Clear and Present Danger

On 01 January 2017, I began this bog because I felt that the nation in which I had then lived for 62 years faced a potential crisis that I wanted to help document if not forestall.  I knew that my lone and insignificant voice would only influence my small circle of largely like-minded cohorts.  But I also knew that many tiny voices swell into a great chorus.

Over the last four years, I have not been as faithful to this venue as I intended to be.  Though most of what distracted me involved personal pursuits and problems, another nagging sensation stood in my way.  I perceived myself to be helpless to make any difference, regardless of how small or seemingly irrelevant to the greater good.

I have never felt as futile as I did on 06 January 2021, watching the events unfold in Washington, DC at least to the limited though horrifying extent that those of us outside of the Capitol follow.  My phone had blipped with an alert.  Though working, I casually glanced at the message and then, alarmed, opened a fresh browser on my computer.  My mouth fell.  I wanted to interrupt the meeting in our conference room, to blurt out, The Capitol has been breached! and drag the clients and the California attorney for whom I work to watch with me. I could scarcely bear the horror on my own.

In the ensuing days, more facts have been revealed.  We now know that Donald J. Trump, his son, and his attorney stoked the fury of a crowd of thousands by repeating lies which court after court has rejected.  We know that the riot and insurrection of January 06th had been planned for weeks and in specific.  We know that as terrible as the live feed we saw might have been, what we didn’t see live was much worse.

I do not pretend to be a Constitutional law scholar.  I took a course in law school and, many years prior to law school, as a political science minor at St. Louis University during my under-grad years.  But I took Civics in eighth grade, as every Missouri student had to do in order to pass.  In Civics, I learned about the separation of powers; the three co-extensive branches of our federal government; and the seriousness with which anyone elected to office must take their oath.

Like every president before him. Trump took this oath of office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The source of his oath is our Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8.  He did not swear allegiance to party or to himself.  He swore to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution; and to faithfully execute his office.

Yet in the hour after the insurrectionists stormed our capitol, calling for the execution of our Vice President,  Trump assured the mob that he loved them and considered them to be “very special”.  Trump and his cronies had whipped their supporters into a frenzy with lies and false accusations about the 2020 election.  Trump drove the mob to what he wanted: An attempt to foil the Constitutionally mandated installation of the winner of the electoral college votes.

Many Trump-supporters believe his lies.  I have a family member who seems to genuinely think that the massive voter fraud claimed by Trump actually occurred despite the failure of Trump’s attorneys to produce one shred of actual evidence.  She claims that the country is in “a Constitutional crisis”.

I agree.

The crisis in which we find ourselves flows from the predictable but nonetheless tragic failure of Donald J. Trump to faithfully discharge his office and defend the Constitution.  His treachery found solace and assistance not only in his close associates and adult children, but in the likes of Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of my beloved home-state, Missouri.  Those two Republican senators led the charge to object to counting  electoral votes citing debunked claims of fraud and other irregularities.  Their challenges had no good-faith basis on January 06th, assuming arguendo that their objections ever had any legitimate basis.  Sixty-plus courts, including the U. S. Supreme Court, had rejected the claims.  Cruz and Hawley spewed the same lies that Trump shouted from every corner of the internet, and did so even in the resumed joint session after the bloody riot had been quelled.

Yes, we have a crisis.  This crisis unfolded between my first entry and this one, born of Trump’s demagoguery and fueled by the greed of his family and associates.  I have no words for the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect Trump, or the voices which raise to defend him even now.  I see the disparity with which the Capitol police treated the MAGA-mob as compared with law enforcement abuse of the largely peaceful protests of last summer.  I strain to digest the comparisons with Nazi Germany and the dire warnings about the violence planned for the next two weeks by Trump supporters.

The very few Trump supporters with whom I still have any contact mostly whine these days about their First Amendment rights.  One castigated social media for finally silencing Trump.  Putting aside that the First Amendment does not apply to private companies, I remind us of the test by which government — to whom it does apply — has long been held in curtailing our speech:

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivered the classic statement of the clear and present danger test in Schenck v. United States (1919): ‘The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.’ ”   Richard Parker, “Clear and Present Danger”,  The First Amendment Encyclopedia.

Trump and his cohorts stood before that well-funded crowd in D.C. on January 06th and exhorted them to be strong, to cancel out the “zeroes” in Congress, to employ combat, and to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to stop the Constitutionally mandated process. I can hardly watch the entirety of their awful speeches, but the portions which I have seen and the transcripts which I have read fit squarely into the definition of clear and present danger.

Representative Alexander Ocasio-Cortez reminds us that the Twenty-fifth Amendment and the Impeachment process do not exist as mutually exclusive remedies.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment allows the Vice President and the majority of the Cabinet to transfer power away from an unfit president.  Invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment would prevent Trump from taking disastrous and deadly actions in the next ten days.

Impeachment by the House would remove Trump from office if convicted by the Senate.  Though more time-consuming and less certain, impeachment followed by conviction also would bar Trump from holding federal office in the future, a goal which we should not leave to chance.  He presents danger to all of us, and dangerous people should not be left to wield power.

Our nation has a considerable way to trudge if we are to reach the goal of justice and equality for all.  In continuing to pursue that quest, we need all honorable voices.  While I do not agree that all voices speak from a place of justice, I do believe that peaceful disagreement should be encouraged as we go forward.  Weak or unjust arguments should be exposed, and solutions that promote an equal country for every person here should be sought by all who wish in good faith to join our grand experiment.

But the voice of tyranny has no place in this country; or whatever place it has claimed must be forfeit.  Ours is not a dictatorship, nor a Fascist regime.  Though this Republic has failed for its lifetime to afford the equality it claims to espouse, nonetheless, that equality cannot be found in the principles of rule that Trump and his cronies promote.  He must pay the price of his attempt to overthrow our democracy.  He should not be spared in the name of unity.  The head does not allow cancer to remain in the limbs for the sake of the heart.  Instead, the heart is protected while the knife eradicates the disease.   We should do no less for these United States of America.