President Trump’s idea to deploy active-duty military forces to quell increasingly violent riots in cities across the country has sparked a sharp legal and constitutional clash.
But an even more explosive debate has broken out on a question once believed unthinkable: Should — and will — rank-and-file troops obey the commander in chief if they are ordered to round up American citizens on the streets of New York, Louisville or Chicago?
Some prominent veterans and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling on service members to “lay down your arms” and defy Mr. Trump’s orders should he invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act and seek to move tanks and personnel to major metropolitan areas as civil unrest grows after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd during a confrontation with Minneapolis police.
That in turn has sparked an angry rebuttal from top retired military officials, who say U.S. soldiers and seamen would of course follow orders and that even to raise the question is irresponsible.
“Though there are always outliers, I would expect almost all U.S. troops to obey any lawful order to quell rioting in cities, even where the instigators or participants are American citizens, and even if they disagreed with the order,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr. told The Washington Times.
But in this, as in so many other ways, Mr. Trump represents a distinct break with his predecessors. The racial tensions inflamed by the Floyd killing are matched by unresolved racial tensions within the U.S. military as well.
Questions about the troops’ affinity for Mr. Trump are well-founded. The president’s approval rating among active-duty forces hit the lowest point of his tenure in December, according to a Military Times poll, and troops have been tasked with patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, aiding the national medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other missions outside the Pentagon’s more traditional scope.
Critics say that asking troops to act as domestic riot police would be a bridge too far and should spur young men and women to openly revolt.
“The president has made it clear that the fight for these constitutional principles is a fight against himself,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, the Massachusetts Democrat and Marine Corps veteran who made a brief run for the Democratic president nomination. “We must therefore, with every ounce of conviction, every commitment to peace and every glimmer of hope, join in lawful protest to overcome his tyranny.
“And if he chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do — to stifle dissent, suppress freedom and cement inequality — then I call on all our proud young men and women in uniform, as a veteran and a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath and join this new march for freedom,” Mr. Moulton added.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, said he had “serious concerns about using military forces to respond to protesters” and that he plans to call Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley to explain Mr. Trump’s policy.
Military leaders, of course, insist that men and women of the armed forces will obey the chain of command and follow any lawful orders given by their superiors, including Mr. Trump. Urging troops to lay down their arms en masse, officials and retired military officers say, is ludicrous and dangerous.
Gen. Dunlap, now executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University, said he always opposed using U.S. troops for domestic law enforcement, “absent truly extraordinary circumstances.”
“But it would be dangerous for any politician to suggest that any member of the military to ‘lay down their arms’ in defiance of a lawful order,” he said. “We don’t want those in the armed forces to think they have the right to pick and choose which lawful orders they’ll obey.”
At the same time, the Pentagon has been clear that operating as a domestic law enforcement force is far from the ideal scenario for American forces, including National Guard personnel.
A military official told reporters at the Pentagon it is “the mission we like doing the least.” The Pentagon’s clear preference is to let the National Guard lead the response.
Calling in the troops?
Dozens of states have activated National Guard forces to assist police in the effort to deal with growing unrest. Active-duty forces have been put on “short alert status” outside Washington but have not been deployed. The president has unique authorities to deploy forces in the District of Columbia, though his power is much more limited in the 50 states.
The Insurrection Act requires that a governor request the deployment of active-duty forces except in the most extreme circumstances — and even some of the president’s most ardent supporters say they won’t go down that road.
“We know that Texans can take care of Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in explaining why he won’t ask for active-duty military help.
The last time a president invoked the Insurrection Act was in 1992, when military personnel helped stem riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King, a black man, during an arrest.
For Mr. Trump, who has made rebuilding the military a cornerstone of his presidency, enlisting the help of rank-and-file troops to help with the crisis may be more complicated.
When the president came into office, 46% of troops said they had a favorable opinion of him, compared with 37% who had a negative view.
By December, those numbers had flipped. Just 42% of troops said they approved of Mr. Trump, while 50% did not, according to a survey conducted by the Military Times.
Ordering troops into U.S. cities to arrest their neighbors could frustrate men and women of the armed forces, drive approval numbers lower and compromise a key constituency for the president ahead of the November election.
In an extraordinarily personal message, the Air Force’s senior enlisted leader posted on social media a meditation on race, the military and his own experiences navigating his way as a black man in both civilian and military life.
