The Enterprises of Ambition

There’s castle doctrine – castle law or a defense of habitation law. In English common law the term is derived from the dictum that “an Englishman’s home is his castle” – a concept established as English law by the 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke, in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628 – “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

Maybe that’s why we have the Second Amendment. People should be allowed to keep a gun at home to protect their home and family. That’s their right, and the police are always late anyway. But don’t take your gun outside the house – outside your “castle” so to speak. There the public has rights too. There’s the right to not get shot up over disagreements in public places – except in Florida and other states that have passed “stand your ground” laws. There the idea is that you carry your castle with you. If you feel threatened, even slightly threatened, by a stranger in a public place, far from home, you have the right to blow his (or her) brains out right there on the spot. This has led to endless litigation. That’s a perversion of castle doctrine. There’s no castle there, only anarchy – but the courts have found that arms for self-defense, at home or in special defined circumstance, are just fine. That’s probably what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

The current view on the American right is not that at all. The current argument there is that because Thomas Jefferson once said that we’d probably need another revolution now and then, the Founding Fathers added the Second Amendment so citizens, when outvoted by their fellow citizens on this issue or that, could overthrow the duly and legally elected government to make things right, because the people are sometimes stupid, and democracy is sometimes stupid. Sometimes, to preserve freedom, the will of the people must be abrogated. That’s why Michelle Bachmann and others said that if Congress, elected by the people, passed Obamacare, true patriots had their guaranteed Second Amendment Remedy. They could fix that – with armed revolution to overthrow the mistaken-majority’s government – or at least assassinate a few stupid politicians. The Founding Fathers knew voters could be stupid. Patriots with guns could fix that – thus that amendment.

That’s rather dramatic, but the third view of the Second Amendment is just boring. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What? There was an argument behind that:

While both James Monroe and John Adams supported the Constitution being ratified, its most influential framer was James Madison. In Federalist No. 46, Madison wrote how a federal army could be kept in check by state militias, “a standing army would be opposed by a militia.” He argued that state militias “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army, “It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.” He contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he described as “afraid to trust the people with arms,” and assured that “the existence of subordinate governments forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition.”

In short, a big federal army, a big standing army, was asking for trouble. A standing army would be too tempting to any president. He’d become a tyrant in a day or two, with his very own big army. State militias would fix that. Those wouldn’t be his.

The Second Amendment established those. That’s all it did. And then the whole issue became moot. Except for each state’s National Guard – with tanks and planes and artillery and whatnot – we have a giant standing federal Army, and Navy, and Marine Corps, and Air Force, and Coast Guard – and that’s the president’s very own. James Madison would not be impressed. That’s not what he had in mind. He worried about those enterprises of ambition.

He’d worry about Donald Trump:

President Trump has asked the Pentagon to marshal a broadening array of military hardware, including tanks and fighter jets, to showcase his planned Fourth of July address to the nation – dramatically escalating the gathering’s cost and sparking concerns about the potentially damaging impact on the Mall and other infrastructure.

It seems that those enterprises of ambition can be dangerous:

Trump, who had already ordered up a flyover by military aircraft including Air Force One and the Navy’s Blue Angels, has pressed to expand his “Salute to America” event further with an F-35 stealth fighter and the involvement of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which flies the presidential helicopter, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. He also pushed to bring military tanks to the site of his planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, prompting National Park Service officials to warn that such a deployment could damage the site, these individuals said.

Engineers were examining the site this week to determine if the weight of stationing armored vehicles there would affect the Lincoln Memorial’s underground rooms, according to one individual briefed on the efforts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

But someone had to speak up for James Madison:

The use of such massive military hardware for Thursday’s celebration sparked sharp criticism from D.C. officials, Democratic lawmakers and advocates of the Park Service, who noted the agency already faces a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion.

The event also will freeze air traffic to and from Reagan National Airport for more than two hours Thursday, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., for the flyover of military jets and again, from 9 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., to accommodate an extended fireworks show. In past years, flights at National have not been affected by the fireworks, but the launch point moved this year to accommodate Trump’s speech.

