Events this week underscored a serious fear that has been expressed in a number of quarters concerning this fall’s presidential election. Witnessing police and the National Guard on streets all over America is scary. An African American man was killed by police employing totally unnecessary force and the President calls for law and order. As a signal of his toughness, President Trump called in D.C. riot police, mounted police, Secret Service, and unidentified other law enforcement officers to clear out Lafayette Park to enable him to walk across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op.
Coming in the midst of a pandemic and the need for social distancing, the extreme economic hardship being felt by most Americans, as well as the extraordinary racial unrest that has erupted in the country following the murder of George Floyd, the President is considering invoking ving martial law. The issue is not whether he can or cannot do so, it is the fact that the President of the United States is toying with misusing the American military against its own citizens. Maybe Trump’s base of 38-42% of the country will support his action but it is critical to remember the events in Germany in the early 1930’s.
In the presidential election in March 1932 Adolf Hitler received 30% of the vote and in the April, run-off still only received 36%. In the next Reichstag election in November the National Socialist Party still only received 33% of the vote, although it was the largest bloc in the Parliament. On January 30, 1933 Hindenburg asked Hitler to form a Government. By the end of February, the Brown Shirts and the Gestapo were marching in the streets, the Reichstag was enflamed, martial law was proclaimed, and the Nazis in power. Hitler had established his form of law and order.
The past few days have seen law-abiding protests and peaceful assembly being broken up by aggressive police tactics. While some nights saw unacceptable looting and violence probably driven by agitating and anarchic forces, no one is addressing the underlying problems. There is a need immediately for an effort to calm the anger and hostility.
Hopefully after George Floyd is buried this weekend the demonstrations will recede, and leaders from all sides accept commit themselves to address the racial tension and police brutality. This requires political leadership at all levels and from all parties to rise to this challenge, simultaneously with their efforts to address Covid-19 and the economic crisis. It is critical that leaders and the public understand that after the gross failures exhibited by this Administration especially over the last several months——in addressing the pandemic, the economy and the rioting—that there actually could be a devastating scenario ahead.
Current polls—early though they may be—suggest that Joe Biden will defeat President Trump in November. The President sees those numbers and can publicly deny them, but he knows that he faces a much more difficult challenge for re-election than he did six months ago; both for himself and the Republican Party.
Finally, there is a distinct possibility that Donald Trump, could lose in November, not accept the election results. If Trump loses in the Electoral College—regardless of what happens in the Congress, America could well face a standoff from a President who will defy the election results.
After the verbal and physical attack on the police and the anger voiced at potential presidential misuse of the military, the country could face a vigilante military force rallying to support a defeated and defiant President. If the Republican Party does not stand up to uphold the Constitution and law of the land or if the military or police rally to Trump’s side, the United States as it exists will not survive. No one should delude themselves of this fact.