Apropos of Not Talking About Coups, there is a second, related category of Pentagon-White House relations article that needs to cease immediately. This specimen at Politico by Patrick Granfield is textbook. To write one of these articles, one looks at the generals who infest il Presidente’s cabinet, thinks to oneself “These men are not criminally insane/are against torture/know that the State Department performs a number of necessary functions” according to one’s inclinations, decides that the military is one’s best hope for a check on the Annoying Orange’s worst impulses, and finally one winds it all up with a vague invocation of the clause in the oath about defending the constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is not in fact one of the Framers.
This is not to say that the Pentagon doesn’t have a responsibility to refuse or otherwise push back on illegal and unconstitutional orders. They do. But all that means practically speaking is that if il Presidente orders you to invade California in blatant violation of Posse Comitatus or to blow up al-Baghdadi’s grandma’s house just to show we mean business, you tell him with all due respect to shove it up his ass. If he tries to take some sort of military action that’s insane but technically legal, you can resign. If he Caligulates around solely in the domestic sphere, you can go vote like everyone else. The oath says nothing whatever about “democracy,” thank god: it’s much more concrete.
Admittedly one expects this sort of thing from the neocon-infested right wing of the opposition— they’re prone to Pentagon-worship at the best of times, which these are certainly not— but as is clear from the above Mr Granfield, it is rapidly creeping across the aisle. Quit it. As has been observed elsewhere and at length, if some bastard is chipping away at the customs underpinning liberal democracy, do not help him.
As the most pessimistic person in any given room, I’m still expecting either scrambled-egg-encrusted MAGA hats, or, if Mr Granfield gets his way, a bizarre push to change the blue ground of the flag’s canton to a slightly darker shade. In the meantime, stop writing these damn fool articles. It might not help, but it at least won’t hurt.
In the last week or so there has been a lot of loose— if mostly somewhat deniable— talk about coups flying around in both the blogosphere and parts of the mainstream press. Some of it has been Kremlinological divination of the worst sort, as in the case of this post from Yonatan Zunger on Medium, which later was justly mocked by Politico. The rest of it has been apparently neutral speculation: for example, the textbook example of apophasis at the end of this piece by David A. Graham at the Atlantic, a throat-clearing Morsi analogy from Ross Douthat (who should certainly know better), and this here bit of pseudonymous blatancy at the Daily Kos. There are certainly other examples out there for the finding.
First off, not only is this sort of talk almost cartoonishly antidemocratic, but a coup is invariably at least as bad as the disease, and a failed coup is always worse. However, I’m not particularly interested in the chances of actual tanks rolling any time soon when no one should even be talking about this in the first place.
Not that it hasn’t been making the rounds: in fact I’ve been waiting for coup talk to jump the air gap between the infrasonic Beltway buzz and the press for about two months now. Up until this point it’s mostly been confined to the realm of whispered conversations between panicking political scientists in the darker corners of the more dimly-lit U Street bars on Thursday nights, where it tends to be brought up in the course of a worst case risk-assessment exercise, alongside the much more plausible horrors of il Douche and Bannon with technically-constitutional emergency powers (the only person I’ve heard speak of the idea favorably was my Uber driver on New Years Eve, who suggested it as a solution to the emergency powers problem, clearly under the impression that I was much drunker than I actually was).
But troubled wonks may say things in private that no responsible citizen committed to the Constitution or even, at bare minimum, representative democracy should ever release into the national discourse. If we’re worried about the regime’s erosion of the rule of law, we shouldn’t indulge anti-democratic fantasies about throwing the bums out at tankpoint. This sort of preposterous chatter serves nothing but democratic deconsolidation. Knock it off.
The mainstream print media handwringing surrounding their supposed role in the recent ascension of a certain safety-orange populist with a dead badger strapped to his pate is really starting to get to me. The sin of us coastal elites is supposed to be coastal elitism, of which the Platonic bloody ideal has got to be this condescending notion that the heartland is full of a bunch of goofy hicks who voted for the bombastic day-glo nationalist because they just didn’t know any better and journalists failed them. This nonsense is vastly more infantilizing than Obamasplaining or thinkpieces about diversity or whatever else it is that sad, self-important urban journalists like to point to as the cause of the populist backlash. It’s not some backward wasteland, for fuck’s sake: they’re 21st century Americans. They have smart phones and the same access to fact-checking resources as the rest of us. Do not try to deny them agency and responsibility. They chose the Yam despite everything, and if they were underinformed about him, it was because they chose to be underinformed. The People are just the People: the greatest risk of democracy is that sometimes they are catastrophically wrong.
The one point on which the press has legitimate grounds for self-flagellation is insufficient attention to mob involvement, the Russia thing, the Bondi bribery case, the repeat bankruptcies, and other tentacles of the Trump business octopus. But to have been mislead by that, one would have to be reading print journalism in the first place.