Can We Keep Our Republic?

November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

My Fears

“The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” (Benjamin Franklin) “

I share Mrs. Powell’s fear.   I think we face an unprecedented threat to our republic .  Ben  Franklin’s assurance was conditional in 1787 and he could not conceive of the kind of threats we now face.

Donald Trump and the Constitution

During the lengthy campaign leading to the triumph of Donald Trump he made no secret of his hostile attitude toward the Constitution’s limits on executive power.  He railed against the protection of journalists’ right to be critical of his proposals.  He promised changes in slander and libel laws so that his critics could face civil penalties.  He prescribed jail or loss of citizenship for the offense of flag burning.  He called for religious testing of immigrants fleeing from oppression and death.  He promised mass deportation of Muslim citizens.  He plans for significant expansion of our prison system by creating a privately operated system of new facilities.  Steve Bannon, his choice for a top advisor, has a history of proposing restriction of the franchise to property owners, acknowledging his approval of its disproportionate impact on the right of black citizens’ voting rights.

Our present military force is greater than any other nation.  Trump promises to significantly expand it.  One of his favored military advisors is a retired general who led attendants at his political rallies in a call for jailing Trump’s political opponent.  “Lock Her Up”. He has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator and has expressed disdain for our NATO alliance.

To summarize:  Donald Trump reacts impulsively and angrily toward any restriction on his ability to do whatever he wants to do.  He is about to become President of a country whose governing document is specifically designed to impose those restrictions.  I expect him to react to that circumstance just as he does to any other restraint of his discretion.  Some of his advisors, e.g.  Reince  Priebus, Mike Pence and Kelly Ann Conway, will try to act as a regency for his presidency and protect him from  bad decisions.  I doubt the efficacy and endurance of that arrangement.  Donald Trump does not react passively to restrictions of his power.

A Precipitating Event

I expect that sometime during Trump’s presidency, ISIS  or some other group opposed to the U.S. will cause a repeat of the kind of disaster we experienced on September Eleven.  Trump will then react by claiming authority necessary to protect us from imminent invasion or from other similar events.  The regency will disappear and he will assume the same kind of authority over the United States of America as he had over his private business empire.

When that happens, normal political conflicts will be regarded as unacceptable distractions interfering with the efficient response to external threats.  Normal electoral politics will be suspended.  And George Orwell’s 1984 will finally become reality.  Opposition to Trump’s activities will be treated as treason and rebellions will be ruthlessly crushed.

A Historical Precedent

I am aware that mention of analogies to Hitler’s Germany have been discredited as hysterical and inappropriate political tactics.  I still believe it is instructive to point out some parallels.


Like Trump, Hitler never received a majority vote in a German election.   Hitler, in violation of the Versailles  Treaty, expanded Germany’s military force. As Trump replaces the Clinton era, Hitler, a few months after the 1933 election, displaced Paul  von Hindenburg, first by becoming Chancellor and then, after Hindenburg’s death, becoming Dictator as a result of the Enabling Act.  Trump used Mexican and Muslim immigrants as scapegoats to evoke fear and support by his followers.  Hitler used the Reichstag fire to ignite fear of communists among his followers.   He stoked hatred of Jews and homosexuals to justify brutal repression.  Hitler created a huge system of prisons for the victims of his mass arrests.  Trump is calling for an expansion of privately operated prisons to contain the expected increase in the number of arrests.  As part of his plan to expand across Europe, Hitler forged an alliance with Benito Mussolini of Italy.  Trump has apparently  chosen Vladimir Putin as his Mussolini.  [To me they seem like two scorpions in a bottle:  each intending to dominate the other.]  Hitler used mass meetings featuring military pomp and incendiary  speeches by him to maintain and increase popular adoration of him.  Trump has just announced a series of “Thank You” rallies to maintain emotional ties to his adoring fan base.


I hope I’m wrong about all this.  It would be a wonderful surprise if Trump becomes equal to the job of being a benign intelligent president.  My problem is:  I see nothing in his past to promise that result.

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