We took another dangerous step over the last few days. President Donald Trump can’t be wrong. Ergo, a sharpie corrected National Weather Service map was pressed into service. We may laugh. We may even be reminded of tin-pot dictators. The only thing missing, it seems, is a badly fitting colonel uniform. What we saw was Orwellian.
The president claimed that Alabama was going to be hit. He based this, giving the benefit of the doubt, on a very early spaghetti path that showed Alabama as possible. However, this matters, one or two paths when the majority did is not predictive. It was also extremely early in the predictions for Dorian. It showed a president with a clear lack of ability to admit being wrong, or understand what he was seeing. To be fair, when it comes to weather data most people do not understand it. However, most are humble enough to say “I was wrong.”
The Alabama office of the National Weather Service unit corrected the president immediately. Why? His words could cause a panic. The media dutifully reported on this, and per tin-pot Orwellian dictator, the president called those reports fake. Then he produced a modified map (with a Sharpie) that showed impact in Alabama and denied who modified it.
Given the president is a fan of the Sharpie… there is room to believe it was him or a staffer under his direction. (And according to the Washington Post, it was Trump) Oh, never mind the storm is having very real effects on actual American citizens in other states, and the Bahamas looks like a dystopian hell. He is still stuck on his statement that Alabama was going to get hit. Of course, this state went for him in huge numbers and wants to retake the Senate seat. So this is about base politics. Then there is the pesky fact that the storm is behaving as was expected in a warming world. We all know this president denies science since I guess it’s inconvenient. So does a significant part of his base, who are either badly educated. They do not believe coastal scientific elites, or simply expect the second coming in their lifetime and all this to be fixed. In a few cases, it is all three.
There are many things to be said about this. Some have, and most have stuck to the present. However, in the long span of American History, there is a precedent: King George III. He was also known as King George the mad. We also see aspects of this disdain of institutions and democracy with President Andrew Jackson, who ignored the Supreme Court.
In the modern period, we have not seen this disdain for institutions and democracy. The rights of the citizens in the British system go back to Magna Carta. Many of the complaints in the Declaration, the grievances, go back to the violations of those rights. It went well beyond taxation without representation. The third amendment is a direct result of one of those abuses: Housing troops in private homes.
There were others who spoke to the treatment of colonists as less than citizens. While I know I am about to step on land mines since this is poorly understood these days, the Second came about from a deep mistrust of a standing army. This goes back to the Glorious Revolution, but chiefly King George the mad. Militias were not just necessary in the frontier, they were necessary if a professional armed force was not to be raised. This was the intent within the Bill of Rights.
This illusion quickly died in 1812, since the minuscule professional force had to stiffen the backs of militias of dubious quality. However, militias continued to be raised and to be drilled. In the years surrounding independence, both before, and after, Saturday, once a month, became a day to drill. It was also common practice for officers to get plenty of drink for soldiers to show up. Without that incentive, people slept in.
In time militias moved on to store their weapons in central armories. As the Guard system took shape, they started to get hand-me-downs from the professional force. Partly, an army needs regular logistics, and if everybody carries their preferred rifle and sidearm, soon there will be multiple calibers. Keeping an army supplied in the field becomes near impossible.
In time drink gave way to regular monthly training in a professional manner. However, during most of the 19th-century militias were thought off as of dubious training and usefulness. During times of war, the guard was absorbed into the army, under the full command of a professional force. This was the authority of the president. In the 20th-century guard units deployed in World War One, two, Korea, Vietnam, and the Second Iraq War. Indeed, they continue to deploy, and some are skeptical of their citizen-soldier role at this point. They augment a professional force that hardly has enough troops for the current deployment tempo.
The first part of the amendment makes this military role clear. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”
As to the fate of the current interpretation of the second amendment under Heller, an outlier in the history of legislation, time will tell. The current court is unlikely to rule against Heller. However, there have been other outliers in American history that latter courts have found objectionable. Moreover, citizens are starting to organize against open carry and other egregious items. Businesses are leading at the moment, under the pressure of consumers.
A growing list of retailers is asking patrons to leave their firearms behind when shopping. CVS, Walgreens and Wegmans Food Markets on Thursday joined other large chains in requesting that customers refrain from openly toting guns in their stores, even if they live in states that allow the practice.
The moves follow similar changes in “open carry” policies earlier this week by Walmart and Kroger. Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by revenue, has been under intense pressure after separate shootings that recently killed 24 people in two of its stores within a week. In announcing the shift, company CEO Doug McMillon described multiple incidents of people “attempting to make a statement” by entering a Walmart wielding firearms, scaring workers and customers.
The president, like a young toddler with little ability to decide on his own, is flip-flopping on the issue, in favor of the National Ruffle Association. Oh never mind that Americans are tired of sacrificing our collective freedoms from a very real fear of mass shooters. In the process, Trump is employing the kind of Orwellian language the NRA prefers, as well as their allies. In this slavery is freedom mentality, they keep telling us, guns are not dangerous, the shooters (insane and all) are. This way they think they can avoid acting in an effective manner. That means passing legislation that will deal with the root causes of the issue, such as universal background checks.
This goes against the wishes of most of the population. It is a diversion from the ultimate authority resides in the people, which goes to Magna Carta. It is also the most dramatic example of how language is used against people. Which brings me back to the Sharpie and a map. In normal circumstances, we should even laugh. This spectacle of a president stuck on bad data (a la Roy Cohn) would be rejected by any Hollywood studio. The spectacle of a president acting like a tin-pot dictator would be, perhaps, green-lighted as comedy. However, this is deadly serious.
George Orwell warned us about language and how it could be abused. This is what we are experiencing. That, and a frontal attack on all American institutions.