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America Votes 2020

Bringing More Diversity to US Ballots Is Both Goal and Challenge

FILE PHOTO: Capitol Hill
FILE PHOTO: Capitol Hill

The shifting demographics of the United States are creating more impetus to field political candidates of color — including newer Americans.

“Well, it’s been a priority for both parties, including the Republican Party, for a long time,” said Alex Conant, a Washington-based Republican strategist who served as press secretary for his party’s national committee in 2008.

Democrats have been better at promoting racial and ethnic minorities, he says, though, as Politico reported in July, the party establishment years ago had to be prodded to accept Black candidates outside of heavily Black districts.

Alex Conant, Republican strategist: ‘Anyone who’s considering running [for political office] should run.’ (Skype/VOA)

Republicans likely will “try even harder in the future,” Conant said. “We’re a big, diverse country. If you’re going to win elections, it helps to come from communities or represent communities that are casting the votes. … And that includes recruiting more Black candidates.”

But how do aspiring politicians of color — especially those who are relative newcomers to America — get onto a ballot?

Candidate training is essential, says Naquetta Ricks, who is among at least a score of first- and second-generation Americans from Africa seeking elective offices — from local boards and city councils to the U.S. Senate.

Ricks is running for a seat in Colorado’s House of Representatives. She received guidance from several organizations, including New American Leaders, which is nonpartisan, and Emerge, which prepares women to run as Democrats.

“So they taught us how to raise money, how to present yourself, how to come up with your stump speech,” Ricks said. “And all of these things are important so that when you’re out there, you’re taken seriously, and people are listening.”

Naquetta Ricks
Naquetta Ricks

Naquetta Ricks, a Liberia native seeking office in Colorado, says candidate training taught her skills such as fundraising (Skype/VOA)

Ricks was a girl when she and her family fled a violent military coup in Liberia. A small-business owner, single mother and immigrant, she wants to amplify voices from her district, which includes the Denver suburb of Aurora.

“It is a very diverse community,” she said. “One out of every five persons will say that they are from another country, whether you are from China or Burma or South America or Africa. We're from everywhere.”

Campaign workers need guidance, too, says Davisha Johnson. Four years ago, she opened a boutique consulting agency near Atlanta, Georgia. It’s in Gwinnett County, where the populations of Blacks and immigrants — including of Africans — have surged since the 1990s.

“So I realized I needed to create a pipeline for them to be able to get trained, educated,” she said of prospective candidates.

To learn how to run a campaign, Johnson signed up for “a lot of different political training. … And then I got a lot of first-hand experience.” She has helped boost a handful of candidates into public offices, from county commission to the Georgia Superior Court to statehouses in Georgia and Tennessee.

'It can be done'

Candidates who are relatively new to the U.S. face extra hurdles in campaigning.

“You have to be able to raise a lot of money,” said Conant, the Republican strategist. “And I think first-generation immigrants might not have a network of donors that somebody who is more established might have.

“Similarly, they might just not be as well known. They haven’t lived in the U.S. as long” and might not be as well connected as their competitors, he said.

“However, we do see a lot of first-generation immigrants running for office and winning office,” Conant said. “… So definitely it can be done, even if it is a bit of an uphill fight.”

Candidates with ties to the African continent can tap into the diaspora, Johnson says.

“One of the huge strengths of Africans is they have people power,” she said. “The No. 1 thing, outside of money, is that you have to have support. People back home are saying, ‘Hey, I have a cousin in Maryland. I have people in Texas.’ Now you have people for these phone banks. You have people to do text message banks. You have people to get out to the polls on Election Day.”

Yet significant obstacles remain.

The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed campaigning for all candidates, a challenge especially for first-time contenders trying to introduce themselves to prospective voters.

Also, across the country, candidates of color “are still battling lingering effects of systemic racism — including skewed perceptions of ‘viability,’ tougher fundraising and some hesitation from the party establishment,” Politico reported in July.

But this election cycle also has brought heightened awareness of racial inequality, which Kojo Asamoa-Caesar says has benefited his campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Kevin Hern as one of Oklahoma’s representatives in Congress.

