Pay attention to the risk of martial law

December 23, 2020 7:10 am
Troops at the 75th anniversary of D-Day, waiting for President Donald Trump (photo from Pikrepo CC0 public domain)

Troops at the 75th anniversary of D-Day, waiting for President Donald Trump (photo from Pikrepo public domain)

History will record that on Friday, Dec. 18, Donald Trump held a discussion in the Oval Office about imposing martial law.

Martial law!

Disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn was in the Oval Office urging Trump to engage in this grotesquely unconstitutional and anti-constitutional maneuver. So was Trump’s lawyer, Sidney Powell.

This will leave the ultimate stain on Trump’s reputation, along with the blood of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died of COVID due to his negligence and narcissism.

To even consider imposing martial law should be anathema to anyone who respects democracy and is sworn to uphold the Constitution.

And to consider it for the sole and selfish purpose of holding on to power marks a new low, one that even Richard Nixon didn’t stoop to.

And let’s remember, Trump did this after his defeat was upheld in every state court and every federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Outrageous as it is, Trump’s consideration of martial law hasn’t received the attention and denunciation it deserves and demands.

Republican officials again have remained cravenly quiet.

And with the exception of CNN, most of the media have given it only faint coverage.

That’s a huge mistake.

When democracy is under all-out threat, minimizing the risk is a dangerous course of action.

Trump probably won’t be able to pull it off. His chief of staff reportedly argued strenuously against it, and military leaders have shown no inclination to go along – quite the contrary.

But the very idea that he is considering doing this should put all of us on our guard.

And even if he fails, he is setting the table for the next narcissist or Fascist who would ride into the Oval Office.

Trump has exposed the weaknesses of our much-ballyhooed system of checks and balances.

Assuming that Trump does leave office by Jan. 20, Congress will need to pass laws, on the double, that would prevent a future President from even considering martial law.

One would be to require approval of Congress before the President could issue such a declaration. But there are others. Chief among these are repealing the Insurrection Act, which lets the President put federal troops in our streets; repealing the National Emergencies Act, which gives the President enormous powers when he or she unilaterally declares an emergency; and overturning National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 51, which gives the President even more powers after he or she unilaterally declares a “catastrophic emergency.”

In all likelihood (but not 100 percent guaranteed), Trump will be gone on Jan. 20.

But the risk of a future tyrant will remain.


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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.