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 Why coup may happen in America – Part 4

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
07 March 2022   |   3:57 am
Amidst the ravages of coronavirus and unemployment surge, President Donald Trump signed into law a stimulus package of about $2 trillion in March of 2020.

Amidst the ravages of coronavirus and unemployment surge, President Donald Trump signed into law a stimulus package of about $2 trillion in March of 2020. It sought to deliver $1,200 to every American earning less than $75,000 per year and $500 per child. Following his ascent to power, President Biden signed The American Rescue Plan (ARP), an economic recovery plan that provides additional financial relief to eligible persons and entities, into law to ameliorate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy. Within the framework, and in six months, the Treasury Department responsible for managing the over $1 trillion ARP fund disbursed about $450 billion “directly to families, helping them put food on the table, care for their children, and stay in their homes” (see U.S. Department of the Treasury American Rescue Plan: Treasury’s Progress And Impact After Six Months, September 2021 for details).  Much earlier, President Obama expanded and extended emergency unemployment benefits significantly to the benefit of a total of 21million Americans. Equally, it expanded access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps that saw over 500,000 households saved from food insecurity. Efforts are made to create more jobs for Americans, a means by which some governments sometimes measure their performance. The point is that welfare provisioning in America provides the illusion of a working and caring society, thereby legitimising the state.
The second is soft power. In his 1990 book, Bound to Lead, Joseph Nye coined the word ‘soft power’ that challenged the then conventional view of the decline of American power. For Nye, power is the ability to influence the behaviour of others to get the outcomes you want. But soft power is more about getting others to want the outcomes you want not through coercion but by cooptation. Importantly, Soft power rests on three assets, namely, culture and immanent essentiality to attract others; faithful and exemplary political values and foreign policies that exude legitimacy and moral authority (see his 2011 book, The Future of Power). The cultural element has enormous potential for polity stabilisation. When Americans watch the super bowl, feelings of alienation are temporally suspended. The wrestling championship contests produce the same effect. Musical concerts with global appeal—“Jazz under the Sun” and the August 2021 New York City post-COVID lockdown concert create a huge nationalist passion for being an American.
The third is the nature of civil-military relations. As I have noted in my preface to Col. Gabriel Ajayi’s book titled, End of the Road: The Travails of an Infantry General (2010), “Civil-military relations refer to those patterns of relations between the military and the civil society. It involves perception as well as physical interactions between the uniformed men and women and the civil society in the transformation of society”. Civil society is conceived here in Fergusonian terms, meaning the society as a whole. The military itself is grounded in social relations of production and is of the society. Scholarly and heuristically, it makes sense to attempt a bifurcation between subjective and objective civilian control of the military. The subjective captures the institutional wedlock of the military and the society in ways that undermine professionalism while the objective allows the military a separate sphere to manage violence and defend the society as a whole. So in Huntingtonian terms, the professional soldier does only protect society, professional pre-occupation becomes an inherent antidote to incursions into the realm of politics in a democracy.
In America, the military is somewhat part of the dominant class. By the logic of the military industrial complex (MIC) that is “the shared interests between the military, military industry, top-level government bureaucrats, and legislators and the influence they exercise on society as a whole (see Anna Stavrianakis notes in Militarism as Excessive Influence an entry in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition) in 2015. In this connexion, the military becomes the quintessential C. Wright Mills’ power elite. As Mills has rightly noted the economic, military, and political structures are intertwined. He further notes that: “At the pinnacle of each of the three enlarged and centralised domains, there have arisen those higher circles which make up the economic, the political, and the military elites. At the top of the economy, among the corporate rich, there are the chief executives; at the top of the political order, the members of the political directorate; at the top of the military establishment, the elite of soldier-statesmen clustered in and around the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the upper echelon. As each of these domains has coincided with the others, as decisions tend to become total in their consequence, the leading men in each of the three domains of power—the warlords, the corporation chieftains, the political directorate—tend to come together, to form the power elite of America.” Thus, it is the responsibility of the military to protect that class that rules America. 
The history of the American Revolution evinces an intriguing vision. For example, it was Congress that set up the continental army under the command of Colonel Washington to defend the colonies against the British colonial army. And he, Washington, was responsible to the Congress despite strictures borne of tardiness placed on the way of the soldier in the prosecution of the revolutionary war (see Charles Kendal Adams, “Aspects of the Revolutionary War” in The American Revolution edited by Edmund Morgan, 1965). Another example is the Korean War. In the stalemate that ensured the Generals waited for the political class to indicate the way forward. This much was revealed in the interview Lieutenant-Colonel Melvin B. Voorhees had with General James Van Fleet. The former had sought from the general the goal of the war and the general’s response was quite revealing of the subordination of the U.S. military to political authority. “‘Reporter: “General, what is our goal?” Van Fleet: “I don’t know. The answer must come from higher authority.” Reporter: “How may we know, General, when and if we achieve victory?” Van Fleet: “I don’t know, except that somebody higher up will have to tell us” (quoted in the Power Elite, 1956). In sum, the dynamics of civil-military relations in America are quite complex and protective of American society.
The fourth is the operationalisation of the rule of law. Generally speaking, the rule of law means equality before the law and that the Law is no respecter of anybody. According to Hilaire Barnett, “The rule of law insists that every person—irrespective of rank and status in society—be subject to the law”. Its operationalisation, therefore, prevents resort to self-help and guarantees the social order of the republic. Some would argue that law is nothing other than the means of control of the subalterns by the ruling class. However, despite the contradictions of the criminal justice system in America, the rule of law is in progress. The two impeachment processes concerning President Donald Trump affirmed the guts of the Congress and the abiding faith in the state-system of liberal democracy. Its salubrious effect is that it ensures the continuance of the republic. The hope of justice is legitimising for constituted authority. 
Arundhati Roy, the award-winning novelist in his invited essay in the Economist, September 3, 2021, titled, “America’s fiery, brutal impotence,” scrutinised the internal dynamics of America and observed that: “The polarisation and schisms within the United States could in time lead to a serious breakdown of public order. We’ve already seen the early signs.” What I have done in the foregoing is to reflect on the January 6, 2020, event, in America and by extension on liberal democracy.

I have pointed out the potential for a coup d’état that American society harbours. Poverty, racism, electoral fraud, its foundational principle to throw off an oppressive government, and the invocation of the national security doctrine to rein in law and order by the armed men or the guys with the gun are the very raw materials for a coup. But the American system also harbours some redeeming features in its social policy of occasional handouts to the impoverished, the illusions of soft power, and the dynamics of civil-military relations that inure the military from a direct take-over. They are perhaps the redeeming features but when things get to a point of no return, the inevitable—coup d’état—may happen. There is a compelling need for the improvement of American democracy to truly underline the people as the boss of democracy.
Akhaine, former General Secretary of the Campaign for Democracy in Nigeria in the 1990s, is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University, Nigeria.


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