by Victor Davis Hanson
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, three retired generals, Paul Eaton, Antonio Taguba, and Steven Anderson warn of a supposedly impending coup should Donald Trump be elected in 2024.
The column seemed strangely timed to coincide with a storm of recent Democratic talking points that a reelected Trump, or even a Republican sweep of the 2022 midterms, would spell a virtual end of democracy.
From Election Day in 2020 to Inauguration Day 2021, we were told by the Left that democracy was resilient and rightly rid the nation of Trump.
The hard Left, for one of the rare times in U.S. history, was now in complete control of both houses of Congress and the presidency.
Spiking inflation, supply-chain shortages, near record gas prices, open borders, the flight from Afghanistan, multi-trillion-dollar deficits, and polarizing racial rhetoric all followed.
In response to these events, Joe Biden’s popularity utterly collapsed. His own cognitive challenges multiplied the unpopularity of his failed policies.
In reaction, the Left again pivoted. It suddenly announced that should it lose congressional power in 2022 or the presidency in 2024, democracy was all but doomed.
Apparently, what changed Democrats’ views was that democracy was working all too well in expressing widespread public disgust . . . with the Left.
Even more ironies followed.
The three retired generals shrilly write of the dangers of insurrection and coups. Yet the FBI found no such insurrection or conspiracy in the buffoonish riot on January 6.
Only serial media misinformation and lies turned a ragtag band of misfits into an existential threat to the nation.
Almost every media talking point turned out to be untrue. No Capitol police officer died at the hands of the mob. (Early reports that Officer Brian Sicknick had been beaten into a coma by protesters were incorrect. The Washington, D.C., medical examiner ruled Sicknick died the next day of a stroke.) The media all but ignored the lethal police shooting of a military veteran and unarmed petite female trespasser, for the apparent crime of trying to enter Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office through a broken window. There were no gun-toting “insurrectionists” arrested inside the Capitol.
Another irony. The three retired generals say nothing about the Russia collusion hoax in which Obama Administration officials at the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the CIA helped to seed a fake dossier—paid for by candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Ex-British intelligence operative Christopher Steele’s made-up opposition research was designed first to derail Trump’s campaign, then to disable his transition and finally sabotage his presidency. All that seems rather coup-like.
In truth, coups were regularly discussed during the last four years—but only in the context of a by-any-means-necessary way of deposing Donald Trump extralegally before his term ran out.
In August 2020, two retired officers John Nagl and Paul Yingling, urged Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley to remove Trump from office if Milley felt it necessary after a contested election.
Both officers knew that the law forbids Milley from interfering in the chain of command, given his mere advisory role to the president.
Yet Milley himself had dangerously violated his purview at least twice. He once ordered subordinate officers to report to him first should Donald Trump consider any nuclear action against China. And Milley additionally called his Chinese communist counterpart to warn him that he would tip the Chinese off about any preemptive American strike on China.
Earlier, Rosa Brooks, a former Obama Pentagon legal official, wrote a now infamous essay in Foreign Policy, listing the choices available in removing Donald Trump from his less than two-week-old presidency. Among the possible means, she listed a potential military coup.
Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids even retired military officers publicly attacking or disparaging their current commander-in-chief. Yet several retired generals and admirals serially did just that during the last administration, smearing their president in every imaginable way, from being a Mussolini-like fascist to a veritable Nazi.
The officers published in the Washington Post are clueless as to why the military is now suffering its most dismal public approval ratings of the modern era—with only 45 percent of the public registering trust and confidence in their armed forces.
The nation is clearly not blaming the courageous soldiers in the enlisted ranks. But it has had enough of the Pentagon’s loud top brass who seem more interested in stirring up political divisions at home than adopting winning strategies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, or deterring China and Russia.
The officer corps too often broadcasts its woke credentials, calibrated for career advancement. Top-ranking officers upon retirement too predictably head for corporate defense contractor boards and procurement lobbying firms.
To restore the military’s reputation, officers should eschew politics to focus on restoring strategic deterrence and military readiness. They should keep clear of divisive domestic issues. They should stop virtue signaling to the media and influential members of Congress.
But most importantly, officers should quit all their coup porn talk—either to remove a president they don’t like, or to project their own reckless, insurrectionary behavior onto their political opponents.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.
Photo “Jan. 6 capitol riot” by Brett Davis CC BY 2.0.