As I have said before, I do not think most people yet realize the full gravity of what happened at the Capitol. I include myself in that statement; when I first wrote it, I was mainly focusing on what had happened at the Capitol itself, not what it showed about the overall political context.
What it shows about the latter is that we have a powerful leader, a charismatic right-wing authoritarian the likes of a Hitler or a Mussolini, whom millions are in absolute thrall to. The only saving grace is that unlike Hitler or Mussolini, Trump has so many personality defects that his emotions interfere with his ability to plan and strategize; Trump is perpetually stumbling over his own dick.
However, Trump is still dangerous enough to have inspired his followers to orchestrate and execute an attack on the United States Capitol, one that came closer than many realize to causing an extremely serious constitutional crisis.
It is in this light that the recent memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff comes. As Beau of the Fifth Column points out, there is actually an order wrapped inside that memo:
On January 20, 2020, in accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.
And make no mistake, that is an order from the JCS. It is the entire military’s duty to cooperate in carrying it out, and if anyone goes against it, they will find themselves court-martialed. There are also news reports of the military conducting internal investigations to identify and deal with disloyal or potentially disloyal individuals. Believe them.
It does not matter if Trump opposes the order. The order is rooted in the basic Constitutional mission of the US military. As such, any countermanding order from Trump is illegal and will be disobeyed by the Joint Chiefs. Remember, military law requires all those enlisted to obey not all orders but all legal orders.
The dangerous thing is how many troops might go against the Joint Chiefs’ legal orders and instead choose to obey any illegal orders from Trump. That is a real risk, and may well cause a civil war between different military factions to break out. At this time, I tend to think any such war will be extremely limited in nature: some scattered mutinies that are quickly suppressed, not a long and bloody conflagration that engulfs the entire nation. If so, it’s questionable to even label the resulting struggle a war.
In fact it is the danger of this, and the related danger of civilian militants also finding inspiration in Trump’s words, that is behind the recent deplatformings of Trump and other influential fascist voices. If you think the national security establishment hasn’t been quitely twisting the arms of Big Tech leaders behind the scenes, think again.
Empire is Dead
One of the things that came to my notice in 2016 was the national security orientation of the anti-Trump democratic right. Evan McMullen, a career CIA officer, was motivated to launch a quixotic independent campaign for president, whose goal was to split the right-wing vote and thereby deny Trump the presidency. Tom Nichols was an early anti-Trump voice on the Right, whose clarity and insight caught my attention (without using the f-word itself, he clearly perceived the essentially fascist nature of Trumpism). Bill Kristol, the dean of national security neoconservatives, was also an early and vocal anti-Trumper. This is but a few examples.
The ironic thing is that Trump is in many ways the logical outcome of neoconservatism. The latter had been turned into a rudderless ideology by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Public support for empire was wavering, and the neoconservatives knew it. Enter the Project for a New American Century and its wish for a new Pearl Harbor moment that got the USA embroiled in a war in Iraq that was founded on a pack of lies.
Trump is very much blowback for that. The obvious failure of the Iraq War alienated many in the GOP’s base from the party’s traditional foreign policy stances, and the lack of consequences for the conspirators that enmeshed the country in it helped give Trump the courage to try breaking even more laws.
Not many people have written about it, but Trumpism has mortally wounded the American empire. First, the very fact a Trump could gain power in the USA illustrated beyond doubt the danger of a unipolar world order led by it. Then, Trump’s buffoonery and betrayal of allies underscored the unreliability of the USA as a partner. Finally, the recent failed coup attempt underscores just how weak and structurally rotten the Republic really is.
For the foreseeable future, we are going to be way too preoccupied with our own domestic security to be able to pay much attention to international security. The American empire is now dead, or soon will be.
It has been said, regarding Presidential candidates, that Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line.
I experienced the former in 2008, when I would try to point out to my liberal friends that Obama was not going to be the progressive messiah they imagined him to be. It was all to no avail: they would not believe me. They had fallen in love. But Democrats are a famously fractious and disorganized party. Will Rogers once quipped “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” It didn’t take very long for liberals to get disappointed in Obama and for intra-party squabbling to break out.
By contrast, Republicans really do fall in line, at least they did up until Trump appeared on the scene. The pre-Trump Republican Party was actually very much a coalition between three main factions, who each had different motivating reasons for being a Republican:
- Neoconservatives were mostly concerned about national security. In fact, many of them had started out life on the political left, before realizing just what a totalitarian shithole the USSR was, and finding a life mission of defeating the Soviet empire. They liked the Republicans because of their hawkish foreign policy.
- The bourgeoisie were mostly concerned about their money and social power. They liked the Republicans because of their anti-union, low-tax, pro-free-trade, and anti-welfare policies.
