SACRAMENTO – In the “Marshal Law” comic-book series, Law is the last name of a law-enforcement officer “with superpowers in the city of San Futuro, the near-future metropolis built from the ruins of San Francisco following a massive earthquake,” according to Wikipedia. I’ve never read these comics, but they offer a satirical take on superhero characters and our government.
Perhaps some Republican officials mixed up the Marshal Law character with the term “martial law” – defined by Investopedia as “the substitution of a civil government by military authorities with unlimited powers to suspend the ordinary legal protections of civilian rights.”
I’m referring, in part, to text messages that Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows released to Congress’ January 6 select committee, which is examining the Capitol breach that many Trump supporters continue to depict as a jolly stroll through the Capitol that went awry. The texts portray something far more sinister.
Talking Points Memo found that 34 GOP members of Congress texted Meadows about the day’s events, including messages “rife with links to far-right websites, questionable legal theories, violent rhetoric, and advocacy for authoritarian power grabs.”
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina offered the best reminder that one need not be a statesman (or brain trust) to win a seat in Congress: “Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of no return in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!”
Of course, Twitter went wild with the misspelling, but Norman’s content was no laughing matter. When Huffington Post asked him, Norman seemed embarrassed by the typo and offered an excuse worthy of a social-justice warrior: “I was very frustrated then, I’m frustrated now.” Oh yeah, frustration is a totally legitimate rationale for dictatorship.
Many Republicans love Donald Trump because he doesn’t sugarcoat his opinions, yet neither Trump nor many prominent Republican officials can talk about what transpired on January 6 without euphemisms or evasion. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” Animal Farm author George Orwell wrote. As I’ve noted before, the GOP and its MAGA base refuse to see what’s right in front of their noses.
After losing dozens of court reviews of his election-fraud claims, President Trump refused to concede defeat and threatened the peaceful transfer of power that has been one of this nation’s hallmarks. His legal team concocted bizarre legal theories to let him stay in power. Some supporters stormed the Capitol – and Trump has vowed to pardon the trespassers and rioters if he wins a second term.
During the fracas, many members of Congress communicated with the president’s chief of staff and conspired to overturn the election results. Rep. Jim Jordan, the powerful Republican from Ohio, texted the following: “On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional… .” These are top U.S. officials, not Twitter trolls.
Some of these Republican House members dressed up their efforts that would have destroyed our republic in constitutional-sounding verbiage. Jordan, for instance, argued that letting Pence throw out any inconvenient electoral votes was “in accordance with guidance from founding father Alexander Hamilton and judicial precedence.”
That might have made him feel better, but it no more makes those efforts constitutional than communist North Korea’s “Democratic People’s Republic” nomenclature makes it a democratic republic. By the way, Meadows didn’t ignore Jordan’s proposal, but responded as such: “I have pushed for this. Not sure it is going to happen.”
This was an active effort to subvert our democratic system. For those who still scoff at the idea of January 6 as anything significant, here is what U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia recently told a group of New York Republicans: “And I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”
Take heart that only one member called for martial law. Then again, former President Trump demanded something similar in a Truth Social post earlier this month He called for the courts to invalidate the 2020 election and noted: “Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution (italics added).”
When the federal government declares martial law or terminates the rules and articles of the Constitution, it gains unlimited power to do whatever it wants – take your guns, steal your property, quash your speech, put you in prison. It’s hard to believe that a former president (and leading presidential candidate) thinks this way, so I’m going to stick with the story that Republicans simply want superhero Marshal Law to save them.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.