The .Ja. vote. What we will be getting next time around, if Trump is still President at 12:01PM, Jan. 20, 2021. (Notice that I didn't say .re-elected as Resident..)
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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)
Until the appointment of William Barr as Attorney General, there certainly could have been room for discussion of as to whether or not the upcoming U.S. Presidential election is the most important one in U.S. history. With Barr's accession to the post, I think that that question becomes moot. Barr is a firm believer in what can politely be called the "Unitary Executive" approach to U.S. governance. In the words of many observers that would be termed "dictatorship" or "authoritarianism" (and indeed is being so-named by an increasing number of observers). Barr's notable November 15, 2019 speech on the subject was taken apart in an article that appeared in AlterNet by none other than Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former New York State Governor.
Barr makes no bones about his views, previously stated in the famous "19-page letter" which specially attacked the basis of the "Mueller investigation." It said, among other things, that a President could not be accused of obstruction of justice. That is, in essence, that a President (presumably only a Republican one, of course) could do whatever he or she (and of course it could be a Republican she, if she were a devotee of QAnon as is that new Congressional candidate in rural Georgia) wants to do. Which is the essence of dictatorship. Trump and those closest to him (see Stephen Miller's "the President shall not be questioned" statement) have repeatedly made it clear that he wants to be dictator.
Since Trump's father died (or actually since his father became incapacitated by Alzheimer's Disuse), Trump has lived the life of dictator within his own family business environment. We don't know actually how rich (or not) Trump is, and what his wealth (or not) is built upon. We do know that he has lived through many bankruptcies. As Senator Kamala Harris said in her opening address as the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee, "He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground." And he ran each opportunity into the ground in part because of his management style: he alone was in charge, very few advisers (really "suggesters," that is if they could overcome their temerity to even do that) beyond family members, and certainly for his businesses, no Chief Administrative Officers beyond himself, and no Boards of Directors.
For the most part, he has run the White House the same way. He has shredded various written elements of the Constitution and the norms that have made it work since the Founding. In terms of the Constitution, for example, he pays no attention to the Preamble, which describes what the U.S. government is for. He apparently has never read either Article I (powers of the Congress - extensive) of Article II (powers of the Presidency - limited). The Presidential powers have of course have been expanded over time, especially since the end of World War II, both legislatively and by "norms," but nowhere near to the extent that Trump is taking or at least is trying to take them. In fact on the day that I originally wrote this column, a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency resigned his position because he said that he is "witnessing the President's slide towards authoritarianism."
See for example, Trump's moving money around the Federal coffers to fund the construction/reconstruction of his famed "border wall" without any consultation with Congress, which under the Constitution holds the spending power. See his "Executive Orders" in which he claims the power to appropriate/specify-the-use-of Federal funds which under the Constitution is the prerogative of Congress (see also his current attempts to effectively legislate the use of COVID-19 relief funds). See his refusal to comply with any of the rules and norms that govern the usual "checks and balances" between the Executive and Legislative Branches. Then there was his recent dispatch of Federal troops to Portland, OR, troops who, as is well-known, wore no identification other than "police," who randomly arrested people and put them into unmarked cars, and then randomly released those arrestees without explanation when their authority was questioned. They were termed by some a Secret State Police (German translation. "Geheime Staats Polizei," or Gestapo). Nowhere, either in the Constitution or in legislation is there an executive authority to do that sort of generalized policing in civilian arenas.
In a number of columns, I have presented a good deal of detail of what is likely to happen in a 2nd Trump Term, happenings that would directly define a Trumpite fascism for the United States. Forgetting what his consigliere at Justice has said. Trump himself has made it clear which way he will go if he is President after Jan. 20, 2021 at 12:01PM. And so, the next election is of vital importance for the future of our nation. But would it be the most important in the history of the nation?
