New Orleans All around the world this is a familiar story, often marking the beginning of the end for dictators, autocrats, and even elected leaders that have outstayed their peoples’ welcome. There’s a direct correlation, approaching an iron law, in so many countries that when popular support disappears, such leaders depend on the support of the military to maintain power. When it disappears, then time’s up.
President Bolsanaro of Brazil whose support has imploded over his handling of fires in the Amazon, the coronavirus, and many other issues, is now raising the specter of a coup by the military to fan the flames.
Evo Morales, the elected president of Bolivia, was re-elected in a controversial election marked by accusations, for a fourth term, but left within weeks when the military indicated that their support was gone.
Repeat this story in Libya, Pakistan, absolutely North Korea, the Philippines, not infrequently in African countries in the past. We may not know the full story in China, Iran, and Russia, but there are few doubts that control of the military is central in the current status quo within these regimes.
Now, we see this unfolding in another failed state, the United States.
The scandalous military action to clear Lafayette Park across from the White House so that President Trump could have a ridiculous photo-op in front of the nearby church with a bible in his hands has divided his evangelical base, but it has shaken the military from top to bottom. Add that to his hiding in a bunker, fearful of protests in front of the White House, his new fence around the White House perimeter, and, especially his attempt to mobilize troops around the country to stop the protests, and there is no way to not conclude that this is one wannabe autocrat scared to his toes and running for cover with only Twitter to protect him.
The Secretary of Defense publicly opposed mobilizing troops against civilians with the right to protest. Former generals and defense officials have publicly condemned Trump’s actions this time. The military is conducting an assessment of the DC National Guard’s activities in an exercise common in after-battle assessments in our wars. The helicopter pilots who buzzed the crowd are likely facing discipline. The New York Times reports that everyone was scrambling behind the scenes to shore up the DC National Guard, normally used in disaster recovery and relief operations, and 60% black, with recruits from other cities, often unhelpfully gung-ho Republican governors looking for a fight as well. The reports include demoralized soldiers having to face friends, neighbors, and relatives protesting. The National Guard lieutenant reportedly countermanded the top dogs by insisting that his charges not “dominate” the area as others were ordering.
President Trump needs to learn what other autocrats know by heart. When you lose the military, it’s time to pack your “go” bag. The writing is on the wall, and just keeping the names of Confederate generals on ten Army bases will not be enough to win the military back after you have tried to use our soldiers against civilians.
Even the military is drawing a line that the president cannot cross.