeed the former president has promised, if re-elected, to weaponize the Justice Department against his enemies, including President Joe Biden. That threat is built on his conspiracy theory that Trump’s May 30 conviction on all 34 felony counts was Biden’s doing.

Nonsense, experts have answered. History professor Allan Lichtman told USA Today’s fact-checkers that “[t]here is not a shred of evidence that Biden has anything to do with this prosecution.” Law professor and former prosecutor Kimberly Wehle called Trump’s attempt to blame Biden for a local district attorney’s decision making “obviously, blatantly false.”

That’s never stopped Trump from trying to intimidate his enemies. “If you come after me,” he famously said, “I will come after you.” If re-elected, he says, he will have members of the 117th Congress’s Jan. 6 committeeindicted. The televised summer 2022 hearings, which informed the American people about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, led up to MAGAunderperformance in competitive midterm races.

But that was far from the end of the story. Trump has used the support of enablers to claw back. Most recently, following Trump’s conviction in New York, it quickly became de rigueur for Trump’s enablers to express blood thirst for prosecuting Democrats in retribution.

As The New York Timeswrote, “What is different now is the range of Republicans who are saying [that like-kind] retaliation is necessary.” Barbara McQuade, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan,responded sharply:

As all Americans should know, vengeance is an improper motive in our criminal justice system. Prosecution based on politics would distort the very concept of justice.

There are at least two obvious problems with the MAGA right’s “fight fire with fire” mentality. First, Trump’s conviction was of his own making, along overdue reckoning with the rule of law after a lifetime of rule breaking. A jury of 12 ordinary citizens found him guilty ofcriminally covering up his corruption of the 2016 election.

Second, first responders don’t fight fire with fire; they use water. More application of the law is in order, not less. Even so, these enablers are normalizing lawlessness, including political prosecutions in the future and threats to the freedom of the press.

It is up to common-sense Americans to answer. Our ballots are our power. Preserving our rights to a free press and avoiding government by retribution will depend on getting out to vote in force this November. Vengeance may be Trump’s, but liberty is ours to keep.

Read More

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon won the "Life in Congress" award from the Congressional Management Foundation.

The best bosses in an unusual work environment: Capitol Hill

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

Our nation’s capital is known for many things — but good management practices are not among them. Stories regularly surface of bizarre tales of harassment and abuse by members of Congress. An Instagram feed a few years ago unearthed dozens of stories by staff outing less-than-desirable managers and members for their bad practices. But what about the good leaders and good managers?

Like any profession, Congress actually has quite a few exemplary office leaders. And the beneficiaries of these role models are not just their staff — it’s also their constituents. When a congressional office can retain great talent, sometimes over decades, the quality of the final legislative product or constituent service rises immensely.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less

Can George Washington inspire Biden to greatness?

Clancy is co-founder of Citizen Connect and board member of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. Citizen Connect is an initiative of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, which also operates The Fulcrum.

King George III reputedly said George Washington was the greatest man in the world for voluntarily relinquishing power. The indisputable fact is that Washington’s action remains remarkable in human history. And he actually did it at least two times.

On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army and returned to Mount Vernon. He did it again when he declined to run for a third term as president by publishing his Farewell Address on Sept. 19, 1796. In June 1799 Washington was yet again urged to run for president and declined.

His reasoning on each occasion was a complex mix of the personal and political, but the bedrock was an unwavering commitment to put the good of the nation above personal gain and the factions that would ultimately become our toxic party system.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joe Biden at the debate

After his disastrous peformance at the debate, President Biden needs to exit the race, writes Breslin.

Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

Getting into the highest offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

Breslin is the Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. Chair of Political Science at Skidmore College and author of “A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation’s Fundamental Law.”

This is the latest in “A Republic, if we can keep it,” a series to assist American citizens on the bumpy road ahead this election year. By highlighting components, principles and stories of the Constitution, Breslin hopes to remind us that the American political experiment remains, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, the “most interesting in the world.”

Getting into America’s highest political offices is hard. Getting out is harder.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance has intensified calls for him to step aside. Not even 24 hours after his poor showing, The New York Times took the extraordinary and unprecedented position that the sitting president should immediately pass the torch to a more energetic and electable candidate. “The greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform,” the editorial board declared, “is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election.”

Keep ReadingShow less