The first of a special series of reports by Charles Krause, who reported from Latin America for The Washington Post, CBS News and The MacNeil/ Lehrer NewsHour. The Swamp Report hopes these History Lessons will help its readers make sense of this historic time in our nation’s history.
WASHINGTON—American English doesn’t have an exact word or phrase for coup d’etat or golpe de estado because our Constitution and system of checks and balances were designed to prevent one. Sadly, I think we’re going to need one, soon, because we’re likely to have one—within the next year to 18 months.
Whether one thinks our institutions are proving to be stronger or weaker than they appear, it looks increasingly as if our current political crisis will end with an unprecedented clash between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government that will require an unconstitutional military intervention to “save” our Constitutional democracy from itself.
Expressed differently, I don’t see Donald Trump leaving office voluntarily, even if impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. He’s hinted as much, and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, said as much, before he began serving his prison term for lying about his boss’s sins.
The military coups that overthrew Argentina’s democratically elected president, Juan Peron, in 1955, and the 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973, offer some cautionary lessons and insights into our current situation that may be useful.
Could a military coup happen here?
A military coup in the United States would be unprecedented and most Americans seem to think it’s crazy to think one could happen here. Admittedly, no two or three countries are the same but, contrary to popular belief, coups weren’t the norm in Argentina or Chile when they took place there, either.
In both, as is likely to be the case here, the military waited to intervene until the body politic was deeply and irreconcilably divided and the elected governments were in shambles. As is the case today in the United States, the armed forces in Argentina and Chile were the one institution that seemed to represent the national interest, rather than the partisan or special interests that were selfishly tearing the countries apart.
Both the Peronists in Argentina and Socialists in Chile viewed their opponents as enemies, not legitimate stakeholders; the leaders of both governments were viewed by a sizable minority (plurality?) of the electorate as unrepresentative of the country as a whole; and each government was over-reaching in its attempt to implement promised reforms.
Both Peron and Allende were dishonest, in different ways (but far less so than Trump); unable to accept criticism; and distracted by the perks of power and availability of women. Peron was a true demagogue and corrupt like Trump but much more determined and effective at carrying out his promises of improving the lot of the decamisados (forgotten poor) than Trump has been, or ever will be.
Like Trump, Allende was elected president with a very limited mandate, having received only slightly more than a third of the popular vote. His promises of deep social reform were sincere but he was a dilettante who partied and drank too much. At critical moments, when he needed to be forceful, he would disengage, allowing his opponents to fill the void, as his socialist revolution spiraled out of control.
Allende was killed on September 11, 1973, the day of the coup, fighting to repel it; Peron flew off into exile and spent the next 18 years supporting a guerilla insurgency which brought Argentina to its knees. Unable to restore order, the military agreed to let him return from his palatial estate in Marbella, in return for a green light to undertake a vicious campaign of state terror to wipe out the guerrillas he, himself, had financed and encouraged.
Thousands of political dissidents were killed in both countries, which should never be forgotten. No responsible American president would ever defy the Constitutional order, risking a military intervention to restore it. But it seems to me it could well be the way the Age of Trump will end.
There are many versions of the histories of Chile and Argentina and many reasonable explanations for the break down of civilian rule in both countries. But there is one overriding similarity that is applicable to our current situation in the United States.
Neither Peron in 1955 nor Allende in 1973 was willing to give up power voluntarily, long after it was apparent each had lost his ability—and mandate—to govern. In the nearly three years he’s been president, there’s been nothing to suggest Donald Trump will ever be willing to subjugate his personal ambition and private interests for the greater good of the nation as a whole.
Trump will not leave the White House voluntarily.
In the delusional world our President lives in, he is the victim of a vast conspiracy directed by the “dark state;” amplified by the “fake media;” and carried forward by its foot soldiers, the “enemies of the people,” who ask him the questions he sets up every morning with his illiterate tweets.
The inconvenient fact that Russia helped elect him is a “hoax” perpetrated by the CIA and FBI to delegitimize his victory. Only Giuliani and Barr believe his conspiracy theory, which is that the real foreign intervention in 2016 came from Ukraine on behalf of the Democrats and Hillary, not Russia on behalf of the Republicans and himself.
Ukraine, you’ll remember, leaked all that nasty stuff about Paul Manafort’s secret bank accounts and the millions of dollars they contained, undiminished by the U.S. taxes Manafort neglected to pay.
Although he’s never said it quite this way, I suspect Our Leader rather liked his now-convicted campaign manager because of what he did. Manafort had devised some tax evasion and money laundering schemes not even he had thought of, which convinced him Manafort was a “class act.”
And Manafort worked for free, another thing he liked about him. So what if Manafort’s clients in Ukraine and Russia were paying him for the time he spent helping Trump win the 2016 election? So what if Manafort met with his partner from Kiev and gave him some of the polling data Trump for President paid for? And so what if the Russians used it to help him defeat Hillary?
What was wrong with that?
The Clintons are just like the fucking Kurds. No angels, let me tell you. Did the fake media ever investigate Chelsea’s $11 million pad down near Gramercy Park in New York? Or why Citizen Trump had to pay $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation to get Bill and Hillary to come to his wedding? Wasn’t there something plenty shady about all that?
You get the picture.
And, if you don’t, here it is.
And why shouldn’t he, President Donald J. Trump, help his supporters? The Russians aren’t really a threat to the United States.
They just want us to leave them, and the countries in their natural sphere of interest, alone. Just like we don’t want them messing around in Mexico and Canada and Cuba. China is the real problem, and Vlad would help us with China if we played nice with him. He doesn’t like the Chinks anymore than we do.
What’s wrong with that?
Trump believes Obama’s CIA arranged for Ukraine’s counter-intelligence service, the SBU, to leak their file on the millions Manafort was getting from the Russians and hiding from the IRS in order to get him. It would never have occurred to Trump that Manafort might be a Russian agent of influence and that he, Trump, might be what they call an idiota utile (useful idiot), someone who could be manipulated without even suspecting he was being manipulated.
Or maybe Trump knew exactly what the Russians were doing and Manafort was sent in, with his knowledge, to help steer the ship into and out of the Republican convention, when it looked like it would sink in the wake of Hillary’s commanding lead.
Either way, Trump suspects the Manafort leak and subsequent indictment were timed to get Manafort to tell the dark state all he knew about Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign and with Trump himself. Was Manafort the go-between or were there others? Are the Russians blackmailing Trump? Bribing him? Manafort would know.
But Manafort didn’t tell. He proved to be a surprisingly good soldier, keeping his mouth shut in return for Trump’s promise to pardon him after the 2020 election and probably a reward from the Russians, as well.
Meanwhile, in Trump’s mind, Biden was playing the same game he was. All he was doing was trying to get even by forcing the Ukrainians to give him the dirt on Joe and Hunter. So what if he played hardball with them? They’re losers, anyway. And if the Dems think they’re going to impeach him for holding up three or four hundred million of his money, they’ve got another thing coming.
In Trump’s mind, it’s wrong. Barr and Giuliani say so. He’s not going to let Nancy Pelosi and Schumer run him out of office. Not even if Moscow Mitch and the other wimps in the Senate vote to convict him.
What are they going to do about it?
Take him out in handcuffs? On a stretcher?
And that, dear reader, is how I fear the Trumpian Age will end.
Just like Peron and Allende, Trump will order his base, armed to the teeth, into the streets to protect him, defying the courts and the Congress if he’s impeached and convicted.
He’ll dare our military to break the Constitutional order to save it.
And, they probably will.
NEXT: Apres moi, will it be Pinochet or the deluge?