“As I struggle with the Air Force’s own demons that include the disparities in military justice and discipline among our young black male airmen and the clear lack of diversity in our senior officer ranks … I can look in the mirror for the solution,” Kaleth O. Wright, chief master sergeant of the Air Force, said in a Twitter post. “Do what you think is right for the country, for the community, for your sons, daughters, friends and colleagues — for every black man in this country who could end up like George Floyd.”
Retired military officials argue that while troops surely would follow through on the president’s orders, invoking the Insurrection Act would be a mistake.
“I don’t recommend the president invoke the Insurrection Act and send active-duty military to Minneapolis [or any other city], but that would be within his authority,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, now director of the Center for National Defense at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Federal military forces are put in lots of different situations that may not have been their first choice,” Mr. Spoehr said. “I’m not sure everyone would have wanted to go to the southern border. … But there was nothing illegal or immoral about that. I’d be astonished if any military person was asked to do anything illegal or immoral.”
Top military leaders have said they would refuse any orders they believe to be illegal or unethical. During his Senate confirmation hearings last year, Gen. Milley pledged that he would “not be intimidated into making stupid decisions” as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also said he would step down if he was deeply troubled by an order.
“I think it would be a function of something that was illegal, unethical or immoral. That’s what I’ve been brought up with since I was 2nd lieutenant, and that would probably be cause for resignation,” he told lawmakers.
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Joe Biden: Donald Trump ‘worst president’ in U.S. history
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more > By David Sherfinski – The Washington Times – Tuesday, September 29, 2020 Joseph R. Biden told President Trump he’s the…
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more>
By David Sherfinski
The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Joseph R. Biden told President Trump he’s the worst president in U.S. history at the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday.
“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on.”
The two had been debating taxes before things devolved.
“In 47 months, I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years, Joe,” the president shot back.
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Donald Trump still king of the ‘poorly educated’
President Trump famously declared during his 2016 campaign that he loved the “poorly educated” because voters with lower levels of schooling delivered an overwhelming share of votes to him. Four years later, political pros say most of those folks remain enchanted by the president, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they turn out to vote in…
President Trump famously declared during his 2016 campaign that he loved the “poorly educated” because voters with lower levels of schooling delivered an overwhelming share of votes to him.
Four years later, political pros say most of those folks remain enchanted by the president, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they turn out to vote in the same numbers and whether they will remain attached to the Republican Party after Mr. Trump leaves the presidential stage.
Why Mr. Trump appeals to them is also heatedly debated. Explanations include economics, race and the president’s blunt style of rhetoric.
What is not in dispute, though, is how deeply Mr. Trump resonated, particularly among White voters without four-year college degrees, and how much it upended the political playing field.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said there wasn’t much of an education gap among White voters before 2012. Those with college degrees were about as likely to vote Republican as those without.
That began to change in the race between President Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney, but it exploded in 2016 when Mr. Trump got the support of 51% of voters without a college degree. Among White voters without a college degree, he bested Hillary Clinton by 35 percentage points, Mr. Murray said. Among white voters with a college degree, the two ran even.
That has changed somewhat.
Mr. Trump’s lead over Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden among White voters without a degree is 25 points in Monmouth polling, Mr. Murray said. But Mr. Biden holds a 15-point lead among White college-educated voters.
“But the unprecedented yawning gap between those two groups remains,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s surprise 2016 victory sent political scientists scrambling to figure out what happened. Early speculation revolved around a pool of voters who backed Mr. Obama and then switched to Mr. Trump.
Michael Sances, an assistant professor at Temple University, crunched the numbers and said the level of party-switching wasn’t high compared with previous elections, but those who did switch in 2016 were heavily concentrated among lower-educated voters.
“There aren’t many, but in a close race, they can be key,” Mr. Sances said.
He looked at counties and compared their votes from 2012 and 2016. If the counties at the bottom 20% of education attainment had voted for the same party in both elections, then Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College by about 30 votes.
Mr. Trump’s appeal to less-schooled voters became apparent early in the 2016 Republican primary season. After several stories pointed out his success with that demographic, Mr. Trump declared, “I love the poorly educated.”
That phrase went viral, and some less-educated voters took to Twitter to insist they didn’t like Mr. Trump.
Others, presumably in the more-schooled crowd, complained that it was a bad look for Mr. Trump to brag about winning the demographic.
