The case for calm in resistance to Trump
OK, let’s review. There’s a scary clown running the White House. (That would be Steve Bannon — and his sidekick seems nearly as unhinged.) Wealthy tech titans and New York bankers — the guys who are supposed to bet on the future — are frantically planning their escape havens in New Zealand and renovating old nuclear war bunkers in the vast, empty Great Plains. Black bloc anarchists are running wild in the streets. And the white nationalist crowd is stockpiling guns and ammo for the revolution or counterrevolution to come. America, America, God shed his grace on thee.
Meanwhile, Washington and Hollywood liberals — the types who are always celebrating our enlightened and exceptional democratic system — are freaking out, floating the possibility of a military coup to remove President Trump from office and restore sanity in the land.
“WAKE UP & JOIN THE RESISTANCE. ONCE THE MILITARY IS W US FASCISTS GET OVERTHROWN. MAD KING & HIS HANDLERS GO BYE BYE,” tweeted
comedian Sarah Silverman last week. What is it about Twitter that makes people go all upper-case bonkers? The next morning, a chastened (and/or sober) Silverman admitted she had kind of lost it: “FEAR can motivate even peacenik snowflakes 2 violence & last night I felt it hard.”
But the coup meme continued to spread in left-wing circles. Rosa Brooks, a human rights counselor in the Clinton State Department and Obama Defense Department, published an article in Foreign Policy asking point blank, “Are we truly stuck with Donald Trump?” — a man, she wrote, who is turning out to be “as crazy as everyone feared.”
One solution to the Trump crisis, she observed, might be “a military coup, or at least a refusal by military leaders to obey certain orders.”
“The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order,” wrote Brooks, who is married to an Army Special Forces officer.
“For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president, ‘No, sir. We’re not doing that,’ to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.”
All hell predictably broke loose in the Breitbart and Alex Jones world, and Brooks was barraged with death threats and the usual sexist and anti-Semitic sludge.
Brooks, the daughter of noted socialist journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, felt compelled to explain that she was not calling for a coup, but simply “speculating on what would happen if Donald Trump truly and dangerously lost his marbles.”
Trump’s first weeks in office have triggered lots of such speculation, with articles in the mainstream press openly wondering whether the “deep state” — i.e., Wall Street, the oil industry, national security agencies, corporate media and other unelected centers of hidden power — will take steps to terminate his erratic presidency.
Be careful what you wish for, journalist Glenn Greenwald cautioned his fellow progressives. A deep-state seizure of the government would only push us from the frying pan into the fire.
We’re seeing a “proxy war” in the intelligence community between FBI factions aligned with Trump and the CIA, which is largely opposed to him, Greenwald told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (The fact that Greenwald is a welcome guest on Fox these days underlines the strangeness of the times.) “It’s really quite dangerous if we think about submitting to rule by these unelected, dark, deep-state overlords — it’s the antithesis of democracy.”
For some additional sanity, I consulted with retired UC Berkeley scholar Peter Dale Scott, the godfather of dark power research, whose book “The American Deep State” will be rereleased in the spring. Scott has been accused of fomenting conspiratorial thinking about power and authority in the U.S. But he takes a refreshingly level-headed view of our current turmoil.
“The American state is a very complicated organism — it’s very hard for one man to upend it. I think the judicial resistance to Trump’s Muslim ban is a harbinger of what’s to come. The system itself is bigger than any one man. The founders were very concerned about the rise of a tyrant, and we can thank them for installing a variety of protective measures in the system against such a specter.”
The deep state is very fragmented over Trump, observed Scott, with Wall Street, for instance, cheering his efforts to gut banking regulations but fretting over his antiglobalist policies. Hopefully, this darker level of power won’t be called on to intervene against Trump, said Scott.
“A coup would mean civil war, because the large chunks of this country that support Trump are heavily armed and have been preparing for this kind of showdown.”
Scott thinks progressives need to take a deep breath. “Maybe I’m more sanguine because I’m Canadian and I tend to see these American upheavals with the perspective of an outsider. People are reacting now with anger, fear, hatred and despair — and these are not emotions that we should be adding to the American mix these days.
“Even a smart commentator like (Truthdig columnist) Chris Hedges, for whom I have great respect, is saying we’re about to lose all of our civil rights. This is so overstated. We need to stay cool and keep calmly building a resistance movement.”
For the record, I too respect Hedges, with whom I collaborated on a recent book, but I agree that Trump has driven him a bit mad lately.
“This country survived Nixon and Reagan and George W. Bush — absolutely appalling leaders,” said Scott. “And even worse, they were all reelected. But, afterwards, the country came out better than ever before.
“Trump is so bad that he’s not dangerous. As the anti-Trump protests grow and people get organized, I think America’s democratic values will emerge even stronger.”
There you go, America. That’s your moment of Zen for the day.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist David Talbot appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Email: dtal[email protected]icle.com