Who’s In Charge
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation of America’s public schools was unconstitutional in its landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, Governor Orval Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard to block the black students’ entry into the high school. Later that month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine into the school. It drew national attention to the civil rights movement.
Not since the Civil War had there been such a clash between the federal and state governments. When I read about this time in, or I see a picture of military men with automatic rifles guarding elementary school aged African American girls walking into their school, I often think what if one of those men holding rifles had fired a shot. Just one fired shot. Imagine what could have happened. How would history have recorded the aftermath if one nervous eighteen year old soldier had in a fleeing moment of nervous adrenaline fired one single shot? How tragic could that scene have been?
I guess the good thing is that the men at that event were soldiers. They were trained when to use their weapons, but more importantly they were trained when not to use them. They weren’t just local groups of emotionally charged Americans whose motivation was whatever their visceral feelings were in that moment. I think that it’s important to note, and the history bears this out, that the state national guard under the control of the Governor acquiesced to the federal national guard under the control of President Eisenhower.
It was understood that the President was acting under the authority of the Supreme Court. I don’t know if Eisenhower agreed with the decision of Brown v. Board of Education. I don’t know if all of the military agreed. I think it’s safe to assume that all of the state national guard troops didn’t agree. Whatever each person’s individual beliefs was in that moment, there was a clear chain of command that made everyone’s behavior predictable.
The Governor deployed his troops under his authority given him by the tenth amendment. Then the Supreme Court ruled against his decision, and when the President deployed the federal troops the Governor and the state troops stood down. It is the discipline of everyone involved that actually made it possible to enforce that last without loss of life or anyone being hurt in that situation.
Today, however, we find ourselves in the age of Trump. Trump is the antithesis of discipline. His favorite phrase is, “Let’s see what happens”. He is a shoot from the hip, stick your finger in the wind, “today I will but tomorrow I won’t” type of leader. There’s nothing predictable about Trump and his management style. He even said as much when running for President. He actually said on the campaign trail that a president should be unpredictable. He thinks that this is laudable. Keep in mind that the stock market that he holds so dear operates optimally when conditions are predictable. That Trump regales us with tall tales of his business acumen while wallowing in a style that is capricious at best is unfathomable. But here we are.
Governors have found themselves in the unenviable position to enact and enforce shelter-in-place orders. People are not able to work, congregate, socialize, or any of the things that we had come to enjoy as Americans. That we have subjected ourselves to a collective self quarantine has been for the collective good. Based on science we have determined that the best option we have as a society to mitigate the contagion of Covid-19 is to modify in the extreme our normal activity. We are doing this for ourselves and our neighbors.
We find ourselves navigating this new normal. Not the virus, Trump. Even in this moment he has found a way to pry apart the most delicate and tenuous alliances that we have formed. Many have posited his motivation is financial. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 2 that Trump properties are losing one million dollars a day from various shelter-in-place orders. I believe his motivations are far more Machiavellian.
Us vs. Them
While he has moved inch by inch towards opening the country back up, by most accounts prematurely, some Democratic Governors have disagreed. All while the majority of Americans think that Trump is attempting to open the country too quickly according to Reuters. According to their polling from April 15-21, 72% of adults in the United States said people should stay at home ‘until the doctors and public health officials say it is safe.’ That included 88% of Democrats, 55% of Republicans, and 70% of independents. The truth of the matter is that none of the people in this poll represent the 1%. That’s the only group’s opinion that Trump cares about. Billionaires want the economy open. Now.
So Trump being Trump sees this as a double win: satisfy my fellow billionaires and attack the Governors in the blue states who dare question my authority. Virginia, Wisconsin, and Michigan are the states where Trump has staged this next front in his battle for a November win. They are perfect targets. They all have Democratic Governors and a vocal plurality of Trump supporters. All he needed to do is push them over the edge. So he decided to use his weapon of choice. Twitter.
So right on cue, Trump tweets and his followers follow suit. Immediately there are hundreds of protesters in these three states demanding that the shelter-in-place orders be lifted. “We need to get back to work”. “I need my hair done”. “I can’t do my own nails”. “I can’t buy fertilizer”. That last one is real. You can find it on YouTube. Economic White House economic advisor Stephen Moore discussed “You Can’t Close Close America” protests, which have sprung up in Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Minnesota over the past week in Newsweek. So they are springing up everywhere.
Before we proceed I want to concentrate on Trump’s tweet. Remember the national guard troops we discussed at the beginning? If you look at any of these gatherings of “concerned Americans” who are protesting their Democratic overlords, you will see many men with automatic rifles. Many.
For context there is a section in the US Criminal Code that reads as follows:
18 U.S. Code § 2383.Rebellion or insurrection: 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.
Also let’s define insurrection: Webster’s dictionary defines insurrection as an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.
Is Trump Inciting An Insurrection Against Governors
Remember our discussion at the beginning. We discussed the national guard and how their discipline prevented a much larger exchange from happening in Kansas. Do we believe these protesters with rifles have that same discipline? I don’t think so either. I am concerned that if Democratic Governors hold the line for the good of their state citizens, some of these Trump followers are going to eventually pull the trigger and someone is going to die. Remember Charlottesville?
The question will then be is Trump responsible. Is he legally culpable? If the President of the United States through his reckless use of social media incites a rebellion or insurrection against a sitting Governor, can he be prosecuted? Should he be? Can Donald Trump really walk onto 5th Avenue, shoot someone, and get away with it?
November is right around the corner. We have to vote this “person” out of office. And when he’s out of office, we have to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. Donald Trump is sitting on a powder keg of pinned up frustrations and literally throwing struck matches at it. We can not, we must not allow this man to destroy this country.