U.S. democracy remains in great danger. For the moment, President Donald Trump has yielded to public opinion and agreed to pull active-duty Army troops out of our nation’s capital.
Was this a trial run?
But what if his decision to deploy soldiers against American civilians was a dress rehearsal, a trial run for “dominating the streets” if he loses the election in November?
From the onset of the protests, Trump has followed the classic playbook of a would-be dictator, not a democratic leader. Trump barely acknowledged the legitimacy of the protests against police brutality and discrimination toward minorities.
Without offering any proof, the President blamed the rioting and looting on “Antifa and the Radical Left.” As that playbook would have it, Trump quickly announced that he was labeling Antifa a “domestic terrorist organization.”
However, that was mere propaganda and yet another sign of Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the law. In fact, Antifa is a rather nebulous movement, not an organization.
Furthermore, U.S. law allows the President only to designate foreign organizations, not domestic ones, as “terrorist.”
Nonetheless, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, the nation’s top legal officer, quickly parroted his boss, referring darkly to “domestic terrorists.”
In effect, Barr and Trump were using an old, despicable tactic: Scaring the public with warnings about shadowy “leftist agitators” to justify a crackdown on civil liberties.
Trump as Nero, not as President
Trump also exaggerated the extent of the danger. The rioting and looting were horrible, but U.S. cities did not fall into chaos.
Trump scared many governors with his demands for violent suppression of the protests and his threats to send in the National Guard or Army units, with or without the governors’ approval, to “fix their problem.”
Not the Antifa, but white suprematists
Meanwhile, local officials had very different theories about the causes of the rioting. In Minneapolis, the mayor and police suspected that white supremacists might have acted as provocateurs.
Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York talked about criminal gangs taking advantage of the disorder…not leftist agitators.
And of course, many Americans were already under great strain, because they had been quarantined in close quarters and perhaps were also unemployed.
Trump’s Reichstag fire?
One should not push this analogy too far, but…in 1933 Adolf Hitler was looking for an excuse to impose martial law on Germany so that he could eliminate his opponents.
Someone started a fire in the German Parliament, the Reichstag. Hitler blamed the Communists and immediately sent police to start arresting opposition left-wing politicians…on lists that he had already prepared, conveniently.
At the time, many ordinary Germans were skeptical that the Communists started the fire. The origins of the fire remain controversial, but some historians believe that the Nazis may have actually instigated the fire, as a pretext for the round-up.
Itching to deploy the U.S. Army
This is not to suggest that Trump is planning to arrest Democratic politicians. However, the President was itching to deploy U.S. Army units on a massive scale in numerous U.S. cities.
He was adamant about wanting to quash protests even though those protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. Moreover, his itching was based on a made-up threat of left-wing violence.
Let us always remember this: In the early days of June 2020, Donald Trump was ready to violate the long-standing tradition that the U.S. military does not conduct operations inside our country or get involved in politics, to combat a threat that doesn’t exist.
Trump’s Inner Rambo on display
In the U.S. capital city itself, the President was free to indulge his inner Rambo. Police and National Guardsmen violently attacked innocent civilians in Lafayette Square.
They fired (rubber) bullets and threw (flash) grenades and used chemical agents (possibly tear gas) against peaceful protesters. These were extreme tactics, which can cause serious injuries.
Trump’s little green men
A short while ago, anybody who would have suggested that we would ever see the equivalent of Vladimir Putin despicable “little green men” (Russian soldiers without insignia and deployed to take over Crimea) in the United States, would have been described as a lunatic.
Not any longer. Right in the nation’s capital, the nation’s Attorney General, Bill Barr, used a similar approach when he cobbled together a large force composed of officers from various Justice Department units, such as the Bureau of Prisons, to supplement the National Guard in Washington.
Like their Russian little green men brethren, the U.S. Justice Department officers did not wear insignia or name tags.
That didn’t just look sinister. What if officers behave badly and mistreat protesters, how can they be held accountable, if they cannot be identified?
Our guardrails have weakened
The United States is actually in a much more dangerous situation now than during the Watergate crisis in the 1970s. The guardrails protecting our democratic traditions have eroded badly over the last three years.
Back in the 1970s, a principled Attorney General resigned, rather than carry out President Nixon’s orders to fire other Justice Department lawyers who were investigating Nixon’s possible role in the Watergate break-in.
Bill Barr trampling the U.S. Constitution
Now, we have an Enabler-in-Chief Bill Barr, who ordered police and troops to clear Lafayette Square, injuring peaceful protesters, so Trump could stage a photo-op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Barr has said that these actions were “appropriate” because “the President should be able to walk where he wants to.” So much for ordinary citizens’ First Amendment rights to assemble and express their political opinions.
No limits to politicizing the process of U.S. justice
Meanwhile, it fits the pattern that in Bill Barr’s Justice Department, the Department of Civil Rights is busy…pursuing a lawsuit against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, arguing that her stay-at-home orders infringed the rights of her citizens.
In other words, the Justice Department is targeting a high-profile political opponent of the President, who just happens to be a possible candidate for Vice President.
The Republican Senate is AWOL
Another key difference to the times of the Watergate crisis is that Republican representatives and Senators in the U.S. Congress ultimately proved to be honorable men. They eventually turned against President Nixon and were preparing to impeach him, which led to his resignation.
Now, the Republican-controlled Senate is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House, not a co-equal branch of government. Only five Republican Senators have criticized, or at least indicated some unease, with Trump’s use of soldiers to attack innocent civilians in Washington.
The other 48 Republican Senators — i.e., 90% of them — have kept mum or even supported the President’s actions. Through their silence, they are complicit in Trump’s dangerous use of the military.
Calling in the paratroopers?
Even worse, one “rising star” of the Republicans, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), wrote an oped in the New York Times in which he called for the 101st Airborne Division to be sent to U.S. cities to stop the looting.
That is one of the U.S.’s top military units — paratroopers who have led invasions in our wars abroad.So far, there’s been no groundswell of other Republican Senators criticizing Cotton’s article.
Lindsey Graham embarrasses himself, again
Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is focusing on what he deems the really important danger to our country.
His Senate Intelligence Committee has sent subpoenas to dozens of Obama Administration officials. He is calling on them to testify about their investigations into the Russian hacking and other interferences with the 2016 election.
As it happens, Mr. Graham is the same man who, before displaying his limitless willingness to suck up to Donald Trump, made a name for himself being a sidekick to the late Senator John McCain.
How one and the same person first makes himself an understudy of McCain, a most principled and honorable U.S. Senator (and Vietnam war hero) and then plays the same role for Donald Trump will forever remain Graham’s sad secret.
The generals can’t save us
Over the past week or so, a stream of former generals and top officials, such as James Mattis, Colin Powell and Mike Mullen have openly criticized Trump’s use of force. Several have labelled the President “a threat to the Constitution.”
While it is certainly heart-warming to see these brave individuals oppose the sitting President, they do not exercise political power.
But we cannot rely on retired generals to save us, if our civilians leaders refuse to stand up to the President.And it is almost inconceivable that the active-duty generals would not follow the commands of the U.S. President who, after all, is the Commander-in-Chief.
Will desperate times demand desperate action by Trump?
Donald Trump’s poll ratings have declined, as most Americans realize that he has bungled the COVID 19 epidemic. The President is clearly worried.
As was to be expected, Trump has already started to complain that the election will be “rigged” ….even though he is the incumbent.
The President has said, falsely, that the use of mail-in ballots will cause “massive fraud.” In short, Donald Trump is laying the groundwork for claiming that the election won’t be legitimate, if he loses.
Come November, the size of victory matters
Let’s hope that Joe Biden wins by a large margin on November 3, 2020.
If Biden wins, but the election is close, one could envision a scenario in which Trump refuses to concede defeat. Protesters take to the streets, and Trump calls on the 101st Airborne Division, and his little green men, to “restore order”…and keep him in the White House.