Decades from now, no matter which side is writing the history books, 2020 is going to go down in history as the year of the Great American Breakdown. Whether 2021 will be known as the year of the Great American Breakup remains to be seen, but the civic, economic, political, and social stress tests put on our society since the first COVID-19 lockdowns began in March is on a scope and scale that we simply haven’t seen since the years of the Great Depression and World War II, which means many of us have never experienced anything like this at all. We are in uncharted waters.
Truth be told, we haven’t handled it that well. Suicides are up. Drug overdose deaths are soaring (the black market remains strong even as small businesses are failing left and right, apparently). Food pantries are being overwhelmed. Even for many of those who haven’t fallen behind on rent and utilities because of a job loss, there are plenty of sleepless nights and upset stomachs over the prospect of layoffs or closures.
The economic insecurity isn’t the only stressor we’re dealing with. The rise in violent crime and the increasing civil unrest is another fracture point. In the summer and early fall, it was largely Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and other far-Left revolutionary groups driving the unrest. Since the election, however, the calls for revolution have been increasingly loud on the Right.
Over the weekend, the hashtag #CrossTheRubicon was trending on social media. The Rubicon, in this case, is a metaphor for Donald Trump declaring martial law in seven U.S. states in order to investigate voter fraud, which, make no mistake, would absolutely be a revolutionary act.
Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pennsylvania are states in which martial law should be imposed & machines/ballots seized.
7 states under martial law.
43 states not under martial law.
I like those numbers.
Do it @realDonaldTrump!
Nation supports you.
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) December 20, 2020
I don’t like those numbers any more than I like the idea of the president imposing martial law anywhere to try to challenge the election results. Though I have no doubt that election fraud took place, I also have no idea if it was enough to change the outcome of the election, and so far, the evidence presented has not been enough to convince a single court to challenge the outcome.
Taking a step like imposing martial law over “might bes” and “maybes,” no matter how compelling we might find the anecdotal evidence, is a treatment that is at least as damaging to the republic as the disease it’s intended to cure.
Let’s presume that this presidential election was stolen. It wouldn’t be the first time, but never have these elections ended with the inauguration delayed and martial law declared in any state so that the fraud could be investigated.
1960 was arguably stolen thanks to the help of Mayor Daley and his Chicago machine, but Richard Nixon declined to challenge the election, at least in part because of the damage that it would do to the country and the emboldening of our enemies during the Cold War (today’s adversaries would be just as thrilled with the ensuing chaos and further divide that would come with a declaration of martial law).
The Election of 1876 was perhaps the worst of all, with several southern states submitting multiple sets of ballots and electors (along with a legal issue over an Oregon elector as well). Eventually, the election was decided with a backroom deal that to this day remains one of the darkest stains on the history of the fight for civil rights and equality in the United States.
Democrats agreed to award the electoral votes of all the disputed states to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, and in return, Republicans agreed to remove all remaining federal troops from the former Confederate states, which resulted in the imposition of the Jim Crow era and decades of inequality less than ten years after the passage of the 14th Amendment that was supposed to provide for equality under the law and allowed for the first black Republican to be elected from the South.
Maybe we should have crossed the Rubicon back in 1876, but frankly, a decade after wading in the bloody waters of civil war most of the nation wasn’t interested in another electoral fight that could tear the country asunder. The compromise of 1877 seemed like an expedient option, at least for those Americans who didn’t quickly become second-class citizens just a few years after having been recognized under the law as being equal.
We are not so weary and wary of war today, at least not one that’s waged domestically. Of that experience, the vast majority of us are truly innocent, unless you’re a veteran deployed to a war-torn nation or a refugee from a country ravaged by the brutality of a 21st-century domestic conflict. Even those of us who love to lose ourselves in a history book can only experience these things second-hand. We can imagine, we can study, and we can try to learn from the past, but we cannot remember.
How many of us know where the expression “crossing the Rubicon” came from and what it truly means? When Julius Caesar crossed the river Rubicon with his army in 49 B.C. it meant civil war, and when Caesar triumphed it meant the end of the nearly 500-year old Roman Republic and the establishment of a line of god-kings. For those who revere the Constitution and the republic, Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon is far more a warning than a rallying cry.
