I actually wrote much of this post back on 3/21/20 and decided that posting it would be far too speculative and pre-mature. However, events now seem to have caught up with my concerns to an alarming degree, so I decided I would publish an annotated version of my earlier unpublished writing. Those portions that are in quotations and italic typeface are my original private writing. These portions in plain text are my current thoughts, clarifications, and concerns as of 6/2/20.
“When I sit and really think too hard about the coming challenges and changes coming as a result of this Coronavirus pandemic emergency, my thoughts sometimes wander down darker alleyways. This is the darkest of those musings.”
“With public gatherings posing a serious health risk, and populations across the country increasingly under states of emergency, shelter in place orders, and movement restrictions, how could an outraged and disapproving populace effectively exercise their rights to assemble and petition the government? You can’t exactly pour into the streets and march on your capital city under these conditions. Doesn’t this seem like the perfect time to test Constitutional restraints with the least anticipated resistance by the populace?”
It would seem in retrospect that I underestimated my fellow citizens’ appetite for both justice and risk. I didn’t think it likely that people would risk exposure to the virus in order to gather in great numbers in any sustained fashion.
I was clearly wrong about that.
Indeed, I am gratified, concerned, and surprised by the persistence of the protests around the country that were catalyzed by the public, on-video murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Gratified that the people will not stand for the ongoing injustice of police abuse of minorities in this country. Concerned for the potential public health hazard posed by the protests, and the degree to which their purpose is being subverted to mayhem and violence by small factions. Surprised by the extent and persistence of the protests.
“Courts are shutting down across the country. We are not seeing appellate courts shutting down yet, but we still may. State and national legislatures are finding it increasingly risky to convene, as members test positive for the virus. Who knows, but at some point so legislators many might become seriously ill that some legislatures may lack a quorum to even convene. With two of the branches of government potentially handicapped in taking collective action, how can they provide adequate oversight and institutional resistance to over-reaching executives? With Governors, Mayors, and the President already at the maxim of their power due the great deference and powers granted by emergency declarations, who might be left to effectively push back when and if an executive, especially one emboldened by a resounding and recent lack of accountability, pushes their authority too far?”
I think that these concerns are certainly still valid in light of recent events. There is a lack of sustained oversight and investigation of this Presidential Administration from Congress due to the pandemic conditions. Here in Arizona, the Legislature voted to adjourn for the year and the Governor has not yet called any special session to deal with pandemic issues. Nor has he announced any plans to do so.
There is obviously a real risk of executive over-reach under these conditions. We have seen it happen with Ducey’s rather impulsive and overly-broad declaration of a state-wide state of emergency and curfew (B4AZ link).
We see it as well in the scandalous actions of Trump (B4AZ link) in his attack on a constitutionally protected protest to clear the streets for a press event, his unhinged ranting at the nation’s governors and mayors on the now-infamous conference call yesterday (if you haven’t listened to the whole thing, you are failing to understand the thinking of a power-mad President in all his glory), and his subsequent threat to use and Insurrection Act to deploy federal armed forces to the states, whether governors welcomed them or not.
“People are anxious, afraid, uncertain, perhaps a bit irrational, and looking for direction from their government. That can be a strength if we had unified, coordinated, and fact-driven governance, as we deserve. But we don’t have that at the Federal level. Indeed, we have a self-interested, narrow-minded, incurious, thin-skinned, narcissistic moron. Luckily, we still have moral and practical leadership that is coming from some state governors, however unevenly. But when push comes to shove in a conflict between a governor of a state and the President, who do you suspect wins that showdown?”
I suspect that we may see the answer to my question play out over the coming days and weeks. I am very concerned by what happens if federal troops are deployed to a state and are not directly under the control of the Governor of that state. That is a recipe for disaster in my view, from both a constitutional and humanitarian viewpoint. It HAS happened before, but for good and limited reasons, such as school integration in response to a federal court order, not to suppress constitutionally protected speech or to glorify the vanity and bolster the re-election of the President.
“What happens when people become terrified and irrational as the body count swells and hospitals begin to fail? What might people ignore, not even notice, or even actively support in that state of mind?”
Thankfully we have not really seen the hospitals be severely overburdened and beginning to fail outside of NYC, so far. I think that the worst is yet to come in the many hot spots in rural areas where there is much less public health infrastructure. Trump’s policies have practically assured that this will happen in many locations across the country in the coming weeks and months. I still predict a rolling crisis in our healthcare system due to the pandemic. Many states are now stretched to capacity and the slightest uptick in infection rates could send their systems into crisis.
