David Gordon did a brief post about this on Friday, but I want to expand upon his post further.
President Donald Trump tweeted his approval of his personality cult followers staging anti-lockdown protests against social distancing rules to stop the spread of the coronavirus, in dog whistle coded language familiar to his cult followers:
As outrageous as this act was, only minutes after posting this series of tweets, the Trump re-election campaign on Friday again used dog whistle coded language familiar to his cult followers accusing Democrats of “trying to STEAL THE ELECTION right before our eyes,” in an email blast with the subject line that reads “Cheaters.”
Washington Post columnist Brian Klass, a University College London assistant professor of global politics and author of “How to Rig an Election & The Despot’s Apprentice,” warns that Trump is laying the groundwork to get “his supporters to reject results” of the November election “and use violence.”
This is hardly a novel threat to our democracy from Donald Trump. Recall that in August 2016 at a rally, Donald Trump Suggested ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton. And in October 2016, “Day after day — at rallies, in interviews and on Twitter — Trump and several top backers have hammered the message that a victory for Hillary Clinton would be illegitimate. Trump frequently suggested that widespread voter fraud will swing the election, and he has urged his supporters to closely monitor the voting process.” Donald Trump’s ‘Rigged Election’ Claims Raise Historical Alarms:
Historians say Trump’s sustained effort to call the process into question has no close parallel in past elections. And some are increasingly worried that his claims — for which he’s offered no real evidence — could leave many of his supporters unwilling to accept the election results, potentially triggering violence and dangerously undermining faith in American democracy.
Trump has continued his baseless assertions of widespread voter fraud since his election. Does anyone seriously doubt that if he loses the election in November he will insist that the election was rigged and fraudulent and question the legitimacy of the results, as he was prepared to do in 2016? And does anyone seriously doubt that this could trigger violence from his most unhinged personality cult followers?
Let’s break this down beginning with Trump’s “liberation” tweets.
Mary McCord, former acting U.S. assistant attorney general for national security from 2016 to 2017, and legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center explains at the Washington Post, Trump’s ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’ tweets incite insurrection. That’s illegal.
President Trump incited insurrection Friday against the duly elected governors of the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Just a day after issuing guidance for re-opening America that clearly deferred decision-making to state officials — as it must under our Constitutional order — the president undercut his own guidance by calling for criminal acts against the governors for not opening fast enough.
Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” followed immediately by “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and then “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
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“Liberate” — particularly when it’s declared by the chief executive of our republic — isn’t some sort of cheeky throwaway. Its definition is “to set at liberty,” specifically “to free (something, such as a country) from domination by a foreign power.” We historically associate it with the armed defeat of hostile forces during war, such as the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control during World War II. Just over a year ago, Trump himself announced that “the United States has liberated all ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.”
In that context, it’s not at all unreasonable to consider Trump’s tweets about “liberation” as at least tacit encouragement to citizens to take up arms against duly elected state officials of the party opposite his own, in response to sometimes unpopular but legally issued stay-at-home orders. This is especially so given the president’s reference to the Second Amendment being “under siege” in Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam just signed into law a number of gun-safety bills passed during the most recent session of the state general assembly — bills that prompted protests by Second Amendment absolutists at the state capitol in January, leading Northam to declare a state of emergency and temporarily ban firearms from the capitol grounds due to the threat of violence.
It’s an echo of the “Second Amendment remedies” rhetoric of the 2010 midterm election. It’s clearly a violation of federalism principles, and it’s quite possibly a crime under federal law. And insurrection or treason against state government is a crime in Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as most states. Assembling with others to train or practice using firearms or other explosives for use during a civil disorder is also a crime in many states. But the president himself is calling for just that.
Regardless of whether the tweets are criminal on their own, more importantly, they are irresponsible and dangerous. Private armed militias recently expressed eagerness to support the president’s veiled call to arms when he shared a comment on Twitter suggesting that if he were impeached and removed from office, it could lead to civil war:
Just a day before, the Oath Keepers Twitter account tweeted, in an apparent reference to the president, that “All he has to do is call us up. We WILL answer the call.”
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That’s why we can’t write these tweets off as just hyperbole or political banter. And that’s why these tweets aren’t protected free speech. Although generally advocating for the use of force or violation of law is protected (as hard to conceive as that may be when the statements are made by someone in a position of public trust, like the president of the United States), the Supreme Court has previously articulated that where such advocacy is “inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action,” it loses its First Amendment protection. The president’s tweets — unabashedly using the current crisis to encourage a backlash against lawful and expert-recommended public health measures, falsely claiming a Second Amendment “siege” and calling for insurrection against elected leaders — have no place in our public discourse and enjoy no protection under our Constitution.
Next, Republican strategist Rick Wilson suggests that Trump is, in fact, fomenting a “civil war” from his unhinged personality cult followers. Trump Leads Pro-Plague States of America to a COVID Civil War (excerpts):
Donald Trump fired the first shots in the COVID Civil War this week, a modern-day Jefferson Davis of the Pro-Plague States of America sending his opening salvo from Fort Twitter at Democratic governors who dared to question if it wasn’t just a wee bit early to end the stay-at-home orders in states still far to the left of the peak.
