A toxic quest for power

In a chilling article, Tom Nichols, professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval War College, outlines how Donald Trump would use the military in a second presidential term. Nichols reports that Trump’s grudge against senior military officers began in 2017 when they “smothered” his demand to kill Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The president was infuriated to learn that “his generals” were not mere employees as if they worked at one of his properties.

Nichols states that after the 2020 election the Trump team (including General Michael Flynn) proposed seizing voting machines in swing states. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, resisted this plan. In April 2023 The Atlantic reported that after General Milley spoke to a Chinese general, Trump stated that he (Milley) deserves to be put to death.

Brett Wagner, also a former professor at the U.S. Naval War College, reports that on June 1, 2020 someone in Trump’s “presidential chain of command” looked into acquiring the Active Denial System to clear a mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C. According to Wagner, this “crowd control device” fires “pulsed directed energy waves” designed “to make you feel right to your nerve endings, like you’re being set on fire.” He notes that a now removed video of this weapon shows “it can turn a healthy young military recruit into a screaming, writhing human, doubled over in pain and begging for it to stop within seconds.”

On that same day, another crowd control weapon was requested – the Long Range Acoustic Device. This “sound cannon” emits an extremely high decibel range that can result in permanent hearing loss. Physicians for Human Rights report that acoustical weapons can cause harm or pain to protesters, bystanders and police officers. In 2012, Pittsburgh settled two cases for $200,000 after that city’s police employed an acoustic device.

In November 2023 Trump said he would not hesitate to invoke the Insurrection Act and deploy federal troops if demonstrators take to the streets as they did after the George Floyd killing. “The next time I’m not waiting,” Trump stated. Would he use the Active Denial System and ear splitting “sound cannon” against protesters?

In a 2020 New York Times opinion piece, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (a staunch Trump supporter) said the military should support police and quash unrest when necessary.

“The American people … know that the most basic responsibility of government is to maintain public order and safety …” What’s needed is “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”

Millions of MAGA people had no problem with the 2021 Capitol assault wherein 174 law enforcement officers were injured. There was no call for an overwhelming display of military force on that occasion.

Tom Nichols argues that a second Trump presidency could undermine national security in a number of ways: One, the president could surround himself with handpicked military officers who would help him dissolve security alliances such as NATO. Two, he could undermine U.S. intelligence services while courting authoritarian strongmen starting with Vladimir Putin whom he has often praised. Three, he could issue illegal orders to torture people or commit other war crimes overseas. Four, the president could order the military to kill foreign leaders, start a war and/or use nuclear weapons.

Nichols states that “Trump allies are reportedly making plans to invoke the Insurrection Act (that gives the president sweeping powers) on Inauguration Day to crush demonstrations against his return to office. According to Nichols, “Project 25″ ­– a right-wing blueprint for the next Republican president — has been released by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.

Brett Wagner writes that newspapers and broadcast media outlets not distributing pre-approved White House “news” could be shut down. Freedom of the press would vanish. “Detention camps for undocumented immigrants (and God knows who else) start going up everywhere and armed personnel go door-to-door to round them up, along with anyone else unfortunate enough to wind up on Trump’s “enemies list.”

For those skeptical or dismissive of Trump launching these anti-democratic policies, Wagner states: “None of this is hyperbole. Every idea expressed here originated with the former president himself.”

These disturbing observations lead to a fundamental question: Would the military follow the president’s orders? Nichols argues the “military is trained and organized to obey, not resist, the orders of the civilian commander in chief.” Will the majority of senior officers pledge their allegiance to the constitution and not the president? How many senior commanders are of like mind with General Michael Flynn (Trump’s former national security advisor) who is now recruiting an “Army of God” via the Christian Nationalist movement?

Nichols reports that military bases “are subject to a constant barrage of Fox News in almost every area with a television” and he often observed senior officers “repeating almost verbatim” what they hear on conservative media. “Some of these officers would be tempted to answer Trump’s call.” This could provoke, Nichols argues, “a political confrontation between Trump loyalists in the high command and the rest of the armed forces…a frightening and previously unthinkable prospect.”

In August 2020, two months before the presidential election, a Military Times poll of active duty armed forces personnel found that 37.4% of respondents said they would vote for Trump, 41.3% for Biden with the remainder supporting a third party candidate. Almost 74% said they did not agree with Trump’s assertion that active duty personnel should be used to respond to domestic civil unrest.

To what extent have these numbers changed over the past four years? Will Trump’s disgusting statement that American troops killed or captured in battle were “suckers” and “losers” cost him votes in November? Or has his military support increased and hardened?

If Trump is elected he will quickly move to put his people into top military positions and gain control of the armed forces. Could the U.S. survive a Putin-like Donald Trump administration? The nation’s 250th anniversary (in 2026) could be marked by the authoritarian regime of a simple-minded, spiteful egomaniac the founding fathers could never have imagined.

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George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.


“Active Denial Technology – What is it” (2020) May 11, Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office” www.lwp.defense.gov

“Beyond shock and awe: Inside Trump’s potential second term agenda” (2024) February 25, Politico, www.politico.com

Callizza, C. and B.Williams (2019) “15 times Donald Trump praised authoritarian rulers,” July 2, The Point CNN, www.cnn.com

“City of Pittsburgh settles G-20 lawsuits” (2012) “November 14, ACLU Pennsylvania,


Cotton, T. (2020) “Tom Cotton: Send in the Troops” June 3, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com

“Health impact of crowd control weapons: acoustic weapons” (2020) October 27, Physicians for Human Rights,” https://phr.org

Klass, B. (2023) “Trump floats idea of executing Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley” September 25, The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com

“Michael Flynn is recruiting an ‘Army of God’ in growing Christian Nationalist movement” (2022) October 7, PBS Newshour, www.pbs.com

Nichols, T. (2024) “A military loyal to Trump” January/February, The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com

“Project 25 – The Far-Right Playbook for American Authoritarianism” (2024) April 3, The Global Project Against Extremism, https://globalextremism.org

Shane, L. (2020) “Trumps popularity slips in latest Military Times poll – and more troops say they’ll vote for Biden,” August 31, The Military Times, www.militarytimes.com

Stavridis, J. (2020) “Here’s Why Trump Has Lost So Much Support in the Active Duty Military”

October 9, Time Magazine, www.time.com

Sutherland, P. and M. Chakrabarti (2024) “Trump’s 2025 authoritarian playbook and what it means for democracy,” February 26, WBUR Boston, www.wbur.org

Wagner, B. (2024) “Trump said he plans to declare martial law. Here’s what that would look like,” January 31, San Francisco Chronicle, www.sfchronicle.com


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