How insane is it that Americans are watching and waiting to see whether Donald Trump will try to engineer a military coup to overturn the results of the presidential election? It is the perfect finale for this odious, despicable administration. When a retired Four Star General states, “I’m not an alarmist. I stay cool under pressure. Mark me down as alarmed…The federal government tools could be used in an oppressive manner…This is some crazy thinking going on inside that White House.”
If General Barry McCaffrey is worried, we should be too. And if Trump is even considering a coup as an option, he is in effect plotting treason, as are any officials of the U.S. government who are aiding and abetting him.
The notion that Trump is toying with mounting a military coup was triggered by his replacing the top tier of Pentagon officials with men who have two things in common: fervent loyalty to Trump and a complete lack of qualification for their jobs. Many undoubtedly think the coup notion far-fetched. Trump’s anti-matter character, in which every positive trait claimed by humanity is reversed, makes it likely he wants to leave Joe Biden with an unsalvageable mess when he takes office. If that meant simply ripping the wallpaper in the White House it wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately, tampering with the Pentagon in an erratic, utterly self-serving way will be far more damaging to the nation as a whole than to Biden as an individual.
The psychologist Melanie Klein drew a distinction between greed and envy. Greed is about wanting more for oneself. Envy means not being able to stand someone else having something that one wants, and at its extremes an envious person would rather destroy “their” possession than allow another to have it. Trump is being ravaged by envy. He wants to destroy what Biden will have. That happens to be the United States of America. And he is doing it intentionally and, as they say, “with malice aforethought”.
We all expected the refusal to concede, the threats of legal action, the behavior of a rabid rat deprived of the bone it’s been teething on for the past four years. We certainly can’t be surprised that Rudy Kazootie Giuliani held a demented press conference at a garden supply shop lodged between a sex store and crematorium. Considering Trump’s history of serial sexual assaults and the soaring death toll due to his reckless mishandling of the pandemic, the setting could not have been more fitting.
Giuliani aside, things haven’t been going Trump’s way since it became clear that Biden-Harris won. Gabrieel Sterling, the Georgia Republican in charge of the vote count called Trump’s allegations of fraud “hoaxes and nonsense“. Many Republicans have urged Trump to concede. The state courts are not supporting him. Our allies are horrified. The military, we assure ourselves, would never stand for a hijacked election.
And indeed, the Oath of Commissioned Officers begins: “I——do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” In addition, Rule 916(d) of the Manual for Courts Martial, part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, states: “It is a defense to any offense that the accused was acting pursuant to orders unless the accused knew the orders to be unlawful or a person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the orders to be unlawful.” In other words, if a member of the armed forces receives an order to perform an illegal act or an act that should be known to be illegal, they do not have to obey it.
That probably applies to being ordered to conduct a coup against the United States government and the Constitution. One should expect military personnel to defy those orders. It is legal to defy them.
Why would a president, with ten weeks remaining in office, fire his Secretary of Defense and replace him with Christopher Miller, a counter-terrorism expert, a narrow specialty that in no way prepares him for overseeing the entire U.S. military? Trump’s language announcing Miller’s appointment was typically unhinged: “Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated.” (emphasis mine). Miller’s special operations work in the Middle East was at ground level, aimed at “pacifying” those unruly folk who objected to the American military presence in their countries. Hmm.
Miller’s new Chief of Staff is Kash Patel, whose career has basically been as enabler of various Trump disinformation campaigns and advisor to California Congressman Devin Nunes. Nunes led the Trump counter-attack on the FBI after the Bureau began investigating Trump election irregularities in 2016. Patel’s military credentials are a joke. Trump’s new Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Anthony J. Tata, is known mainly for labeling President Obama a terrorist leader and Nancy Pelosi a “violent extremist”, and for “racist comments” on Twitter.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 34, is now Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Ezra is shrouded in a veil of secrecy that former colleagues are reluctant to lift. Cohen-Watnick is a strident hawk on Iran and his background appears to be mostly Naval Intelligence and CIA. He was also involved with Devin Nunes’s attack on Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. who sought transparency in regard to Trump associates’ inappropriate contact with foreign governments and agents. Cohen-Watnick’s rise through the Intelligence agencies has been meteoric and inexplicable and, as far as we can tell, undistinguished. He is “close” to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, who saved his job by having Trump intervene when Ezra’s boss, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, sought to fire him. Another clue to his unearned prominence is his close association with Frank Gaffney, a leading purveyor of hysterical theories such as militant Muslims having infiltrated the US government and Republican Party.
These new Pentagon appointments make no sense except as a (hopefully deluded) attempt to prepare for an illegal seizure of power. The appointees are either blatant mediocrities or, in Miller’s case, distinguished themselves in positions that ill-prepared them for their quantum leap in responsibility. They are all fanatically right wing with seriously unhinged views of Democratic leaders. At least one is a documented racist (Tata). Several have been involved in Trump’s election-influencing scandal. They replaced officials with decades more experience than they have. There is no rationale for their appointment because Trump is supposed to be president for two more months. They can all be removed on January 20th, the day of Biden’s inauguration, so they will have no influence over long-term policy.
The implication is that they were hired to do a specific, short-term job that undermines a stable, rational national defense. And what job is there for them to do? Start a phony war and create a state of emergency? Seize control of the ballots for a recount? Are these or comparable scenarios so unrealistic? They are certainly consistent with Trump and Republican assertions that he really won the election. It is consistent with Mike Pompeo’s smarmy remark that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration”, or Trump’s coronavirus advisor, Scott Atlas, urging Michigan to “rise up” against restrictions aimed at slowing the pandemic.
The media has raised the alarm. Many major news outlets have treated the coup threat seriously, many having raised the issue throughout Trump’s presidency. General McCaffrey’s warning tells us the unthinkable has become possible. Even planning such action is an act of treason. Trump and Jared Kushner are already liable to such indictment due to their close business associations with Vladimir Putin and the Saudi regime and their possible sacrifice of American interests to advance those of their sponsors in return for financial benefit to themselves.
It is most likely Trump is merely flailing about in envy, spite, and desperation. He is not simply “refusing to concede.” He is willing to wreck the military command of the United States while ignoring a rampaging pandemic that is destroying countless lives and jobs. He is reinforced by the spineless, toxic slurpings of McConnell, Pompeo, Cruz, Jared, and friends who refuse to admit what they have wrought. Indifference to extremist policies is the same as tacitly encouraging them.
Failing to challenge Trump’s Pentagon “shake-up” in the strongest way possible—whether on the part of media, political leaders, or military officers themselves—is equivalent to encouraging Trump and his allies to destroy our Constitutional form of government.
Call it treason.