Alan Zendell, February 1, 2021
Today’s military coup in Myanmar is a warning to Senate Republicans eager to avoid going on record convicting former President Trump of insurrection. Myanmar has been at war with itself since its independence from Britain in 1948. Its economy is terrible, its people largely in poverty. Until 2012, Myanmar lived under military rule for fifty years amid constant resistance from pro-democracy groups.
Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s stunning victories in 2012 and 2015 achieved majority control of both houses of Myanmar’s Parliament, seemingly overturning the autocratic military government in power since 1962. If this were a fairy tale, the country’s economy would have flourished, and everyone would have lived happily ever after. But the reality was that Myanmar’s society was fractured, and ceaseless gridlock, turmoil, and political assassinations prevented progress, resulting in today’s detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and a declaration of national emergency by the military.
There is little resemblance between the United States and Myanmar. American military leaders consistently denounce taking sides politically, and while the pandemic has ravaged our economy, its structural integrity remains intact. Unlike India, which achieved independence from Britain at the same time as Myanmar, the latter was never able to achieve economic or political stability, making it easy prey for a military takeover. That couldn’t happen here, could it?
Anti-democratic forces in the United States represent a small percentage of the population. After months of concerted lies and misinformation by right-wing media and conspiracy-oriented websites, recent polls show that only one in six Americans believe there is any reason to question the election of President Biden, but every elections has sore losers. The military dictatorship that ruled Myanmar for decades also represented only a small faction of its population, but they controlled all the weapons. Myanmar’s experiment in democracy never had a chance.
Myanmar proves that unchecked, a small minority of motivated, heavily armed people have the power to subvert the will of the majority. Despite our different situations, the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th and the violent protests at a number of state capitals are ominous warnings. The American system is strong enough to hold off the forces of anarchy and autocracy, but that strength depends on the courage and integrity of our elected leaders.
Forty-five out of one hundred Senators (all Republicans) are on record in a procedural vote declaring the second impeachment of Donald Trump unconstitutional. The merits of that argument are moot; the significance of the vote is their fear of Trump as a political strongman despite what every Senator knows is true. The entire country saw Trump incite an attempted coup. That’s what it was no matter how some people try to mitigate or sugarcoat it. Yet 45% of our Senate either does not believe that warrants a conviction or lacks the courage to act because it threatens their political futures.
That kind of cowardice in our leaders cannot be tolerated. Myanmar tried for eight years to establish a democracy supported by 80% of its people, but failure to suppress or bring the opposition into the fold resulted in today’s coup. The issue in America today is that Trump has hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a PAC whose purpose is to disrupt and oppose the Biden administration and keep Trump’s base angry and believing they’ve been robbed and disenfranchised. As usual, what’s best for the country isn’t part of his agenda.
Is it necessary to convict Trump in an impeachment trial? There’s a compromise effort underway to censure him instead and follow that by a simple majority vote to prohibit him from ever holding federal office again. Isn’t that really the goal? An impeachment conviction would be entirely symbolic, its only purpose in the Constitution being to remove a president from office. Censure and prohibition can be accomplished quickly and painlessly, and would allow the new President to get on with essential business.
Every Executive Order and legislative proposal put forth by President Biden has the overwhelming support of the American people. Opposition comes from right-wing groups and those who remain beholden to billionaires who oppose all federal spending even after having their own net worth increase by over a trillion dollars as a result of the 2017 tax law.
If our elected Senators remain true to their oaths, Trump’s efforts will be irrelevant. Only their inaction, brought on by fear of a small militant base offer Trump any chance of success. A block of Senators who hold power far out of proportion to the number of people they represent are the greatest threat to our future security and prosperity. As the last line of defense of our democracy, it falls to us, the voters, to prevent that and purge Congress of people who support insurrection. Make sure they know they will be held accountable if they fail to act responsibly.