Rumors of a Coup

We've been hearing a lot of comments recently about a national coup d'etat scheduled for sometime in late summer or early fall and designed to circumvent the coming Democrat debacle in the 2010 elections.

This is an example of political gothic of a type that I tend to overlook. But my interest was piqued by the fact that it has been mentioned several dozen times in the comment threads of essays of mine in recent weeks. I've had a little difficulty grasping exactly how such a thing would work, so I've spent the last few days puzzling it out.

The contention is that at some point before the upcoming November elections, an "incident" of some violent but unknown nature will occur that will provide Obama with the opportunity to declare "martial law" across the country, which will involve the "cancellation" or "postponement" of the elections. This will enable the Obama dictatorship to take off its humanist mask and put its true agenda into play, part of which involves sending JRD up to Prudhoe Bay to feed moss to the caribou for the next ten years.

Breaking this thesis into its component parts, we find:

First, the trigger "incident." It's hard to picture what is being postulated here. The model seems to be the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, in which Germany's version of the Capitol was burned to the ground in the middle of the night. A mentally deficient Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was persuaded to confess, though in fact Hermann Goering, whose office featured an underground passageway to the Reichstag, was probably responsible. Hitler utilized the fire as an excuse to strike at his opponents with a vengeance, opening up the first concentration camps to hold communists, social democrats, and anyone else who had ever looked at him cross-eyed.  

Would this work in the United States? Hardly. Set Congress ablaze, and people across the country would cheer, slap hands, and drive around beeping their horns at each other. The problem with this conjecture is that the U.S. is not Germany of 1933. It is a society so different, so removed from the circumstances of Depression-era Germany, as to be of an entirely distinct order of existence. It is far larger, far more complex, and far more advanced in almost all criteria -- political, social, and technological.

A Reichstag scenario, with its dependence on an ill-informed, limitlessly gullible populace, simply won't work in the millennial United States. It's difficult to imagine what would work in this context. The U.S. did not go into garrison-state mode after Pearl Harbor, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, during the '60s riots, after the Oklahoma City bombing, after 9/11, or during the great swine flu scare. Surely, nothing short of a universal catastrophe such as a mass attack with WMDs would justify such a move. And in that case, most of us would have other worries.

We move on to the question of martial law. This is a feature common to all legal systems, as a last resort when law enforcement and social convention have broken down completely. It is an emergency brake designed to halt a society before it goes straight over the edge of a cliff into abject chaos.

It's the abuse of martial law in a few of the more unstable states that has given the practice its stigma. Several Latin nations have declared "states of emergency" (their term for martial law) at various times in recent decades to combat internal subversion and insurrections. Serious abuses by government figures have not been at all uncommon during these episodes. In many cases, the opposition later claimed that martial law was unnecessary under the circumstances and was declared solely as an act of political repression.

Is such a development possible in the United States? Perhaps so, in the most extreme circumstances, but we'd have to say it's unlikely. There has never been a general state of martial law declared in the United States. During the Civil War, martial law was imposed on a number of areas under military occupation (in one case, the ever-perspicacious Ambrose Burnside arrested all the reporters and many of the Democrats in his area of command and had to be reversed by President Lincoln). A few riot situations have been answered with short periods of martial law. But that's the extent of it. Martial law is simply not the way we handle things. If it's not part of the tradition, it's unlikely to occur. It's doubtful that any government-wide plan exists for the emplacement of martial law, one that involves the bureaucracy as a whole, that is continually updated, and briefed to all officials. If there's no plan, it ain't gonna happen.

Now we reach the political ramifications, always the juicy part in a democracy: namely, the claim that Obama will "call off" the 2010 elections. Simply put, there is no constitutional provision for doing any such thing. The sections on elections for the legislative and executive branches contain no such language. In our system, you can't do it unless the Constitution sez so.          

Article 1, Section 4 gives the game away: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators[.]"

The itals are mine, to emphasize the money phrase. Neither Obama nor any other president has anything to say about when, where, or how congressional elections are carried out. It's up to the states (or alternately, up to Congress). While Obama could politely ask the state legislatures to cancel in order to give him an opportunity to slam down the iron boot, I am not at all sure they would go along.

