Trump’s firing of Navy Secretary yet another threat to democracy
U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer | Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP

President Trump has been recognized as a leader of the authoritarian mindset that has been operating in this country to win Senate and House seats, to control state legislatures, and to take over the federal courts. His recent pardoning of war criminals in the military, capped by his firing of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer yesterday, shows that the power grab by the right wing in most branches of government includes a determination to add the military to its list of conquests.

Spencer’s letter of acceptance of his termination reflects his anger about Trump’s violation of democratic and constitutional norms. Spencer’s letter, his official response to his firing by Pentagon Chief Mark Esper, was published by CNN.

Spencer’s firing followed meddling by Trump in the court martial of a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes. The president issued a pardon for Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher by revoking his demotion and by ordering that his full rank be reinstated. Gallagher had been convicted of posing for a photo with the body of a dead Islamic State captive.

The Navy had no choice but to accept the orders of its commander-in-chief. The next step for them was to review whether, despite maintaining his rank, Gallagher should have his status as a SEAL removed. Once more, Trump intervened directly by going on Twitter and telling the Navy to stop the review and “Get back to business!”

The Navy Secretary rejected the interference and was determined to go ahead with the process to remove Gallagher’s SEAL pin. His position was that he had no official order since a tweet, in his view, did not constitute an order.

“The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries,” Spencer wrote in his letter. “Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again, from Captain Lawrence’s famous order ‘Don’t Give up the Ship’, to the discipline and determination that propelled our flag to the highest point on Iwo Jima.

“The Constitution. and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all….

“Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander-in-Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Spencer also refused to resign from office, as ordered by Esper. Instead, he wrote, “I acknowledge my termination,” thus rebuking Trump and making clear he was fired and did not leave on his own.

This case involves yet another clear and present danger resulting from the policies of the administration.

It signals to the military that Trump intends to exercise his power over the armed forces regardless of the consequences to constitutional and legal norms. It signals to commanders and admirals that their top priority is not their oath to the Constitution but serving Trump personally.

It signals to his right wing base in the military, even if it is not a majority, that he has their back. They can go ahead with anything and everything, including war crimes and get away with them.

Trump’s pardoned servicemen have bragged on cable TV about how grateful they are that Trump “understands” servicemen in the field who have to deal with admirals or commanders who supposedly don’t have a clue. This undercuts discipline and signals that anyone can go and commit similar crimes.

It signals to the mid-level commanders that their best bet, too, is to ignore such crimes when they see them and do whatever Trump wants.

In the immediate future this demoralizes the rank and file servicemen and women who want to do the right thing and who never would consider killing unarmed civilians or killing unarmed prisoners who are obeying the commands of their U.S. captors.

In the longer term, it is apparent that nothing is sacred for the Trump or his right wing backers in this country. They have taken over or are trying to take over every segment of the government. The military is no exception as far as they are concerned. It is part of their plan to create an authoritarian state in America. And in that ideal authoritarian state, the military might be quite useful if the rulers ever decide they need to nullify an election.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.