Out of nowhere, Donald Trump chose to drop a civil liberties bombshell on Tuesday, tweeting that flag burners should be either imprisoned or deported.
Not only did the outburst vindicate the notion that Trump doesn't have any functional understanding of the Constitution, specifically the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but it also established the fact that he plans to operate as an autocratic tyrant, jailing dissenters, if not fully revoking the birthright citizenship of anyone who farts in his general direction.
As we've discussed before, there's literally nothing to contravene the prediction that Trump will abuse his presidential power out of both ignorance of the law and in defiance of it. He campaigned on deporting citizens, imprisoning his political opponents, weakening press freedoms and engaging in torture overseas. We know this because he talked about all of it. To somehow forecast politics-as-usual from the Trump regime ignores everything he's promised to do. The very fact that he's spent much of his transition tweeting threats against the press, against theater actors, against political protesters and even against the integrity of the election that elevated him to the presidency tells us his administration is shaping up to be extraordinarily abnormal. And that's understating the threat.
Not surprisingly, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, who recently confessed to secretly advising Trump on the media, completely downplayed the president-elect's flag burning tweet. Scarborough told The New York Times' Anand Giridharadas that people of color, along with the rest of us, are exaggerating the threat of a Trump presidency.
“You have a situation where it’s the boy who cried wolf, and everybody keeps talking about him being a neo-Nazi, and then what happens is, what do you call him next after you’ve called him a neo-Nazi when perhaps somebody in the administration does suggest something that runs afoul of the Constitution?” he said.
“There’s a reason why dictators have not been able to do in our country over the past 240 years what they’ve been able to do in other countries,” Scarborough added. “That’s because James Madison put together a Constitution along with Alexander Hamilton that created a system of checks and balances.”
“I just personally have confidence in the Supreme Court of the United States and Congress and the system of checks and balance in our Constitution that I do think that we don’t need to jump out of windows,” he replied.
What Scarborough hasn't fully grasped yet (and perhaps he refuses to) is the reality that Trump could very easily and extra-constitutionally overrule whatever checks and balances he decides are impediments to making America great again. There's no procedure for removing the president when he defies the Supreme Court, other than impeachment, and it's unlikely that the lockstep GOP will have either the motivation or the votes to take us down that path.
So, what happens when the Supreme Court tells Trump he can't have something he wants -- hell, what if Congress disses him? What will Trump do? We have no idea because no one's asked him. But we know from his words and behavior that he's perfectly capable of doing whatever the hell he wants, and with the almost unanimous support of his voting base of 60 million Americans, backstopped by Fox News, talk radio and the neo-Nazi underworld of online hackers and Pepe The Frog disciples.
Contrary to what Scarborough said Tuesday morning, we've had a few presidents who've either thumbed their noses at the Court or outright defied its rulings -- Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln to name a two (both of these guys appear on our money, by the way). In fact, Lincoln famously issued a warrant for Chief Justice Taney's arrest.
Sorry, but Madison and Hamilton failed to establish any sort of failsafe mechanisms under these circumstances. They surely didn't anticipate the internet and its accompanying conveyor belt of propaganda, misinformation and fake news. (They did, however, foresee despots like Trump, and so they created the Electoral College, which, according to Hamilton's Federalist 68, was meant to block the ascendancy of tyrants and maniacs.)
Okay, so let's say an American citizen is illegally arrested and unconstitutionally deported for burning the flag. How long will this person live in exile before his or her case reaches the Court? And if it's stacked with conservative justices, how will they ultimately rule on the case? Again, we don't know. But it won't be quick, nor will it be a no-brainer. Texas v Johnson, which decided the flag burning issue, was a five-to-four decision -- barely overruling anti-flag-burning laws.
One last thing. Regarding Scarborough's "jumping out of windows" remark, I'm old enough to remember early 2009 during the debate over President Obama's stimulus legislation when Scarborough was routinely leaning on the Red Scare button, warning his audience about the end of capitalism and the rise of socialism in America. Of course, it never happened even though the stimulus passed and helped rescue the economy from collapsing.
Frankly, I really hope Scarborough is right and the rest of us are dead wrong. I'll be more than happy to cop to being wrong about Trump's presidency, but so far there's no indication it'll be an uneventful, on-the-level presidency. Trump's tweets are just hints as to what's in store -- one of several reasons why it's not a distraction but a series of canaries in the tyrannical coal mine.