Shealah Craighead

U.S. News


An American Coup?

The first article I wrote for this publication was titled “Yet Another Coup in Thailand”. That was almost five years ago. I have a lot of experience with coups. When I was in Thailand from 1968 to 1971 at the secret intelligence base known as Ramasun Station I became a coup expert. Most of the coups were across the Mekong in Laos during that period, one or two a year, some successful, some not, some no more than unfounded rumors. A big one in Cambodia in 1970 which I scooped even though I was working the Lao Desk as it came off the Phnom Penh to Vientiane diplomatic net, and the coup makers’ tanks roared past the Lao Embassy on their way into town.

Just before I left there was one in Thailand. I picked up on that one by going to the movies. One of those Italian body count Westerns in Udorn. It was dubbed from Italian into English, but nobody spoke Italian and I was the only one in the audience who spoke English. They had a guy up in front with a microphone translating the dialog on the fly and playing the roles. Got to the stock Western scene. Empty Main Street of a rough dusty Western town looking a lot like the Main Street of a rough dusty northeast Thailand town. Ominous music. Shootout coming. Interpreter snarls “Looks like there’s gonna’ be a coup” in Thai. Brought down the house.

So, is there gonna’ be a coup in America? I would have laughed at that suggestion in 2015. Hell, I would have laughed at it a few weeks ago. I am not laughing now. From 2015 to 2017 I was laughing at the usual coup cycle then underway in Thailand. Laughing because I have Thai relatives, and if I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying. Laughing because it was so predictable. Because the stuffy sanctimonious fat cats and brass hats and phony democrats were mouthing the same lies that had been mouthed so many times before. Laughing, and bemoaning the impending failure, yet again, by the long-suffering common people of the Kingdom to plant a functioning democracy on their nation’s seemingly permanently poisoned soil.

Trying to make an argument that they could do better. That the modern world was turning toward democracy. And part of my argument, I am now embarrassed to say, was this. Look at America, we have a real democracy here. Not the kind of bogus window-dressing democracy Thailand has had even in its better days. It’s messy, and chaotic, and sometimes it’s corrupt, but it works more often than not. Its institutions do what our Constitution instructs them to do. We are a government of laws, not men. And when evil or greedy men manipulate our laws to serve their own personal ends they are (usually) prosecuted and removed under law. We don’t have Dictators or Dear Leaders or Kings. Our leaders serve for fixed terms, not for life or until the next wannabe autocrat stages a coup against them.

But look at America now? Try to tell the Thais, or anyone else to follow our lead? Are you kidding? We are well on our way to becoming Thailand. Hollowed out institutions? Check, we got ‘em already. A national leader surrounded by a royal court of crooks and thugs and sycophants and groveling lackeys and drooling idiots…and witless relatives. We may even be ahead of Thailand in that department. Does America have a rubber-stamp political party that backs any autocrat in power like Thailand’s ludicrously named “Thai Democrats”? Got one. They call themselves “Republicans.” Used to be legit, but that was a long time ago. They’re tame now for any “man-on-horseback” who wants to ride ‘em.

Only one piece left for American democracy to become the equivalent of Thai democracy, but it’s a big one. The U.S. military. The Royal Thai Army is always ready to answer the call of the coup. Especially if it is a coup against a government that is even mildly reform-minded. Always poised to defend the rich and powerful against the poor who yearn for some money and some power. Since it has rarely been called upon to defend the country its officers have lots of time to play golf, plot coups, and figure how the spoils will be divided once their coups succeed.

Donald Trump has been trying hard to politicize the U.S. military ever since he got elected. If you had asked me whether I think he would succeed even a month ago I would have said “No.” Now it is a strong “Maybe.” He started his takeover campaign early. “Build MY Wall” he orders. “Yes sir!” snap the brass hats, though there was some grumbling in the background. Our draft-dodging Commander-in-Chief never misses an opportunity to appear before “His Troops,” not to praise their sacrifice and dedication, but to tell them how great he is. He loves parades. All my men in uniform. Bet he wished he had a nice gaudy uniform of his own like the one he had in prep school. That one won’t fit now. Maybe Germany could lend him a few of Herman Goering’s old duds; and don’t forget the swagger sticks. He even wants to call West Point Cadets back from Summer Training to stage their canceled Graduation Ceremony for his entertainment. Could he get away with promoting himself to Field Marshall like so many Thai dictators do? After all his is a self-proclaimed war leader. His Excellency Field Marshall Trump. That has a nice ring to it.

Until recently his takeover attempts have been silly and asinine, but now he is in full power-grab mode and the brass hats appear to be wavering. Brave words from some of them. But they’re all retired. “Yes sir’s” from some on active duty followed by feeble excuses to the public the next day. All Trump needs to do now is find a guy who’ll do his bidding among those in uniform. That should not be hard. He has done this sort of thing before. In the Justice Department. In the State Department. In the Treasury Department. Why not the Defense Department? He knows the drill. And he knows that he can always find a selection of bad actors in uniform who will eagerly fill his job opening. Men like Michael Flynn whose West Point oath failed to deter him from becoming a world-class scumbag. Perhaps he’ll promote Flynn, or somebody like him, to be his Assistant Field Marshall.