The Military and the Fate of Democracy
A warning from Elliot Ackerman
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)
Some personal news: Keep calm and carry on. I’ll be taking some time off for a family wedding, new baby, French grandkids, and reunions. But we’ll be back in fine fettle after Labor Day!
Happy Redacted Affidavit Friday.
Summer 2022 is ending with a bang. So, talk amongst yourselves:
“Judge Orders Redacted Affidavit Used in Trump Search Warrant to Be Unsealed,” Via NYT
“Biden's Job Rating Rises to 44%, Highest in a Year,” Via Gallup
“Trump's social media app facing financial fallout,” Via Fox (!) Business
“J.D. Vance Appeared With Podcaster Who Once Said ‘Feminists Need Rape’,” Via Mother Jones
“Biden calls on 'mainstream' GOP to reject 'MAGA',” Via Reuters
“That culture can break…”
ICYMI, I talked with Marine combat veteran Elliot Ackerman on Wednesday’s podcast about his new book, “The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan.”
We discussed the fall of Kabul and its aftermath, but Ackerman had a warning about threats to democracy in this country — and the possibility that someday the military might become involved.
Here’s a partial (edited) transcript of some of our conversation:
Elliot Ackerman: When you go from contested election to contested election, at each juncture, there's a game of brinksmanship that's going on with whether or not the military will have to come in and restore some type of order.
There was talk about them having to restore order after the January 6 riots, and there was National Guard — I'm actually from Washington, D.C. — there was National Guard all over Washington, D.C. in the wake of those riots….
Remember there was Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed, and President Trump talking about evoking the Insurrection Act in the summer of 2020. I mean, that was in a presidential election, but it shows how there is this temptation for our political class to start politicizing the U.S. military.
And that is very, very dangerous, because, although the military is seen as a non-political entity in the United States, that does not mean that those in uniform do not have their political biases, like every other American.
The only difference is there's a culture of omerta in the U.S. military. We don't speak it. But, that culture can break.
And, it seems as though our political leaders, from the right and the left, at every juncture, are eager to politicize the U.S. military. And it's something we should be very aware of and alarmed about as citizens.
My concern is that because so many citizens, again, don't speak the language, they aren't necessarily literate with what's going on inside the military.
They won't be able to see it until it's too late.
Charlie Sykes: [But in 2020,] the line held. And I think that reassured some people, because you had people like General Mark Milley, who issued public statements that there is no way the military is going to be involved. We had a letter signed by 11 former Secretaries of Defense saying, the military is not going to play any role whatsoever. So, at least in the existing top ranks of the military, they seem to understand the danger.
But, if I understand you correctly, you're saying, “Don't become complacent about that, or assume that that necessarily reflects what might happen in the culture of the military going forward.”
Ackerman: Absolutely. I mean, listen, our popular culture tends to fixate on these four-star generals, the most senior sliver of the U.S. military. But, the military is a massive organization with officers up and down the chain of command, who are not Mark Milley and might not do what Mark Milley says in the heat of the moment....
I'm really not trying to be alarmist, but we have such high levels of dysfunction domestically, and every time we kind of set up these scenarios where we're asking our military to play a role in domestic politics, we're really tempting the fates.
The analogy I use is that these contested elections remind me of a drunk driver.
A drunk driver will go to the bar, right, and they will get completely hammered drunk, and they'll drive home.
And, probably the first time they do that, like, they make it home, and they do it and they make it home the second time, the third time.
And then on the fourth or fifth time, they get hammered drunk and try to drive home.
That's when they wrap their car around a telephone pole.
When I look at our contested elections, it's like we're doing the equivalent as a nation of going to the bar getting just hammered drunk, and we try to drive home.
We've done it twice now, and we have sort of managed to make it home, but one of these days, if we keep doing this, we are going to wrap our proverbial car around a telephone pole.
And, it worries me. We have to stop engaging in these behaviors.
The GOP Abortion Tangle
Two stories tell the tale:
Via NBC: “In Arizona, Blake Masters backtracks on abortion and scrubs his campaign website.”
NBC News took screenshots of the website before and after it was changed. Masters' website appeared to have been refreshed after NBC News reached out for clarification about his abortion stances.
