We need to clear some things up before they get any further out of hand, as the Dems insist on making this stuff every day’s front page. For starters, stop saying “Reichstag moment.” And when Grandpa Simpson and Kamala “Silent Shadow” Harris tottered into the White House, they became president. Between the two of them they’ll get their four years. Done.
Some 500 protesters taking selfies inside the Capitol building is a tantrum, not a coup. Among other things, a coup must have some path towards success, in this case, preventing Joe Biden from becoming president. The rioters at best might have delayed the largely ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes until the next day. Done.
Not done. The latest addition to Coup Canon comes from then—and somehow still—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley. Milley was so shaken Trump might attempt a coup or take other illegal measures after the election that he and other top officials planned to stop Trump. Neither Milley nor any of the others actually spell out what Trump might have realistically done in some Calvinball-like way to make said coup happen. Milley’s Strangelovian performance art is based on nothing but the spittle running down his chin. American soldiers have been required to refuse illegal orders at least since Biden wore diapers, so Milley’s histrionics are just that.
Milley nonetheless felt “growing concern” after Trump placed “loyalists” in positions of power after the November 2020 election, replacing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr. He feared, based on his own sizable gut, these moves “were the sign of something sinister to come” (Update: Nothing sinister came.) Milley failed to recognize that all presidential appointees are “loyalists” and that somehow Trump did not replace Milley himself, who clearly had not read his oath recently, especially the part about taking orders from the civilian head of government.
In fact, if anyone is a threat to democracy it is nutjobs like Milley, who feel free to weave in and out of answering to the commander in chief based on their personal “concerns.” The general’s tough love for the Constitution apparently did not include the right to assemble, as he referred to a pro-Trump march protesting election results as “the modern American equivalent of brownshirts in the streets.”
While Milley was rewriting 230 years of military prudence in late 2020, Paul Krugman from the New York Times bunker wrote there were “substantial odds America as we know it will be damaged or even destroyed” by the election (Update: it was not.) He told us to “expect violence from Trump supporters, maybe lots of it, both to disrupt voting on Election Day and in the days that follow” until Trump “stops counting of absentee ballots, claims massive fraud, and probably tries to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.” (Update: none of that happened.)
Over at the Nation they simply assumed Trump would illegally remain in power. The writer’s real concern was that at least “we have the moral high ground. But we don’t have, frankly, the military leadership in place to direct a guerrilla campaign against an illegitimate regime. We don’t have a government-in-exile waiting to take power. We don’t have international allies. We don’t have an underground network of spies and saboteurs. . . but we can lay our bodies down in front of the tanks.” Any hope for the rule of law? Nope. “The Supreme Court too is, fundamentally, an anti-democratic institution run by people who are not subject to the popular will of our diverse society.”
The Nation should not have worried about having to go Red Dawn unarmed. General Milley said, “They may try [a coup] but they’re not going to f**king succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.” An interesting take on where power lies in a nation whose founding document begins with “We the People.”
Milley’s real plan was to prevent Trump from using the military in a coup by using the military in a coup against civilian leadership to gun down American citizens. CNN reports that after January 6 Milley feared an attack on the presidential inauguration, telling senior military leaders: “Here’s the deal, guys: These guys are Nazis, they’re Boogaloo Boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. We’re going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.”
But Milley is also a liar, claiming publicly at the same time, “I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this election process. We will not turn our backs on the Constitution of the United States,” while planning his Ring of Steel (it sounds better in the original German, Ring aus Stahl.)
And so on to the Reichstag. With as little knowledge of history as they have of coups, the mainstream media have turned the Reichstag fire into shorthand for everything they fear Trump would do but somehow never did. The 1933 Reichstag fire was a false-flag arson attack on the home of the German parliament in Berlin. The Nazi Party used this as a pretext to claim communists were ready to overthrow the elected government.
Left out of the current misuse of the incident is the fact Hitler had already become chancellor before the fire. More importantly, missing when trying to connect 1933 to modern America, is any amount of context. Hitler had already achieved power on promises to conquer the world, implement the Final Solution, and all sorts of other Mein Kampf stuff. He had announced plans to abolish democracy via the Enabling Act, which gave him power to pass laws by decree without the involvement of parliament. That next step needed an excuse, a trigger, to crack down on his opposition—not a prime mover to seize power.
Unlike modern America, the Germany around Hitler had had only a few years’ taste of a wimpy democracy, and a long history of autocracy. No matter how dramatically someone wants to portray Trump’s non-actions, none of what never happened came within miles of what the real Nazis did.
So if there was no coup on January 6, and no possible road to a coup, why are we still talking about all this? We should be mocking, not raising up, those who have no basic understanding of current events, never mind history.
But we are still talking about all this (with Nancy Pelosi’s stacked-deck “investigation” grinding along) because the Biden agenda is stalled. He has decreed a few things to un-decree a few things Trump decreed, but is unlikely to make much progress on all those promises of infrastructure, immigration reform, or student loans. Inflation is at a 13 year high even as gas prices eat away at what’s left of our middle class. There is no vision to end the Covid-19 panic. The social justice and culture war issues which dominate the Democrats’ minds seem ever more flaccid. So what do Democrats have left to run on?
Trump. The Democratic message for the midterms and beyond is Trump, coups, January 6, white supremacy, racism-a-go-go, militias, domestic terrorism, a veritable Nazi renaissance. As one progressive journalist put it “The Capitol riot Committee… is a potent political weapon. Democrats have a massive opportunity: Shove it down the GOP’s throat.” A New York Times reporter called Trump and his 74 million supporters “enemies of the state.”
Why not? Dems have little else but fear of things that never happened to work with, and so they hope to milk the “we’re not Trump” cow one more time. They amplify voices that have been wrong in the past and make heroes of those who would replace the Constitution with their own judgment.
As for a real threat to democracy: It is General Milley preparing to disobey the Constitution and take a patriot-sized dump on his chain of command; it is progressive rag the Nation telling their readers they will fight a guerrilla war against other Americans, and that the Supreme Court, the third branch of our republican government, is an illegitimate, antidemocratic institution. Who again is the threat? Trump is out of office, but Milley still holds command of the entire U.S. military.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.