Magazine | October 5, 2015, Issue

When to Pooh-Pooh a Military Coup

Shocker headline on the website Political Wire: “Many Republicans Would Support Military Coup.” Presumably these are people who watch Seven Days in May and turn it off before the last reel because the end’s so disappointing. The story links to YouGov, which says that “43% of Republicans could imagine supporting a military coup in the United States.”

No details necessary, right? It fits the narrative. Democracy empowers people, the Right hates people, the military kills people, and you get parades. Win-win all around. But where did the percentage come from? An online survey about attitudes toward the military and politicians. Most Americans trust the former and would strap the latter to rockets and fire them into the sun. Nice consensus on that one. Then the poll posed some real stumpers, like “Do you believe that the military has a duty to protect the Constitution against foreign enemies?” Many weren’t sure, perhaps because they had a hard time imagining soldiers bursting into the National Archives as ISIS agents brushed Wite-Out onto the founding documents.

But Question 14 got all the press. It asked: “Is there any situation in which you could imagine yourself supporting the U.S. military taking over the powers of the federal government?”

Oh, sure. For example: During a press conference in 2023, the president sneezes so hard his face mask falls off, and the hideous visage of a humanoid lizard is revealed. If he were a Democrat, the press would laugh it off as a “Halloween prank,” even though he was talking about lighting the White House Christmas tree and his tongue flicked out 17 inches and snared a fly. But ordinary folk would start looking for proof that our elites were, in fact, bipedal lizards of profound malevolence. It would seem obvious, eventually. How could we not have seen it? I mean, Bill Maher on the TV all the time, and no one suspected?

If the military stepped forward to drive out the lizard people, I would support it. I would not trust Congress. Stands to reason that the Senate would be full of lizards eager to go on Face the Nation and argue that their underground slave factories keep a lot of people off the unemployment rolls. Sure, the mohair subsidy turns out to be a cover for implanting thought-control chips in the brains of newborns, but it’s not worth shutting down the government over a fight to defund it.

In this instance, I would like the military to intervene before Hollywood makes a sitcom about a gay couple who discover that one of them’s a lizard. It’s a metaphor for intolerance!

Barring that set of circumstances, I am loath to agree that the military should stage a coup. But I can imagine it. I can also imagine being rescued from drowning by six supermodels trained in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The unlikelihood of the situation has no impact on your ability to conjure it up.

Next poll question: “If elected leaders of the federal government began to violate the Constitution, would you support or oppose the military stepping in to take control of the federal government?” (To which you might say: Began to violate?)

Democrats: 36 percent yes, 37 percent no, 27 percent unsure. Republicans: 55 percent yes, 21 percent no, 24 percent unsure. The last answer is probably the best, because you don’t know what that violation might be. Obviously, it wouldn’t be some niggling little tweak like rewriting immigration or tax policy through executive order, or pretending that a treaty is just an agreement, which is like saying that marriage is just like a very long evening of dinner and drinks.

The little things we can let slide.

No, it would have to be big, and that’s where it gets interesting. If the president decided to ban guns by executive action, requiring door-to-door confiscation, there would be no shortage of progressives insisting that we had finally matured into the sort of society Piers Morgan would be proud to call home. For many on the left, the Constitution is a hoary holdover, a ghoul-white hand of the past clamped over the brave mouth of enlightenment, and if the right person said that the First Amendment shouldn’t protect hate speech about the effect of climate change on rape culture, well, put it in a Prius and drive it to the trash dump.

If, however, a president tampered with basic, foundational planks in the Constitution, like the right to abortion or to expressing personal identity, you might need to call out the National Guard. Bravo Team will secure the penumbras; Alpha Team will protect the emanations. All the house-to-house combat expertise gained in the Iraq War would be handy when you were working through a pizza parlor or cake bakery run by fundamentalists who decline to honor the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of equal access to catering. Besides: It might take a military coup for people to realize how underrepresented women are in the armed forces. You’d be watching the press conference about the president’s arrest, and it’d be all people in uniform, and you’d think: They can’t find one trans person?

So it depends. You can imagine a situation in which a lawless government could suspend the Constitution, and you can endorse the purely theoretical intervention of people who have sworn to uphold and protect it. In related news: Fantasy Football is quite popular.

I bring all of this up only because of that headline. It confirms the progressive suspicion that the Right wants an all-powerful government that can control the quotidian details of people’s lives because it has a monopoly on force. As you might expect, that makes the progressives nervous.

That’s their racket.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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