Domestic Enemies

My latest for Defense One.

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One Sunday Aug. 9, 2020, at the Elberon Park landing zone in Long Branch, N.J. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

My latest for Defense One, “Who Decides Who Is a ‘Domestic Enemy’?” has posted.

The setup:

Retired soldiers John Nagl and Paul Yingling, who came to national prominence on opposite sides of the counterinsurgency debates, joined forces to argue that, if Donald Trump were to lose the election and yet refuse to leave office at noon next January 20, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs must give the order to have him removed by military force. Kori Schake and Jim Golby, two of our leading experts on civil-military relations, ably explained why this is wrong on many levels.

While this was far from Nagl and Yingling’s best work, they have nonetheless done us a service in kicking off a tendentious debate. They raise some difficult questions and it is far better to come to a consensus on the answers now while they are theoretical rather than waiting for a fait accompli.

The conclusion:

America has seen several contentious elections over its history, including the Jefferson-Burr debacle of 1800, the tainted 1876 election that led to the infamous “Compromise of 1877,” and the Bush-Gore clash of 2000. Each of these was settled through the political process. In the incredibly unlikely event that a losing president refuses to vacate the White House, we will solve it the same way.

I between, I answer the titular question and several others.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, National Security, Published Elsewhere
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I read and appreciated your article; however, I stumble upon several statements that I find I have a hard time getting around.

    One can find well-meaning people making the case that all manner of forces and any number of their fellow citizens constitute a domestic enemy to the Constitution.

    While brazen, this is likely within his authority. But Congress has the tools, via the power of the purse, to counteract him if they so choose.

    there are numerous lawsuits making their way through the judicial system litigating that very issue.

    But it would be one that Congress and the judiciary have ample tools to resolve.

    These are all true. And I hope they are true. But maybe it is because I feel that things are so broken, that I don’t see a lot of “well-meaning people” out there to exercise the system in the manner we think it works or should work.

    Maybe if we get through this, we need to really look at the distribution of power in our Constitution and government and rebuild the guardrails to a more robust state.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Scott:

    Maybe if we get through this, we need to really look at the distribution of power in our Constitution and government and rebuild the guardrails to a more robust state.

    Yes, although it’s damned near impossible to do unless there’s just an overwhelming Democratic majority in both Houses. And even then, getting 3/4 of the states to approve an amendment will simply not happen in this climate.

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  3. Kathy says:

    The thing is, there’d be many, many people, in the US and elsewhere, who’d love to see Trump of the Damaged Psyche, be “dominated” by a force using “less lethal” weapons.

    2
  4. mattBernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    Agreed, sadly the structure of the Constitution and evolution of the American State have all but made this impossible.

    2
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    If it is apparent to all, if not necessarily accepted, that Biden has won, Trump will leave whining and complaining. Those around him will recognize the reality that refusal to do so constitutes a coup and Trump would be subject to prosecution. The question is more muddled if the election is very close and the tipping point state is also close, say <1%.

    3
  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Most likely, Biden after being sworn in, would not use the military to remove an obstinate Trump, but Federal marshals, though it would be fitting if he used Homeland Security storm troopers.

    3
  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: The issue isn’t really whether he’s at the desk but whether anyone would follow an order from Trump. If he’s still in the White House his offense is simply being inside a secure area without authorization. It would be up to the Secret Service to remove him. Also a useful loyalty test for SS management, who may need some loyalty testing.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I agree that those around him would be able to recognize the reality of the situation, but would Trump? I’m serious in asking. How often have we heard the stories about his aides keeping information from him because if he hears it he’ll either have a tantrum or he’ll refuse to believe it?

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  9. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner:
    @mattBernius:

    So I gather from you gentlemen who are so much more learned about our Gov’t and Constitution than I that the future of the American Republic rests on the likes of Mitch McConnell and Ron Johnson.

    And there is no alternative.

    We are SOOOOO screwed.

    Sinclair Lewis told us this day would come.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    The issue isn’t really whether he’s at the desk but whether anyone would follow an order from Trump.

    Well put.

    What happens if Trump the A-Hole claims he won and refuses to leave, and instructs 1) his cabinet to stay in place and 2) the Senate not to confirm any of Biden’s nominees?

    That’s an awful lot of people who’d have to be willing to go along. given all that’s happened in the past four years, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

    Coups often boil down to who has the loyalty and support of the military.

    I don’t think Trump the Lazy Dictator would attempt it, but he will talk about doing it. He has no discretion and no filters.

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  11. JKB says:

    It is amusing that they presume that if the presidential election is unsettled, that the House elections in those same states wouldn’t also be unsettled. Who would be seated and who would control the House would not be certain.

    Or that given many federal bureaucrats have been in all but open revolt against Trump as the lawful President would suddenly acquiesce to Trump’s orders because they came from the White House regardless of the inaugurated president.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Or that given many federal bureaucrats have been in all but open revolt against Trump

    Evidence? Ready to go full Q on us?

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  13. senyordave says:

    @JKB: Or that given many federal bureaucrats have been in all but open revolt against Trump as the lawful President would suddenly acquiesce to Trump’s orders because they came from the White House regardless of the inaugurated president.

    More realistically it is senior people in his own administration that have ignored Trump’s instructions. Bureaucrats do what they are told to or they get into trouble. I have no doubt that people like Kelly when he was COS tried like hell to manipulate Trump and might have openly disobeyed direct orders from him.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    It is amusing that they presume that if the presidential election is unsettled, that the House elections in those same states wouldn’t also be unsettled. Who would be seated and who would control the House would not be certain.

    I suspect it will not be a surprise saved for the moment of inauguration. The constitutional crisis will have several months to build.

    It would, however, affect all levels of government.

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