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Can Trump declare martial law?

Can Trump declare martial law and overturn the election of Joe Biden as President? Most experts agree he could not, but here’s the thing. Because of Trump’s degradation of our political system, our democracy is more fragile than ever. By continuing to subvert the rule of law and make a mockery of our political system, Trump is accomplishing several very dangerous elements.

Trump continues to feed his accomplices a steady diet of red meat. His supporters are dangerous, well-armed thugs who often relish the opportunity to foment sedition. Vigilante groups have not only embraced Trump but after been encouraged by him.

Every democracy is fragile, only supported by those citizens who seek to enjoy all the benefits that a well-regulated democracy can promise. Trump has tested that system to the breaking point. He has flaunted the institutions that protect the fragile balance of civility, pardoned supporters who broke the law attempting to protect him, and punished cabinet members who failed his loyalty test. If there ever was the perfect storm to capsize the ship of state, Trump is assuredly that ill wind.

Another complexity that this issue raises is the role of the military in supporting or subverting a democracy. There is a myriad of examples in modern history of military juntas overturning the rule of democracy. Can it happen here?
Or perhaps more to the point is, what would such a dreadful condition be? If Trump declared martial law, who would he call? Who would respond?

The President can declare martial law according to the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act. He can take charge of United States National Guard troops without states’ governor authorization when public order has been lost and the state and its constituted authorities cannot enforce the law.

We might ask, who decides when these conditions are met? Trump has always been quick to take the initiative in these matters. Presumably, he would say he decides. Moreover, Congress is often an enabler of his excesses rather than a check to his powers as had been envisioned by the founders of their new form of government. To date, the greatest check to his otherwise unbridled power has been the courts. Time and again, when he and his accomplices have sought the courts’ collusion, the courts have demurred and occasionally even admonished his attempts. Even when 126 Congressmen joined in an amicus brief to a Texas Attorney’s General suit asking the Supreme Court to make null and void the elections in 4 swing states, the Justices turned and looked away, claiming the lawsuit had no standing.

So, for now, the fragile democracy holds, as much of America hopes for a speedy January 20th, to finally put an end to this shameful chapter in our history.

Were the founders right? Can a free people govern themselves? Or, is it possible to fritter it all away on issues of white power, greed, and hate? On that question, the jury is still out.

Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller

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