An interesting development in American politics emerged yesterday in a book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post. Woodward, for those who don’t remember, was the journalist who revealed the Watergate break-in which brought about the resignation of Richard Nixon.
According to the book, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was so concerned that President Trump was unhinged, that he feared that the President, the Commander in Chief, would authorise a nuclear attack on China. In order to prevent the President from starting a nuclear war, Milley held a secret meeting with senior ranks of all the military and ordered them to disobey any order given by the Commander in Chief unless, he, Milley, was included in the order. It is reported that they all agreed with Milley.
But Milley was not content. In order to further isolate President Trump from his constitutional power, Milley, four days before the 2020 election and then two days after the 6 January riot, made two secret calls to his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. As reported by Fox News, “He assured Zuocheng of the stability of the American government. He also assured the Chinese general that he would contact him regarding any imminent attack from the U.S.” Much has been made of the treasonous nature of Milley’s action, if it is true, by those aligned with President Trump.
However, journalists and pundits on the left have defended Milley’s actions as justified by his honestly intended good for the nation and by their Trump derangement syndrome. Many of the left’s comments can be found here. The tweet of CNN commentator, Mark Hertling, however, is different since it justified an unelected official communicating secretly with an unfriendly power as some sort of ‘guardrail’ protecting the nation from Trump: “Gen. Milley took some very prudent measures … What he did was ensure the guardrails were in place. So I give him high marks for this based on what’s described in the book.”
Notice how this left-wing journalist is quite prepared to see appointed officials interfere with the powers entrusted under the Constitution only to an elected office.
Those who are old enough to remember the Australian political events of 11 November 1975, will recall how the dismissal of an elected government by an appointed Governor-General was similarly justified by right-wing commentators in Australia. While the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, thought his dismissal power was a royal power in reserve, an argument supported by then High Court Justice Anthony Mason, and High Court Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick thought the dismissal power a constitutional or legal power, all of them argued that the appointed Governor-General when he imagined a crisis, could seize power from the House of Representatives which has the power to appoint the government, and install a government favourable to his point of view.
It’s worth noting that regarding the events of 1975, support for the Governor-General’s actions came from the right not the left which suggests that the idiocy of absolute power residing in an unelected official can be found in both the right and left-wing flanks. It is the middle class who support democracy. Those who would seize absolute power, even for a minute are not friends of democracy.
And be assured, the democratic men who drafted our Constitution expressly denied that any dismissal power existed at all.
Dr David Long is a retired solicitor and economist.
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