Donald Trump And The End Of American Exceptionalism

Donald Trump And The End Of American Exceptionalism

Donald Trump

Do you remember the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974? I didn’t remember much about it either, except for a vague recollection that there had been a military coup just before elections were scheduled to be held in May of that year. The elections were predicted to be won by Georgios Papandreou’s Center Union, a leftist party that had won elections in 1963 and 1964, the second by a large majority. The right wing in Greece was rattled by the probable election of Papandreou in1967. They were even more alarmed that his son, Andreas, who was even further to the left than his father, would have a role in a new government, so a group of generals and colonels pulled off a coup just before the elections to keep Papandreou from winning.

They ran tanks into downtown Athens, creating mass confusion and fear, and dispatched military units around the country to arrest Center Union politicians, intellectuals supporting Papandreou, the acting Prime Minister, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, and ordinary citizens who were suspected of leftist sympathies. The coup suspended most of the Greek Constitution, making possible arbitrary arrests and prosecutions without warrants or formal charges. Georgios Papandreou was arrested at his home in a nighttime raid. His son Andreas was chased from his bedroom by soldiers armed with machine guns and rifles with fixed bayonets. He was caught on the roof of his house and surrendered when one of the soldiers held a gun to the head of his 14-year-old son, George Papandreou (who would later serve as prime minister from 2009 to 2011).

There was a military coup in Cyprus in 1974, a failed military coup in Greece in 1975, a failed military coup in Spain in 1981, and martial law was imposed in Poland to put down the Solidarity movement, also in 1981.

I remember sitting here comfortably in the United States, watching all of this happen overseas from the house I had just bought on North Haven Island out in the Hamptons. In this country, a new conservative government led by Ronald Reagan had just been elected, and although Democrats were disappointed, there were no protests in the streets. President Carter and his wife Rosalyn met the Reagans under the White House portico and welcomed them into the White House on January 20, 1981, and as outgoing presidents had done before them, attended Reagan’s inauguration that day at the Capitol.

Later in the 1980’s I met an extremely wealthy woman from one of the leading countries in Europe. Her family owned a huge company that manufactured things you have probably used every day in your life. She had enough money to buy herself an island and get away from it all, if she became unhappy with the politics and behavior of her own country, which had been conquered by Hitler in World War II. Some of her own countrymen had been collaborators with the Nazi occupiers. Having watched coups in Europe and occasional political unrest in her own country, she did not trust that all would continue to be well in Europe, so where did she turn, and what did she do? She traveled to the United States each time she was pregnant and had her babies here, so that they would always have American citizenship as well as citizenship in their own country. She wanted her children to have what we have.

We didn’t have the danger of military coups and rule by junta. Our democracy was healthy. Our government was stable, with our three branches – the Executive, the Congress, and the Judiciary – going to work every day and doing their jobs, reliably if not always agreeably. Our two major political parties differed over issues, politicians occasionally got nasty with each other rhetorically, but we hadn’t had a real upheaval in this country since Richard Nixon was forced out by threat of impeachment over crimes he committed in office. Our elections were a model for the world. U.S. observers were asked by other countries to monitor their elections and help make them “free and fair,” as it was often said.

Our economy was the best in the world. Money came from all over the globe to invest in our stock market. Foreign auto manufacturers imitated U.S. companies and built cars to compete on an equal basis for sales in this country. The United Nations sat on the East River in Manhattan where attempts to settle international disputes without going to war were made every day. Foreign nations maintained embassies in Washington D.C. and U.N. missions in New York City. Our universities, major and minor both, received thousands of applications for admission from foreign students who wanted to come here to be educated so they could go home and be able to compete in the international marketplace of money and politics and ideas. Many foreign graduates chose to stay here and enrich our universities, cities, businesses, and our politics.

This was American exceptionalism – in the words of Ronald Reagan in his farewell address from the Oval Office to the American people, we were a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of stability and creativity and freedom to the rest of the world.

Who would say that of the United States of America today? One of our two major political parties has not accepted the results of the last election and has ceased behaving like it is part of a democracy. It is making plans for a coup if the next election doesn’t go their way. Even if they win, their plans resemble a coup. Remember the description of Greece in 1967? If Donald Trump is elected in 2024, it won’t look like a win, it will look the installation of a dictator. He has said he will invoke the Insurrection Act on “day one” and will use active duty soldiers to put down demonstrations in the streets. He will use soldiers to enforce the law in any way he wants. He has said he will “go after” President Biden and his entire family. He will use the Department of Justice not to enforce the law but to bludgeon his opponents. He has said he will demand an oath of loyalty to him from anyone who goes to work in the federal government. He has promised to arrest and jail his political opponents. Using the Insurrection Act to suspend the Posse Comitatus Act, he will use the military to carry out arrests and detentions.

We could see tanks on street corners in Washington D.C. as the Greeks saw them in Athens in 1967, and that is if Trump wins. The Heritage Foundation has come up with a document with plans for a Trump administration that reads like a coup-in-place. His henchman Stephen Miller has said a Trump administration will round up tens of millions of immigrants and put them in what amount to concentration camps pending deportation under rules that suspend the normal process involved if a person is to be expelled from the United States. Spokesmen for Trump have even promised to separate children from their mothers at the border again, presumably as part of their roundup of immigrants.

We won’t be a nation of laws. We will be a nation with armed soldiers in the streets and razor-wire camps waiting to imprison anyone who opposes Donald Trump.

That is what our new American exceptionalism will look like. The beacon on our shining city will be a red light: Stop. Stop using the word “gay.” Stop the right to control your own healthcare if you are a woman. Stop the study of American history that talks about slavery and Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Stop the free marketplace of ideas. Stop voting rights. Stop free and fair elections.

The Donald Trump plan to Make America Great Again will end our democracy and replace it with a fascist state.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.


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