On November 9th, President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper via a Tweet. Five minutes before, Mr. Esper had been notified by the White House Chief of Staff that he was out. Rampant media speculation was unleashed as to why he was dismissed just 70 days before a presidential inauguration was to take place. Speculation covered the usual gamut: Trump fired Esper for the sheer pleasure of firing someone. Esper was fired because of comments made to governors about dominating the “battlespace” in protests. Esper was fired for disagreeing with the President over invoking the Insurrection Act. Or, finally, that Esper’s banning of Confederate flags on military DOD installations, ships, and housing caused Trump to oust him. All of these were said to be things Trump was gravely offended by and that had Secretary Esper to hang by a bare thread at the Pentagon.
Media Fabrications and Misdirections
Firstly, it appears that the above excuses are media-created disagreements between Esper and the president, and in our view, they would not have resulted in him being fired. In context, Esper’s remarks about governors using National Guard troops to dominate the “battlespace” of violent protests is the description of a best practice in preventing peaceful demonstrations from descending into violence in the first place. His point was that if governors were to deal with that violence swiftly they would lessen the chance of violence spiraling out of control. This is also the reason you see “bouncers” at the doors of clubs and bars. It sends the message to troublemakers that trouble is not welcome. This is what Trump was also telling the governors on that call. The media may not have liked the use of that word but the call was about quelling riots that resulted in injuries, deaths, and property damage, which is a feature of “battles.” And on this, the president and Esper appeared to be on the same page.
Esper’s remarks on not being in favor of invoking the Insurrection Act were not a break from the remarks made by the president about using the U.S. military to quell unchecked riots. President Trump had clearly stated that “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” A fair-minded reader will notice the words “if” and “refuses” in that sentence. If the state authorities refuse to act to ensure public safety then it absolutely falls on the federal authorities to fill the vacuum caused by the dereliction of duty by that local government. That would be the duty of any president in that situation under the Constitution.
The media then went into overdrive writing stories about whether Trump could actually use the U.S. military to quell civil disturbances and published opinion piece after opinion piece focused on whether Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and send in the U.S. military. This is not something that Trump had said he was going to do. Trump said he would be forced to, “if” local authority “refuses” to act to protect public safety. Those are very different things.