Jim Martin: NC voters, not courts, must decide if Trump is a ‘clear and present danger’ | Opinion

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The numerous criminal trials of former President Donald Trump are troubling. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing opposing arguments whether states may remove Trump from the ballot if they believe he violated the 14th Amendment. Vile cans of worms have been opened.

Some experts say it’s an open and shut case. As an officer of the United States, sworn to uphold the Constitution, did Trump incite or encourage insurgents to riot against the constitutional duty of Congress to certify the election? If so, it disqualifies him from holding office again.

Jim Martin
Jim Martin

Others object accurately that he has not yet been convicted of anything disqualifying. He may never be if his trials stall beyond November. If elected, he could then pardon himself of all crimes — past, present and future. Who thinks he wouldn’t?

As free citizens, we can debate his guilt or innocence. Our judiciary may never be able to contain Trump.

The Supreme Court could act swiftly. Complicating this are partisan-inspired charges of partisanship leveled at some justices — on both sides. If they rule that Trump has violated the U.S. Constitution, they will ignite a forest fire.

That’s not just a metaphor. The precedent for accusing future presidents of violating the Constitution could soon become as ordinary as impeachment has become.

If they find on technical grounds there’s nothing to empower states to disqualify him from ballots, then his campaign will act like he’s exonerated, not guilty of anything. Advantage Trump.

It is uncertain that the courts will or can make the decision for us. This leaves the solemn civic responsibility on us whether to elect Trump to rule over us, or consign him to the proverbial dustbin of history.

Courts must presume anyone “innocent until proven guilty.” This standard has never been applied to voters. We may consider whatever matters to us.

We can weigh Trump’s accomplishments and failures, along with his bold promises of what he will do for us and against his enemies if elected. We may evaluate his integrity and character. His contempt calling soldiers, “suckers.” Whatever.

We can consider his own words and actions before and during Jan. 6, 2021, when he excited his roughnecks to go intimidate Congress. He was not inviting them to enjoy a Capitol tour.

He sent them word that then-Vice President Pence had violated his constitutional duty. He lied, knowing then that his Proud Boys and QAnon ruffians were destructively roaming the halls of Congress chanting “Traitor Pence!” and “Hang Mike Pence!”

Had they caught Pence, we can imagine where such passions of mob violence would have led. Trump didn’t care.

We can read the House Jan. 6 committee’s report regarding what happened that day. Clearly, that committee, as constituted, was not even-handed. Shrewdly, it wasted no time with testimony from hostile Democrats. Instead, we saw Trump’s loyal Republican staff supporters testify under oath about his illegal attitudes and behavior, and how he ignored advice to abandon his dangerous scheme.

Some think Trump is “the second coming.”

Others close to me consider Trump a clear and present danger. This elegant phrase comes from a 1919 Supreme Court 9-to-0 decision limiting the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. Citing limitations against shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, it affirmed the right and duty of government to protect itself and us from an imminent threat to its survival, calling this a “clear and present danger.”

We saw it with our own eyes.

“We the people” have a solemn duty. November may be too late to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. For unaffiliated voters in North Carolina, the March 5 primary offers our only real opportunity to nominate an honorable Republican — if we care.

Our decisions as voters could be more important for the future of constitutional democracy than anything the courts may or may not do.

Jim Martin, a Republican, was North Carolina governor from 1985-93 and is a regular contributor to our pages.