On 27 February 1933 the German Reichstag (parliament) building burned down. The cause of the fire is still not definitively known, but the Nazis are suspected of setting it. They then were able to exploit the situation by claiming that the Communists were behind it as the beginning of an uprising to overthrow the government. They convinced President Paul von Hindenburg to allow the Nazis under Chancellor Adolf Hitler to issue an emergency decree the following day. Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree it allowed the suspension of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and allowed for the arrest of political opponents, the dissolving of political organizations, the ability to overrule state and local laws and the power to overthrow state and local governments, among other rights previously enjoyed in Germany. The following month the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 effectively making Adolf Hitler a dictator.
Thankfully, we are not in such dire straits here in the United States. But we are inching ever closer to a total collapse of our democracy. As I mentioned in my last posting, the Texas Attorney General brought a suit to the Supreme Court asking the court to throw out the entirety of the ballots cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Oddly, it seems that the only election problems in the country are in swing states that Mr. Trump lost. The desired effect would be that Donald J. Trump then becomes president for another term. (And I will say more than one if this gambit succeeds.) Legal experts far and wide declared such a lawsuit a total travesty and predicted that the Supreme Court will not take the case.
I hope that the experts are correct, but even if they are, very un-American developments indicate further trouble ahead.
In the past few days, seventeen other states joined the suit supporting the Texas claim. Six others are in the process of joining. As of this writing, 106 of the 196 “Republican” members of the House have signed on to officially support the suit in court. This includes the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Trumpist – CA). Senator Ted Cruz (Trumpist – TX) volunteered to argue the case before the Court.
Think about that for a minute. Nearly half of the state Attorneys General in the United States are actively working to overturn a fair and free election and disenfranchise millions of our fellow citizens. Roughly 25% of all the members of the House and 55% of them in one of the two major parties think it wise, prudent, and legal to ignore their oath to the Constitution and instead pledge their allegiance to one man — a cult leader that wants to undo our democracy by claiming without evidence that the election was stolen from him. They explain away the lack of evidence, and the fact that “Rudy’s Travelling Circus” already lost more than 50 court cases trying to undo the election, by saying — and I wish I was kidding — that the fraud and deception was so masterful that they (whoever they are that perpetrated this heinous crime but the words “liberal socialists” comes up a lot) did not leave a single clue as to their nefarious deeds.
On Wednesday Mr. Trump himself dropped all pretense of what he was doing and moved on from claiming a fraudulent election to just plain saying that it needs to be overturned. He started the morning by Tweet saying simply “OVERTURN.”
It is just too scary. Anyone that wonders how otherwise educated populations can watch democracy get stolen and replaced by an autocrat need not wonder anymore.
So what happens when the Supreme Court throws out the suit? Your guess is as good as mine, but clearly no one in his party seems to be bothered by anything that Mr. Trump does no matter how harebrained, incredible, or illegal it may be. Mr. Trump only can take away one thing from this debacle. He can get away with anything and the majority of his party in leadership roles will support him or look the other way. He was more prophetic than we knew four years ago when Mr. Trump said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.
The essence of our democracy is that we fight hard for our principles and policies, but that when the election is over, we put away our differences long enough for a peaceful transition of power. We honor the results of elections. For the first time in our history since at least the election of 1860, that is not happening. There is now a stark division in our country. There are those that believe in the power of democracy (Democrats, many independents, and the remaining real Republicans) and those that believe that if the election does not turn out in your favor, you change the result through any means necessary (Trump cultists). This is how democracy ends.
I remain steadfast in my belief that Joseph Biden will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. However, I shudder at the damage that may be done to our country in the remaining six weeks before then. How can our government govern after January if a significant number of those in Congress refuse to recognize the legitimate transfer of power? How far will they take it? Will the Trumpists refuse to consent to Mr. Biden’s cabinet choices? Will they freeze all legislation to undermine the economy to make life as difficult as possible for the Biden Administration? The list could go on and on.
Our way of government ultimately rests on trust. Trust in our elections and their results are the foundation of our way of choosing officials and for them to govern. That trust is being deliberately threatened to suit the whims of one man. This is some bad stuff.
My reference to the Reichstag Fire is not me setting my hair on fire or yelling that the sky is falling. Not yet anyway. It does, however, have some frightening parallels to what is happening now and stands as a stark reminder that dictators and ruthless regimes don’t just show up out of nowhere. They grow from misconceptions, ruthless propaganda, and a population that goes along or chooses not to get involved.
Someone out there has a box of matches and is willing to use them. We must not let those that swore an oath to protect and defend our country give up our Constitutional rights in the name of one delusional wannabe dictator.
Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun. To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.
Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book. I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening. One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.” Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election. Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base. He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote. It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens. It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.
As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days. Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters. In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble. Let’s dive into this further.
The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction. In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away. None of this is happening. There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd. To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters. However, the vast majority are peaceful. Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement. By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size. That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics. In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos. Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland? One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?
If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.
All of this on its own is bad. Very bad. But it portends worse things to come. Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.
“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.” Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.” This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.
Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar. The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property. In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby. It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause. He considered these men to be patriots. Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.
As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I. We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do. He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements. Mr. Trump is the same way. He announces exactly what he plans to do.
Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy. In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate. I am now sure of it. He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage. Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America. He already barely hides his racism in this regard. Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest. He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.
Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice. It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan. In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage. He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.” These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged. He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General. Mail bags mysteriously disappearing? Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames? The imagination can run wild.
The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part. It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country. He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged. Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,
“I have to see. Look — I have to see. No, I’m not just going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in. If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it. He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid. He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night.”
Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.
We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him. There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him. He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.
The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes. Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.
Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario. Alarmist. Couldn’t happen here. That’s not America. Stop hyperventilating. No way. I hope that you are correct. Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.