'People rallied behind us'

Widespread demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a Black man fatally injured during a police arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May, “coincided with a lot of energy in our campaign … coming mostly from white women. And so those people rallied behind us, and we were able to win the primary.”

Asamoa-Caesar, an educator born in the United States to parents from Ghana, is the first Black Democrat and Ghanaian American to be nominated from his district. It includes the city of Tulsa, which is re-examining its history of a 1921 massacre of African American residents.

No matter what happens this Election Day, the experience of seeking office can be instructive for any future campaign.

“Look,” strategist Conant said, “anyone who’s considering running should run. The only way you get better at being a candidate is by running.”

VOA Africa Division contributors include Ayen Bior, James Butty, Peter Clottey, Esther Githui Ewart, Carol Guensburg, Sahra Eidle Nur and Venuste Nshimiyimana.

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Why Do People Embrace Conspiracy Theories?

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 01, 2020 conspiracy theorist QAnon demonstrators protest during a rally to re-open California and against Stay-At-Home directives in San Diego, California. - YouTube said October 15, 2020 it was tightening…
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 01, 2020 conspiracy theorist QAnon demonstrators protest during a rally to re-open California and against Stay-At-Home directives in San Diego, California. - YouTube said October 15, 2020 it was tightening…

Authorities are still working to determine the identities of the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, many of whom were apparently motivated by false conspiracy theories that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election but was cheated out of his victory due to widespread election fraud.

Conspiracy theories often rely on seeing things sharply in terms of right and wrong, and that can drive people to do things they might never have contemplated before, says Peter Ditto, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine.

“Moralizing things mobilizes people to action,” he says. “If I believed that the American election had been stolen from the rightful winner, I’d probably storm the Capitol, too. It makes perfect sense if that really happened. The problem is, that didn't happen.”

The people most likely to embrace conspiracy theories are less inquisitive and often exhibit narcissistic tendencies, such as an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for attention and admiration, troubled

relationships, a lack of empathy for others and fragile self-esteem, according to Emory University research published in the Journal of Personality.

Nika Kabiri, an expert on human decision-making affiliated with the University of Washington in Seattle, says everyone is potentially drawn to conspiracy theories, although some far more than others.

“We're all potentially drawn to them because we all hate uncertainty. We all don't like the idea of not knowing why things happen. It makes us feel like we don't have control in the world. We want closure,” she says. “It's a natural tendency for the human brain to look for those explanations.”

A conspiracy theory is thinking that blames or explains an important event or set of circumstances on a secret plot that is usually masterminded by powerful people. Conspiracy thinking can also embrace the idea that a big secret is being kept from the public.

When a prominent person, be it a movie director or a president, transmits a conspiracy theory, Kabiri says, it is like a super spreader event, and the conspiracy theory gets a lot of exposure.

“People are adhering to these beliefs because they're already dissatisfied,” she says. “They're already unhappy. There's something they want to, perhaps, explain something that doesn't sit well with them, and the story gives them an answer.”

Times of uncertainty, such as a pandemic, can help fuel the spread of conspiracy theories.

“People, in particular, that are susceptible to conspiracy thinking, they’re susceptible to them when they feel threatened and anxious, like a lot of people do right now,” Ditto says. “When the world seems confusing and incomprehensible, which it does right now. When people are lonely and they're seeking connection with others.”

People often latch onto conspiracy stories, because they cannot accept simple explanations for life-altering events, according to Ditto.

A major conspiracy about the 9/11 terror attacks holds that the twin towers in New York fell in a controlled demolition rather than because planes crashed into them.

Unproven speculation about the COVID-19 pandemic holds that the virus escaped from a Chinese lab and was possibly an engineered bioweapon.

Many Americans find it hard to believe that President John F. Kennedy, a larger-than-life political figure, was killed by a lone gunman, a regular guy, which is why they embrace the unproven idea that there must have been a larger conspiracy to murder the president.

The Emory researchers found that the people most likely to embrace conspiracy thinking are often less agreeable and less conscientious, while being associated with a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, depression and anxiety.