“Our national government is already failing to address the very urgent needs of the American people. Our Congress is firmly in the grip of their corporate masters, putting special interest above that of common people. Just look at the GOP’s proposed $1 trillion bailout package’s obvious flaws, failures, and outrages against common sense. It fails to provide relief to tens of millions of lower-income and poor Americans in the most need. It does not increase the resilience of our workforce to future shocks like this one, let alone cushion the blow of the current emergency. Yet, it provides multi-billion dollar bailouts with hardly any oversight or strings attached to ensure pro-social outcomes from the money tsunami “the people” are granting to the commanding heights of the economy.”
Well, now we have several trillion dollars in ‘relief’ sloshing around the executive branch. My concern for lack of oversight of that spending has only been exacerbated by subsequent events. This really requires a post of its own to fully evaluate the shabbiness of the federal response to the pandemic and its economic fallout.
“How much confusion, inaction, disinformation, and downright idiocy during this crisis will Americans stand for before they begin to look for order and leadership outside the Constitutional framework? I don’t know what form it will take, but I have two prime suspects: over-reach by executive branches of the states’, but most especially the federal, government; and over-reach on the part of the military.”
We now have the President declaring to the national press that his Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman is “in charge”. Of what, nobody is really sure. But imagine ANY other President standing before the nation stating such an outlandish thing after his Secretary of Defense had just called the domestic United States a “battlespace”? Imagine ANY other President claiming to be considering a baseless and lawless declaration of a domestic ideological alignment such as anti-fascism as a “terrorist organization?”
I remain very concerned about a constitutionally irregular response to widespread unrest and protest by Trump and some states’ governors. Trump is far too eager to appear to be the “law and order” leader in order to counter the perception that his response to the pandemic has been totally ineffectual and passive.
We are now seeing overreach by some executive officers, especially the President, but it is still far too early to evaluate how the armed forces might respond to being granted a wide latitude of authority over civilian populations. Hopefully, we will not have any opportunity to make such an evaluation, but things appear to be headed in the very direction that vaguely concerned me months ago.
“I can certainly imagine perfectly rational excuses for the Presidency and governors to assume more and more unilateral emergency powers as this pandemic’s effects become more and more dire over the coming weeks and months – which the inaction of this Administration has ensured would happen (on purpose? one might wonder). I can see this President challenging and disregarding the other branches trying to supervise or stem those over-reaches. He’s already done so in normal times, how much worse will it get in a true emergency?”
I can see this President turning to scape-goating, xenophobia, appeals to factionalism and division in this stressful time. He’s already doing so. How much worse will he get when the pressure ramps up as hundreds, or thousands, are dying every day, and our hospitals are collapsing under the pressure?”
We seem to have adjusted surprisingly easily to the death of 1-2 thousand citizens per day due to COVID19. That was nearly unthinkable just a few months ago. And I believe we still have not seen the full weight of the pandemic come down on our health care ‘system’. The worst may come this winter as we have further shutdowns in response to new waves of COVID19 in conjunction with seasonal flu.
It is certainly confirmed that this President is unable to rise to the occasion and become a real leader of people. He is a factional warlord. An insurgent who found himself in charge of a nation. He has signally failed to do anything to unite Americans, and has instead persistently fanned the flames of division and conflict.
“At what point does emergency rule by a mad President become an authoritarian rule by a mad King? When does our constitutional framework become so bent and irrelevant that it is impossible to restore it? When does Trump become not our President, but our ruler? At what point do we cease to be citizens, and become subjects?”
I still fear Trump is bound and determined to find out just how far he can press his authority as President before the system breaks under the stress. I will feel either prophetic or foolish this winter as America prepares to decide Trump’s, and America’s, fate at the polls.
“But what about the military? Certainly they would not support the President in abusing his office and the constitutional order in such a manner, would they? What would it look like if they refused to countenance such usurpations?
“Already, the national guard has been called up in many states to take up logistical support missions. How much longer before they are also enforcing quarantines, isolation orders, and stay at home orders? How much longer before they are having to patrol the streets along with police to protect the peace? This is already happening in other Western, liberal, democratic nations: why not here?”
It certainly has started to happen here. We have not yet seen states’ national guards participating in direct security and policing until just now in response to the on-going protests. It is too soon to evaluate those operations, but the movement of state national guard troops into urban areas in preparation for participating in curfew enforcement is very concerning, and it is unlikely to be costless in terms of civilian casualties, even if only by accident.
