“If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.”
— Donald J. Trump in a 15 July 2021 statement.
It is nice to know that the ex-president would not use the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) to lead a coup, but his statement above begs the question as to who his first choice might be.
The pronouncement is a reaction to an excerpt from the book I Alone Can Fix It by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post. In the book, General Milley is reported to have been deeply concerned that the ex-president would attempt a coup after he lost the election. The CJCS spoke of the ex-president following the “gospel of the Fuhrer” and creating a possible “Reichstag moment” in the wake of the ex-president’s Big Lie about the election. (Regular readers of this blog will recall that my 11 December 2020 post expressed the same concerns. Although I did not know of the CJCS worries at that time, it was obviously a wide-spread fear.)
I must say that in the days since the 6 January insurrection, my apprehensions about the future of our democracy have only grown deeper. I think that we are in a real crisis.
It is easy for me to ignore the incoherent rantings of a demented ex-president who spends his time scamming his followers and relieving them of their hard earned dollars. What I cannot ignore is the concerted, coordinated effort of elected Republican leaders at all levels of government to continue to push the Big Lie, spread concern over the safety of the Coronavirus vaccine, and work to divide our country for their own personal ego, power and monetary gain.
Our democracy was attacked on 6 January 2021 with the aim of overthrowing an election and extending the reign of a budding autocrat in a clear violation of our Constitution. As the criminal investigation continues, it is ever more clear that the goal of the majority of the rioters that entered the Capitol building was to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Without the protection of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police (DC), sprinkled with a heavy dose of luck, law makers would have been severely injured or killed, and, in my view, the loser candidate would have invoked the Insurrection Act and sent the active duty military into the streets. That was certainly General Milley’s concern and he had a front row seat to the inner workings of the administration.
If there is any doubt about that, consider another passage of I Alone Can Fix It where the authors report that the ex-president’s only regret is that he did not send troops into American cities during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer. Not the National Guard. Active duty military forces. He was willing to use the American military against American citizens in order to silence their protests because he feared he looked weak. His only regret. Not the hundreds of thousands of people that died from the mishandling of the pandemic, not the refusal of people to take the vaccine because they think it is some kind of badge of loyalty to him, not the insurrection he fomented to bring down our democracy. Only that he did not use American military might in the streets of American cities.
Now Republicans of various stripes (perhaps down the middle of their backs?) are working hard to change the narrative surrounding the insurrection. In typical Orwellian fashion, Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan commission to investigate the events surrounding 6 January which included everything the Republicans wanted — including a co-equal chairmanship, bipartisan agreement on subpoenas, and on, and on. As a result, the Speaker of the House moved forward with a House Select Committee to investigate. Immediately came the howls of “partisanship” “politics” and other accusations that would be laughable if not so serious. They blocked a bipartisan effort! But now it is partisan. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Tr-CA) appointed five members to the Committee, of which two were clearly installed to disrupt and distract from the serious proceeding. When the Speaker took the highly unusual step of blocking those two individuals, Mr. McCarthy withdrew all of his nominees. He now intends to have his own, Republican only, inquiry into the insurrection. The intent of that move will be to create a circus to divert attention from what really happened. The current Republican mantra is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the real cause of the attack. (Remember, logic and fact-based reality no longer apply to anything 90% of Republican officials say these days, which I find subversive and un-American because they know better. Mr. McCarthy thinks that he will be Speaker of the House after the 2022 elections and he will do anything to achieve that goal. God Bless America if he becomes Speaker because we will certainly need it.)
While Mr. McCarthy’s investigative committee will be partisan, at least two Republicans will be on the official Select Committee. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) was on the original appointee list (Speaker Pelosi gave her one of the Democrat’s slots) and today we learned that the Speaker appointed Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-ILL) to the committee. It will be bi-partisan. Politically, there is little to nothing that I agree on with those two Representatives, but I admire their courage and willingness to put the Constitution and our country above raw politics.
While I am 100 percent in favor of the Select Committee doing a thorough investigation, I have little hope that they will be able to accomplish all that we might expect had the original bi-partisan commission been able to do its work. I deeply suspect that members of Congress and/or their staff members were involved to varying degrees in the events of that day. Although the committee will have subpoena power, a lesson learned from the previous administration is that individuals can ignore Congressional subpoenas with impunity. The Congress has no real method to force people to testify other than by going to the courts. In recent years, we learned that even if individuals eventually get ordered by the courts to testify, it could be two or three years of court fights before they are so ordered. Even then there is nothing to compel them to talk. We may even find that the Biden Department of Justice protects some of the high ranking officials of the previous administration because they do not want to set a precedent of undermining Executive Privilege. I believe that our country needs to fully understand what happened and hold those responsible accountable. In the current political climate, we may never fully know who did what.
Meanwhile, the Big Lie continues to spread. There may be no bigger threat to our democracy. The 2020 election was the safest, most secure in our nation’s history. Yet, millions of people think that the election was “stolen” and that President Biden is not the legitimate leader of our country. Once people lose faith in the election process, and thus think that any election that does not turn out as they would like is fraudulent, they will take action as they did in January to “restore” what they think was stolen.
In another Orwellian twist, the only way to change the proliferating election laws resulting from the Big Lie is to vote out those people that are implementing them, but the laws are designed to keep them in power. There will be challenges in the courts, but meanwhile elections continue under the new laws. Even should voters succeed in dumping the old gang, the laws are written such that legislatures or other partisan officials can overturn the will of the people if they decide they don’t like the results. So first they are trying to suppress the vote to stay in charge, but should that fail, measures are in place to overturn the elections.
These are turbulent times. What is happening is not “politics as usual.” It doesn’t have anything to do with politics. It is a direct assault on our way of governing. Most people are not really paying attention to what is going on around our country with changes to election laws, fake audits of the 2020 election, and active measures to undermine the vote. Misinformation, disinformation and pure unadulterated lies are being used to curtail our right to vote and to end the peaceful transfer of power.
Perhaps the assault on the Capitol was more like the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch than the 1933 Reichstag Fire. We must remain ever vigilant to keep history from repeating itself.