"I am 100% pro-life," Masters' website read as of Thursday morning.
That language is now gone.
Another notable deletion: a line that detailed his support for "a federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment) that recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed."
Meanwhile, in Michigan…
Last week, the GOP candidate for governor said that rape victims find “healing” through having their rapist’s baby.
This week? Republican Tudor Dixon now trails Democratic incumbent, Gretchen Whitmer, by double digits.
The Democrats’ Shifting Coalition
More smart stuff from Ruy Teixeira:
Democrats will surely be happy for anything that delivers a relatively good election result in the current terrible national environment. It did not appear to bother them in 2020, nor does it appear likely to bother them in 2022, that their party’s character and coalition keep skewing toward white college graduates. Consciously or not, this is the track the party is currently on—the cultural left turn of the party makes no sense outside of that context.
Between 2012 and 2020, the Democratic advantage among nonwhite working class voters declined by 19 points, while the Democratic advantage increased among white college graduates by 16 points. Stay tuned for more of the same.
Meanwhile, via the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “New Student Debt Changes Will Cost Half a Trillion Dollars.’
President Biden today announced a set of changes to student loans – including cancellation of up to $20,000 for some borrowers – that will cost between $440 billion and $600 billion over the next ten years, with a central estimate of roughly $500 billion.
Combined with today’s announcement, the federal government’s actions on student loans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have cost roughly $800 billion. Of that amount, roughly $750 billion is due to executive action and regulatory changes made by the Biden Administration.
Bonus via Axios: “GOP ad blitz mocks Biden's student loan plan.”
Republicans are confident that the president's plan will be politically problematic, and are backing up their spin with paid advertising.
The ad, which will be airing during upcoming college football and Major League Baseball games, features a waitress, mechanic and landscaper talking about working extra shifts to help theatre majors and business majors get out of debt.
A landscaper in the spot says: " Biden's right — you should take my tax dollars to pay off your debts. My family will figure out how to get by with less. What's most important is we spare college graduates from any extra stress." A mechanic follows up: "Wanna be a struggling artist? College is on me."
1. Should Russian Culture Be ‘Canceled’ Over the Ukraine Invasion?
Cathy Young, in today’s Bulwark:
Some things seem straightforward: For instance, as long as Russia wages a barbaric war in Ukraine, cultural institutions in liberal democracies should not collaborate with or engage any state-run or state-affiliated Russian cultural entities, including private organizations with government connections. The same, I would argue, applies to pro-war, pro-regime figures such as Gergiev. While, generally speaking, art should not be politicized and artists should not be punished for their politics, some circumstances—such as wars of aggression and unconscionable violations of human rights that amount to state-sponsored terror—allow for exceptions.
Other cases, however, are far more complicated….
2. The Rushdie Controversy, for a New Generation
Matt Johnson, in this morning’s Bulwark:
After decades as one of the world’s most courageous champions of free expression, Rushdie is in critical condition because a would-be assassin obeyed the command of a long-dead religious dictator to kill him for writing a novel. One reason his life has been in danger for the past 33 years is the fact that so many people are afraid to do what he has done: stand up to religious totalitarians and fight for the universal right to free expression, especially for those who live under oppressive and intolerant regimes. The least we can do now is show a bit of courage on his behalf and stand by his side in the fight to come.
This concern expressed over potential political use of the military, about politicizing the military, really boils down to one party and its base, and down to one man especially, and there is no both-sides critique available here. If you're worried that the military might be used inappropriately for political reasons on American citizens, I cannot begin to fathom how that scenario might unfold with Democrats in control, short of trying to quell a well organized and widespread rightwing rebellion reminiscent of George Washington putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. This is a concern, but it is solely and exclusively within the remit of one very sick political party, with lunatics like Doug Mastriano and Michael Flynn, not to mention Donald Trump, and a broad culture of enabling and refusal to condemn out of fear of the party's own voters.
An Emerson poll out this morning re: the $10K debt forgiveness showed that 36% of voters think that's too much, 30% think it's too little, and 35% think it's just right. I'm just not sure the issue is going to resonate the way the GOP thinks it is... don't mechanics and waitresses have children with college loans? Didn't some of them attend community college?