A surprising number of Americans would support an unconstitutional overthrowing of the government if it violated the constitution

A recent poll has been released detailing a rather disturbing fact about the state of our democracy. The topic of the poll was military coups, more specifically the idea that such a coup be attempted here in the good ol’ USA.

This poll framed the possibility of the US military launching a coup against the government if this said government was quote “violating the constitution.” This issue is ripe for discussion, as it contains all of the strange ironies and amusements one would expect from such a topic.

The poll itself does not seem overwhelmingly terrifying,but hidden beneath it is an ideal that cannot be avoided. Would a military coup ever be justified in the United States, a land prized for its democratic values? Some twenty-nine percent of the poll respondents claimed they would support said military coup, while forty-one percent said they would not. It is a positive thing to note that a majority in the poll did not support a theoretical military takeover, however twenty-nine percent still seems like a high number. The numbers get higher when we get into what Republicans think about it.

While twenty-nine percent of the total people polled supported the coup idea, the number jumps to forty-three percent when the question is asked Republicans specifically. Twenty percent of Democrats support the idea as well. By far though, Republican voters by nearly half could see themselves shredding constitutional order by supporting a replay of Seven Days in May.

The framing of the poll question is in itself a deception. The caveat of violating the constitution is used in almost every circumstance by Republicans to attack their political opponents. Anytime any progressive legislation is brought up, Republicans en-masse become immediate constitutional scholars and cry loudly about violations against the constitution. They are near Orwellian in their modes of thinking on this matter.

Republicans believe that the constitution operates in a way it does not. While the constitution supports the separation of church and state, Republicans are the first to say that it supports a state religion. When their theocratic tendencies are challenged, they claim that their “constitutional rights” are being violated.

Republicans have labeled Obamacare unconstitutional. Trying to give people more access to healthcare is violating the constitution, according to Republicans. Any time someone mentions gun control, it is an immediate violation of constitutional rights.

One issue is clear here, though; the constitution has no provision allowing for a military coup. In essence, nearly half of Republicans (and twenty percent of Democrats) would support overthrowing the constitutional order to protect it. The consequences of such an action would be far reaching.

The US has never had a change in constitutional order before. Power passing from Congress and the President to the military would be a drastic change. The question emerges, how long would such a takeover last? Do the nearly half of Republican respondents believe that the military would quietly hand back political power to elected politicians? History has shown that militaries don’t generally give back power so easily once seized. Most military takeovers have resulted in dictatorships, usually led by a junta or a powerful strongman.

Classic examples of military coups in nations like Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, and the Congo give good insight. Chile in 1973 had a military coup, overthrowing a leftist president, vowing to protect the constitutional order. Afterward, the military abolished the constitution, closed Congress, and appointed Augusto Pinochet as President. He ruled until 1990.

Argentina had a coup in 1976, promising similar constitutional defense. A junta was formed thereafter, which ruled as a supreme dictatorship until 1982. 30,000 people disappeared under the junta, mostly political opponents.

In 1965, the Indonesian military launched a coup to protect constitutional order. During the course of the takeover, an estimated 500,000 people were massacred by soldiers (mostly Indonesian leftists). Three years later, the coup’s leader, General Suharto, was appointed President. He ruled until 1998.

In 1961, the Congolese military launched a coup against its elected government. Three years later, the coup leader Mobutu seized complete power, had himself proclaimed President-for life and ruled with an iron fist until 1997.

There are countless examples of these coups going bad. For the most part, the last thing that is protected in these coups is constitutional order.

Another question to ask, is under what criteria would “violating the constitution” go far enough to warrant overthrowing it? As history shows, these coups have little interest in protecting the constitution. The main goal seems to be eliminating political opponents and social undesirables by whoever wants the coup to take place.

In some ways, Republicans are willing to destroy the constitution in order to get rid of people they believe threaten it. Of course, what they really want is to get rid of their political opponents, and would be gleeful to live under a right-wing dictatorship.


  1. Let me guess, most of the repukes that are for a coup are in the South. They fervently want to start the Civil War again. Next time, we will stomp their asses permanently.

  2. I think you’re right in implying that America’s right-wing extremists care far less that constitutional authority be preserved than that their political opponents be eliminated.

    By-and-large, I think the American Right is relatively ignorant about the Constitution—and the more extreme they become, the more ignorant they seem to be. They repeat the battle cries of their irresponsible leaders by talking about “this lawless president” and “the government violating the Constitution” and, when a Supreme Court decision goes against them, they talk about “unelected lawyers” and “the Court making law.” But, if pressed, they can’t actually make a case for the president being “lawless” or “the government violating the Constitution” or how the Court is overstepping its bounds. I have a buddy with whom I used to hunt who keeps mouthing stuff about his “Second Amendment rights” but actually has no idea what the Second Amendment says—he’s something of a disappointment to me.

    Again, I think you’re on target when you imply that the right-wing’s support of a coup would not be born of a desire to see the Constitution upheld (how do you uphold it by violating it?) but by a desire to get rid of their political opponents that they can’t get rid of via the ballot.

    I’m not joking when I say that I don’t think I will have to worry about some kind of right-wing takeover attempt during my lifetime but that I worry my son and his generation might well have to face something of that sort. I can’t even believe I am saying that. Fifteen years ago, that would have been the farthest thought from my mind.

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