“If you are in a close-knit community, either on social media or in real life, with people who are all adhering to the same belief, there's a commitment to that belief that's even more intense than if you just held that alone,” Kabiri says.

Ditto says a million years of evolution pushes people to break into groups with like-minded people.

“We're very tribal. We're very provably attached to people who are like us. It's very, very unusual to have a place where you're supposed to make friends with, and connect with, and cooperate with, people who don't look like you and don't have the same values. Maybe they have a different religion,” Ditto says. “The American experiment, essentially, is an attempt to work against all those evolutionary forces and move people in this positive way where they cooperate. It's way easier to break people up.”

Trump’s Historic Second Impeachment Trial Starts Tuesday

U.S. National Guard soldiers provide security at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 14, 2021, ahead of next week’s presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.
U.S. National Guard soldiers provide security at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 14, 2021, ahead of next week’s presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.

The historic second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump starts Tuesday in the U.S. Senate, with Trump accused of inciting insurrection a month ago by urging his supporters to confront lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol as they were certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had defeated Trump in the 2020 election.

The protest turned into mayhem, as about 800 supporters of Trump stormed past authorities into the Capitol, smashed doors and windows, ransacked some congressional offices and scuffled with police. Five people were left dead, including a Capitol Police officer whose death is under investigation as a homicide and a rioter shot by a police officer.

The 100 senators — 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats — hearing the impeachment case against the single-term president are in a unique position: many of them were witnesses themselves to the chaos of January 6 as they fled the Senate chamber for their own safety.

With a two-thirds vote needed for conviction, 17 Republicans would have to turn against Trump, their Republican colleague, for him to be convicted, assuming all 50 Democrats vote to convict. As such, Trump almost certainly will be acquitted, just as he was a year ago when he was accused of soliciting the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt against Biden ahead of last November’s election.

Whatever the outcome, however, Trump stands alone in more than two centuries of U.S. history as the only president to be impeached twice.

A week after the storming of the Capitol, the House of Representatives voted 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats, to accuse Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” Then, on January 20, Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president and Trump, no longer in power, flew for the last time on Air Force One to his Atlantic coastline mansion in Florida, where he has stayed since.

Trump has declined a request from Democrats to testify in his defense at his impeachment trial and is not expected to attend it. The trial could last a week or longer.

The nine Democratic House impeachment managers bringing the case against Trump — several of them former prosecutors — claim that Trump, by urging his supporters to contest his election defeat at the Capitol, was "singularly responsible" for the riot that ensued.

Trump urged supporters to come to Washington on January 6, saying it would be “wild.” At a rally near the White House shortly before his supporters walked 16 blocks to the Capitol, Trump continued his weeks-long barrage of unfounded claims that election fraud had cost him another four-year term.

At one time in speaking for more than an hour, Trump told his supporters “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” by marching to the Capitol.

But he also exhorted them, saying, “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.”

“And we fight,” he said. “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Ahead of the trial, the House impeachment managers said in a legal brief, "President Trump's responsibility for the events of January 6 is unmistakable" and that the former president's "conduct must be declared unacceptable in the clearest and most unequivocal terms," even though he is no longer in office.

The U.S. Constitution allows for the removal of officials found guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump’s two experienced trial lawyers he hired — David Schoen and Bruce Castor — have argued that since Trump is no longer president, and therefore could not be removed from office, his impeachment trial is unconstitutional.

The Senate, however, has conducted impeachment trials of former officials, not allowing them to avoid a trial for possible wrongdoing by resigning, as happened in an 1876 case, or in Trump’s case, by leaving office as his term ended. Moreover, the House impeachment lawyers argue that Trump incited the insurrection and was impeached by the House while he was still in office.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a staunch Trump supporter, attempted to block the trial on such constitutional grounds, but five Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting 55-45 to proceed with the trial. But the vote also signaled Trump’s seeming Republican support for acquittal remains significant, more than enough to block his conviction.

Paul says there is a “zero chance of conviction.” If Trump were to be convicted, the Senate, on a simple majority vote, could bar him from ever holding office again.

