Lots of Americans Support Military Coup

YouGovTed McLaughlin at Job’s Anger brought my attention to some very disturbing information, 43% Of GOP Say They Could Support a US Military Coup. It is taken from a YouGov poll. And it includes a lot of information about what I’ve come to think of as the casual cynicism of the American people. So on that level, maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned.

Let me back up a bit. YouGov asked people the following question, “For each of the following groups please indicate whether you think that they generally want what is best for the country or what is best for them personally.” More people thought that federal civil servants are more interested in themselves than in the country. And the numbers are just embarrassingly bad for local and federal politicians. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. Fundamentally, everyone is looking out for themselves. That doesn’t mean that they don’t do their jobs as best they can.

“The military knows better how our country should be run than either our representatives or our people!”

But the two groups that a large majority of Americans thought put America before themselves are just ridiculous: police officers and military officers. So the two groups that have been used by despots all over the world to oppress their people are the ones that Americans are most sanguine about. It really boggles my mind. Some scientist working at the FDA is likely to release a drug he knows is dangerous for a bribe from a chemical company? But police officers are just out there serving the community without a thought to pay and job security?

The best you can say about the people who give these kinds of answers is that they don’t think before they answer. I’m sure when asked about “federal civil servants” all some people think of is Lois Lerner (who I don’t think did anything wrong — not that you would know that based on the coverage of the IRS “scandal”). But really: when was the last time an IRS agent killed an innocent person? Shouldn’t we as a nation be more concerned about the kind of power that people have and how they use it?

This all leads us to the stunning finding that 43% of Republicans think that they might support a military coup. But it isn’t just them. Here is the breakdown:

US Support for Military Coup

It’s good to see that a strong majority of the American people are against a military coup under any circumstances. But it is still shocking in a country that prides itself on the idea of representative democracy that almost a third of the people would think that a military coup ought to be an option we hang onto. We’re not even talking about revolution here. This isn’t Americans saying, “The people should rise up because the government isn’t doing the will of the people!” This is, “The military knows better how our country should be run than either our representatives or our people!” That is a basically fascistic mentality.

Note that neither Democrats nor independents have a plurality in favor of an eventual military coup. But the Republicans have a strong plurality in potential support of a military coup. This is not as shocking as it may seem. Over the last couple of decades, I’ve seen a very anti-democratic trend in the conservative movement — to the point where it is now openly discussed. There are still many old school conservatives who are committed to democracy, but there are even more who have given up on the idea. The arguments go something like this, “The people just don’t understand that you can’t raise the minimum wage because it will cost jobs, so what we need is a strong leader to just come in and get rid of it.”

This is what is at the bottom of the 43% of Republicans who would support a military coup. Obviously, they wouldn’t support just any military coup. They would only support a military coup that enacted their policy preferences. It speaks to a general belief among conservatives that they can’t win a normal fight; their policies are just too unpopular. It’s very disturbing because it means that a lot of them have given up on the American project. They don’t believe in the process — just the results. If fascism brings about a ban on abortion, that’s fine.

Meanwhile: Liberals ♥ Democracy!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

11 thoughts on “Lots of Americans Support Military Coup

  1. The finding for Republicans is not at all surprising. I’d like to ask the 20% of Democrats polled who said yes what kind of situation they had in mind. I don’t like the wording of the question, “any situation”. I could probably think of one if I put in the time. But isn’t what the poll really trying to get at is who thinks this is a good idea, and using the framing of “any situation” to give the space to answer a ridiculous question honestly? That is, with the ridiculous thing they believe. Or am I thinking to much about this?

    • No. I thought about that too. But what it is asking is if one doesn’t think that democracy is up to the challenges of the country. It really is pushing the question: democracy or authoritarianism? It allows people to say, “Yeah, I’m for democracy right now but don’t push it.” And that’s what I think we are seeing. But I can’t think of a single instance where I would actually want the military to take over. It would always be a situation where a civil authority — perhaps a contested one — was in charge.

