It will likely take years to unpack the final days of the Trump presidency and understand the full weight of the Jan. 6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol that sought to thwart our democratic process. But if we don’t take the necessary steps to do so, the risk of a future successful coup will be increased.
Hopefully that will be the main takeaway that people have not only from last week’s revelation that the nation’s top military officer was alarmed enough about Trump’s post-election behavior that he began forming contingency plans in case the outgoing president tried anything illegal and/or dangerous to remain in power — but also from the extreme rhetoric Trump continues to spew through his fake presidential stationery and his continued campaign rallies.
According to excerpts from “I Alone Can Fix It,” a new book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker that was scheduled to be released Tuesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, feared an attempted coup was coming after Defense Secretary Mark Esper had been fired, Attorney General William Barr resigned and unqualified Trump toadies were installed in positions of power at the Pentagon. Milley and the other military chiefs reportedly hatched a plan for rolling resignations to counteract any illegal actions Trump might have attempted to use the military to retain his grip on the White House. According to the excerpts, Milley viewed Trump at the time as “the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose."
I won’t pretend to be shocked that military leaders worried Trump might pull treacherous and illegal moves to remain in office, and I don’t mean that as an almighty statement. I’m just one of millions who were able to learn more about Trump’s background, hear his own words, evaluate his own actions over the span of four years as president, and reasonably conclude that he would never concede without a fight and that he would cast any loss as some sort of grave injustice inflicted upon him and his supporters.
But Trump critics and political opponents calling him out repeatedly for his autocratic tendencies is indeed different from the nation’s top military brass — which actively, and for good reason, tries to avoid inserting itself into politics — worrying that he would try something dangerously unprecedented. That they had similar concerns should have everyone's attention.
Milley’s fear of an attempted military coup did not come to fruition, but the insurrection that Trump inspired and incited did happen. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died. More than 140 people, including numerous Capitol police officers, were injured. Rioters (not tourists) with tactical gear, police-grade zip ties, aluminum baseball bats and more came perilously close to members of Congress and their staffs. They were seconds away from encountering Vice President Mike Pence, who had a labeled noose fashioned for him outside on the Capitol grounds.
It could have been way worse. It may very well be worse if it happens again. Make no mistake, it can happen again. And make no mistake, Trump is attempting to stoke another attack. Look no further than his continuous peddling of the line, “Who shot Ashlii Babbit,” referring to the rioter who was shot and killed by a Capitol officer while attempting to crawl through a smashed window, which would have led her and dozens of others directly to members of Congress, and ignoring commands to stop.
The story of Babbitt, a military veteran who had become radicalized by the internet and Trumpworld and conspiracy theories, is tragic. But Trump taking the metaphorical bullhorn to parrot reckless propaganda that shapes her as a martyr for an enduringly just revolution sends the signal to her fellow insurrectionists to try again. The message, loud and clear: “Carry on and go forth, comrades and patriots.”
Setting aside the kooky, QAnon-infused myth that he will be reinstalled at “x” date — a date that magically keeps on changing — Trump is hardly discreet in his desire and intention to win back the presidency in 2024. That could have already been prevented, if not for the failure of the majority of Republican U.S. senators to answer the call. Many of them would prefer that the insurrection and what led to it be erased from the country’s collective conscience. They would rather most of the focus and attention be on Big-spending Joe than their coddling of Trump and their complicity in arguably the worst presidency in modern American history, which culminated with one of the darkest moments the country has seen.
Despite the GOP leadership’s efforts to date to block a full accounting of the Capitol attack that would help hold all those who were responsible accountable and be aimed at helping prevent any future attacks, the Democratic leadership has the ability to shine more light on the events and the lead-up to it. The have the moral high ground on this issue. Whether or not they have the backbone and resolve to see it through remains to be seen. But the best short-term solution is a full-throated repudiation of Trump, from both sides of the aisle, that cripples his influence and prevents him from ever rising to power in this country ever again.
Consider Trump’s own rhetoric while he was in office, which included praise for and flattery of various dictators and strongmen around the world. In four years, he was just getting comfortable. Imagine how empowered a narcissistic demagogue would feel when given back the power of the presidency and not compelled to answer for his transgressions. Imagine how empowered the devoted insurrectionists would feel being told that their attack was worth it and that they would be the heroes in the history books yet to be written.
We ignore recent history — and the ongoing Trumpworld-sponsored fanaticism and what it might lead to — at our own risk.