Donald Trump has issued another statement after being criticized by his former staffers in recent days. Here’s an excerpt: ‘Every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome.’
Sorry, that was George Washington. I must have mixed up my notes. Here’s Trump: ‘Many say I am the greatest star-maker of all time. But some of the stars I produced are actually made of garbage.’
There’s the elder statesman we all know and love! That may be the closest thing to an admission of error I’ve yet seen from our 45th president. And certainly Trump is correct in even the most literal sense. Any middle-school science teacher will tell you that among the different types of stars are red giants, white dwarfs and the trash stars that radiate trails of haters and losers across our solar system. If Jeff Bezos returns from space with a clothespin over his nose, we’ll at least know it wasn’t because he loathes the warehouse workers he hired to fly his rocket.
But enough about astronomy. More important this week is the context behind Trump’s statement: the Most Powerful Men on Earth Emeritus have been quarreling out loud over whether they could have decapitated the United States government. It began with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reportedly grew worried in the tumultuous wake of the November election that Trump would try to mount a coup. According to a new book by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Milley became so concerned that he put his colleagues on notice. ‘They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed,’ he resolved.
These days, Milley spends his time inflicting anti-‘white rage’ fatwas and diversity seminars on the military, which seems like more of a coup than anything Trump ever pulled off. Either way, Trump was always going to respond, and so it came in another statement (prior to the garbage stars one): ‘I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government,’ he said. Great! Terrific. Now just leave it there and resist the urge to…‘If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.’
That’s a rather heavy-lifting if, you understand.
Trump’s exclusion of Milley from his hypothetical putsch sounds like one of those Twitter exercises whereby the last five people in your camera roll make up your insurrection strike team. (My wife, my four-month-old son, a Canadian goose that wandered into one of my pictures, my buddy Dana and a distraught-looking English soccer fan I snapshotted on my TV.) Trump went on to say that the only reason he ever hired Milley was to annoy Gen. James Mattis, who supposedly had contempt for his subordinate. In other words, for Trump, this was a case of garbage in, garbage out.
The most rancid piece of trash in the Trumpian constellation is, of course, John Bolton, and so naturally he had to get in on this too. The word ‘coup’ is like Pavlov’s bell to an aging warmonger. When asked about Milley’s allegations on CNN, Bolton replied that ‘the idea of Trump staging a coup does give him too much credit’. Why? Because coups require ‘advance thinking, planning, strategizing, building up support’. They’re a bit like Middle East regime change wars in that way, not that Bolton cares to comment on that.
That John Bolton was denouncing someone as too feckless to plan a military operation ought to have shown what a swan-dive down the apocalypse fiction rabbit hole this all was. To reiterate: the men who were once charged with safeguarding our national security are now squabbling in public about whether the United States might have been turned into Haiti. I understand Doris Kearns Goodwin thinks presidential cabinets ought to be teams of rivals, but this does seem like a quantum leap too far.
It’s tempting to say that of all the belligerents here, Milley comes off the best. He alone seems to have grasped how brittle the republic was after the 2020 election, how scenarios once associated with the 1930s had suddenly entered the realm of plausibility. According to Leonnig and Rucker’s book, back in November Milley was worried that America had become akin to the Weimar Republic. And while there ultimately wasn’t a coup, the riot at the Capitol seems to have vindicated his anxieties, at least to a point.
But Milley also accused Trump of preaching ‘the gospel of the Führer’. He called quotidian pro-Trump demonstrators ‘brownshirts in the streets’. He’s lately made statements that conservatives have rightly denounced as woke. And therein an important point from all this putschmongering: the most powerful military man in America seems to have taken sides in our culture war. He deserves credit, of course, for hedging against a coup, but coups don’t just happen because a renegade politician orders one up like a McRib. They also happen because militaries themselves lose their objectivity, go partisan, decide that certain ideals or interests compel them to autonomous action.
That’s not to say Milley would ever countenance a coup; just that these days even our most supposedly dispassionate elites are sounding off in ways they shouldn’t. As for me, with all due respect to Gen. Milley, my coup card is full. The goose has proven indispensable.