Last Friday, President Trump issued a decree-law that prohibits Americans from traveling to North Korea. His justification for infringing on one of the most fundamental rights of man — freedom of travel — is two-fold: to watch over and take care of Americans by refusing to permit them to travel to a brutal communist regime that might do bad things to them and to punish North Korea by depriving the country of tourist revenue.
It’s not difficult to see the irony.
Here is a communist regime, one of the most brutal in the world, one in which the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un rules by decree. At the same time, under Korea’s socialist economic system, the government’s job is to take care of the North Korean citizenry, including by controlling where they travel. People who violate Kim’s decrees are punished severely.
And here is the president of the United States, ruling by decree, watching over and taking care of the American people by controlling where they travel, and punishing them severely if they violate his decree.
Punishment of people in North Korea is arbitrary and capricious. There is no due process of law or trial by jury. Judicial proceedings are used to wrap preordained outcomes within a cloak of legitimacy. As a practical matter, North Korean officials wield the power to jail whoever they want for as long as they want and to torture and brutalize prisoners with impunity.
That’s what happened to former University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier. He was convicted by a kangaroo tribunal for stealing a communist poster from his hotel and sentenced to several years of hard labor. He was recently returned in a coma, which most everyone ascribes to torture at the hands of the North Koreans. He died soon after North Korea returned him to the United States.
What is the essential attribute of a dictatorship? It’s the power to dictate. A dictator doesn’t have to wait for a legislative branch to enact a bill, which he then signs into law and enforces. A dictator simply issues a dictate, which automatically becomes law.
That’s how North Korea is run. It’s how dictatorships in general are run. Dictatorships are run by dictators, who rule by decree.
So what does Trump do? To retaliate against the North Korean dictator, he behaves as an American dictator. He issues his own decree. That is, he doesn’t go through Congress and get a law enacted. He just dictates by issuing a decree-law, just as Kim Jong-Un does in North Korea. Trump orders Americans to stay out of North Korea. If they violate his dictate, he promises to punish them, just as Kim Jong-Un punishes North Koreans who violate his dictates.
When I read about Trump’s decree-law, I immediately wondered what the punishment for violation was going to be. A felony or a misdemeanor? How many years in the federal penitentiary? How big the fine? Trump decided to limit punishment to suspension of passports of Americans who violate Trump’s decree law by illegally travelling to North Korea.
As Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, which Americans just celebrated a couple of weeks ago, liberty is a natural, God-given right with which no government can legitimately control or interfere with. The general right of liberty encompasses the specific right of freedom of travel. The American people, like people everyone, have the right to travel wherever they want, no matter how dangerous it might be. Whether it’s to the top of Mount Everest or to a communist regime, no ruler and nor regime wields the legitimate authority to interfere or to infringe on freedom of travel.
President Trump’s rule by decree is no different from how Kim Jong-Un rules North Korea. Like Kim, Trump fails to recognize that no government wields the legitimate authority to control where people travel or to protect them from their own decisions. What a pathetic and hypocritical exercise of dictatorial power.