Americans trust the military most. 29% are ready for a coup. Ready for fascism?

Summary: Americans’ support for key institutions of the public collapses, as we trust only the military and police. We don’t need to ask Nostradamus; we can easily see the possible consequences — if we thought about it. Internet discussions might not be the only thing that ends with fascism (Godwin’s Law), or some other form of tyranny.

Broken trust

First, the bad news

Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll shows that Americans’ support for the institutions of the Republic and our elected officials have been falling for generations  (their first poll was 1973) — except for police (the second most trusted) and the military (#1). For details see Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism!

A YouGov poll on September 2-3 confirms these findings, with more detail. Ugly details.

YouGov survey about military coup

Then comes the worse news

The YouGov poll shows that 29% of Americans can imagine a situation in which they would support the military seizing control of the federal government. Potential support for a coup is strongest among males, among whites, and among Republicans.

YouGov survey about military coup

A large minority are OK with the military putting their judgment over that of their civilian superiors — if the orders are “misguided”. A smaller minority believe the military should obey orders of their military superiors, even if they believe them unconstitutional. These are innocuous, unless seen along with the previous questions.

“Should active duty members of the U.S. military always follow orders from their civilian superiors, even if they feel that those orders are misguided?”

  • Yes: 28%.
  • No: 38%.
  • Not sure: 35%.

“Should active duty members of the U.S. military always follow orders from their military superiors, even if they feel that those orders are unconstitutional?”

  • Yes: 27%.
  • No: 39%.
  • Not sure: 33%.
"Caesar" by Christian Meier
Available at Amazon.


These poll numbers occur during a period of slow economic growth and relative peace (compared to the 20th C’s wars). They show a fault line in our society likely to break during a period of extreme political or social stress.

Loss of trust in our institutions has no inevitable results. It can spark citizen action, as we mobilize to elect officials we trust and reform our governing institutions. But loss of trust is just a milestone for a nation of apathetic people. If we don’t rule ourselves, others will rule us — and do so in their interest, not in ours. Subjects have no reason to trust their rulers or institutions.

It’s an old story. Christian Meier’s biography of Caesar describes the unwillingness of Rome’s people to bear the burdens of self-government. Strong men contended for the throne, as seems increasingly likely to happen to America, when we turn to the police or military for succor during bad times.

The people of Rome reacted to the fall of the Republic and rise of the Empire with resignation, such as Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity. What philosophies or religions will we create to numb our sense of responsibility?

The Founders modeled the United States after Rome, and worried that we would follow the same course. Their writings, such as the Federalist Papers, describe our love of liberty as the foundation of the Republic. The next generation or two might prove that we deserve their confidence. Or not.

Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it” replied the Doctor.

— Entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1887 (signer the Constitution, our 3rd Secretary of War, & namesake of Fort McHenry).

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12 thoughts on “Americans trust the military most. 29% are ready for a coup. Ready for fascism?”

  1. Some comments: 1) The comparisons with Rome are inescapable, but the rise of the USA is similar to other states with the ‘outland advantage’ (Assyria vs lower mesopotania, Persia vs older states, Rome vs the hellenistic states, Qin v the other 5 contending states.) In each case the large state at the edge of a civilization took over. 2) All pre-modern empires reach their limit when the costs of administrating an outlying territory are greater than what it brings in in tribute. 3) The USA has additional weapons due to modern capitalism, mainly financial transfers, media propaganda, and real-time command control and communication.
    4) In the late Republic the Roman 0.1% consolidated their wealth and control compared to the free small farmers by bringing in slaves created by conquests. (Caesar enslaved at least 2 million Gauls himself.) It was hard to compete against large slave plantations. The modrrn USS analogy to this is high immigration, H1B visas, and outsourcing.
    5) We are fighting against economics vs the nominal political system. If the top 0.1% have more wealth than the bottom 90% it will be reflected in the political, eventually by legal grades of citizens.
    6) I don’t think the generals are an immediate danger. But you are right to see the fissures start to open.

  2. Fabius Maximus,

    Couple things on an interesting post.