And the costs do mount up:

The Defense Department has not released any estimates of how much the celebration could cost. But the use of numerous aircraft could drive it well into the millions of dollars when counting fuel and maintenance.

The F-35 costs about $30,000 per hour to fly, according to Pentagon estimates. Each Blue Angel jet costs at least $10,000 per hour to operate, and the cost of flying an Air Force One jet is more than $140,000 per hour.

The cost of a military parade Trump had planned for last year was about $92 million, including $50 million in Defense Department costs, defense officials said at the time. The parade was scuttled after the potential costs became public.

At least 300 service members are slated to participate Thursday, primarily from military bands and drill teams, but that number could rise as additional military aircraft and other flourishes are added to the event.

But the Big Guy doesn’t care:

Trump has demonstrated an unusual level of interest in this year’s Independence Day observance, according to three senior administration officials. He has received regular briefings about it from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and has weighed in on how the pyrotechnics should be launched, how the military should be honored and more, according to people briefed on the discussions.

As a result, the administration has organized a far more ambitious celebration than was originally planned, at a yet-to-be-specified additional cost to taxpayers. Two major fireworks firms have donated a pyrotechnic show valued at $750,000, for example, but the Park Service will have to pay employees overtime to clean up the remnants of that display. The fireworks also have been moved to a new location in West Potomac Park at Trump’s urging.

“It’s irresponsible to ask the National Park Service to absorb the costs of an additional and political event when there are so many unmet needs in the parks,” Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks Chair Phil Francis, whose group represents current, former and retired Park Service employees and volunteers, said in an email.

But there’s no way to stop a man with enthusiasm:

Trump has been fixated since early in his term on putting on a military-heavy parade or other celebration modeled on France’s Bastille Day celebration, which he attended in Paris in 2017. Trump angrily backed off plans for the grand Veterans Day parade he was planning for Pennsylvania Avenue in 2018 amid concerns from D.C. officials over the costs, including potential road damage from military vehicles.

Abrams tanks – which Trump referred to as “Abram” tanks in his remarks – weigh far more than 60 tons and are usually transported over long distances by heavy rail.

That is a problem, but there is a solution:

Trump also said “we have the brand-new Sherman tanks,” which have not been in use by the U.S. military since the 1950s.

No one knew what to make of that. The man is confused, unless he just revealed a new secret military program, to build thousands of brand-new Sherman tanks, to original specs of course, but probably not. Donald Trump is who he is. He believes we have brand-new Sherman tanks. Let him. That hardly matters, but this does:

Earlier Monday, the D.C. Council reiterated its opposition to driving tanks on the city’s streets, tweeting, “We have said it before, and we’ll say it again: Tanks, but no tanks.” In the tweet, the council posted the image of a March 8, 2018, memo in which the Pentagon cautioned against using tanks in the military parade Trump had envisioned, saying, “Consideration must be given to minimize damage to local infrastructure.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted that the administration was ignoring the views of local residents. “Risking damage to local infrastructure and dumping huge piles of taxpayer money onto the never-ending bonfire of Donald Trump’s vanity. My constituents and the other people who live here overwhelmingly do NOT want this.”

James Madison didn’t want that either, but at least someone is having a little fun:

Anti-Trump protesters, including the group Code Pink, are negotiating with Park Service officials over whether a massive “Trump Baby” balloon they want to fly will comply with flight restrictions that will be in place over the Mall during the Fourth.

Park Service officials are now probably so pissed off about all this that they’ll allow the big satiric balloon. That might make Trump so angry he’ll order one of the passing F-35 fighters to blow that damned balloon out of the air. That’d be cool.

That which is not cool is what the Huffington Post reports here:

The Republican National Committee has been offering major donors tickets to Trump’s speech, as have political appointees at the White House and executive branch agencies.

“He’s going to have tanks out there. It’s going to be cool,” joked one RNC fundraiser on condition of anonymity. He said he received an offer for the free tickets on Friday but did not request any. “He wants to have a parade like they have in Moscow or China or North Korea.”

