Friday, February 15, 2019

Massacres and Martial Law

Spurred by the thought of the "St Valentine's Day Massacre" in 1929, when seven Chicago gang members were shot - when such events are from a different time or place, we don't call them "mass shootings", we call them "massacres". Opponents of stricter gun safety laws are saying that it's either pointless or undesirable to use gun safety legislation to prevent massacres.
In other countries, when executives in power get so frustrated with the civilian legislation process that they order military funding and personnel to be used for domestic law and order enforcements, we don't call it "using emergency powers", we call it "declaring martial law". That's how we would describe President Trump's actions today if he were the president of another country, unless it was at war or in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
If your quick reaction to that description is "Calling this martial law is ridiculous, you're blowing this out of proportion!", please ask yourself where that reaction is coming from. If we really believed that immigration at the US / Mexican border is an emergency threat to basic law and order, a threat to our immediate safety, we would sadly acknowledge that declaring martial law is a necessary evil. Nobody seems to actually believe this - certainly, nobody has said "The situation is so urgent, President Trump is right to declare martial law". In other words, using "martial law" is out of proportion - but it's not the name, it's the decision itself.
I suspect a lot of people's discomfort with the term martial law is because, while it's easy to feel that the President is wrong, it's very hard for many Americans to feel that Democrats might be right. That's a nasty emotional dissonance, and it makes us want to ignore what's being done on our behalf. That's one of the ways that democratic rights are lost.
If you have Republican representatives with any influence here, please tell them that you think the military should not be used to circumvent the civilian legislative process for raising government revenue in this way. Such a belief, after all, is what the American Revolution was based upon. And please ask your friends and family to consider these issues.


Chris Brew said...

It's nasty and authoritarian, as well as incompetent. Looking around the world, it is of a piece with what Orban is doing in Hungary and Erdogan is doing in Turkey. They are much further down the road of attempting to disempower and delegitimize all potential foci for opposition. Indeed, in Turkey, it was the opposition who declared martial law, and Erdogan who brought back "the civilian rule of law". What came back was not martial law, but also not something that anyone would want.

On the positive side, the US civilian courts are still functioning, and can clearly act as a check on executive power if they want to. So is Congress, except that the current political calculus still makes Republicans more scared of Trump and his base than of anything else they can imagine. For the smarter ones, in order to achieve this state, they have had to subject themselves to a long-term process of self-administered imagination reduction therapy. As Trump unwinds, if they believe that he will not get a second term Republicans will desert him. Congressional oversight only in form will give way to actual Congressional oversight. This is not what martial law looks like.

But even prior to Trump, there were far too many aspects of how the US works that are close to martial law. The FBI, the CIA and other lesser agencies, including the police, have de facto scope to do way more than a free democratic society should tolerate. The pernicious evil of civil forfeiture would horrify the Founders, and that's just one example.

Dominic said...

Thanks for this comment, I only saw it months later. I definitely agree that many if not most government actions in the USA are "not what martial law looks like", and that we should be concerned about exceptions.

To your other points on how closely tied the fortunes of Trump and the Republican party will be during the New Year, 2020, that starts with an impeachments and ends with an election - I certainly don't know what will happen!