There has been a coup. We didn’t notice.
The Constitutional Republic known as the United States of America, with its three co-equal branches of government, does not exist today, December 14th, 2016. It ceased to exist a few months ago. It was overthrown from within in a bloodless coup by members of the Republican Party. Whether it will be resurrected I cannot say. I can’t see the future. So far I can still see the past.
I am absolutely serious. I believe that I can prove my assertion with publicly known facts.
Although the signs were visible before the end, when future historians write of the coup that ended the United States First Republic I believe that they will date it to late February, 2016. The final coup was triggered by the death of Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The President of the United States has few real powers. He is Commander in Chief of the military, but unless he is a madman that power is drastically limited. According to the original plan, only Congress can declare war, and even as that power has evolved (poorly in my opinion) there are few if any cases in American history of a president just launching troops into battle without at least tacit agreement of Congress. If a madman were President and attempted to turn the military against the people or other branches of government it would remain to be seen whether the generals and the rank and file would in fact follow his command. They might. They might not. In point of fact our military swears their oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, not to the President or any government body.
The President’s main direct Constitutional powers are to appoint judges of the Supreme Court; to appoint lesser judges and other officials; to negotiate treaties; and to be the sole face and voice of the United States in dealings with the leaders and ambassadors of other nations. In some of these powers (but not all) the Senate, created as the Federal voice of the States, is given power to advise and consent. Congress specifically has no role in international contact. The President speaks, Congress says yes or no after the speaking is done. having only the power to ratify or not the agreements the President makes. He speaks for us to other nations as our sole voice.
The President has an obligation to see that the laws enacted by Congress are faithfully executed, but this is not so much a power as a job. It looks like a power, though, and tends to mislead the American people as to who is running the show. He’s like the cop on the street: your city council or state legislature doesn’t come arrest you for driving over the speed limit even though they made speed limits. The city council doesn’t come write you up because your grass is too tall. The cop is the face you see. Or the President. Both. The cop is an employee of the executive branch of whatever authority is writing you a ticket. If it’s a federal law the President’s employee is in fact the one who busts you. But Congress wrote the law. The President’s job is to enforce it.
That’s it. Those things. Be in charge of the military – originally in a country without a standing Army. Appoint. Negotiate. Enforce. The President of the United States has no other powers.
In February of 2016, after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Mitch McConnell announced that the President no longer had the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, period. For some years now the President has not had the power to appoint judges, but nobody much noticed because it wasn’t the Supreme Court. The Republicans just said, Nope. Not seating your judges. End of discussion.
When McConnell said, Nope, not seating your Supreme Court justice either, we’ve already told you we’re not seating your judges, most people noticed. President Obama nominated someone anyway. McConnell stood firm: Mr. President, we have stripped that power from you. You are not going to seat any judges. Nobody did anything. The coup stood.
During the election campaign, when it appeared that Hillary Clinton might win the election, John McCain and various other Republican Senators announced that the President still would not have the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, not throughout her entire term. The Republican coup had settled that matter. McConnell was quieter himself during this time period, but he certainly wasn’t correcting the position the coup plotters staked out: Elect Hillary, no Supreme Court justices. Only Republicans have the power to appoint judges. Nobody even asked about lower courts. That’s been a done deal for years. So: coup, step 1. Take the power to Appoint. Unlink Presidency from Judiciary. Balance between branches shifts.
On March 3, 2015, the House of Representatives overthrew the President’s power to be our sole voice among the nations. They invited and received Benjamin Netanyahu, Boss of Israel, to come speak to them and listen to them. The President was pointedly not welcome.
There was a small buzz in the news for a day or two. I can easily find it with a Google search today. But… Big deal? Nah. Congress takes specific Constitutional power from President, in other news, chance of rain tomorrow.
On March 9th of that same year 47 Republican members of the Senate wrote a letter denying in plain terms the President’s power to negotiate with a specific foreign power. They sent their letter to the government of Iran. Paraphrased they said, Don’t make any deals with our President, because we’ll weasel out of them as soon as he’s not looking. Iran took a chance and made the deal with the President. We will see how it comes out.
Coup, step 2: Overrule the President’s power to negotiate with foreign countries. Done. Done again in case anybody missed it. Done. Other countries, don’t bother to have any serious conversations with our President, he’s no longer in authority. You are only to negotiate with Republicans. Done, done, done.
Although enforcement is not a Presidential power but a Presidential obligation, that, too, has been under attack. Regulations are the tool of enforcement. Congress passes, say, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and creates the EPA. Now, under the Constitution the President has sworn an obligation to “see that the laws are faithfully executed.” When he tries to enforce the laws, if he steps across an invisible line the Republicans have drawn, the courts overturn his actions. Why? Because Congress has taken from the President the power to appoint. He has no link to the Judiciary. The courts know who the boss is.
So, Coup, item 3: Power to enforce, partly taken. The entire history of the Republic is the President’s obligation. He is supposed to enforce every law every Congress since the First Congress ever made unless some other Congress has explicitly revoked it or it timed out. The current Republican coup has in effect said, all laws passed before our coup don’t count. If they make things uncomfortable for us here at the top they seriously don’t count. Do not enforce them.
The new Republican Coup says, we’ll tell you which laws to enforce and which ones not to. We are the boss. The President’s so-called power to enforce the accumulated wisdom of 240 years of Congresses has been reduced although not entirely eliminated. In particular the laws he is not to enforce contain the answers to questions that Congresses have dealt with since, say, the Great Depression. Old people without money. Poisons in our air and water. People needlessly dying or being maimed on the job. The right of black people or uppity poor white people to vote. The coup plotters said, nope. Those laws don’t count. Don’t enforce them, we’ll sue you. We’re starting over today. The law is what we say the law is.
