Top U.S. general tells us how close we came to the edge
Gen Mark Milley with Donald Trump at the White House. | Alex Brandon/AP

We never knew how close we were to the edge. Only now is it clear how close we came under Trump to losing our democracy altogether.

Inside the eye of the storm, it is tough to see the chaotic winds whipping and thrashing about there at the very edge of one’s nose. Many of us found comfort in that false sense of security that every four years we get to vote on who will take hold of the executive office.

But nothing stays hidden forever, and eventually, as it is these days, everything under the sun comes to light.

As election day 2020 made its long-awaited arrival, the nation watched as the strength of our republican democracy, and its questionable values, were tested by an incumbent bloodthirsty for power.

The nation’s top generals and the highest-ranking U.S. Officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, also watched and spoke in hushed tones while sitting around the typical grey conference table found in any meeting space. These military officials, it has become clear now, were preparing informal plans to prevent, or stop, a coup by Donald Trump and his fanatic allies in the moments leading up to the 2020 election.

“I Alone Can Fix It,” written by Washington Post reporters Carl Leonnig and Philip Rucker, is a bombshell revelation of the fears Milley and so many others had regarding the unconstitutional actions Trump was ready to take.

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Gen. Milley told his deputies in the days before Jan. 6. He was referring to the 1933 burning of the German Parliament by the Nazis and their blaming it on communists to excuse their fascist takeover of Germany. | Public Domain

“This is a Reichstag moment,” Gen. Milley told his deputies in the days before Jan. 6. He was referring to the 1933 burning of the German Parliament by the Nazis and their blaming it on communists to excuse their fascist takeover of Germany.

The top brass was so worried about Trump’s rhetoric questioning the legitimacy of the election process before it was held, leaders discussed contingency plans as to how and when to thwart and reign in any illegal power grabs by the then-president.

“They may try, but they’re not going to f****** succeed,” Milley said to his officers, according to Leonnig and Rucker. “You can’t do this without the military. You cannot do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns.”

The alarm bells sounded right after the election was called. Trump and his allies were contesting the election results, and called on supporters to rise, and oppose the electoral process, often insinuating violence might be necessary.

With whiffs of a coup swirling in the air in the months before the election, the U.S. military took the unprecedented step of clarifying it would have no role in the 2020 elections, despite Trump’s insistence military action would be necessary.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Milley wrote in August 2020, answering questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process.”

Earlier this month there were revelations about how then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Kelly pushed back against Trump statements about how Hitler had done some good things for Germany and the world.

Leonnig and Rucker’s new book gives a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s deranged final year in office as he dealt poorly with Covid-19; the police killing of George Floyd, and the nationwide demonstrations that followed; and the days before and after the 2020 election.

The book also highlights Milley’s concerns over Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots by Trump supporters. The authors note Milley viewed Trump as a “ classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose.”

As of Thursday morning, Gen. Milley, through his spokesperson Army Col. Dave Butler, declined to comment on the book’s excerpts.

Also as of Thursday morning, the nation continues to face an unfolding and continuing attack on our democracy worse than any experienced since the Civil War. Assembling the coalition needed to defeat this menace is the task at hand. We can’t afford to wait a few years for another book to come out.

“I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,” published by Penguin Press, will be available in bookstores nationwide on July 20.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.