What Will “Freedom” Mean in a Trump Administration?

Big Brother
Remember the 1st and 4th Amendments?

W.J. Astore

What will freedom mean in a Trump administration?  During his campaign, why did Trump harp on the Second Amendment but none of the others?  How did our country come to define freedom as buying lots of guns and ammo without restrictions, or flying objectionable symbols such as Confederate battle flags?  What kind of “freedom” is the freedom to spend lots of money on guns? What kind of “speech” is flying a symbol that is highly offensive and hateful to many Americans?

The “freedom” to fly a flag associated with slavery, rebellion, oppression, and racism doesn’t seem to me to be much of a “freedom.” The same is true of the “freedom” to spend lots of money on guns and ammo. What is so “free” about that?

The “freedom” of the average Joe has come to be defined as the right to carry guns or the right to fly racist flags. But what about the right to a living wage, the right to privacy, the right to good health care, the right to a decent education, the right to clean water and fresh air, the right to have a real say in the political process?  These rights are being increasingly abridged, yet so many Americans see no infringement to their “freedom” here.

Surely one of the great triumphs of the power elite has been the redefinition of “freedom” such that the freedoms that are allowed, like buying lots of guns, make no impact on the elite’s ability to rule and to exploit.

A couple of sobering facts.  During his campaign, Trump railed against the press, suggesting that he’d work to change libel laws so that he could sue and punish the press for writing critical stories about him.  Also, Trump has suggested some kind of national registry for Muslims, and members of his staff have suggested internment camps for unreliable elements, citing the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a laudable precedent.

What the hell?

As the Trump administration takes shape, apparently with men like Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and retired General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, Americans would do well to read and re-read the Bill of Rights, all of them, not just rights like the Second Amendment.  For what good is it to be able to buy lots of guns if you need to worry about your religion, your right to privacy, your ability to organize and protest, and your right to a press that is untrammeled by the government?

Alarmist?  Consider the following facts about retired General Flynn, according to FP: Foreign Policy:

Earlier this year, Flynn Tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and just last month offered his support for a prominent Alt-Right writer and activist. In his book Field of Fight released earlier this year, Flynn wrote, “I’m totally convinced that, without a proper sense of urgency, we will be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Islamic militants, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce noted in a story about the book.

Sitting in your walled bunker, surrounded by guns as well as the stars and bars and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, is not much of a “freedom” if the government is illegally watching you, or getting ready to intern you in a camp because you worship God in the name of Allah instead of Yahweh or Jehovah, or getting ready to deport you because not all of your papers are perfectly in order.

First they came for undocumented immigrants, and I did not speak out, for I was not undocumented.  Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out, for I was not Muslim.  Then they came for the protesters, and I did not speak out, for I was not a protester.  Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Last Night, Donald Trump Disqualified Himself

Donald Trump
Hail the Leader (Trump at FreedomFest, July 11, 2015 (AP Photo/John Locher)

W.J. Astore

As a retired military officer, I watched last night’s Republican debate from Detroit (transcript here) with a special focus on which candidate is qualified to lead the military as commander-in-chief.  I knew, of course, that Donald Trump had promised in the past to use torture against America’s enemies (last night, he called them “animals”), that he would pursue and kill not only terrorists but their families (apparently because the families always know, according to Trump, what their father/brother/sister is up to, as if there are no secrets in families).  Trump, in short, is an Old Testament “eye for an eye” man: if they behead us, we’ll torture and kill them, end of story.

But Trump was put on the spot when he was asked what he would do if the U.S. military failed to carry out his unlawful orders.  Instead of saying he wouldn’t issue unlawful orders, that he would support and defend the U.S. Constitution, which as president would be his sworn duty to uphold, Trump boasted that the military would follow his orders no matter what.

America: those are the words of a dictator.

Here’s what was said:

BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.

So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

BAIER: But they’re illegal.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he — now we’re talking about waterboarding.

This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last — two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too, because, frankly…

(APPLAUSE)

… that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine — can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding. That’s my opinion.

BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

Our military does not follow blindly orders issued by “The Leader.” Our military swears an oath to the Constitution.  We swear to uphold the law of the land.  We don’t swear allegiance to a single man (or woman) as president.

Trump’s performance last night reminded me of Richard Nixon’s infamous answer to David Frost about Watergate: “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” No, no, a thousand times no.  The president has to obey the law of the land, just as everyone else has to.  No person is above the law, an American ideal that Trump seems neither to understand nor to embrace.

And that disqualifies him to be president and commander-in-chief.

The Military Officer’s Oath

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W.J. Astore

The U.S. military exists to win America’s wars.  But even more fundamentally, the military exists to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, i.e. America’s laws.  America is supposed to be a nation of laws.  The military, as a defender of the Constitution, must uphold those laws to the best of its ability.

Here is the key sentence I recited as a regular officer in the U.S. military: “I do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The oath says nothing directly about obeying the president as commander-in-chief.  It says nothing directly about the need to “win” wars.  Its primary meaning is clear.  Uphold the Constitution.  Defend it.

Indeed, it would be better to lose a war than to subvert the Constitution.  Wars come and go, but the Constitution and our laws must be permanent.  They are the nation’s bedrock.

As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense in 1776, in a newly forged America, the law was to be made “king” — the law was to be our monarch and our guiding light.

It all sounds idealistic, but that’s where the rubber meets the road, and too many of our most senior officers don’t recognize this.  They are far more concerned with enlarging the Navy, or the Army, or the Marines, or the Air Force, as well as protecting their service’s (and the military’s) reputation.  Hence the misleading “progress” reports in Iraq and elsewhere.  Better to lie (or to be economical with the truth), they think, than to be honest and to “hurt” the services.

So, in lying to protect their service branch, they harm the Constitution — indeed, push the lie far enough and you end up betraying the Constitution you’ve sworn to uphold.

It takes men and women of courage and integrity to speak the truth when those truths are uncomfortable.  We don’t have enough of such officers today.  As a first step in reinvigorating our republic, officers need to look to the oath and meet its demands on their integrity and their courage – most notably their moral courage.