Two of the three power ministries are being subordinated to the president’s personal and political interests. Under Barr, the Justice Department ignores traditional rules aimed at shielding prosecutors from political manipulation. So far these departures from the norm have been used to aid the president’s friends, though nothing prevents them from being used to persecute the president’s enemies. Meanwhile, the FBI is under attack for disloyalty to the president and may undergo a purge of those deemed unwilling to support the president’s personal and political agenda. The CIA faces similar pressures. All of this is occurring without obstruction from Congress and is actually aided by the Republican majority in the Senate. Whether the courts will or can contain the president remains to be seen. It is doubtful that the highly politicized Supreme Court would intervene in the president’s management of the executive branch, and the court is traditionally reluctant to intervene when a president says national security is at stake, whether or not the claim is legitimate.
That leaves the military, the third power ministry. Let’s stipulate that the military remains as wedded as ever to the tradition of political abstention, that military leaders have no desire to involve themselves in whatever schemes Trump might have for winning reelection or any action he might try to take should he lose. But what is the military leadership to do when a duly elected president gives it a plausibly legal order to deploy in the United States? And what if that order comes after a contested election that the president has declared “rigged,” due to alleged foreign meddling or some alleged domestic fraud? When protesters gather in the streets, and the “law and order” president orders the military to move against that “insurrection” and “domestic terror,” will the fate of our democratic experiment depend on the military refusing to obey?