Another roadblock lies in the fact that the Constitution sets terms of office: two years for the House, six for the Senate. If somebody were to "call off" the elections, then as soon as January 3 rolled around, current congressional terms would end, and you'd have no more House, and a severely truncated Senate. It's possible that some legislators would object to this.

But could the messiah simply sweep all this aside, make his own rules, and see that it was done his way? Sure he could. In fact, it's allowed for. All he needs to do is write an amendment, get it through Congress, and have it ratified by three-quarters of the states, and he'd be in business.

Let's drop law for procedure. Suppose, next October 31 (a good date for this kind of thing), Obama decides to pull a Chávez, kick the entire bourgeois structure of law aside, and chance everything on a single throw of the dice. He issues an executive order canceling the elections until Sarah Palin closes down her Twitter account. What would happen next? Within hours the Supreme Court would meet and invalidate that order on straightforward Article 1, Section 4 grounds. (I would be willing to bet that the decision would be unanimous. Not even the most radical justices would want to face what might come through the door such an action would open.) But martial law is in effect and they can't get together, you say? Well, it happens to be the case that any judge, including the justices, can issue a stay, which is what would occur. He -- probably all nine, in fact -- would then contact legislators, officials, and the media, and the word would get around, and Obama would have to leave the White House and go someplace else. Nor would he be saved by the SEIU, ACORN, or his personal Praetorian Guard of Rahm Emmanuel clones. There exists a thing in any form of government called "legitimacy" (the "mandate of heaven" in ancient China), an intangible but undeniable quality demonstrating that a potential ruler is worthy to rule. In the U.S., this quality is more important than in many other nations. Nixon lost it, and he had to go. Undermining the Constitution is the easiest way to emulate such a fate.

A word on the matter of competence: Obama is slowly being stripped of any reputation for ability he may have accrued during his political career. The Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Korea crisis, Iran, Sestak...Commandant Zero is being revealed as the most inept president on record. This is in no way hyperbole; it is a sober evaluation of the record as it exists. Fillmore, Buchanan, and even Carter are simply not in the running here. As a schlemiel, Obama stands in a class by himself, a man who not only can't solve problems, but can't recognize them when they appear.

And this limited individual is somehow going to coordinate and carry out an operation as complex, difficult, and risky as a national coup? That's one of those questions that answers itself. (And let's not argue that his "handlers" would take care of it. His handlers were the ones who came up with the Sestak approach. If they were capable of anything impressive, we'd know about it by now.)

The final problem with the martial law thesis is that it's leftist. The first time I heard the formulation was in October 1973. Richard Nixon was caught deep in the mire of Watergate and getting deeper every day. But that didn't stop him from carrying out one of his greatest and most noble efforts: coming to the rescue of Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

In the process, Nixon put the U.S. armed forces on full alert, both to warn off the Soviets and to ramp up the effort to resupply Israel. Immediately the whispers began: "He's declaring martial law...he's going to shut down the Watergate investigation. People will start to disappear..."

Of course, the only one who disappeared was Moody Richard himself, back into retirement in California. The martial law canard vanished too, only to be revived when -- you guessed it! -- George W. Bush took office. As most of us will recall, Bush (or alternately Cheney, or even Karl Rove) was going to declare martial law for the purpose of "calling off the elections" in 2004 and 2006.

It's a lefty daydream, something they use to excite themselves into thinking that they're involved in a dangerous game, that they're living life on the edge, that what they're doing really, really means something. Conservatives have no use for either the fake excitement or the self-delusion. We have more serious things to occupy our time.

It's also unnecessary. The tide is turning. After a lengthy period, things are moving in our direction. What we need now is action and effort, rationally considered and intelligently applied. The "martial law" myth is neither. It is the counsel of despair, a wail that it's no use, that we simply can't win, that there's no point in trying. It's a sad thing that anybody thinks that way, but it's nothing worth lingering over. We've got work to do -- let's get the job done, and save the horror stories for later.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and editor of the forthcoming Military Thinker.