THE FALL OF AMERICA would unleash hell: economically, diplomatically, militarily, culturally; the whole world would be rocked to its foundations. Like the fall of Rome, the nearest historical equivalent, the collapse of the United States would mark the end of an era.
The musings of a history buff? Not really. The odds of the American Republic collapsing into chaos and civil strife – even civil war – are already better than even.
In the latest issue of the Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Barton Gellman, puts it bluntly: “Against Biden or another Democratic nominee, Donald Trump may be capable of winning a fair election in 2024. He does not intend to take that chance.”
The Washington Post is no less pessimistic. It has just published an opinion piece by three retired Generals urging the military to begin preparing now for the “insurrection of 2024”. As befits senior military officers, their words are not minced:
[T]he Defence Department should war-game the next potential post-election insurrection or coup attempt to identify weak spots. It must then conduct a top-down debrief of its findings and begin putting in place safeguards to prevent breakdowns not just in the military, but also in any agency that works hand in hand with the military […..] The military and lawmakers have been gifted hindsight to prevent another insurrection from happening in 2024 – but they will succeed only if they take decisive action now.
These words should quell immediately any impulse to scoff at the idea that the United States could fall. The Generals’ opinion piece is not so much a straw, as a whole haystack, in the wind. The key question it provokes is daunting. Either, they are writing to warn Trump and his followers that the United States Armed Forces are prepared to stop them. Or, it is an act of desperation from military men who already sense that the armed forces can no longer be considered reliable defenders of the US Constitution.
Alarmingly, at least some of the Generals’ advice suggests that it may be the latter:
In addition, all military branches must undertake more intensive intelligence work at all installations. The goal should be to identify, isolate and remove all potential mutineers; guard against efforts by propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command; and understand how that and other misinformation spreads across the ranks after it is introduced by propagandists.
The picture painted here could not be clearer. If American democracy falls beneath the blows of Trump and his followers, then the American armed forces will not escape the breakdown of legitimate authority, nor the open recourse to violence, that will sweep across the rest of American society. The Army, itself, will split between Trumpists and Constitutionalists. Civil war will be inevitable.
The most astonishing feature of this looming threat to American society and its democratic institutions is how few members of the Constitutionalist political class can see it. From the President on down, there is not the slightest evidence that anything is being done to hasten the “decisive action” the Generals are demanding. The Democratic Party, in particular, is a rudderless hulk, riven by faction, and incapable of self-discipline. Trump and his followers, with scant regard for the Constitution or even the Rule of Law, are clearly preparing to re-write the political rules of engagement, and the Democrats just look at them, blinking helplessly in the headlights of the Republican Party’s onrushing Mack Truck.
One can only speculate what the Generals are saying to themselves – and any other Constitutionalists still willing to fight for the republic – behind closed doors. The strategic position can only be described as dire.
The mid-term elections are less than twelve months away and, right now, all the smart money says that the Republicans will re-capture both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The key question then, of course, is what will they do with the full powers of Congress at their disposal?
Some will no doubt be clamouring to impeach Joe Biden. But, unless the Republican Party emerges from the mid-term elections with two-thirds of the Senate under its control, Biden’s conviction on the Senate floor is most unlikely. Impeachment also runs the risk of finally concentrating the minds of the Democrats. As Trump, himself, demonstrated, an incumbent president has a lot of resources – military resources in particular – upon which he can call in extremis. In Biden’s case, those resources might even agree to come to the President’s rescue.
From a purely strategic standpoint, Trump’s and the Republican Congress’s best move would be to take Biden and the Democrats completely by surprise. If the attention of Trump’s enemies is focused almost entirely on what he might do in 2024, then the obvious strategy is to move against them as soon as the new Congress convenes. Depose Biden and install Trump as President in January 2023.
But, surely, there is no legal way President Biden can be deposed? If the Republicans lack the numbers to impeach him, then he cannot be removed from office until the General Election of 2024. Obviously, that is correct. But the Republicans may decide that the “legal way” is not their best option. If they can depose Biden quickly and cleanly, without warning, then they can, almost certainly, rely upon their mates in the Supreme Court to bestow an ex post facto blessing on Trump’s fait accompli. (They would no doubt plead that the maintenance of peace and national unity demanded nothing less of them!)
The Republican blitzkrieg would be swift and brutally effective. By a Joint Declaration of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the 2020 Presidential Election would be declared fraudulent and Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory voided. The Joint Resolution would, further, confirm that the Office of President of the United States had again been bestowed upon Donald Trump by a clear majority of the American people on 3 November 2020. This would be acknowledged by correcting the Electoral College vote, and by the Chief Justice administering the Oath of Office to the President-Elect. The proper constitutional order would, thereby, be restored.
Congress would then decree the immediate arrest of the “November 2020 Traitors”, leaving the House and the Senate devoid of Democrats. Trump loyalists in the armed forces would attempt to arrest all senior military officers deemed sympathetic to Biden and the Constitution. Public protest would be met by a declaration of martial law.
American democracy would thus be extinguished in less than a week – and all hell would break loose. The more numerous and much wealthier “Blue States” ( i.e. Democratic Party-controlled) would secede from the Union. A second American civil war would tear the United States apart. The savagery of the conflict would intensify. Ultimately, as Margaret Atwood anticipated in her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, an uneasy truce would follow the use of tactical nuclear weapons by the armies of both sides.
With America in ruins, and the global economy in free-fall, ethno-nationalism and autarky would be the order of the day. To complete this grim apocalyptic picture, successive global pandemics and runaway climate change would bury what remained of humanity’s hopes. A new Dark Age would descend.
A grim prognosis. Which is why we must all hope that a great many more Americans than “three retired Generals” are, at this very moment, readying themselves for “decisive action”.
A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 23 December 2021.