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Mainstream story line for Monday’s events in Lafayette Park, across from the White House: police attack peaceful protesters to clear the park for a presidential photo op at a church. That is all accurate enough. It does not, however, capture the reason the president’s team planned this assault. They launched it to signal, on Trump’s behalf: “Stay the fuck away from my house.” It was a show of force, intended to intimidate.

So much for the right to assemble peaceably, to seek redress of grievances. Every day now reminds us we do not live in a democratic republic. We live in a police state. What is a police state, exactly? It is a place where a child holds up a sign to police in riot gear that says, “Stop killing us!” Police ignore the sign, and keep killing people.

Wherever you look, they execute people: people with their hands up, people who run away, children with toy guns, people who crawl on the carpet and beg for mercy. They break into people’s houses and apartments, then execute the occupants during violence they initiated. We used to execute people with a noose, or a firing squad, after a full trial and conviction for a capital offense. Now police strangle people directly, out on the street, or shoot them in their homes, for reasons that make sense only to them. That is a police state.

Members of the military have entered a difficult time, though they may not recognize it yet.

This state existed long before the current president. The difference now is that we have a commander-in-chief who loves to show force. He admires strongmen in Russia, North Korea, the Philippines, Hungary, and Turkey who regularly intimidate people to protect their power, who regularly use their power to intimidate. We have just seen the same thing in Lafayette Park. They say they stand for order and sanctity of law. They stand only for themselves.

Members of the military have entered a difficult time, though they may not recognize it yet. Officers, in particular, are supposed to carry out orders of civilian authorities. They also swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. By long practice, regular military do not use their weapons against people within U. S. borders. We now have a president who expects them to do exactly that, and who explicitly expects military forces to violate the Bill of Rights as they do so. The attack on those assembled in Lafayette Park shows what he has in mind for the rest of the country. Pray God leaders of the military know where their responsibilities lie.


Update

Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona observed in an interview, “For us to just shut our eyes and somehow believe he won’t go that far — he just ordered the federal government to fire at innocent protesters. We need to accept the fact that this president, if given the opportunity, will try to be a dictator.”

Mr. Gallego, a veteran of the Iraq War, predicted that military leaders would find themselves at a decision point soon: “They’re going to have to say no to the president and not follow illegal orders.”

We need to accept the fact that this president, if given the opportunity, will try to be a dictator.

This issue of what counts as an illegal order already arose, early in Trump’s term, when he threatened to have the military torture people and commit other war crimes overseas. People commented, “The military would never obey orders like that.” Trump replied, “Oh yes, they would, because I’m the commander-in-chief,” but he did not test them on the matter.

So far, Trump has largely had his way with the Department of Justice, partly because the FBI is so incompetent. We saw the secretary of the Navy resign recently due to incompetence. Will the uniformed leadership of the military services buckle to the president? Will they carry out orders that would contradict their oath, or will they tell the president they cannot do so? A lot depends on the answers. Strongmen cannot become dictators without support from the military services.


Related articles

What Democracy Scholars Thought of Trump’s Bible Photo Op: The president’s true believers saw a message to appreciate. Many others saw something more alarming.

How Trump’s Idea for a Photo Op Led to Havoc in a Park: The clash with protesters that preceded President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square may be remembered as one of his presidency’s defining moments.

The Last Temptation of Trump: The president brandishes a Bible in front of a church, in search of a divine mandate that isn’t coming.


Related quotations

The president rhapsodized about the crackdown in Minneapolis once the National Guard moved in. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch,” he said. “It just can’t be any better. There’s no experiment needed. You don’t have to do tests.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ is tempted by Satan three times, and the final temptation is this: dominion over “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Christ rejected the offer, scripture holds; “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him,” he rebuked the Devil. But it wouldn’t have been a temptation if it weren’t in some way enticing. One imagines that Lucifer didn’t retire the gambit because of the one defeat and that in his years of similar propositions, he must have had many takers.