On Tuesday, as the trial starts in earnest, lawyers for Trump and the House managers prosecuting him again are expected to debate the constitutionality of holding the trial. But assuming the Senate votes to go ahead with it, House managers would begin to present their case on Wednesday, likely showing some of the clips of hours of videos of the mayhem.

Then the president’s lawyers would respond with his defense. Later in the week, the Senate could debate whether to call witnesses if the House managers decide they want to have witnesses testify how they felt Trump had urged them on to confront lawmakers certifying Biden’s victory.

Trump’s lawyers have mounted a vigorous defense and contend that the former president bears no responsibility for what occurred January 6.

In a brief filed Monday, they contended that the case against him amounts to "political theater" brought by anti-Trump Democrats. Trump’s lawyers suggested that he was simply exercising his constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech when he disputed the election results and argued that he explicitly encouraged his supporters to engage in a peaceful protest.

"Instead, this was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum upon seeing the destruction at the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a few hundred people," the lawyers wrote. "Instead of acting to heal the nation, or at the very least focusing on prosecuting the lawbreakers who stormed the Capitol, the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) and her allies have tried to callously harness the chaos of the moment for their own political gain.”

In response, the House Democrats prosecuting Trump said, “We live in a nation governed by the rule of law, not mob violence incited by presidents who cannot accept their own electoral defeat.”

“The evidence of President Trump’s conduct is overwhelming,” the managers wrote. “He has no valid excuse or defense for his actions. And his efforts to escape accountability are entirely unavailing. As charged in the Article of Impeachment, President Trump violated his Oath of Office and betrayed the American people.”

Impeachment Charge Against Trump to Be Sent to Senate Monday 

FILE - Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 6, 2020.
FILE - Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 6, 2020.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday will send an article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday, beginning a trial at which the former president could be convicted of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

"There will be a trial,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. "It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial.”

Democrats rejected Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's request to delay Trump’s impeachment trial until next month on the ground that Trump’s legal team needs more time to develop a defense strategy.

Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to go on trial after leaving office. Schumer did not say when Trump’s second impeachment trial would begin, but if he is convicted of the single charge of incitement of insurrection, he could be barred from holding federal office again.

GOP reservations

A conviction would require at least 17 Republican Senate votes, but to date only a handful of Republicans have indicated they would consider convicting Trump, and most have questioned the legality of trying a president after his term has ended. Republicans also have complained a trial would be divisive and distract the new Biden administration.

As preparations for the trial continue, Schumer and McConnell, the Senate’s majority leader until Democrats narrowly won control earlier this month, are vying for advantage in the evenly divided Senate, where Democrats now have an edge because of Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote.

Shortly before the January 6 insurrection that resulted in the deaths of five people, Trump told thousands of supporters at a rally near the White House to “fight like hell” against his election loss, which Congress was in the process of formally certifying.

Thousands of his supporters marched to the Capitol and hundreds of them broke in, delaying the certification of the results. A Capitol Police officer was among those who died in the rioting. The House impeached Trump one week later, with the support of 10 Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to impeach.

Young Poet Draws Attention During Biden Inauguration

American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021.
American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021.

Twenty-two-year-old poet Amanda Gorman made headlines and dominated inauguration talk on social media Wednesday after speaking at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Her poem, in part:

“We, the successors of a country and a time,

Where a skinny black girl,

Descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,

Can dream of becoming president,

Only to find herself reciting for one.”

Gorman, who was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at just 16, is by far the youngest to have read an inaugural poem in recent U.S. history.

In a nod to the late poet Maya Angelou, who read a poem at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, Gorman wore a caged bird ring gifted to her by media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Winfrey wrote on Twitter.

Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” also included a nod to the popular musical “Hamilton,” prompting public praise from its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered,” the composer wrote on Twitter.

In an interview with The New York Times, Gorman said she had written just a few lines of the poem when a pro-Trump riot stormed the Capitol on January 6. Gorman said that after the violent event, she finished the poem in one night.

Earlier in the ceremony, pop icon Lady Gaga gave a theatrical performance of the national anthem. Country singer Garth Brooks sang “Amazing Grace,” and Jennifer Lopez performed a medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” interjecting lines from the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish.