Mr. Trump was lucky, though, that the vote of a high school dropout counts as much as that of someone with a Ph.D. or law degree, but those who hold degrees are increasingly crowding out the less-educated.
As recently as 2004, those without four-year college degrees made up 58% of the presidential year electorate. That share has fallen in each election since and reached just 50% in 2016.
Broken down further, 18% of voters in 2016 never went beyond high school, 32% had some college but didn’t graduate, 32% did graduate and stopped there, and 18% had postgraduate schooling.
Some academics have suggested that the divide is not about education. Trump voters in 2016 just weren’t as intelligent, said Yoav Ganzach, a professor at Tel Aviv University.
He led a research paper that used data from the American National Election Studies to judge voters’ verbal abilities, as a proxy for intelligence, and then compared those abilities with their choices in the 2016 election. The paper argued that “support for Trump was less about socioeconomic standing and more about intellect.”
Gordon Pennycook, a cognitive psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Regina in Canada, used cognitive reflection test scores of more than 15,000 people who participated in studies on Mechanical Turk, a research tool, to judge their approaches to voting in 2016.
He found that Trump voters, particularly Democrats, were “less reflective” than Clinton voters.
He said there is no strong evidence for the attraction, but it could be that Mr. Trump speaks in a simple and repetitive way.
“That might be something that draws people who tend to have a more intuitive mindset in the first place,” the professor said.
Republicans and conservatives who voted for the Libertarian candidate or other third-party nominee rated highest on the cognitive reflection test, and those who did not vote at all showed the lowest scores overall.
Whether those voters stay with Republicans for the long haul is tricky to predict.
Mr. Pennycook said “the nature of being highly intuitive means you don’t think your way out of where you were,” but going with a gut feeling can make a voter more easily moved by the surroundings.
“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s pretty close to random, basically.”
Michael McKenna, a former Trump White House aide who now writes a column for The Washington Times, said Mr. Trump’s attraction for working-class voters — those likely to lack college degrees — should be obvious. He is talking about the pain of globalization and competition from China, to communities that have suffered deeply.
“Trump’s the first guy — love him, hate him, be indifferent to him — he’s the first guy that’s said, ‘You know, I don’t think this is right. I don’t think this is healthy for the country long-term,’” Mr. McKenna said.
The other side of that coin are suburban voters who benefit from globalization and the cheaper prices they pay for goods at Target.
Mr. McKenna said the Trump effect will be lasting, though not necessarily tied to Republicans. Both parties can make a play for those voters.
“Trump has now opened this door,” he said. “In every election here on out, we’re going to have a candidate who will speak to the negative effects of globalization.”
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Donald Trump bets on trade while Joe Biden struggles for direction
President Trump was just three days into his tenure in 2017 when, with the stroke of a pen, he nixed America’s participation in the world’s biggest trade deal. In canceling the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and later rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Trump has drafted a new script for negotiating trade deals.…
President Trump was just three days into his tenure in 2017 when, with the stroke of a pen, he nixed America’s participation in the world’s biggest trade deal.
In canceling the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and later rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Trump has drafted a new script for negotiating trade deals.
He has ditched multilateral pacts that rely on a gaggle of nations getting on the same page and has wielded tariffs against friend and foe alike. He also has embraced a “protectionist” label instead of the Republican Party’s traditional affinity for free and open trade.
Mr. Trump is leaning into the issue ahead of Election Day, betting that his signature focus will help lock down Upper Midwest states that delivered a White House victory to him four years ago.
“I watched the jobs going out. I never saw anything so stupid in my life,” he told supporters in Dayton, Ohio, this week. “I watched the worst trade deals, and we’ve reversed many of them, almost all of them now, but we’ve reversed them.”
Joseph R. Biden, who supported NAFTA and the TPP, is still trying to find his footing as the Democratic nominee. He has been forced to acknowledge that the North American pact signed by Mr. Trump is superior to the original, though he says House Democrats deserve the credit for negotiating a better deal.
He has proposed a series of ideas to recapture voters who flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump.
Mr. Biden wants a 10% tax on companies that move production overseas and then try to sell products in the U.S.
