subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

A worst-case scenario: Trump orders troops to protect his beleaguered presidency



You may have read a bizarre story recently about a political situation in the Maldives, that tiny tropical country in the Indian Ocean, where a standoff exists between the President, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and the Supreme Court. Gayoom ordered soldiers into the Supreme Court building, where they arrested the Chief Justice, leading Gayoom’s government to declare a state of emergency, while his political opposition called the move “a purge” and is urged his arrest.

The particulars of the Maldives crisis need not detain us. Rather, the interesting part is this open warfare between a sitting president and a Supreme Court that, in the Maldives as here in the U.S., constitutes a separate but co-equal branch of government.

As I followed the news out of the Maldives, my mind returned to a remark I heard an analyst make the other day (I don’t remember his name). The panel he was part of was talking about possible outcomes should Trump refuse to testify before Mueller, refuse a Grand Jury subpoena to testify, and simply refuse to cooperate at all with any aspect of the investigation.

All of the panelists said, in effect, “Don’t worry. This will go to the Supreme Court, and even though it’s dominated by Republicans, they will decide the same way they did in United States v. Nixon, when they unanimously ruled that a president is not above the law, and must comply with legal court orders.”

The analyst replied, in effect, “Trump already has let us know he doesn’t respect any of the institutions of government. What makes anyone think he’d abide by a Supreme Court decision?”

That remark caught the rest of the panel off-guard, as I’m sure it did many people who were listening in on T.V. What happens when a president says to a Supreme Court, “What are you going to do about it?”

There is an anecdote, a bit of Churchilliana, that Winston Churchill once asked Joseph Stalin, during one of their meetings, to consider the views of the Vatican in making decisions. Stalin is supposed to have replied, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”, a reflection of the brutal realpolitik Stalin employed in all his dealings with his World War II Allies. The point Stalin meant to make, of course, was that it didn’t matter how much the Vatican complained about anything the Russians did, such as occupying Eastern Europe and making life hard for the Roman Catholic Church in countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and the eastern part of Germany which they occupied. What mattered, to an old revolutionary like Stalin, was who had military power. He, Stalin, had hundreds of divisions; the Pope had the Swiss Guard.

Trump, who also thinks in terms of realpolitik, may already be several months ahead of the rest of us, in planning the broad outlines of his political strategy should worse come to worst for him. Sometime later this year, events rush to a climax. Mueller issues a scathing report, with indictments, subpoenas, the whole nine yards. An increasingly furious and isolated Trump holes up in the White House. The Supreme Court is asked to rule quickly on something pertinent to the scandal: perhaps whether or not the president must comply with a Grand Jury subpoena to testify (although it could be any one of several other issues). Trump says no, he will comply with nothing; he attacks the Supreme Court itself, declaring it “treasonous” despite its Republican majority. A standoff ensues in which Stalin’s remark becomes pregnant with new meaning: for the President of the United States of America is Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. armed forces, which number about 2.2 million men and women.

These uniformed personnel are sworn by oath to obey their commanders, up to and including the president. The question then becomes, if the Supreme Court rules against Trump, and Trump refuses to recognize the Court’s legitimacy, what role might the troops play? We can dismiss the importance of Congress in such a standoff. Democrats will, of course, be outraged. Some Republicans will call for immediate impeachment. A majority of Republicans in the Senate might even agree that Trump is in criminal violation of the U.S. Code and the Constitution; but impeachment must originate in the House of Representatives, which, for the remainder of this year at least, will be dominated by the most rightwing conservative coalition in modern American history, a coalition that will support Trump to the bitter end. They cannot be expected to go along with anything that is antithetical to Trump’s interests. The situation might change with the fall elections, but even if Democrats retake the House, they will not be seated until late January, 2019, and by then, enormous damage might have been done to the country, and events could well be completely out of control.

So let’s play this out. There’s Trump, squirreled away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, at the center of a firestorm, but still wielding more power than anyone else in America through his as Commander-in-Chief. He surrounds the White House with, say, airmen from Langley Air Force Base, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry from Fort McNair, and Marines from their base in Quantico. Ten thousand elite troops surround the White House, heavily-armed, sworn to repel anyone who approaches with malicious intent. If Congress and the Supreme Court protest, Trump might well inquire, “How many divisions do they have?”

In other words, Trump breaks the back of Congress and the Supreme Court, the two co-equal branches of government to his executive, and uses “his” troops the way Banana Republican strongmen use their troops: to keep themselves in office. Defiantly, through Twitter, Trump does the same thing to his perceived “enemies”—and to the American people—he did to Kim Jong-un: threatens, bullies, dares, taunts, and rattles his big sabers. What then?

Who the hell knows? But it’s not too early for every citizen of this country to ask herself: If things get really ugly, which side will I be on?

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “These uniformed personnel are sworn by oath to obey their commanders, up to and including the president.”
    Don’t they also take an oath to uphold the Constitution? I’m not sure.

  2. With respect, Mr. Rossi, the President also takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. How’s that working out so far?

    #Resist #Persist #NeverAgain

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts