IT IS MY earnest hope that by the time you read this column, its speculations have been refuted by the facts. If they have not, then we are on the threshold of a very dark period of American history.
Let us begin with an important historical precedent.
In the summer of 1974, the US Secretary of Defence, James Schlesinger, made it very clear to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the American armed forces that any order from the Commander-in-Chief, President Richard Nixon, to deploy US troops on the streets of the nation’s capital should not be obeyed unless countersigned by himself.
Nixon’s Cabinet had become so alarmed by the behaviour of the President, that Schlesinger’s extraordinary intervention was understood to be both prudent and responsible.
Fast-forward 46 years to 2020. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, defeated in the General Election by his Democratic Party opponent, Joe Biden, is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge his loss. Worse, the President is claiming that the election has been stolen from him by means of wholesale electoral fraud. Accordingly, Republican Party lawyers have begun filing lawsuits in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania. Their purpose? To prevent the certification of voting tallies from traditionally “Democratic” counties.
It can only be assumed that the political effect of such a blatant attempt to thwart the will of the American electorate will be inflammatory. The joy manifested on American streets over the weekend, as the news of Biden’s victory spread, will, in an instant, be transformed into incandescent rage. Worse, mass protest action in support of President-Elect Biden will, almost certainly, be answered by the mobilisation of President Trump’s own supporters – many of whom will arrive on the streets heavily armed. Widespread civil disorder and loss of life is bound to follow.
If the President’s behaviour during the Black Lives Matter protests is any guide, Trump will seek to quell such widespread violence and disorder by ordering the US armed forces onto the nation’s streets.
Until Tuesday morning (NZ Time) the only institutional obstacle to such a course of action being followed was Trump’s Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper. Secretary Esper had reacted with dismay to the deployment of federal law enforcement personnel – including military police – to drive protesters from Lafayette Park so that the President could walk the few hundred metres separating the White House from St John’s Episcopal Church in safety. On Tuesday morning, however, the President removed that obstacle by sacking Secretary Esper and replacing him with the Director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Christopher Miller.
By Tuesday afternoon, rumours were sweeping Washington that Esper’s dismissal was about to be followed by the sacking of FBI Director, Christopher Wray, and CIA Director, Gina Haspel.
At the time of writing, both of these key law enforcement and national security officials still held their jobs. If, however, they have been sacked and replaced by Trump loyalists, then, by the time you read these words, the President of the United States will have effectively decapitated what his most fanatical supporters – the followers of the mysterious “QAnon” – call the “Deep State”.
In the eyes of these deluded Americans, their President will have struck a blow for freedom and decency, and they will be looking forward eagerly to his next move: the arrest of senior members of the Democratic Party – including, no doubt, President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris. If this is what transpires, then the method in the madness of the QAnon conspiracy theory will, finally, be revealed.
To those watching in Moscow and Beijing, Paris and Berlin, Canberra and Wellington, however, the nature of the events unfolding in the United States will be understood very differently. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern will know exactly what they are looking at: a steadily unfolding coup d’état – its every step retrospectively justified and validated by a lame-duck Republican President and a lame-duck Republican Senate.
If this is the way events have unfolded since Tuesday afternoon, then only one force in American society possesses the strength to defend the US Constitution and uphold American democracy: the armed forces of the United States.
This time, however, they will not be able to rely upon the Secretary of Defence to make the necessary intervention. This time they’ll have to do it themselves.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 November 2020.