Trump admires Putin. Trump admirers Kim. Trump wants his own parade, just like theirs. Republicans knows this. They joke about it. They’ve got their own dictator now:

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor and expert on fascism, said Trump’s need to display military hardware is a feature of authoritarians throughout history. “He needs to colonize our lives. He needs to colonize our public spaces,” she said, adding that it was “dismaying” that the Pentagon this year failed to thwart Trump’s impulses. “The military has been domesticated. I think the will to resist him has evaporated.”

And of course most Republicans are useless now:

Groups that advocate for government transparency and ethics, meanwhile, railed against the RNC’s involvement.

“This partisan appropriation of a public event is consistent with the record of an administration that has no regard for lines between personal or partisan interests and its public obligations,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.

Jordan Libowitz, of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that the event could create legal problems if the federal government is involved in staging what, in essence, becomes a political event benefiting Trump.

“This sounds less and less like a government event and more and more like a campaign rally. Since it doesn’t look like the RNC is picking up the bill, this could lead to some serious legal issues,” Libowitz said.

And it will be hard to fix that:

One senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump’s planned speech will not be partisan. “This speech will not be political. It will be about celebrating our nation’s independence, our flag and our great military,” the official said.

But if past is prologue, Trump is almost certain to mention his reelection effort and attack Democrats. He did both at an “official” visit, as opposed to a campaign event, with the Faith and Freedom Coalition last week. He has attacked Democrats at official visits to military installations, including during his trip to Iraq last year and, most recently, at Osan Air Base in South Korea on Sunday.

“This is not a political speech,” Trump said at Osan, and then he claimed Democrats did not want to give troops new equipment. “They weren’t going to give it to you, folks. They weren’t going to. They want open borders and the hell with the military. That’s not good.”

So expect that sort of thing:

Another White House aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is not much his staff can do if Trump chooses to ignore a prepared speech and inject campaign-style remarks. “We can only do what we can do,” the aide said.

But at least they’ll keep the riff-raff out, because they’re not invited:

The White House would not say exactly how many tickets were being distributed and by which groups for Trump’s planned remarks at the Lincoln Memorial early Thursday evening. However, the area eastward from the Lincoln Memorial to about halfway down the reflecting pool will be cordoned off with access regulated by the Secret Service. Such an area constitutes a dozen acres and could accommodate tens of thousands of people.

In past years, presidents have not taken part in Fourth of July celebrations, and the events have been nonpolitical. The only place that required tickets was the west portico of the Capitol overlooking the Mall and a stage for musical performers, and those were distributed by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

That has not happened in the case of Trump’s planned speech. The Democratic National Committee, for example, was not given any tickets to give away, according to a spokesperson.

No critic of Trump will be allowed in, and that’s that:

Trump’s injection of himself into the celebration is inappropriate, said Ben-Ghiat. “The whole point is nonpartisan. It’s a national holiday. And he can’t let that stand. He has to make it about him,” she said.

CREW, which is suing Trump for violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments through his hotels, said the invitations to donors by a campaign committee he controls will also generate cash for himself.

“Look for the big donors to make appearances alongside major Trump administration figures at the Trump Hotel,” Libowitz said. “It’s already sold out for the 3rd and 4th despite charging double what the other luxury hotels are charging around the holiday.”

Trump does know how to make money:

Trump continues to own and profit from a hotel blocks from the White House, despite his promise during the campaign to separate himself from his family business. The hotel has taken in millions from the RNC, Trump’s reelection campaign, foreign governments and U.S. taxpayers in the last two years.

Those too are the enterprises of ambition, but Colbert King sees something else:

“This Fourth July is yours, not mine,” said Frederick Douglass in his 1852 oration of anger in Rochester, N.Y.

Douglass, the great abolitionist, author and former slave, had been asked to speak on the occasion of the nation’s 76th birthday. He told the audience at Corinthian Hall that he could not avoid noting that “the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence” being celebrated was not shared by millions of others held in slavery.

“What, to the American slave,” Douglass demanded, “is your Fourth of July?”

