How the state deals with a clear and present danger

I see where old Uncle Joe gave a speech Sept. 1 — the anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland and the start of World War II — declaring that supporters of his predecessor present “a clear and present danger.” I knew that phrase had a precise legal meaning, so I looked it up.

It seems “clear and present danger” is a term lifted from a Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, that for many years was part of the test to determine when it is appropriate for the U.S. government to violate the First Amendment. In other words, the rights to free speech, free press, religious expression, assembly, etc., may be suspended in the face of “a clear and present danger.”

In 1969 the test was tightened to require the presence of “imminent lawless action,” but before that — when, for example, Joe Biden was studying in law school — it was OK to violate the Bill of Rights when “a clear and present danger” existed.

Biden’s speech, then, was a justification for the countless assaults on our inalienable rights that have been building for at least two decades and have escalated under the Biden regime. It’s all OK, folks, because we’re fighting a clear and present danger here, don’t ya know.

It was a campaign speech in which the alleged president intended to incite his political base but gave no clear explanation of what his handlers intend to do about this “clear and present danger,” but words mean something — that phrase means something — so we may expect a doubling down of the assault on liberty. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

I am sad for America. I am sad for the world. When I was young, I thought the concepts in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were a beacon for humanity. They still are, of course, but the people now in power don’t believe in them.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, Dejah and Summer, and Blackberry, an insistent cat. Author of Echoes of Freedom Past, Full, Refuse to be Afraid, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes, How to Play a Blue Guitar, Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, A Bridge at Crossroads, The Imaginary Bomb, A Scream of Consciousness, and The Imaginary Revolution.

4 thoughts on “How the state deals with a clear and present danger

  1. Goodness, Warren. Thanks for helping to build the paranoia. “Clear and present danger” has made it into common speech without any need for reference to an obscure, SCOTUS text. It is in fact the title of a popular novel – a work of fiction – and a movie. You are, however, correct that it has been further defined as “imminent, lawless action.” The extreme supporters of the former President have proven their willingness to act lawlessly both on January 6 and more recently in threatening and attacking FBI facilities and officials. They have been openly incited to violence and violation of the law by a person who was elected ostensibly to UPHOLD THE LAW. Further, in investigation after investigation members of the FORMER POTUS’ party and appointees in his own administration have declared the election free and fair. This country was founded on rejection of ‘strongman’ authoritarian government – monarchies – and rule by fiat – the decision of one man – rather than a court of one’s peers. Your attack on election integrity is without merit and a corrosive attack on a core institution of all democracies. Apparently, you did not do as I did and sat as an observer in a local polling station in 2020 nor sit for three days through an official recount in Kewaunee County in 2016. The local election workers – most of whom are Republicans – are dedicated to following the rules and procedures that insure the accuracy and integrity of every election including the election in 2000 won by President Biden in Wisconsin and the USA. Stop being a propagandist and return to being an objective journalist.

    1. Wow! I’m poring over my thoughts and trying in vain to find my “attack on election integrity.” I was reacting to the divisive campaign speech the president gave Thursday night after his handlers assured the networks it would not be political. I don’t mind being criticized for what I say, but I object to straw-man tactics. I agree with you that “This country was founded on rejection of ‘strongman’ authoritarian government – monarchies – and rule by fiat.” That’s why I am saddened by the ‘strongman’ authoritarian rant that the nation was subjected to Thursday night, and I am concerned about a speech that clearly was intended to incite fear and anger, throwing gasoline onto a flame, rather than work to unite the country as he pledged during his last campaign. A true statesman would condemn the lawlessness practiced by people he agrees with — attacking federal buildings in the summer of 2020, burning Catholic churches this year, suppressing dissenting viewpoints on supposedly neutral platforms — but he is no statesman and never has been. When I practice journalism, I try as hard as I can to be fair to all sides and keep my personal opinion out of it. In this space you get my opinion. I’m sorry you missed that distinction.

      1. You say, “… we may expect a doubling down on the assault on liberty….” This in an “opinion” piece that begins by associating the President’s speech with the Third Reich and WWII. Nice juxtaposition. Classic Russian and Nazi propaganda uses veiled and often thin associations based in historical fact to establish a belief the following text is likewise credible. You then posit the correlation between the time of the “imminent danger” qualification and the period in time when President Biden was in law school. Are we to assume this correlation in time is causal? What myriad decisions were made when you and I were in school which clearly direct our judgements today? You then conclude that given the correlation between the date of the contemporary speech and the Nazi invasion of Poland and the correlation of the period during which President Biden attended law school and the period during which the Supreme Court definition of “clear and present danger” was refined to be qualified by “imminent lawlessness,” inexorably leads to a conclusion that the speech was “… a justification for the continued assault on our inalienable rights… under the Biden administration. Wow! Quite a jump. Two thoughts here. Our “inalienable rights” are life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” not the Bill of Rights. Second, what proof do you offer that the Biden administration has continued this assault? None. Oops. Not that I disagree an assault has been ongoing to limit our constitutionally enumerated rights. From the provisions of the post 9/11 gratuitously-named “Patriot Act” to the recent Dodd decision retracting the rights of women to control their own bodies and health, attempts to restrict constitutional rights have been ongoing. This trend, however, is hardly contemporary. They have been a regular feature throughout our nation’s history – particularly as related to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I’m sure you are aware Benjamin Franklin did jail time for articles in the Courant, AP was challenged by Congress in the early 20th Century, and even the Post Office was at one time an instrument of government censorship. Finally, why do you refer to Biden as the “alleged” President? Do you find 62 of 63 lost court challenges insufficient? Do you find the repeated audits and examinations of balloting by elected Republican state officials not credible? Are they incompetent? Did they seek to subvert the vote count to the detriment of the banner-carrier of their own party? Why is it Republicans elected to the House and Senate in 2022 gladly accept the results of their own vote tally while rejecting the results for the Presidency from those vey same ballots? Two scholars from Harvard recently published a book titled How Democracies Die. From their studies of failing democracies around the world they identified key strategies by which authoritarian forces destroyed democratic governments without firing a shot or employing the military. Those key strategies included destroying faith in the integrity of institutions including elections and the courts, replacing key officials and bureaucrats through revised retirement standards, defunding, and reorganization, and destroying faith in and/or the existence of a free investigative press. Do these sound familiar? While I found your “opinion piece” disturbing for the reasons cited above, I do not disagree the tenor and many of the assertions in President Biden’s speech were ill-advised. He is faced with a Damoclean choice. How does he separate the sincere, thoughtful, well-meaning Republicans from the would-be, paranoid authoritarians in that party without offending both? There have always been extremists in both parties. Extremist control of either party has been rare. The scholars cited above tell the story of Hitler’s rise to power in 1932. At the time a small, conservative party recruited Hitler in order to increase their membership and influence in the Reichstad. This politically expedient decision was made based in part on the populist appeal Hitler brought and also on the tragic belief that once elected, the party leaders could control him. I see Republican leaders making the very same mistake. Over and over, again. While President Biden has many flaws, he does not want to be a king. Trump grew up as a prince and believes he is entitled to be a king.

  2. Let me start by fixing the misconception that flows through both of your comments – and thanks for the feedback, by the way, we agree on more than either of us probably realize and I appreciate an opportunity to clarify. The term “alleged president” has nothing to do with the 2020 election. It’s about the fact that the man is definitely a shadow of his former self and I doubt he’s in charge of this administration; hence my reference to the “alleged president” and “his handlers.” Maybe that disturbs you more than the thought that I challenge election results, but at least now you’re disturbed about my actual opinion. As for 2020, it’s distressing that in the last two presidential elections the losing party has worked overtime to discredit and even attempt to overturn the results. The focus needs to be on the present and the future. I say we may expect a doubling down of the assault on liberty in part because it’s been under assault for about a quarter century, if not longer, under both major parties, and Biden pretty much came out and proclaimed it will continue Thursday night. This is not the country we grew up in, John, and while extremist control of either party may have been rare, extremist control of both parties is our present reality. (By the way, “among these” inalienable rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the list doesn’t stop at three and I consider it to have been expanded in those first 10 Amendments — the ninth and 10th of which assert that the list doesn’t even stop there.) (We agree as well on the onerous USAPATRIOT Act, which I refuse to call the Patriot Act because there was nothing patriotic about it.) And please don’t count me among the “sincere, thoughtful, well-meaning Republicans” whom he utterly failed to reach with his version of the “basket of deplorables” speech – the march to totalitarianism has been a bipartisan effort, with each major party emphasizing its own issues. My main source of optimism is knowing that the solution isn’t in choosing the right boss, it’s in realizing that I am the boss of me, you are the boss of you, and we manage to live together in peace every day while our would-be bosses bash each other on the head.

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