IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 June 2020
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
How the military reined in Trump
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Why did President Donald Trump not attempt to emulate President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre?
On October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then gave the order to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who likewise refused and resigned. Finally, Nixon found his man in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who obeyed.
During the recent street protests, Trump ordered 1,400 troops to deploy from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. preparatory for use against the crowds. However, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a West Point graduate, refused the order and returned the troops to North Carolina.
So, why was he not fired? Why was not the order given to the next individual in the chain of command just as Nixon did?
The answer lies in the oath of office: “I, Mark Esper, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Former top military officers immediately confirmed this and reiterated the military’s apolitical role. In short, Trump had no Bork to turn to. Every individual at the Pentagon is acutely aware that their allegiance is to the Constitution, not to the commander in chief. And when the president or any officer gives an illegal order, they are duty-bound to disobey it. Either Trump soon realized this or was advised of this, and he quickly retreated.
As a result, this event was far more significant than Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. During the Korean War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur publicly defied President Harry Truman, but obeyed him because Truman’s orders were legal. This makes Esper’s decision all the more important and singular in American history.
There is increasing commentary concerning the possibility that Trump may not accept the results of the November election if he loses. Already, he is claiming that mail-in ballots are open to fraud. Of course, if he wins, that argument would go away. But now, 14 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the polls, and seeing the battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona slipping away, Trump is all but conceding the likelihood of defeat.
In the event, if he does lose, the question is what tools would be available for him to remain in the White House. Clearly, the Esper incident negates any role for the military. Further, the military is setting an example for all other enforcement organizations, including the Park Police, Secret Police, FBI, U.S. Marshals, and others. So, under the circumstances, Trump would be compelled to rely upon the Supreme Court, but Chief Justice John Roberts has already emphatically staked out his independence and asserted his power as the all-important swing vote between four progressive and four conservative justices.
Therefore, realizing neither force nor law can save him, Trump will unintentionally adulterate the works of William Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas when he cries foul and lets slip the reins of power as he goes boisterously into that good night.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
© 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 June 2020