It may ultimately be unavoidable, but I believe that those of us who truly cherish individual liberty should never rush headlong into the fray bellowing “Leeeeeroy Jenkins!” The Founders certainly didn’t. From the first Stamp Act protests to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, more than ten years passed; time the Founders put to good use organizing and planning for the defense of their rights, but also continually appealing to Parliament and the king for a redress of their grievances in an attempt to avoid the painful consequences of a fatal split.
The current calls by some in favor of martial law remind me more of the Fire-Eaters in 1860, agitating for the immediate secession of the South from the Union after the election (but before the inauguration) of Abraham Lincoln. The Fire-Eaters got their way starting in South Carolina, with ultimately much of the South following suit, but they also ironically helped to bring about an end to slavery in the south far sooner than would have happened had the South remained in the Union after Lincoln was elected.
Would establishing martial law in seven states over the 2020 election pose a threat to the Constitution akin to the firing on Fort Sumter? Well, flip the script. Imagine a Democrat president declaring martial law in Texas in order to investigate election fraud. What would the reaction on the Right be? Would Second Amendment supporters see that as a drastic yet constitutional step in order to avoid the prospect of a stolen election or an act of tyranny?
For me, the answer is found in my experience with the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement. It was almost one year ago that I drove through the November darkness to the courthouse square in Amelia County, Virginia. The small building where the county supervisors were meeting was jammed, and hundreds of residents who couldn’t fit inside gathered on the courthouse lawn straining to hear the voices inside who were demanding that the rural county declare itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary where unconstitutional gun control laws would not be enforced with county funds.
I listened as state Senator Amanda Chase stood on the courthouse steps on that cold November night and praised the crowd for coming out to stand up for their constitutional rights. Now, however, Chase has joined in with those voices demanding martial law.
She supports former Gen. Michael Flynn, and the call to impose martial law and temporarily “suspend the Constitution,” but only under “extreme” circumstances.
“You never want to suspend the Constitution,” she said. “You know the question is, if we get into an extreme situation where we feel like the Democratic Party has committed treason, we really don’t have much of a choice but to suspend the Constitution and have a very limited focus on martial law as it pertains to election integrity, and votes, and securing the equipment that we used to vote to ensure we get to the bottom of what happened.”
If one side in our current fight is going to suspend the Constitution, I don’t want it to be mine. I’m a conservative because I believe deeply that individual liberty is essential to a free society, and I can’t honestly understand how a Second Amendment supporter like Chase (who, like me, has also railed against the executive overreach of Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID orders) can call for the suspension of the Constitution, no matter how temporarily or limited she believes would be the case.
I’m trying to imagine the reaction of the crowd in Amelia County a year ago if Chase had suggested a temporary suspension of the Constitution, even in the name of election integrity, and I don’t think it would have received a positive response. Remember, one of the driving factors in the explosive growth of Second Amendment sanctuaries in Virginia was the call from Rep. Donald McEachin to have the National Guard go out and enforce gun control laws, which rightfully caused alarm and anger among gun owners.
I don’t dismiss the idea that our country is clearly divided, nor do I shrug off the prospect that one day before long (perhaps as early as 2024) that divide may lead to another painful split. I cannot, however, embrace preemptive authoritarianism as a tactic to ensure the continued viability of the Constitution and the republic that it serves. The act would weaken, if not destroy, the very thing it’s supposed to protect.
I actually do believe in the right to revolution, by the way. I just don’t believe this is the right revolution, any more than I think Antifa’s call for class warfare and a Communist takeover is the right revolution. A pre-condition of my approval of any revolutionary activity is that it is in defense of the Constitution and not in support of its suspension or destruction. I simply don’t know how to believe otherwise without rejecting all I know of our American history and system of government. Like each of us living in the United States in 2020, I’m wading in the waters of the Rubicon. I will cross to defend the Constitution, but not to light the match that sets it ablaze.