The takeover and destruction of America will not be an advertised event and it will not be a sudden head-on collision with nearly 250 years of democratic history. It will be a slow and almost glacial accident full of slow-motion chaos, passages of tyranny, and warning signs from all angles that many will never see. The plague of fascism in America is already spreading and alarms are sounding in communities across the nation.
Washington, D.C. plays a unique role in America’s political system as a federal republic. It is the seat of government where policies are set and enforced in a complex process of checks and balances that trickles down to states, counties, cities, and the smallest towns. It is rare that the federal government need act with force or extreme prejudice to ensure that nationally recommended laws, rules, and ideals are being followed.
It has been a rare and sometimes damaging occasion when the head of our nation has found it necessary to act with the full force and power of the federal government to preserve the Union. The examples that history presents us are few and far between. Until approximately the end of World War II in 1945, the United States had few serious conflicts between the national government and state governments.
The most dramatic instance of dual federalism in action arrived with the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When the federal government moved to abolish slavery, southern states believed that national leaders had stepped across a fine line in our system of dual federalism. The South quickly revolted against the imposition of national will upon the states. The upheaval of the Civil War and reaction to the Fourteenth Amendment after the war added to the contentious relationship between many states and Washington.
War is the extreme example of what happens when federal rules, laws, and guidelines are violated by non-federal jurisdictions. However, equally extreme in the tumultuous history of civil rights is President Lyndon B. Johnson’s exercise of executive power in 1965 to activate troops in Selma, Ala. during protest marches. Johnson’s use of federal power to enforce law in the states is nearly unprecedented even today.
Aside from civil rights issues, both the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have ushered in a new era in American federalism. The dual system has evolved to a less defined, and more intertwined system, driven predominantly by commerce and regulatory issues. However, Donald Trump and his fascist-minded regime have set in motion the slow collision between states and federal law.
There is no law that demands any person stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem. Contrarily, in 1943 the United States Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that the free speech clause of the First Amendment provided protection against a forced salute to the flag. Recently, Trump has taken issue with kneeling for the anthem, but there is no law against it.
However, Trump’s influence has already poisoned the local waters. Last month in Louisiana, Parkway High School, and others in Bossier Parish School District, sent home strongly worded letters that demanded that all students stand for the anthem and that “failure to comply will result in removal from the team.” School and parish officials reasoned that “Freedom is not free” as justification for their illegal demands that violate the United States Constitution and rulings of the highest federal court — the Supreme Court of the United States. Apparently, Alabama educators are still waiting for rulings from the Supreme Court of the Confederacy.
The trickle down erosion of respect for federalism will eventually wash away the United States Constitution and the inherent rights it bestows on each person in America. While Donald Trump promotes a personal agenda and neither national policies nor programs, states and local jurisdictions will take advantage of his examples. Each time Trump denies the Constitution, an existing federal law, or the precedent of the Supreme Court, he emboldens the minor political subdivisions that would normally follow federal models.
In another troubling example of free speech being shackled, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a Texas town this week for violating free speech. The town of Dickinson is requiring residents ravaged by hurricane Harvey to sign an agreement not to boycott Israel before they may be eligible for relief funds. The bizarre contract stipulates that any resident applying for relief funds to rebuild or repair their home must remain silent on Israel.
Dickinson’s free-speech barter, as insane as it sounds, is not new. Other Texas towns and cities have included similar non-boycott provisions, and a Kansas teacher is suing that state for its non-boycott clause that caused her to be denied additional training and certification. Many other states have some version of the non-boycott stipulation.
Where does the attack on the First Amendment and the anti-Israel boycott originate? Congress is debating a related law that would apply nationally. The trickle-down effect that hurricane survivors must contend with is the result of Trump’s disregard for the United States Constitution and a GOP-led Congress moving to dismantle rights and freedoms — by holding desperate and homeless Americans hostage for their right of free expression.
The end is coming, but it will not be announced by canons like the shots at Fort Sumter. It will creep up on us, from our town halls, police departments, and in veiled agreements issued in times of desperation. The final assault on democracy is one that, if we close our eyes, will wake us without warning and arrive unannounced in the night — like a candidate who lost the polls, the predictions, and the popular vote, but still somehow managed a coup.