If you had told me on Jan. 6, 2021, that I would ever find anything more shocking than the events of that terrible day, I would not have believed you.
But there is a new book out about that day and the surrounding events and I am finding that, indeed, there is more to the story — and worse — than I had already thought.
The book is “I Alone Can Fix It,” using Donald Trump’s own 2016 campaign pitch for its title. It was researched and written by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, two Washington Post reporters whose previous book, “A Very Stable Genius,” became a No. 1 New York Times best seller upon its release in 2020.
The writers’ reporting chops are formidable. Leonnig won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for reporting on security failures inside the Secret Service and is a three-time winner of the George Polk Award for investigative reporting. Rucker won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Polk Award in 2018 for his coverage of Russian interference in the 2016 election and is currently White House Bureau Chief at the Washington Post.
I have been reading excerpts from the team’s latest book and already my jaw has dug itself a permanent little divot into the desk where I sit and read.
Perhaps the most stunning revelation — so far — was the extent to which our top military men from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on down were so concerned that the election’s loser might precipitate a coup that they had many discussions and actually made plans in case it happened. They resolved that if push came to shove and they were given orders they felt they could not in good conscience obey, they would quit or else require the president to fire them. Nor would they quit en masse. They would go one by one — to slow down a rogue president.
Milley’s discussions of various “what if” scenarios with other military insiders included everything from dealing with rumored unrest at every state capitol to the possibility that Trump might refuse to leave the White House.
Milley was especially alarmed by the prospect of Trump inciting enough violence in the streets to form a pretext for invoking martial law. That is why he made public a memorandum to all U.S. troops, signed by the chief of every branch of service, reminding them that their oath of loyalty had been sworn to the Constitution, not to anyone man.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book. The reference is to a pivotal event in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, when Germany’s parliament building, the Reichstag, caught fire in 1933. The fire is generally considered to have been deliberately set by the Nazis, but Hitler accused Communists of it and used the event as a pretext for suspending civil liberties in Germany, thereby leveraging himself into a position of ultimate power.
For the past five years, I have been alarmed by everything Mr. Trump said and did and I have been treated to a lot of people pooh-poohing my concerns. So it was with actual physical relief that I read about Gen. Milley. “If this battle-hardened senior military man was so alarmed,” I said to myself, “I’m not the crazy one here.”
But I have to say that having grown up during the Vietnam War era, I would not have expected it to be the military folk who were the wisest, calmest and most historically knowledgeable people in our government.
Usually — back in Normal Times — you worried that the military of any given country would be the ones causing a coup. How often do you find the military leaders plotting to PREVENT one? That’s how far we were into Looking-Glass World with Mr. Trump.
And maybe we still are.
I am certainly breathing easier with Joseph R. Biden at the helm of our ship of state these days. But Mr. Trump appears to think he is a viable candidate to run for president in 2024; and whether he actually follows through with that or not, there are plenty of people — most of his party, in fact — who seem ready, able and willing to do whatever it takes to hand themselves an election “victory.”
If that happens, we might have a truly stolen election next time — one from which not even the most gifted military men and women can save us.
That is the most alarming thought of all.