President Donald Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this week was hardly unexpected. Still, why would he fire Esper now, only ten weeks before he left office?
Just as Trump had delighted in telling job applicants, “You’re fired!” on his hit TV show, The Apprentice, he continued this practice as president, routinely firing high ranking officials and replacing them with new ones who would eventually be fired.
The Firing Of Defense Secretary Mark Esper
It would seem likely that his firing of Esper was motivated solely by his well-documented vindictiveness. As Esper himself has observed, Trump felt uncomfortable unless he was surrounded by “yes men.” So, firing his Secretary of Defense and replacing him with a “yes man” was just business as usual.
Another plausible explanation for the sacking of his Defense Secretary so soon before Trump himself left office was that this supported his contention that he had actually won reelection, and that he was simply upgrading his cabinet in preparation for his second term.
Just in the last couple of days, the president has refused to participate In the traditional transition process between outgoing and incoming administrations. So perhaps Esper’s firing and replacement was just another instance of the president’s refusing to accept his loss of the election.
While very disturbing, these two explanations for replacing Mark Esper are certainly not that alarming. Over the last four years, Trump has consistently exhibited behavior that was petty, vindictive, and self-serving -- not to mention harmful or just plain incompetent.
But now we must ask if the president is actually planning something a lot more nefarious. Like a military coup d’etat against the government that he himself heads.
No Promises Of A "Peaceful Transition"
Remember how Trump had been insisting for weeks that he could not promise a “peaceful transition” if he lost the election? Well, so far, all he has done is ask the courts to rule on various electoral issues he has raised.
Now, he has very likely concluded that he has little or no chance of succeeding. So, what options does he have left?
If he waits until December 14th, when the Electoral College certifies Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, it may be too late for him to act. But until then, he does still have one ace in the hole.
Remember that the president is the commander-in-chief of our armed forces. Well, you can see where I’m going with this.
Trump is at the top of our chain of command. He gives an order to the Secretary of Defense, who then passes it down to the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then on to the chiefs of each of the five branches of our armed services.
If an order is to be faithfully carried out, then the president will need “yes men” down at least the first few rungs of the chain-of-command. The current Head of the Joint Chief of Staffs is General Mark Milley, who Trump knows all too well is no “yes man.”
Refusing Illegal Orders
Anyone in the chain of command – from the Secretary of Defense down to the lowly army private -- may refuse to follow a command that she or he deems illegal. But for all intents and purposes, an order is much more likely to be successfully rejected by someone close to the top of the chain.
What would be examples of illegal orders? Using poison gas, executing prisoners of war, or stage a coup d’etat.
Indeed, back in May, Trump’s closest advisors had had to talk him out of firing both Esper and Milley, who had both indicated their disapproval of using either active military forces or the national guard to deal with unruly civilian demonstrations.
So, what do you think will be Trump’s next move? Please think about it!
If you think his next move will be to fire General Milley, I would be forced to agree with you. This order could come within days, or maybe to avert suspicion about a coup, Trump would wait until a week or two before the Electoral College meets.
So, let’s imagine that Trump tells his Secretary of Defense to pass on an order for armed troops to arrest the Democratic members of Congress, or perhaps the Electoral College electors supporting Joe Biden. Could this actually happen? We may soon find out.