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Are We Living Under a Military Coup?

An Ironically Patriotic Essay

I’d define coup in this case as a potentially “illegal seizure of power” in the form of a slowly unfolding, unresolved constitutional crisis that sticks over time -- akin to the oft-cited frog being boiled to death in a pot of water rising in temperature very slowly. Center right Times columnist David Brooks had a column recently in which he compared Trump USA to Berlusconi Italy and how, once democracy has been sullied by a right-wing populist like Berlusconi (or Trump), getting democracy back within its previous (constitutional) lines is difficult to impossible. Some like to call the 2000 election of George W. Bush a “coup” legitimized by a conservative Supreme Court. Whatever one calls the 2000 election, it did put a permanent stain on US democracy. I have no doubt in this age of “fake news” and sophisticated PR that an unresolved constitutional crisis cum coup in Washington D.C. would be spun by info wizards as a pro-American, patriotic event. All this, of course, has helped ratchet up political polarization to new heights.

Instead of seeing a military coup as restricted to melodramatic fiction like the film Seven Days In May, it might be instructive, beneficial and even patriotic to think of it as possible, with at least one very real historical antecedent to consider.

                                                          The 1933 White House Plot

We don’t hear much about the 1933 American “coup” -- here, put in quotes because it was always ambiguous and it was thwarted. The plot has effectively been deep-sixed into historical oblivion. Why might that be? Might it be because it amounted to just another example of the dirty little secret that hovers over everything in America: the power of money married to the power of violence? Just another day in the history of America. Maybe one has to be a left-leaning antiwar activist born under the sign of the National Security State to understand this. But, to me, the antiwar left is perennially at a loss in this equation: Not only is it oriented to peace and bottom-up thinking versus war and top-down order, but it’s also essentially unarmed in the sense of the right's domestic obsession with the NRA and guns. Furthermore, the left tends has always been domestically crippled thanks to the Cold War, which established left-leaning ideas as associated with subversion and the enemy -- and not associated with fairness, dignity and good order.

The 1933 coup plot was funded by Wall Street money in hopes of subverting the power of Franklin Roosevelt, a leader deemed by many wealthy men of the time to be a traitor to his blue-blood class. Had the whistle not been blown on the plot by a Marine general named Smedley Butler, it could have succeeded in politically crippling FDR and his New Deal government. Had it gone differently, it could have changed history. (The 1933 coup attempt is described by Jules Archer in a 1973 book titled The Plot to Seize the White House. Also, The History Channel produced a 41-minute documentary on the plot.)

story | by Dr. Radut