The U.S. has had many critical elections. That of 1828 brought Andrew Jackson, Indian-expeller extraordinaire, to the Presidency and marked the end of the Federalist Era in U.S. politics. That of 1876 marked the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Era of the Nationalization of the Doctrine of White Supremacy under which we are still living. That of 1932 made it possible for the nation to begin facing the possibility of dealing with the Great Depression which had been brought on by the policies of the last of the Republican governments that for the most part had ruled the nation since the Rutherford B. Hayes victory in 1876. That of 1940 not only marked the accession to a third term for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the only time in U.S. history). It also guaranteed that the pro-Nazi "America First" movement led by Charles Lindbergh would be politically submerged and that the nation would begin preparations for joining the war that would eventually bring down the Axis Powers. (In any case it would have been forced to join that war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor anyway).
But perhaps the two most critical, up to now, were the elections of 1860 and 1864. In the one of 1860, there were four parties competing. As the issues of slavery in the slave-holding states and the expansion of the institution to the quickly developing Territories of the West, which had always been on the national agenda (see e.g., the Missouri Compromise of 1820), were rising to a fevered pitch, the newly formed Republican Party ran on a platform of leaving slavery as it was in the slave states, but prohibiting its expansion into the Territories. (This issue was particularly critical for Virginia, in which the slaveholders were now making major profits not from growing crops but rather from breeding slaves, for which they always needed new markets [for human beings, of course]. So, they wanted unlimited expansion of slavery into the territories --- to expand the market for enslaved persons. [Incredible that one can write a sentence like that, isn't it? And people are still waving the Confederate battle flag (there was no official Confederate flag, per se).])
The Northern Democratic candidate, Stephen Douglas, supported "popular sovereignty" (that is voting on the slave/free issue by the inhabitants) for deciding whether a new Territory would be slave or free. The Southern Democratic candidate, John C. Breckinridge, of course supported leaving things exactly as they were, with unlimited expansion of slavery to the Territories. (Breckinridge was so disliked by the Unionists during the Civil War that the spelling of a small town in the Unionist Colorado Rockies that had been named for him was changed to Breckenridge.) John C. Bell of the Constitutional Union Party ran on a "compromise" platform. Historians to this day have trouble figuring out what it meant, exactly. Anyway, Lincoln won and on came the Civil War.
As it happened, although there is certainly disagreement over this point, if any of the other candidates had won there might well have been civil war anyway, with the anti-slavery forces fighting to prevent that expansion into the territories ("Popular Sovereignty" or no), as they did in the "Bleeding Kansas" wars that made John Brown (the subject of the forthcoming TV series "The Good Lord Bird") famous. But, in any case, whatever the outcome, long-term the position of African-Americans in the United States would not have differed too much from what it is now. In a rapidly industrializing country, it is surely uncertain for how long the institution of slavery would have been able to hang on, but as it has since the Civil War, the Doctrine of white Supremacy would have continued to hang over the nation.
Some consider the election of 1864 equally critical. It was held only in the Union States. Lincoln was running now on pushing the war to a successful conclusion, and he had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation (which applied only to the Confederate states, there being four slave states that had remained in the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. There was also the non-slave state of West Virginia, which in 1862 itself had seceded from Virginia over the issue of slavery.) The Democratic candidate was Gen. George McClellan, the former Commander of the Union forces, who Lincoln had eventually cashiered because of inaction.
Although the Democratic Platform was for "Peace," after he was nominated McClellan adopted a "I can do better at the war than Lincoln [and Grant]" platform. Once Gen.Sherman had taken Atlanta, however, the election result was decided, and the North moved onto victory. But if the Democrats, which had a strong "peace" faction, had prevailed in that election, the immediate result of the Civil War might have been quite different. For sure, it is highly unlikely that there would have been the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Nevertheless, as noted above, for how long the institution of slavery per se would have been able to hang on in a nation that was rapidly industrializing is an open question. But even if it had hung on for a while, it probably would have eventually been ended as uneconomic, as it was in Brazil by 1888, with, as did happen, an institution like "Jim Crow" (in some minds virtual slavery, but cheaper for the ruling class) becoming pervasive in the South and the Doctrine of White Supremacy spreading all over the country.
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