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Are We Living Under a Military Coup?

An Ironically Patriotic Essay

Over these 70 years, the executive in the White House has ping-ponged back-and-forth between the moderate left and the moderate right, between the Democratic and Republican Parties. (Trump may be the exception in being far right.) Every four years there‘s a national “conversation” of sorts about who’s going to live in the White House and make executive decisions and who’s going to legislate in Congress. You couldn’t come up with a better example to illustrate the idea of a civilian political see-saw than January 20, 2016, the day Barack Obama handed the civilian reins over to Donald Trump. Meanwhile, over those same 70 years, the National Security State (as an institution led by the Pentagon) has existed as a steadily ascending through-line leading to today’s post-9/11 world. Our imperial military has been, and remains, virtually untouchable through the electoral process that chooses civilian leadership. Just like assault weapons on a small scale, the National Security State thrives beyond the reach of American politics. In my mind, White House Chief of Staff and former four-star Marine General John Kelly resides in this protected zone as a power behind the civilian throne -- there looking out for Pentagon interests and there in case the gasoline tank goes up in a fireball. It's also good to remember that Donald Trump was groomed in military school, where he thrived. He clearly didn't wish to go to Vietnam, but military discipline has been good for his self-aggrandizement. Thus, real combat leaders may hold a unique sway over The Donald.

When Kelly was pulled from Homeland Security into the chaotic Trump White House to replace the ineffectual Reince Priebus, it was like Randolph Scott had ridden in to tame a wild-and-wooly town. Since his arrival, he’s made two things clear: one, he feels the US military is sacrosanct and beyond questioning, and two, he’s in full synch with Trump’s nostalgic sentiments that incorporate white supremacist instincts.

The October 19, 2017 press conference Kelly gave focused on the death of Sergeant La David Johnson in Niger was a revelatory moment. Kelly -- who lost his oldest son Robert to a landmine in Afghanistan and has a second son now deployed with the Marines -- opened his heart before the press corps. What he revealed was dark.

The issue was President Trump’s phone call to Johnson’s widow, who was on a cell phone in a car with family and friends, including old friend Congresswoman Frederica Wilson who was later critical of the president for what the widow felt was insensitivity. The call was on speakerphone in the car. During the press conference, Kelly detailed the steps a fallen soldier’s body goes through from battlefield to burial. He then spun off into elegy over the decline of a sense of sacredness for our military in American life. In this mood, he trashed Rep. Wilson and spread falsehoods about her speech dedicating an FBI building in her district. He called her “an empty barrel” -- ie. when you beat on a barrel it’s loudest when empty. He ended the meeting by only accepting questions from reporters who (claimed) they knew a fallen hero or a gold star relative.

story | by Dr. Radut