“Death to Tyrants” Is as American as Apple Pie

On Glenn Beck’s radio show recently, he and thriller author Brad Thor discussed what would happen if Donald Trump becomes an authoritarian tyrant and can no longer be limited by Congress or the courts. Thor then proposed, “as a thriller writer,” a “hypothetical” scenario in which Trump would have to be removed from office.

I guarantee you, Glenn, that during his presidency, during his reign if you will—he is going to petition the American people to allow a temporary suspension of the Constitution so he can help America get back on its feet again. He is a danger to America, and I got to ask you a question, and this is serious and this could ring down incredible heat on me because I’m about to suggest something very bad. It is a hypothetical I am going to ask as a thriller writer.

With the feckless, spineless Congress we have, who will stand in the way of Donald Trump overstepping his constitutional authority as President? If Congress won’t remove him from office, what patriot will step up and do that if, if, he oversteps his mandate as president, his constitutionally granted authority, I should say, as president.

If he oversteps that, how do we get him out of office? And I don’t think there is a legal means available. I think it will be a terrible, terrible position the American people will be in to get Trump out of office because you won’t be able to do it through Congress.

Outraged Trump supporters petitioned Sirius XM radio to suspend Beck’s program, and Sirius caved in, saying that the comment “may be reasonably construed by some to have been advocating harm against an individual currently running for office.”

This is ridiculous. Thor is referring not to the present but to a hypothetical future in which President Trump suspends the Constitution and makes himself a dictator, causing someone to remove him from office through means that are “not legal.” That could certainly encompass some sort of bloodless revolution in which Trump is removed without violence.

Let’s grant that there’s a lot of question about whether this hypothetical case is really very likely. Glenn Beck has a certain history of becoming overly alarmed about these things—though Trumpkins demanding that his show be taken off the air makes him seem a lot less alarmist, doesn’t it? As much as I agree with Brad Thor about Trump, I could not “guarantee” you that he will try to suspend the Constitution. I think he will just casually ignore it and see how much the other branches of government let him get away with, which is pretty much what the current president is doing.

But that’s not really the issue at this point, nor is this really about Donald Trump any more. The issue is: is it acceptable for an American to call for a leader’s death if he becomes a dictator.

Well, if that’s an assassination threat, then I saw multiple assassination threats while driving around town this morning. They were openly and prominently displayed, and what’s more, they were officially sanctioned by our state government.

They looked like this:

Flag_of_Virginia.svg

This is, of course, the state flag of Virginia, which features the commonwealth’s official seal: the Roman goddess of virtue standing over the prostrate body of a defeated king, designated as a tyrant by the flail and chains still clutched in his dead hands. The motto below it is sic semper tyrannis: “thus always to tyrants.”

The men who came up with that weren’t kidding around. The seal was designed in 1776 by a four-man committee: Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, George Wythe, and Robert Carter Nicholas. Two of them, Lee and Wythe, were signers of the Declaration of Independence. The other two, Nicholas and Mason, were involved in drafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. These were men who started and supported a war that killed many of the supporters of a despotic king.

I also saw a lot of these on the road, which amount to the same thing:

Tread-on-Me-License-Plate

When Americans of the Founding Era adopted the motto “liberty or death,” they didn’t just mean their own deaths. They intended for the other side to die, too. And they were not alone in that sentiment. As Thomas Jefferson famously declared, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

All of which is to say that “death to tyrants” is as American as apple pie. We are a country founded on the idea of the right to rebellion against a tyrannical government. Literally. It’s right there in the document that created our nation: “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.”

So what’s disturbing about this case is not that someone expressed this sentiment on the radio. It’s that other people found it unacceptable and tried to shut it down.

The current era is a great reminder of how shallow many people’s dedication to principle really is—and how willing they are to drop their supposed principles if it involves turning against their guy. A lot of people who thought of themselves as conservatives and who may even have marched in Tea Party rallies a few years back are suddenly clutching their pearls at a sentiment they would have vigorously defended if it were aimed at Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Did they think warnings against tyranny don’t apply to someone just because he’s their preferred strongman?

No, I’m not advocating killing anyone any time soon. (Secret Service, please take note.) We still have the ballot box and a platform to criticize our leaders, and the institutions built to protect us from tyranny have not entirely failed. But I do think it is salutary to send a message to all politicians in general that if you set yourself up as a tyrant, it is within our rights to take you down.

Or as another great Virginian might have put it, Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and Donald J. Trump—and everyone else—may profit by their example.

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