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What's the deal with Trump and martial law?

Despite the history of martial law utilization in certain cases, it is still a term that isn't entirely understood.

What's the deal with Trump and martial law?

President Donald Trump speaks inside the Vehicle Assembly Building following the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft on NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA/Bill Ingalls, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I first heard about martial law, I pictured something futuristic and dystopian, similar to the setting from The Handmaid's Tale. That, along with the latest anime series on Netflix, where the government or group of people have banned together to change the political structure of a particular area that they want to change for reasons that are malicious in nature or unknown.

Now that the idea of martial law has been floating around for a few days, my general curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to look it up.


In an article from Joseph Nunn of the Brennan Center for Justice, martial law is broken into three categories. The first is that the armed forces sometimes have the ability to help out civilian authorities for "non-law enforcement functions," such as helping communities in need that have experienced disasters. The second category is when the military helps civilians with law enforcement, such as federal troops being deployed in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The third, which is usually what martial law is referred to, is described as "a power that in an emergency, allows the military to push aside civilian authorities and exercise jurisdiction over the population of a particular area." The military is essentially in charge, and soldiers enact the laws instead of regular police designated to certain areas.

However, despite the history of martial law utilization in certain cases (federal and state governments have declared martial law 68 times throughout U.S. history), it is still a term that isn't entirely understood as the Constitution never properly defined what it is. It's also worth noting that the precedents are old.

The most recent use of martial law was almost 75 years ago when the Supreme Court overturned a case against Harry White, a stockbroker in Hawaii that allegedly embezzled funds from a client.

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Considering the White House officially gave Joe Biden permission to begin the transition process, and the Electoral College finalized their decision, there's really only one thing that can happen.

With this bit of information, given Donald Trump's continuous refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and his ability to try and figure out ways to advance himself any way he can to reclaim any semblance of power, it is not surprising that this idea of martial law and Trump's alleged consideration of enacting it is floating around on the internet.

Recent reports from The New York Times and Business Insider allege that in a meeting on Friday, the retired (and pardoned) Army lieutenant general and former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, raised and "encouraged" the potential use of the military to overthrow the election results to Trump.

This meeting happened some days after General Flynn appeared on a far-right news channel, Newsmax, earlier in the week, saying that Trump could "take military capabilities, and he could place them in those swing states, and basically re-run an election in each of those states."

On the other hand, we have Sidney Powell, a conspiracy theorist and Trump lawyer who was disavowed from the campaign legal team due to conspiracy theory rhetoric, who has now been mentioned as a potential new special counsel to investigate allegations of voter fraud despite her platform.

Frankly, the idea of even hinting towards voter fraud and the prospect of military action is alarming because Trump does have a significant influence on his supporters. So if he were to declare martial law to create his order, I feel that there would be a respect for his ideologies, and they would go along with it regardless of intention.

Fortunately, there is no existing statute that allows the president to declare martial law even though Congress has given the president a substantial amount of authority just to use troops on the domestic front to assist in civilian law enforcement. Deploying troops under the Insurrection Act of 1807 ( Congress giving a president the authority to the president to use the militarily in instances of civil disorder) might raise similar concerns.

There's always a cause of concern if a president wants to use the military as the domestic police force, especially without the states' consent that the armed forces are sent to. This could be seen as a way to oppress people while threatening individual states' autonomy which goes against the fiber of democracy within the U.S.

All in all, I can't quite put my finger around the need for Trump to potentially even want to enact martial law. Still, if I had to guess, I think it would mean he's either desperate to deploy the military as he sees fit to justify his disdain for the election, or he wants to test how far we as Americans will allow him to go when it comes to power.

If either scenario happens, I truly believe that it's up to the military leaders to stand their ground and do what they can to prevent these certain impulses.

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