Are You Afraid Yet?
By the wildest of coincidences I got two phone calls today that opened with exactly the same question… and I mean word-for-word: “Are you afraid yet?”
I didn’t “get” the meaning of the first one until it was explained that the fear being questioned was about Trump’s expected reach for autocratic power as exemplified by his pardoning of such sleazes as the political scam artist Blagojevich (sentenced to 14 years for trying to “sell” Obama’s former Senate Seat but pardoned by Trump after 8 years.) They also pointed to interference in the Roger Stone case where DOJ recommendations for sentencing were lowered from originally at 14 years down to 4.
I was aware of both actions but had initially dismissed both as just more political theater following the great abortive impeachment attempt. But in the spirit of the iconic Clara Peller, I was unable to find “the beef.” Every President, with Constitutional authority to do so, has issued Presidential pardons. In all cases the subject of those pardons had been duly tried and convicted yet the president of the day took it upon himself to overturn those decisions. Some few, I thought, were at least marginally justified; but in a lot of those cases I could not find any justification at all except from some political issue or another. Clinton pardoned sleazoid friends, confidants, and contributors as did Obama, and both Bushes and virtually all Presidents before them. The constitution (Article 2, Section 2, § 1) is clear that the President has the power and authority to do that for crimes against the U.S.. I can question the wisdom of it – and do, to be honest — but, given the law as it is, I therefore do not see it as an abuse of power. In Stone’s case the recommended sentencing table indicated 3-4 years for lying to a congressional investigation. But in the heat of the political turmoil the prosecutors wove in another charge that stepped it up about 3 levels and ran with that so where now, for a process crime, he was going to be recommended a greater sentence than is on the table for a rapist. It seemed to me at the time that it was his support for Trump that got him that extended sentence, not his actual crime. Plus, it was merely a recommendation, the judge has the final authority as to what to actually order for sentencing and that was not yet done. The list of prosecutors who complained or resigned were, to me, simply grandstanding since similar action, but in less politically loaded cases, happens with some frequency.
Besides, the President could simply pardon him and be done with it.
The worry shared by the two callers, however, seemed to be that this was somehow unique and, more to the point, was foretelling Trump’s inevitable and imminent (in their view) move to become our first emperor, throw away all law he didn’t like, and refuse to step down if he lost this election or after his second term. Their arguments were that after the failed impeachment, he now was empowered to think he could do anything he wanted, including ignoring an election or, later, term limits, and no one could do anything about it.
If that actually happens, then I think all bets are off and I cannot fathom him, even as petulantly tantrum throwing as he does when things go badly for him, barricading himself in the White House and being dragged out by the heels, if necessary, by the U.S. Marshals and/or the Secret Service.
I would admit that If, at some point, a direct order from the Supreme Court were issued to him which he openly and overtly refused to obey, then we are (finally and sadly) facing a real Constitutional crisis but assuming the obvious legitimacy of the order, I do not believe the citizenry would stand for it. Even supporters of his policies would have to see that brazen move as well over the line… or so I prefer to believe. Meantime, however, his actions are within his authority under the Constitution. If we don’t like the policies he enacts under that authority, then the solution is readily at hand – the ballot box.
In this case the callers were concerned that Trump, via executive orders, would simply turn himself into a monarch and us into “subjects” and be free to rule however his mind took him. In their view, Caligula would be remembered as a Boy Scout by comparison to the legal and moral depravity to quickly follow. Long time readers know I’m opposed to Executive Orders philosophically and believe it is a stretch to see them as valid. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has ruled they are valid if they are supported by the Constitution (somewhat circular in reasoning) or from a clause authorizing such power (duh), or from a law passed by Congress authorizing it. I just don’t think that executive orders are ever specifically allowed AT ALL under the wording of the Constitution but that’s an argument for a different post.
Sometimes an EO can squeak by because it reflects the desires of congress which does not have the fortitude to actually make a law to that effect and prefers to let the President take the heat for it so they do not challenge it. But I can see no way that even a friendly court would see an executive order that directly disobeyed one a Supreme Court ruling as being acceptable. And to think no one would challenge an EO that let Trump remain in office after his term limits or after losing an election has not been paying attention to the current political climate.
