Coup Klux Klan? Donald Trump’s oons if he doesn’t like US election verdict 2020
President Donald Trump didn’t like the US Supreme Court’s decision allowing extensions for Pennsylvania to receive mail-in ballots. The decision, he tweeted, would “induce violence”. “Something must be done.”
The Supreme Court decision on voting in Pennsylvania is a VERY dangerous one. It will allow rampant and unchecked cheating and will undermine our entire systems of laws. It will also induce violence in the streets. Something must be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump November 3, 2020
The question is what. What can a sitting President actually do in a situation like this? He remains commander in chief of the armed forces till January 20, so he could call in the army. Will the army obey? That’s a more complex question.
There are two basic scenarios to be considered.
In the first, Trump loses the election and then claims it is rigged. He blows the horn for armed militia groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to take to the street to ‘preserve law and order’ and protect his Presidency. Claiming that a fair election would be organised “soon”.
In this scenario, the militia are protected by the second amendment of the constitution. Passed in 1789, and ratified by Congress in 1791, the amendment states:
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”
The language is clear at one level: the use of the word “shall”. But open to interpretation, to begin with. Who decides whether said militias are well-regulated? At what point is the “security of a free state” jeopardised?
The fact that these questions arise is proof that they haven’t been satisfactorily settled. Trump could, and will, argue that the militias are well-organised patriots, only out to protect the security of America’s citizens.
The second scenario is a Trump victory through questionable means: voter suppression; dodgy court verdicts and so on. Or simply announces that he is the winner — that the people have leased him the White House for four more years. Now the militant left would take to the streets in protest. The right-wing militias would come out to counter them. Mayhem would ensue.
In both scenarios, Trump could declare an emergency and assume the powers he assumes this gives him.
According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the “Constitution does not expressly grant the President additional powers in times of national emergency.”
But should he call out the military, suspend haebus corpus (the right to challenge unlawful arrest, he can do so while invoking Abraham Lincoln. Trump’s second favourite president (after Trump.
Suspending haebus corpus requires Congressional approval, but in 1861 President Lincoln assumed extraordinary powers during the civil war and did it unilaterally, justifying it as a necessary step to quell rebellion. A federal court struck Lincoln’s move down, but he ignored the ruling.
Trump could do exactly the same.
Another great President, Franklin Roosevelt, invoked emergency powers to send thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War 2. The Supreme Court concurred with FDR—even though history has judged that episode differently.
President Harry Truman tried to seize steel mills that were on strike during the Korean war, but the Supreme Court thwarted that attempt.
If he is looking for precedent, Trump has a few. But what this will all boil down to is the judgement and character of two key men. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley.
In a prescient piece in The Nation, Andrew J Bacevich wrote in September, that the Pentagon may well be dragged into the mess and step in as an arbiter against its will, and these two men will play crucial roles. And it’s bound to be partisan.
But they have different backgrounds. Esper, who visited India recently, is a West Point graduate and former soldier. He is also a lifelong Republican with ties to the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and a businessman. He was a defence contractor for Raytheon, and a top lobbyist before Trump asked him to join the government. His loyalties, therefore are known.
General Milley is different. A career military man, he regretted having been used as a prop during Trump’s infamous photo op in front of a church with a bible held upside down, just after a peaceful demonstration had been tear-gassed.
Trump’s subsequently revealed comments about war heroes and generals can’t have made him too many friends in that community. And one thing that a military man can do, is disobey an illegal order.
(Avirook Sen is the author of ‘Looking for America’ and ‘Aarushi’