  2. Ironically, the sort of people who are the most gung ho about a military coup, would ultimately have the most to lose. Wealthy, white men own the most property, travel the most, speak out the most and generally enjoy more freedom, on a day to day basis, then any other demographic subset. Poor people, especially poor people of color, do not own vacation and rental properties. Working class people do not hunt, sail and ski all around the country every weekend. The poorer a person is, the less time he or she has to write opp ends and follow politics. Right now, most black neighborhoods already live under de facto curfew and house arrest. You go to work and/or school and then you report directly to your home and if you do not you risk all sorts of legal hazards.

    When military government come to power, they tend to curtail bourgeois notions of property rights and civil society. Things like gas rationing, quartering of troops in non residential properties, limiting free speech and imposing curfews all threaten to harm rich, white folks more than any other community. This is to say nothing of higher taxes, military conscription and restrictions on trade and financial services.

    • That’s a great point. It’s almost the definition of privilege that you don’t see your privilege. The Tea Party is made up mostly of upper middle class people. And they are “mad as hell” about what, exactly? But they are the ones talking about revolution. It’s almost an actual case of John Rawls’ veil Of ignorance: they are asking for chaos that would almost certain cause them to end up worse off.

    • Moneyed people are used to being able to buy whatever they want. They don’t see that violence is a harder currency than gold.

    • Colin — I went to a military school for a year and we actually had etiquette class! Plus we were all-but-forced to attend “mixers” with girls from honest-to-God finishing schools. The officer corps, especially those from service academies, identifies hugely with the rich. (It’s why Marines are a little less nuts; there’s no Marine service academy, and it’s the only branch of the military where every officer from the top down has to pass the same physical fitness requirements as the grunts.)

      • I do not think that an American military coup would usher in a socialist regime. However, most military coups on history, including coups that we think of as right wing, still have effects that would harm well off Americans more than they would harm poorer Americans. I would not expect us all to be made equal economically but most people who are rich are rich because our political economy privileges finance and real estate. Even if finance and real estate were a little less privileged, the very rich would lose money. Military governments are not shy about raising taxes and they tend to favor broad central planning. The sweet heart deals that have been built up with the civilian government could be swept away.

        As far as civil liberties are concerned, we cannot under estimate just how much poor people, especially poor people of color, already live under conditions that the same as martial law. The ghetto has no freedom of travel, it already has curfews and it has no writ of habeas corpus right now. A military government would cause the suburbs to have to live more like the ghetto.

        Again, I think that almost everyone would lose in a the event of a military coup but wealthy and/or white people would lose more property and more freedom than others would.

  3. Frank — There’s an observation David Graeber once made which I keep in mind. For many people, especially poor people, the military is one of the only options they think they have to be helpful to others. They’re raised from the cradle to dismiss all government work, they don’t have access to the kind of college programs or internship opportunities which allow one to land a paying job at some charity. They can (and do) volunteer, but if their daughters & sons want a job being “of service,” the military is about it.

    Now it’s clear to us on this thread that the military is not beneficial to almost anyone, save some people in it and some vested interests it benefits. But that’s inconceivable to much of the country (I would guess the Democrats who support a coup are in this category of thinking soldiers are selfless heroes, even if they disliked Bush’s war.)

    You mentioned in another post that people criticizing Manning are cynical; some perhaps. I think the majority share Manning’s original naivete and can’t stand to see it punctured. It’s like telling someone they’re wasting their money by putting it in the collection plate; you’re taking away one of their few means of feeling good about themselves.

    There’s such a lot going on with our country’s worship of the military; our history of violence, of racism, the mostly fake stories of veterans being loathed after Vietnam so the “support the troops” mantra was adopted. Pro-military propaganda at every turn (every holiday save Halloween is an occasion for “supporting the troops.”) Authors like Clancy who present the military as supremely competent. It’s not easy to unravel.

    There’s definitely an element of people thinking the military (and cops) are just like them; working-class and disrespected. But representing their highest ideals because at least cops and soldiers “serve the public.” As probably most cops/soldiers firmly believe they’re doing, even if they grow to hate most of that public.

    • I’m not against that idea. My problems are (1) we need to be really careful regarding those who “help” us with guns and (2) we need to respect all public servants. The problem is that most public servants don’t get paid well for the jobs they do. The exception to that are the police officers who make a lot more than their education or duties would dictate.

      I think when I was talking about people criticizing Manning I meant media figures. But that’s a point well taken.

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