Now we’re all Douglass:

The brave signers of the Declaration of Independence -flawed men but men who, as Douglass said, “staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country” – will take a back seat…

This Fourth of July is Donald Trump’s – not theirs, not the nation’s, not mine.

Like the listeners assembled in 1852, we can share in the joy of a strong, independent nation. We can rejoice that the principles of political freedom and justice embodied in the Declaration of Independence are recognized today. As a grateful nation, we, too, can acknowledge our blessings.

But, as with the 19th-century enslaved, it’s also true that the rich freedoms bequeathed by the Founders will not be shared with all within our shores on the Fourth. To the torn-apart brown families seeking refuge along our southern border, to women scorned for wearing hijab, to besieged worshipers in synagogues and mosques, to people of color living in a nation with emboldened white nationalism – to them, hopes of law and justice are faint on Trump’s Independence Day.

And it’s clear just who will be allowed to attend this this thing:

We can expect it to draw some of the white Christian evangelicals who form a big part of his base. They, like their 1852 counterparts, seem to regard the ceremony of church services, the singing of hymns and the thunder from the pulpit as enough. As for sheltering the homeless and the refugee, giving bread to the hungry or providing a toothbrush, soap, towel and a half-night’s sleep inside a safe and sanitary Border Patrol detention facility to a little brown child – these things are not so important to Trump’s collection of Christian elites.

Trump’s salute to himself at the Lincoln Memorial will likely bring forth soulful entreaties to rain down God’s mercy upon the commander in chief and prayers for obedience to Trump’s rule, and little about America’s tired and poor – or, for that matter, defenders of the oppressed.

In July 1852, Douglass took out after those he said “professed to be called to the ministry” who boasted of their love of liberty, the superior civilization over which they presided and their “pure Christianity” – all the while supporting a system that “perpetuated the enslavement of three millions” of their countrymen.

So here we go again:

The faithful at Trump’s Fourth of July might be expected to be on fire at the mention of religious liberty, but, perhaps, cold as ice at the thought of liberty for those fleeing their homes because of violence, persecution and hunger. It will be all about him.

On Trump’s day of self-celebration, Frederick Douglass would be outraged, as should we.

That’s okay. James Madison was already outraged. The new system was not supposed to allow for anything like enterprises of ambition. There wasn’t supposed to be a standing army. Now there is, and now we have this, which was inevitable. Madison said so.

Now what?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Enterprises of Ambition

  1. Rick Brown says:

    I guess most people, including Donald Trump, never wondered why there has been so little previous celebration of American military might in our observances of July 4th, 1776, a day when leaders of the American colonies (most, if not all of them unarmed!) finally met in a room somewhere to jointly declare those colonies no longer colonies of Britain.

    Except for sometimes having a few old war veterans march down Main Street of our hometown, this holiday has traditionally skipped over all the military stuff and correctly focused on the independence stuff. In fact, Washington’s army probably had less to do with winning independence than our militia, who, unlike the regular army, rarely seemed to lose their battles.

    Although I doubt that’s why we don’t do all the tanks and flyover stuff on the 4th. It may have more to do with such hardware display reminding people of such dog-and-pony shows as Moscow’s Red Square on May Day, with its huge ICBSs on wheels and giant portraits of the current top mucky-muck of the ruling party, the kind of foolishness that most of us tend to giggle at when we see it on the news, but with which Trump is apparently infatuated —which is sort of ironic because of that whole bone-spurs thing.

    But if Trump says one goddam thing in his speech that’s partisan, we need to send a bill for the whole shebang to the RNC. I always wonder, come to think of it, if we are charging him for his use of Air Force One, et al, every time he flies off to a rally in some gymnasium where he mocks everyone who disagrees with him, which he seems to do often. We should.

    And maybe for next year’s Independence Day, America could collect dimes and pennies to rent a secret venue somewhere to celebrate the 4th the old fashioned way — with music and fireworks, but no Sherman tanks and no military flyovers — and best of all, we don’t invite Donald Trump.


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