“If your big corporate strategy is to boost your shareholders’ profits and your CEO’s bonuses by moving jobs out of America, we’re going to make sure you not only pay full U.S. taxes on those profits, we’re going to add an extra 10% offshoring penalty surtax to your bill,” Mr. Biden told Michigan workers on Sept. 9.
He also rolled out a 10% tax credit for companies that revitalize closing or closed factories or bring production or overseas jobs back to the U.S.
He wants to tighten “Buy American” rules. He says too many products are stamped “Made in America,” even if barely 51% of their materials are made domestically, and that it’s too easy for federal agencies to waive the rules when they procure goods.
“These are things that are meant to appeal to Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio, places that have a lot of manufacturing and union jobs,” said Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Mr. Biden has signaled his desire to work more closely with other nations as Mr. Trump uses sharp elbows with friendly partners to get the terms he wants.
“I would just say an important difference between Biden and Trump, when the smoke clears, is that Biden wants to work with the allies,” Ms. Lovely said.
A survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds both parties adopting the views of their respective standard-bearers. Democrats have taken an “internationalist” view, and Republicans favor a nationalist approach to trade.
“The differences between the two candidates are glaring, reinforced by respective partisan preferences among the wider public,” the surveyors said. “In November, voters will not only decide who will become the next U.S. president, but also they will help determine the path U.S. foreign policy takes — either working in partnership with the international community or moving toward a greater degree of national self-reliance.”
The Trump administration is eyeing a series of deals in a second term. He is interested in negotiating with the United Kingdom, once it sorts out Brexit, and Kenya, which is looking to engage.
The president left the door open to a major deal with the European Union despite his well-documented friction with the bloc.
“He’s going to go where he sees the most economic benefit,” said James Carafano, a vice president for foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden has forfeited the issue of trade by supporting NAFTA, which has been blamed for job losses in the Rust Belt and heartland.
He predicts the Democratic nominee would be too soft on China and doesn’t have the fire in his belly to fight for U.S. interests. He also says the former vice president alienated voters who preferred Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont during the Democratic primary contests.
“A lot of the Bernie people vote for us because Bernie’s right about one thing: trade,” Mr. Trump told North Carolina supporters this month.
Few polls ask voters about international trade directly. Instead, voters give Mr. Trump an edge on the economy generally and a nod to Mr. Biden on foreign policy.
A majority of Americans disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of foreign trade in 2018 and 2019, but the president moved above water by January, when he notched the back-to-back deals during an impeachment inquiry, according to Gallup.
It’s been a bumpy road for Mr. Trump since then. The COVID-19 pandemic has shrouded some of his achievements, and China isn’t living up to the purchasing requirements of a phase one trade deal.
Mr. Trump is walking a tightrope on trade with Beijing by trumpeting recent purchases of corn and other farm products while accusing the communist government of letting COVID-19 spread around the world.
“China is now paying us billions and billions of dollars, but you know, I view it differently now. I view China much differently now after the plague came in,” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Mr. Trump also upset brewers and other industries by slapping tariffs on Canadian aluminum mere weeks after the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement went into effect. He said the Canadians were flooding the U.S. market with aluminum, though experts said the uptick was a natural byproduct of market trends related to COVID-19.
He backed off in mid-September, before Canada could retaliate, after determining that trade in non-alloyed, unwrought aluminum is likely to normalize in the last four months of the year.
Mr. Biden is hammering Mr. Trump over the loss of manufacturing jobs during his tenure and the trade war with China that hurt farmers, forcing Mr. Trump to seek billions of dollars in bailout funds over the past two years.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mr. Trump will be getting voters to care about trade, which has been his signature issue alongside immigration. The USMCA just took effect, so its impact is unclear, and COVID-19 hamstrung the initial stage of the China deal and dimmed hopes for phase two.
“Trade is not the be-all, end-all of the American economy, so deficits and trade deals aren’t something that touches the average American the way a tax cut does or a significant decline in employment does,” Mr. Carafano said.
Still, the issue keeps coming up with less than six weeks until Election Day.
The former vice president has been forced to explain why the Obama administration was unable to renegotiate NAFTA from 2009 to 2017.
He told CNN’s Jake Tapper this month that the Republican-led Congress wouldn’t agree with the Obama administration’s push to update the deal.
Experts say Mr. Biden’s argument might be a tough sell.
“‘I couldn’t get it done but the other guy did,’” Mr. Carafano said. “That’s not a great reason to vote for you.”
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