The President’s job to enforce was an obligation to the nation. He still clings to shreds of it, to the outrage of the coup plotters. Enforcement is, for the moment, a skirmish area, but they appear to have eliminated that problem beginning very soon. Governments are big and hard to overthrow all at once without losing money. Gotta be careful here. So say, Coup, item 3 of 4, mostly done, pending inauguration.
The President does also have obligation to tell Congress how the country is doing and what laws they ought to consider to make it do better. You may remember the day he was doing that and a Republican member of Congress shouted, “You lie!” at him and was not disciplined by the House. This isn’t so much part of the coup as an unexceptional event in its aftermath.
And returning to The (supposedly) Big One: He’s Commander in Chief!
Does anybody in America think that President Barack Obama could command the United States Army or any unit thereof to go get Mitch McConnell and put him in handcuffs and jail him for the coup? I didn’t think so.
OK, so, Commander in Chief doesn’t count. Whatever power the President might have overseas, in terms of the coup Commander in Chief simply doesn’t count. He isn’t.
I have been observing this chain of events. A few weeks ago this little voice in my head said, Pssst! Doesn’t that look a lot like a coup? Not exactly, I thought, well, kinda but not exactly, but then… Russia.
Although the Congressional coup was already a fait accompli by the time the 2016 Presidential election came close, there appears to have been some threat to the new one party state. It appeared that Hillary Clinton might get elected. Given her lifetime in and around government, she’d have figured out what was going on right away. The might already know. President Obama may have told her. She may have just noticed. Whatever the specifics, she appears to have presented some threat to the coup, so the Republican Organization turned to a long time adversary, Russia, for help.
It is worth noting that the US and Russia have a complicated history. They have been our adversary in little wars but our ally in big ones. WWI, WWII – we and Russia were allies. In between times we and Russia stand chin to chin and beat our chests. We bought Alaska from Russia. So turning to Russia was not as crazy as it might sound.
As early as at least July of 2016, Russia attacked the Democratic Party and began releasing stolen information through Wikileaks. The Republican Organization worked this information into their campaign. As the campaign season progressed Russia extended their attacks to John Podesta and possibly other Democratic campaign sources. Certain members of the Republican Organization acknowledged publicly that they were coordinating with the hackers and distributors of the stolen information. On occasion Republicans gloated publicly about some damaging morsel stolen by the Russians that would be released in another day or two. Donald Trump on at least one occasion used statements from Russia before they were released elsewhere by the propaganda campaign. Oops. Everybody look the other way, quick.
When President Obama went to the Senate for help in protecting the interests of the Republic (which by then no longer existed) he was told in no uncertain terms by Mitch McConnell to keep his mouth shut about it, and he did.
I do not know what prevented the President from speaking out, but for whatever reason, he no longer felt that he had even the power to address the American people about an existential threat to their republic without permission from McConnell. He talked to McConnell, then he did not talk to us. McConnell told him not to speak out; he didn’t. These two facts are matters of public record. Barack Obama, the nominal President of the United States, the so-called Most Powerful Man On Earth, did not share the known facts of Russian interference in our election until after the election was over because the king of the Republican Organization told him not to. We now know that he had those facts at least by October.
There has been a coup. We didn’t notice.
Above the line are, except as noted, known facts. Mostly matters of public record. Below the line is conjecture.
I have no way of knowing how the coup plotters will organize the government, but I expect it to continue to look a lot like it does, for as long as they can keep it that way. Mexico’s government, for instance, from a distance looks a lot like ours. I think that Mexico is a likely model for what the US will look like when the dust settles, assuming the coup is not reversed. Mexico is, in a nutshell, a few very rich people and a lot of very poor people, governed by one party for decades.
We might develop more like Russia. The coup has engaged deeply with Russia already. Russia has a President and a Legislature and Courts… heck, on paper it’s just like us. In twenty years we may be just like Russia, I don’t know. Except we’ll still have more beaches. By then Russia may be vacationland warm, though, and Florida under water, so… who knows.
The difference between a one party kleptocracy and a republic can be subtle as viewed from outside. What I personally expect, at least for the near term, is a one party kleptocracy / bossocracy, owned and operated by the Republican Organization. Most third world bossocracies and kleptocracies hold elections. I expect us to continue to do so. But it is all in flux. The old order has been sent to the guillotine. Lucky it was just a piece of paper.
I don’t know who the members of the coup are. They are obviously Republican bigshots. Personally I see McConnell right in the middle. Trump is, I think, peripheral to the coup but important in the present moment. He’s a wild card. He’s not exactly smart but he’s cagey. He’s as dangerous as a cornered skunk. I’m pretty sure Paul Ryan is involved, but he is really weird, and getting weirder. He appears not to know that Trump is in the game. Or maybe he knows that he’s not. Another wild card.
I’m guessing they didn’t tell Lindsey Graham. I wouldn’t bet either way on John McCain. Reince Priebus may have thought it up.
I see it as a Central Committee type group, not containing all the Republicans in positions of power by any stretch of the imagination, but not just one or two either.
There are so many maybes and possibilities that I don’t want to stick them onto this essay. After I write a few of them down I’ll try to remember to come back and stick links on here. If it still matters. If anybody cares.
For details on Presidential powers see Article II of the United States Constitution. I have an annotated copy of it here:
First followup essay: The Players