“Trump is not only patently unfit to be president, but a danger to America and the world. Voters must stop him before the military has to,” writes Los Angeles Times' James Kirchick in an op-ed published on Tuesday. In short, Kirchick believes the possibility of a Middle Eastern-style military coup is very real if Republican nominee Donald Trump is elected president.
In fact, he even cites the recent events in Turkey to frame the discussion. “Americans viewing the recent failed coup attempt in Turkey as some exotic foreign news story -- the latest, violent yet hardly unusual political development to occur in a region constantly beset by turmoil -- should pause to consider that the prospect of similar instability would not be unfathomable in this country if Donald Trump were to win the presidency,” he argues.
The controversial editorial has already garnered a lot of attention on social media. Many are ridiculing Kirchick for what they perceive to be irresponsible hyperbole.
Realistically, there will be no military coup if Trump is elected president. We have a republic set up in such a way that usually precludes the possibility of such catastrophic shifts in government. In all likelihood, Trump will torch the Republican Party from within and undermine international alliances abroad. He may even force a few top generals and Pentagon officials to resign. But the prospect of a military coup to depose a President Trump is unlikely.
That’s not to say, however, that Kirchick doesn’t make some valid points. As the columnist writes:
Trump is the most brazenly authoritarian figure to secure the nomination of a major American political party. He expresses his support for all manner of strongmen, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has actually worked for one: former Ukrainian president and Vladimir Putin ally Viktor Yanukovich...
Throughout the campaign, Trump has repeatedly bragged about ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, and has dismissed the possibility that he would face any resistance.
Fact Check: True.
Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric is well-documented. He’s talked about suing media publications for libel and bragged about strong-arming the military.
Earlier this year, Trump was asked what he would do if military officials refuse his “illegal” orders to commit actions outside of the bounds of international law. Here’s what he said:
They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.
I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.
Kirchick rightly observes that the military is honor-bound to serve the United States by following the letter of the law. If Trump were to actually follow through with his outlandish proposals as Commander-in-Chief and order soldiers to violate their consciences, then it’s not unreasonable to suspect that many would outright reject the Orange Man’s authority. “In that case, our military men and women, who swear to uphold the Constitution and a civilian chain of command, would be forced to choose between obeying the law and serving the wishes of someone who has explicitly expressed his utter lack of respect for it. They might well choose the former,” concludes Kirkchick.
However, such a scenario likely wouldn’t result in a military coup. We’ve had high-ranking conscientious objectors before and we’ll have more in the future.
And yet, the prospect of a Trump presidency is far from reassuring. The man is foreign-policy illiterate as his descriptions of the modern Middle East sound as though they were taken straight from Disney’s Aladdin. Trump is no Erdogan, but he sure as hell is no Reagan. Come to think of it, we’re screwed either way. We’re forced to choose between a President Hillary Clinton and a President Donald Trump.
Sophie’s choice was easier.