Could Trump Call Out the Army Again in November?
June 8, 2020
Our 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. 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”. 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, 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 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”.
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?
We 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. Although Hitler had been named Chancellor, his National Socialist party was losing support among Germans; its share of the vote had declined in some recent elections. 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. 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 American cities, to quash protests that were overwhelmingly peaceful, based on a made-up threat of left-wing violence. 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 Little Green Men
And in Washington, the President was free to indulge his inner Rambo. Police and National Guardsmen violently attacked innocent civilians in Lafayette Square, firing (rubber) bullets, throwing (flash) grenades and using chemical agents (possibly tear gas) against peaceful protestors. These were extreme tactics, which can cause serious injuries.
Vladimir Putin sent his “little green men”, Russian soldiers without insignia, to take over Crimea. 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. The Justice Department officers did not wear insignia or name tags.
That doesn’t just look sinister. If officers behave badly and mistreat protestors, how can they be held accountable, if they cannot be identified?
Our Guardrails Have Weakened
We are 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. Now, we have Enabler-in-Chief Bill Barr, who ordered police and troops to clear Lafayette Square, injuring peaceful protestors, 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.
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
In the Watergate crisis, Republican representatives and senators 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. Even worse, one rising star, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), wrote an Op-Ed piece in which he called for the 101st Airborne Division to be sent to American cities to stop the looting. That is one of our crack 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.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham is focusing on the really important danger to our country. His Senate Intelligence Committee has sent subpoenas to dozens of Obama Administration officials, calling on them to testify about their investigations into the Russian hacking and other interferences with the 2016 election. These are the same Republican Senators who could not be bothered to call one witness in the impeachment trial of President Trump.
The Republicans are obviously trying to come up with some “dirt” on the Obama Administration, and therefore Joe Biden, to use in the election. That’s the real purpose of the hearings: targeting the President’s opponent in the upcoming election.
The Generals Can’t Save Us
Over the last week, a stream of former generals and senior 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”. It is
heart-warming to see these brave individuals oppose the President, but they do not exercise political power.
We cannot rely on retired generals to save us, if our civilians leaders refuse to stand up to the President. Still, we should be grateful for the public statements from these latter-day Wise Men. Their strong words might help our current military leaders resist carrying out illegal orders from the President.
Will Desperate Times Demand Desperate Action by Trump?
Trump’s poll ratings have slid, as most Americans realize that he has bungled the Covid-19 epidemic, and the President is clearly worried. 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, he is laying the groundwork for claiming that the election won’t be legitimate, if he loses.
Let’s hope that Joe Biden wins by a large margin. 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.
The Wall Street Democrat