How much worse would it be if regular armed forces, directly answering only to the President, were to mobilize to states against the will of the governors?
“To be frank, once the military gets involved in operations in CONUS, as it already has in the form of medical ship deployment, and the army corps of engineers being deployed to build field hospitals and quarantine facilities, who is to say that other operations and missions might not be given the armed forces? I imagine that there will be many needs that only an organization as disciplined and authoritarian as the military will be suited to do under emergency conditions. We very likely will come to support and value the military’s role in our daily lives as this emergency unfolds.”
There will certainly be many who will be supportive of moves by the President to federalize and militarize our response to widespread protests and unrest. Whether that will become a majority position will only become clear in hindsight. I certainly hope not.
It is not yet clear if the possibility of invoking the Insurrection Act is merely a rhetorical threat by Trump, or if he’s actually laying the groundwork for such a move. I think that invoking the Insurrection Act under these circumstances would certainly be an illegitimate use of that law. But we’ll have to see. Some of my darker turns of political imagination are being validated, and this Administration has done so much that is contrary to the spirit and letter of the laws; why not this?
“Who’s to say how bad and crazy our current leadership will get when under some real pressure?”
I think most Americans have come to one of two firm conclusions: either the President is a leader of historical greatness, or he’s a narcissistic sociopath completely out of his depth whose failure is costing tens of thousands of Americans their lives. I believe that the polls reflect that the latter is an alarmingly narrow majority view.
How much worse can Trump get? Pretty terrible. Unplumbable, perhaps. Every time I think we might have hit bottom, the bottom falls out again. I have stopped expecting that it can’t get any worse, and started worrying that there is no limit to how bad it can get.
“Can you honestly say that at some point, when things are really bad and the President is clearly not up to the task, you might not be in favor of a group of senior, career military officials being in charge of the emergency response, rather than a crazy and ineffectual Presidential Administration stuffed with yes-men, cronies, incompetents, and con-men?”
Yes. I might welcome some actually responsible adults in ultimate authority until this President’s term expires. Sad to say, I am frustrated and disappointed in the failure of our constitutional system to remove such an obviously unfit, mendacious, and frankly criminal President. If something extra-constitutional develops to limit Trump from causing further harm, I might well react with some relief, despite my outrage, depending on the efficacy and delicacy with which such extra-constitutional authority is handled.
Our constitution has utterly failed us in this crisis. We will need to rethink the very structures we have relied on until this Presidency to balance and enforce the separation of powers. The old order has been destroyed by Trump. Rebuilding that order is not possible. Building anew is the only real answer to Trumpism, and the complete ethical and moral collapse of the GOP.
“”Just until the crisis passes,” we might tell ourselves.”
“How many of us, when the shit really hits the fan (as it certainly soon will) wouldn’t want to turn for leadership to the institution that Americans most admire and have faith in, instead of a crazed and bumbling President who many Americans absolutely despise?
If there were a temporary military junta declared, temporarily or de facto removing this President from the chain of command, how many of you would reluctantly accede to that? What are you going to do to stop it, really, after all?”
I suspect that the right-wing would go bonkers and a full-scale campaign of terrorism against the state and perceived enemies such as minorities and liberals would result.
But, while many, many serious people in this nation would still be seriously concerned, they might be less concerned than if Trump continues to exercise power.
Consider this: Among American institutions, the military polls the very highest for trustworthiness: 83% of Americans believe that the military will “act in the best interests of the public”. In comparison to people’s faith in the political institutions of our nation (journalism 55%, elected officials 37%), that is off the charts. The only comparable institution is the police at 78%.
Consider those numbers should those institutions decide to divorce themselves from civilian control. Who wins that public opinion tug of war, at least in the short term?
“What if that junta promised to make sure that the Presidential election would happen when the present crisis has passed in an orderly and safe fashion? There would be a return to civilian government, they promise, just as soon as the crisis passes. Would you feel some relief that actual competent adults were in charge? I admit, I might. That’s just how little faith I have in this President, especially if he begins behaving even worse than he has until now.”
Promise me a fair and efficient all-mail ballot guaranteeing every American’s right to vote in November? Promise me that all necessary measures will be taken to stop the COVID19 epidemic through a free and equitable health care system run with military efficiency? Promise me that everyone’s constitutional rights will be respected and protected? Promise me that Trump can no longer wreak havoc on the nation? Well. What would you say to such a deal?
“That’s how a military dictatorship begins in a Constitutional republic with the tacit support of much of the population.
Anyways, it’s just a really dark thought. Right?”