- Paleoconservatives are social reactionaries. They like the GOP’s antipathy towards civil rights and LGBT rights. They dream of banning abortions and making Christian prayer compulsory in public schools. They wave Confederate battle flags around for a reason.
Each faction mostly cared about what it cared about, and was willing to be in a coalition that pursued goals other than its own, so long as those other goals were pursued on a mostly non-interference basis to their own goals. No faction really cared much about those other goals; they just put up with them.
If, for example, the Democrats became big on military spending and empire, the neocons could have happily supported them; they had no strong objections in principle to things like gay rights or racial equality. Likewise, if the opposition to the Democrats became a European-style liberal party (perhaps a watered-down version of the US Libertarian Party), that favored racial equality and gay rights but also wanted low taxes and was against the welfare state, the bourgeoisie could have just as happily supported it.
The social reactionaries are the interesting ones, because unlike the other two categories, they are economically diverse: many of them are working class, while both the national security intelligentsia and of course the bourgeoisie are drawn exclusively from the ranks of the affluent. Working-class social reactionaries in fact used to typically be Democrats, because they favored the Democrats’ economic policies, and only got driven away from that party in response to the Civil Rights Acts.
Many people call that crowd the Christian right (or, less generously and today more accurately, Christian fascists). Their Christianity has its roots in the Old South, in denominations like the Southern Baptists and in other religious traditions that grew out of an ideological need to find justification in Scripture for Negro slavery.
The social reactionaries are large in numbers primarily because of their economic diversity: it is hard to have large numbers if one’s base comes mostly from the relatively small upper strata of the economic hierarchy. They don’t care about Trump’s trade policies causing pain for the capitalist class, because they are not themselves members of the capitalist class, and many of them have in fact been hurt by the free-trade policies of the old GOP. It’s just that they liked the socially reactionary policies enough that they were willing to suffer somewhat economically to see them put into place.
This is why they absolutely love Trump. Trump tells them they can have it all: a socially reactionary state that clamps down on the capitalists and brings back their old jobs that the capitalist class free-traded away. And until he does that, they get to savor the sweet schadenfreude of owning the libs. And if that all doesn’t fly well enough with the rest of America to consistently win elections, well fuck it. Time for a putsch.
Of the other two parts of the old Republican coalition, the one that has the most issues with Trumpism is the neocons. They dislike the increasingly open bigotry of the social reactionaries, because this evil complicates the neocons’ goals. Most of the world is populated by nonwhites and/or non-Christians. Allying with a power that oppresses people who look or believe like you, when there is another world power called China without that spare baggage that is also courting your nation, is basically a non-starter. The neocons know this.
On top of that, racism corrodes the military itself. Harry Truman desegregated the military because he wanted to do something about racism and the realities of political power at the time constrained him from doing much of anything about it via legislation. So he used his power as Commander in Chief to say to the military: you are desegregating, and that’s an order. This gave the military about twenty years’ head start on the rest of society when it comes to promoting the principle of racial equality, a principle now firmly ingrained in military culture. Whites and nonwhites serve side by side, and many white servicemen serve under, and thus take orders from, nonwhite officers.
In fact, the need to strengthen empire was part of the motive for the Civil Rights Acts in the first place. LBJ was a hawk who got the USA deeply involved in Vietnam; he pushed civil rights in part to counter the outreach the USSR was making to the Third World, which was pointing out the hypocrisy of a racist apartheid superpower that made noises about freedom.
All of this means there is considerable antipathy between the neoconservatives and the Trumpers. Since neoconservatism is basically the state ideology of the national security establishment, this means there is considerable antipathy between the national security establishment and the Trumpers.
I recently pointed out that Trump is worse than Osama bin Laden. The national security establishment don’t go around openly saying it, in fact most of them probably don’t consciously even realize it yet, but they realize it on some level. They not only realize it, but they are now in the process of acting on it. Last week’s coup attempt really got their attention.
I am still trying to work through the full implications of what this all means, but the immediate takeaway, I think, is to keep in mind that we are now in an extremely serious struggle against an extremely dangerous domestic fascist movement. Like the past great struggle against fascism, World War II, this is a grave struggle and our victory is not certain. As such, we cannot afford to rule out the alliance with anyone against the fascists, even an alliance with forces that we have traditionally had antipathy with. (You think Churchill and Roosevelt loved Stalin? Think again.)
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious when interacting with our new strange bedfellows, of course. It is common in struggles for alliances to shift and former allies to stab each other in the back. But, for the time being, and like it or not, history has landed both the Left and the national security establishment on the same side of the struggle against fascism.