Both callers (it was like déjà vu on the phone) were thinking about leaving the country if he lost the upcoming election and refused to step down and, further, was allowed to do so by the legislature and courts. That is where we parted agreements. As I noted above, I don’t believe the other branches of government would sit idling by for it. The callers also felt that sooner or later an empowered Trump would send “the troops” after dissenters like any tried and true dictator from Hitler to Mao. The problem is that even the “good ol’ boys” who support him would, I believe, balk at a rogue president sending federal troops to corral dissident citizens. One reason is that it would force a conflict they could not abide; the first order of business of any newly minted dictator has historically been to remove all weapons from the hands of the citizens so they cannot fight back. That would have to come first but when it did, now he would be treading on sacred redneck ground. They would see that as a clear betrayal. Progressives would be in the unenviable position of supporting the confiscation of guns generally, but, embarrassingly having to admit the 2nd Amendment may have been right all along in ensuring a defense against a government spun out of control. How could they argue guns should be removed from citizens but, wait a minute, at the same time deal with the ugly reality that they might be needed to hold off the evil Trump empire? Worse, the poor progressives would have to rely on their unwashed enemies, whom they despise, those poor souls clinging to their guns and God, i.e. the deplorables as Hillary called them, to protect them from the troglodyte knuckle draggers of Trump’s loyal forces out to take first their weapons and then their freedoms.
I do agree that if it happened it would be a grim state in which to find oneself embroiled. But this is my country. I have answered its call once, I will do so again if need be to save it from a would-be despot. America is unique in that we have this long tradition of citizen-soldier; and while that cadre willing to fight instead of run to hide somewhere may be shrinking, what remains is pretty well armed. It has historically been so well armed that decrypted transmission showed the Japanese high command contemplated an invasion of U.S. soil to distract us from the Pacific but was dissuaded by people who had studied in the U.S. convincing them that Americans were not constitutionally able to accept invasion or occupation, would fight to the death over it, and were well enough armed to make the attempt costly in the extreme. I want to believe that attitude has not yet died out and we are not all cowards that would run from the fight. If I am wrong about that, then morally, we have already ceded our country and our rights to the dark side and all that remains is making it official.
When Caesar brought his legions across the Rubicon River toward Rome in contradiction to both policy and tradition, the Roman Senate was in a dire straight since the other legions were away on other fronts and neither the citizenry nor even the Praetorian guards were in anyway prepared to take on Caesar’s battle-hardened troops. But I also do not believe the U.S. military would support an attempted coup and would, instead, be on the side of the defenders of the Constitution trying to save their rights and their homes. Given the speed of modern military deployments, military leaders still loyal to the oaths they swore could bring the troops home very quickly once word of any impending overreach leaked out – and I think it would leak quickly. And since he has already irritated much of military command by refusing to listen to their counsel, I do not think they would be disposed to capitulate in an overthrow of the country’s laws and practices. They have, after all, now seen several of their highly thought-of comrades called on to serve in some role and then thrown under the bus, so they would have no doubt of their own fate should any such attempt be made.
Finally, I think Trump himself would think better of it. Oh, I have no doubt he wishes to be monarch; when he was running the first time I noted that it appeared he was running for the crown not the presidency. But he would have to know that in the end, perhaps after a very ugly bit of civil carnage, he would lose and then be remembered as the only president to try to overthrow the constitution. I do not think he wants that as his legacy.
So, in the end, no, I’m not afraid. I’m concerned and hope against hope that the Democrats find and field a winning candidate with policies I could get behind (however last night’s debate from Las Vegas made that seem like more and more a forlorn hope). But there is still some little time. But assuming, given the weak field against him, Trump wins re-election, I do not think he would see that (at least privately to himself, as a green light, to declare himself our de facto Emperor. Someone in his circle would surely remind him of the fate of Caesar who tried the same thing.