Trump Flies to Florida as Biden Inaugurated

Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump address guests at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Jan. 20, 2021.
Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump address guests at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Jan. 20, 2021.

In the fleeting minutes before the inauguration of his successor, Donald Trump was able to enjoy the perquisites of the presidency for a last time — an escorted motorcade moving slowly through the streets of Palm Beach, Florida, as he waved from behind the windows of an armored vehicle to hundreds of supporters waving banners, cheering his name and some urging him to run again in 2024.

Trump was accompanied home by the now former first lady Melania Trump, a small number of still-loyal aides and a dozen members of the White House press corps, which he had collectively during his tenure derided as "fake news" and "enemies of the people."

The motorcade pulled through the gates of the Mar-a-Lago estate less than 30 minutes before Trump lost the powers of the presidency.

After leaving the White House for a final time, Trump arrived early Wednesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on the Marine One helicopter. He was greeted by the tune of "Hail to the Chief" played by a military band, a 21-gun salute and an invited crowd of about 200 people.

There, for just under 10 minutes, he addressed supporters — a more subdued, casual and condensed version of the stump speech from his frequent Make America Great Again rallies that he had hoped would win him reelection last year.

"I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they'll have great success," said Trump without referring to President Joe Biden by name.

Trump, who had been criticized for downplaying the coronavirus pandemic, made a rare mention of the "incredible people and families who suffered so gravely" from COVID-19, referring to it as "the China virus."

The 45th U.S. president promised to "be back in some form" and then concluded his remarks by telling the cheering crowd, "have a good life. We will see you soon."

The Trumps then climbed the steps to Air Force One and turned around to wave several times, before departing for Florida.

Trump, as was the norm for four years, broke with tradition until the very end, not only avoiding Biden's inauguration but still refusing to utter the name of the Democratic Party nominee who was victorious in November's election.

At the moment Biden took the oath of office as new president just before noon at the heavily fortified U.S. Capitol building, Trump was 1,400 kilometers to the south, already inside his Mar-a-Lago mansion, a frequent warm weather retreat during his presidency.

Before he touched down in Florida, Air Force One did a low altitude flyover of the Florida coast to give the Trump family onboard an aerial view of Mar-a-Lago.

Capitol mayhem

Trump's presidency ended in shambles. In its waning days, Trump was impeached a second time, the latter after the House of Representatives, including 10 Republicans, charged him with insurrection. Trump, even out of office, will face trial in the Senate soon.

In a January 6th speech on the Ellipse, with the White House in the background, he exhorted supporters at a Stop the Steal rally to march on the Capitol where lawmakers, led by Vice President Mike Pence, were counting the electoral votes to finalize Biden's victory.

The mayhem caused deaths, injuries and damage resulting in federal charges against more than 100 people — an event many Democrats and others have characterized as an attempted coup.

That event has weakened Trump's grip on the Republican party as many of its key politicians ask themselves whether the former president will help or hurt them in Congressional elections now less than two years away.

Approval ratings

In a Gallup poll released this week, Trump departs with a 34% approval rating, the low point of a presidency that already had the weakest average favorability rating of any since the survey began in the 1940s.

Yet he remains popular among Republican voters, with an 82% approval rating. Despite condemnation from some of his party's lawmakers and even members of his Cabinet who resigned in protest over his post-election rhetoric, Trump is the current front-runner should he choose to run again for president in 2024.

Trump's business partners, from golf tournament partners to banks, are shunning him and he may struggle to remain a billionaire between now and the next presidential election. He has been silenced on social media and could face a slew of legal charges in New York and other states.


In his wake, he leaves behind a pandemic whose global spread he has blamed on China. The infectious disease has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States, far more than any other country has reported.

In the final year of his presidency, Trump himself was hospitalized after becoming infected by the coronavirus. Opinion polls indicate a majority of Americans believe his administration's response made the pandemic worse.

Trump's supporters point to positives achieved by the 45th president, including destruction of the Islamic State caliphate, normalization of the Middle East, criminal justice reform and speeding approval of generic drugs.

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