He started the week with claims of “total authority” and then cried about a supposed “mutiny” by mouthy state leaders. By Friday, he was up to calls to “liberate” states.
First of all, you should understand that none of this—zero, zip, nada —is organic. None of this is real. Every bit of it is being pushed on Trump’s behalf via the twin modalities of our doom: Fox and Facebook.
The crowds showing up for these ‘liberation rallies’ are lowing cattle, led down a chute to be fed or slaughtered, depending on the day. Their ignorance of their own state as philosophical zombies whose lives Trump is literally willing to sacrifice for a tiny bump in the stock market is breathtaking. Dying for a second-order economic effect will show the libs, right?
He wants his rebellion because it feeds into his brand of transgression and he believes it will benefit him politically; Donald Trump’s never tried to liberate a damn thing in his life except for banks from their money, porn stars from their panties, and rubes from their votes.
Let’s be clear about the things he’s going to do and the risks he is willing to take with the American people. Trump is telling us bluntly and plainly that he will stoke civil unrest to find a political pathway out of a galactic-scale fuck-up of his own making. He’s willing to let a disease that’s already killed 33,000 Americans due to his inaction and dishonesty spread further, faster, and more widely.
Many of the people at his ‘liberation’ rallies may well get or spread COVID-19, just when the country’s continued diligence and caution about flattening the curve through social distancing is most vital. These engineered protests are taking resources that first responders desperately need to respond to the crisis, not Trump’s crisis actors. The one person who won’t pay a price? Donald Trump.
Immune to political pressure, unable to process moral responsibility, and unwilling to put anything above his raw, raging ego and his boundless desire to hold power, he’ll keep badgering his base to start the COVID Civil War, one tweet at a time.
Finally, I have been seeing numerous articles recently about whether Trump can delay the election, or even prevent the election from occurring in order to stay in power. The fact that this is even a topic of serious discussion among respected scholars ought to frighten everyone.
David Super at Politico Magazine examines some of these recent analyses in a lengthy piece, Could Trump Use the Virus to Stay in Power?
Since the moment he took office, Democrats—and even some Republicans—have worried that President Donald Trump just might be the kind of leader who tries to cling to power past November’s elections. Those concerns have sharply accelerated with the coronavirus pandemic, which raises the possibility that Americans might not be able to, or might not consider it safe to, vote in November—and, more darkly, that Trump would use that fear as an excuse to stay in office.
Anxious warnings about the elections are rife on Twitter, and the question has arisen in the Boston Globe, Politico and elsewhere. “[C]an one rule out an attempt to cancel or postpone the November election, justified on the grounds of preserving public safety?” asked Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy. In 2001, the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, reportedly sought to extend his term as mayor of New York, postponing the November election, after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
As most of those articles note, the legal answer is that he can’t: The Constitution empowers Congress, not the president, to select Election Day, so only an act of Congress could change it.
But Trump hasn’t exactly exhibited a profound understanding of the limits of his constitutional authority, and in recent days he’s made noises about expanding his power in new ways, on Monday declaring “total” authority to make governors reopen their states for business, or, on Wednesday, insisting he had authority to forcibly adjourn Congress.
So it seems worth at least considering the possibility that Trump—especially if the polls turned against him—would use our current public health emergency to cancel the 2020 election. What would really happen if he did, or tried to?
There are many unknowns in such a scenario, but the bottom line is that even if he does try to cancel the election, Trump can’t be guaranteed that he stays in the White House. He would need either a great deal of luck or a coup to remain president.
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The main thing to understand is that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence could not simply continue to serve beyond Inauguration Day. The 20th Amendment clearly states that “[t]he terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.” When the clock strikes 12 that day, Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s terms are over and neither has any more claim to the presidency than, say, Barack Obama or George W. Bush.
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The bottom line is that if the 2020 presidential election is canceled and Trump wanted to stay in office past Jan. 20, he’d need to find some other way to get “elected.” Here are a few ways, some more likely than others, for how he might try to make that happen—or how opponents might try to block him.
David Super then walks through a number of scenarios that others have written about in recent analyses. If you are interested in an academic exercise of “what if” scenarios, check it out.
I find most of these scenarios improbable. The simplest solution is for voters to vote out of office every Republican enabler of Donald Trump, from president on down to your local school board. Such a complete and total devastating defeat would suck any oxygen out of Trump’s vain attempt to claim the election was illegitimate in order to hold onto power.
And if his unhinged personality cult followers do resort to violence in a fit of rage, they will have revealed themselves to be anti-democratic domestic terrorists engaged in unlawful insurrection and rebellion against the legitimate U.S. government, a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code § 2383:
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
This last clause would apply to Donald Trump and any other damn fool Republican politician who would join him in such a heinous act against America.
In any event, the media must stop normalizing this behavior. This is not normal nor acceptable. Treat this with the seriousness and level of concern that this merits.