    1) “The people of Rome reacted to the fall of the Republic and rise of the Empire with resignation, such as Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity. What philosophies or religions will we create to numb our sense of responsibility?” I think it seems far more likely that individual entertainment will be the tool/way we numb ourselves. Netflix, TV, and the internet are occupying more and more time and with widespread legal access to additional recreational drugs seeming to be part of the national discourse, why wouldn’t Americans just forgo full fledged philosophies in place for the instant gratification of our technological entertainments?

    2) the internal coup threat to the US seems to be higher than normal due to a couple of co-related factors.
    a) our military does not face a consistent and time consuming enemy
    b) our military hails from a part of the country that is currently seeing itself become less and less important to the running of the country
    c) our military is made up of individuals who have historically been the power in this country but are increasingly isolated from the power bases that are emerging in America

    Put another way, the real danger of these numbers is based on whether or not those numbers are concentrated in populations that feel like they used to have more power and now have less. They are more dangerous if they are concentrated among a population that is heavily invested in the military/highly represented in the military’s leadership.

    -There are always people who support a strong man in any day and age. The problem is if they are a political base that gets tapped easily/regularly, has seen their influence decrease and seems set to lose more and more influence over time, and they have access to military power that is out of proportion to their size. This may be the case but this seems as though it was more the case 30-40 years ago.

    PF Khans

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  4. America’s military leaders, as we all know, are both incompetent and largely ignorant of civilian life, having spent their entire life “getting their ticket punched” by going the varied meaningless gyrations required to rise in rank today.
    Those American military leaders who have tried to make a go of it in the civilian power structure have founds themselves outclassed by civilian pols, bamboozled, marginalized, used and abused, and simply destroyed in short order.
    Consider Colin Powell, used and abused by the Bush administration and now relegated to the ashpile of history after he unwisely gave that U.N. presentation parroting the outrageous lies Bush & Cheney’s administration fed him.
    Or consider General Petreus: dumped from the U.S. military after he ill-advisedly made an end run around president Obama by leaking a devastating sitrep on Iraq to congress and thus forcing Obama’s hand with a surge. Failing upwards into the CIA as director, Petreus couldn’t keep his zipper closed and shortly thereafter found himself out of a job anywhere in the national security apparatus. He’s currently shilling for KKR doing LBOs of defense contractors. Caesar, this guy ain’t: he’s not even a third-rate Tip O’Neil.
    Or consider Wesley Clark’s ill-starred presidential campaign of 2004, over almost before it began.
    American military leaders find themselves too insulated from civilian life and too coddled (what with private jets, armies of valets, enlisted men who cut their lawns and trim their shrubbery) to navigate the shark-infested waters of Washington D.C. politics. Moreover, it has been so for more than 150 years. From General McClellan to General Douglas MacArthur, none of these “perfumed princes” (as Col. David Hackworth called them) has come close to capturing either the presidency or any other high office.

    [Wesley] Clark is one of the smartest guys ever to wear four stars. He finished number one in his West Point class, graduated with honors from Oxford and the National War College, was a war hero in Vietnam and as a young captain was earmarked as general officer material.

    But among mud soldiers, he’s known as a guy who never paid his dues with the troops in the trenches and doesn’t understand the nitty- gritty of war or what motivates warriors down at the bayonet level. He’s like a doctor who’s brilliant at theory but dangerous with a scalpel because he hasn’t been there and done that long enough to learn the skills of the trade. In 33 years of service, Clark spent only seven and one- half years in command with troops from platoon to division level– barely enough time to learn what makes a tank platoon tick. The rest of his service was as a staff weenie, an aide, a student, at the White House or at some fat cat headquarters.

    The man is not a field soldier; he’s more a CEO in uniform. Perhaps an efficient manager, but not a Patton-like leader. The troops call his sort “Perfumed Princes,” brass known for their micromanagement bias and slavish focus on “show over go” and covering their tails with fancy footwork. Unfortunately, today’s senior Army ranks are filled with such managers — and these kind of dweebs are why the U.S. Army is in trouble. The troops and young leaders are great. But too often the senior brass are politically correct dilettantes, out of touch with their soldiers more interested in chin straps on the points of chin than in battle-drill being executed correctly. They don’t understand that everything they need to learn about leadership and combat savvy doesn’t come from management books or advanced degrees.

    Source: “A Perfumed Prince Gets the Axe,” Col. David Hackworth, 1999.

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