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What Does the Military Become If Trump Wins?
Mark Milley and the other flag officers were ready to deal with illegal orders. Next time, the Trump loyalists will be in charge.
1. More Milley
I’m still digesting Jeff Goldberg’s piece about Mark Milley. Yesterday I was focused on how bad things were in 2020.
Today I’m wondering what will happen to the military if Trump wins in 2024.
Throughout the Goldberg piece it’s clear that the military men closest to Trump viewed him as a clear and present danger to the Constitution. They acted accordingly. For instance, Jim Mattis and John Kelly made a pact to never be out of the country at the same time, for fear that Trump would attempt something catastrophic. They believed that one of them needed to be in country at all times to thwart him if it came to that.
Please consider this for a moment. These are not the ravings of #Resistance Libs on Twitter. We’re talking about the considered judgment of career military men—conservatives—appointed by Trump, who saw him up close over a prolonged period of time.
And understand that this situation is completely novel in American history. Not only have we never been to a place like this, but before 2016, no one in America had even considered that such a place might exist.
I could give you two dozen anecdotes from the Milley piece illustrating Trump’s unfitness for command. Here is one:
In late 2018, Milley was called to meet the president. Before the meeting, he visited Kelly in his West Wing office, where he was told that Trump might ask him to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But, if given a choice, Kelly said, he should avoid the role. “If he asks you to go to Europe, you should go. It’s crazy here,” Kelly said. . . . Each day, ex–administration officials told me, aides such as Stephen Miller and Peter Navarro—along with Trump himself—would float absurd, antidemocratic ideas. Dunford had become an expert at making himself scarce in the White House, seeking to avoid these aides and others.
Kelly escorted Milley to the Oval Office. Milley saluted Trump and sat across from the president, who was seated at the Resolute Desk.
“You’re here because I’m interviewing you for the job of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Trump said. “What do you think of that?”
Milley responded: “I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.” At which point, Trump turned to Kelly and said, “What’s that other job Mattis wants him to do? Something in Europe?”
Kelly answered, “That’s SACEUR, the supreme allied commander in Europe.”
Trump asked, “What does that guy do?”
“That’s the person who commands U.S. forces in Europe,” Kelly said.
“Which is the better job?” Trump asked.
Kelly answered that the chairmanship is the better job. Trump offered Milley the role.
It bears repeating: Just as in the January 6 Committee hearings, none of this testimony is coming from Democrats or Trump’s political opponents. It comes from the people he chose to work for him.
One of the recurring themes in the Goldberg piece is the question of Trump’s control of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Many of the people who worked for Trump were concerned about this and there was a good deal of organizing behind the scenes about it. The euphemism they adopted is that while only the president can decide to launch nuclear weapons, the execution of this decision requires many hands. The clear implication being that there were multiple actors in the chain of command who would refuse illegal orders coming from the commander-in-chief.
But there are two nuclear questions. There’s the literal one, concerning the use of nuclear weapons themselves. And there’s the figurative one: The domestic use of the military.
This is the one that concerns me most in a second Trump administration.
It is true that a president can only give illegal orders; he can’t execute them by himself. But Trump has learned a great deal from his first term and his most important lesson was that he needs to surround himself with people who are completely loyal—not to the Constitution, but to him, personally.
There won’t be any Mark Milley’s in a second Trump administration; instead there will be a pliant secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Which means that the job of refusing illegal orders will fall to the next line of senior officers, whose positions will not have as much stature and attendant protections Milley did.
The warning lights are still flashing red.
A columnist from the LA Times went to Kevin McCarthy’s district and did some man-on-the-street interviews asking The People what they thought about impeaching Joe Biden.
Julian Perea doesn’t hate Joe Biden. If anything, he feels bad for him, given his age and what Perea regards as the president’s severe mental and physical impairment.
“The guy is out of it,” Perea said.
Even so, the retired Fresno police officer is glad the House of Representatives — led by his congressman, Speaker Kevin McCarthy — has taken the first step toward impeaching the president.
“We as conservatives need to fight back,” said Perea, who served more than three decades in the Army and sprinkled his views with several references to war and warfare. “You have to keep the enemy off balance at all times.” . . .
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Claudia Warkentin of Biden’s impeachment.
The 43-year-old political independent lives in Clovis, a Fresno suburb, and works in the waste-management industry. She voted for Trump in 2020 and may back him again in 2024.
Biden has “made a mockery of our country,” Warkentin said, pointing to the frailties she sees in the 80-year-old president. Impeachment “should have happened a long time ago.” . . .
“The battle is larger than just Biden,” said Perea, the retired police officer. Impeaching the president is “fighting for our way of life.” . . .
“What used to be abnormal is normal. What used to be normal is abnormal,” Perea said. “It’s abnormal to be a Christian. It’s normal to be a transgender woman who wants to be the first one to have an abortion.” . . .
Edmund Pascua, 61, is a bus driver in Bakersfield, McCarthy’s hometown. He was on a break from jury duty, sheltering from the 96-degree heat beneath a palm tree outside the Kern County Superior Court.
Democrats went after Trump “from the get-go,” starting the moment he launched his presidential candidacy, Pascua said, and they haven’t let up since, tormenting him with lawsuits and multiple criminal indictments now that he’s out of office.
“It’s only fair [Biden] should be impeached,” Pascua said.
I never understood the appeal of either MAD Magazine or Spy vs. Spy. But I’m sure that’s a failing on my part since most men of a certain age love them both.
One spy, sporting a trenchcoat, a wide-brimmed G-Man fedora, and secret service shades—a collection of clichéd noir signifiers, all in stark black—stands out in a field with a bucket of water. The moon is full and beautiful. The other spy, identical except in blinding white, peeks out from behind a tree, trying to suss out what his rival is up to. Black Spy stares at the moon through an elaborate sextant, adjusting various settings and making mental calculations, finally drawing an X on the ground with a compass before setting the bucket down. As he leaves, White Spy sneaks up to it, peers inside, trying to figure out what this could all mean. In the last panel, Black Spy has snuck back around to give White Spy a swift kick in the ass, grinning triumphantly as his enemy falls headfirst into the bucket, soaked and seeing stars.
This is the essence of Spy vs. Spy: delightfully stupid without ever being mean, delightfully simple without ever being dumb. Prohías’ comics are as perfect an example of the medium as you’re ever likely to find—even more so, I’d argue, than other all-time strips like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, since its wordless pantomime operates so effortlessly using the mechanics of graphic narrative as its sole language. The above strip works so well because it forgoes high-concept gadgetry to make the petty, low-stakes reality of the spies’ eternal struggle that much clearer.