Discover more from Letters from an American
June 5, 2020
Today marks the end of a momentous week in American history.
The president has not changed over the course of the week: he is still dismantling checks and balances in favor of his own power. With the help of Attorney General William Barr, he has taken control of the law enforcement teams that make up about 132,000 federal law enforcement officers and, taking advantage of the fact that Washington, D. C., is not a state, has turned nearly 3000 members of those forces loose on the protesters in the capital to join the 4000 others there from different forces. About half of the federal officers come from the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, DEA, and CBP; others come from 80 other, smaller, forces, and answer to the executive branch of the government.
While we have all been paying attention to the crisis in the streets of Washington, D.C., Trump yesterday signed an executive order permitting government agencies to waive environmental laws in order to speed up approval for development, citing an economic “emergency” caused by the pandemic. This follows an executive order from two weeks ago, telling agencies they can simply ignore regulations they believe burden the economy. His executive orders override Congressional legislation, and will likely not stand in court, but for now, anyway, reinforce his emphasis on turning the country over to businessmen. “This is a huge win for pro-growth policies,” said David McIntosh, president of the anti-regulation Club for Growth.
That focus on the economy showed as well today in Trump’s triumphant focus on a better jobs report for May than economists had expected. The report showed an unemployment rate of 13.3%, although it had been expected to come in about six points higher. Even with those gains, the US has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, according to Josh Lipsky of the Atlantic Council. And there is a problem with the report’s numbers, noted on the report itself. Because there was a “misclassification error”—people furloughed because of the pandemic did not get counted as unemployed-- the numbers are about 3 percentage points low, putting the real unemployment rate at about 16.3%.
Still, in his meandering speech about the numbers, Trump reiterated that a strong economy was key to equality in America. He then talked about the protests and said that Black Americans must get fair treatment from law enforcement. He said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, “This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.” This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality. It’s really what our Constitution requires and it’s what our country is all about.”
Trump’s key supporters in Congress haven’t changed: they are still using governmental machinery to smear Trump’s opponents. The Senate Judiciary Committee has launched a probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, and yesterday, Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sought to get authorization for subpoenas for more than 50 individuals. Graham is up for election and, with challenger Jaime Harrison collecting more campaign money than Graham, is looking to solidify his standing with Trump’s base.
Graham was forced to postpone the vote, though, after a fight broke out. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) called out the hearings for the campaign propaganda they are. "Can we get a sense of how long we're going to be here? ... With all due respect, I don't think anybody in private ever disagrees with me when I say that it's bullshit the way people grandstand for cameras in here. The reality is if we didn’t have cameras in this room, the discussion would be different,” he said.
The Chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Ron Johnson (R-WI) had better luck: he got the subpoena power he wanted for his version of the same investigation. (Johnson is one of the Republican lawmakers who spent July 4, 2018 in Russia.)
Trump’s key supporters on the ground haven’t changed: they continue to support the president and the use of force against protesters. After two Buffalo, New York police officers on the force’s emergency response team were suspended for pushing a 75-year-old man backward onto a sidewalk, where he hit his head and lay bleeding and unconscious as they walked on by, 57 of their colleagues resigned from the team (although not from the force, where they remain employed). They resigned “in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” said John Evans, the president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
The National Guard troops in Washington appear all to have been sent by Republican governors: Utah, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, and Florida. Governors in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia—all Democrats-- have refused to send troops.
What has changed this week is that there are critical numbers of Americans, including those who control the military, publicly rejecting Trump and his version of America.
Crucially, the week saw military leaders taking a firm stand that they would not permit military personnel to be used against Americans. This is a huge deal, putting to rest any thought that Trump could rally the military to his standard. Over the course of the week, more and more former officers declared their support for equal rights and the Constitution, to which they swore an oath, and opposed Trump’s suggestion that he would call soldiers to put down protesters. Today, 89 former defense officials added their voices with an op-ed in the Washington Post echoing their colleagues, but going further to note: “We are alarmed at how the president is betraying” his oath to the Constitution.
Without consulting the president, the Pentagon today disarmed the federalized National Guard troops in Washington and sent back to their bases the regular troops that had been moved to the city.
Today, the Marines directed their corps commanders to “identify, and remove the display of the Confederate battle flag or its depiction within work places, common-access areas, and public areas on their installations.” The order is to “support our core values, ensure unit cohesion and security, and preserve good order and discipline.”
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ended the state of emergency in the city and formally asked Trump to withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, D.C.
In Denver, a federal court issued a restraining order against Denver Police prohibiting them from using chemicals and projectiles against peaceful protesters.
A poll from early this week found that 64% of American adults were “sympathetic to people who are out protesting right now,” while 27% said they disapproved, and 9% said they weren’t sure what they thought.
For ten days, now, Americans have filled the streets of cities and towns across the country, their anger over the death of George Floyd under the knee of a casual murderer in a blue uniform growing into a larger rejection of an America where white and might make right.
Today, Trump visited the state of Maine, where he was greeted with a message from the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald. The headline read: “To President Trump: You should resign now.”