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U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Was Trump Hoping for a Coup?

There remain 13 potentially dangerous days before Biden is inaugurated.

Joseph Gerson

There is so much that we don’t know about Wednesday’s assault on our national capital and our limited constitutional democracy. The new Congress should not only investigate why the Capital police and Homeland Security were missing in action, but that it will also investigate from top to bottom the planning for the assault and who played what role.

For many of us, it has rightly been near impossible to say anything good about Vice President Pence. For these last four years, along with almost all Congressional Republicans, he has served as a lead lackey and essential enabler of Trump’s destruction – not least for the 350,000 dead from Covid-19 – of the rule of law and social fabric of the nation. That said, it may be possible that he prevented a coup d’état. 

More, watching Senate Republicans distance themselves during the review of Electoral College results resumed, who could not recall that had they convicted Trump in the impeachment hearings, this greatest assault on constitutional democracy would have been avoided. 

Imagine what could have transpired had Pence not taken charge, spoken to the most senior officials at the Pentagon, and managed to call out the National Guard to reinforce the absent and/or incompetent Capitol and D.C. police. Had the invaders either fully taken over the Capitol building or achieved a standoff, Trump could have declared the national emergency that he has long threatened, used that “emergency” to postpone Biden’s inauguration and to call for a new and, in his words fair (properly rigged) election, thus holding onto power. This has certainly been the model for many coups around the world.

Potentially worse, there remains the nuclear football which Trump can activate on his own authority.

In a nationwide webinar following the “table top” election exercise the led to warnings about the ability of President Trump and his allies to subvert the election’s outcome, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (formerly Secretary of Defense Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff) was asked if he thought it possible and potentially necessary for the military to intervene to protect the election’s results. His response was no. Among things, he maintained that given the composition of military’s lower ranks, their officers could have no confidence about which side the mobilized troops would fight on. As we’ve seen, with retired General Flynn’s encouragement that Trump declare martial law after Trump pardoned him, there is reason to wonder about the commitments of at least some in the higher ranks. 

Yes, it appears that despite Wilkerson’s very rational fears, the National Guard did play a positive role in assisting the rebellion initiated by President Trump.

Again, at this stage we cannot definitively know what Trump and his loyalists were plotting. Those hope with the power and resources must begin their investigations soon, and those responsible for these acts of treason against constitutional democracy must be held accountable.

There are other related and urgent questions: Why, with the abundance of advance warning that they had, were the police not fully deployed in advance to defend the Capital?  Why was the acting head of Homeland Security conveniently out of the country?  What did he know in advance? And why should anyone have had any confidence that the Homeland Security Border Patrol forces, known for their racism and support for Trump could protect the capital.

And there remain 13 potentially dangerous days before Biden is inaugurated. With the Nimitz aircraft carrier having been ordered to extend its deployment off Iran’s coast, steps need to be taken to prevent Trump might initiating a disastrous war against the Islamic Republic that could again provide a rationale for declaring a national emergency.  With so few of the insurgents having been arrested, protecting Joe Biden’s inauguration must be a national priority. 

Potentially worse, there remains the nuclear football which Trump can activate on his own authority. Should he push the proverbial button in an act of desperation and rage, would U.S. missile officers in their bunkers know to refuse such a potentially omnicidal order? Or, as Secretary of Defense Schlesinger did at the height of the Watergate crisis, has Generally Malley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, issued an order that no serious troop deployments or actions be taken without his explicit order?


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Joseph Gerson

Joseph Gerson

Joseph Gerson is President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmaent and Common Security, Co-founder of the Committee for a SANE U.S. China Policy and Vice President of the International Peace Bureau. His books include Empire and the Bomb, and With Hiroshima Eyes.

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