On Wednesday evening, news broke that in an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had fretted in private about Donald Trump’s attempts to nullify the results of the presidential election as “a Reichstag moment.” On Thursday, the former president issued a 400-plus word statement denying that he had ever “threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government,” and pointing out that, “if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.”
Trump’s written statement, it should be said, is a literary tour de force. In addition to the claim that, had there been an NBC Apprentice for totalitarian fascists, Trump probably wouldn’t have picked Mark Milley, the former president also points out that he named Milley as chair of the Joint Chiefs in 2018 “only because the world’s most overrated general, James Mattis, could not stand him, had no respect for him, and would not recommend him.” He continued: “To me, the fact that Mattis didn’t like him, just like Obama didn’t like him and actually fired Milley, was a good thing, not a bad thing. I often act counter to people’s advice who I don’t respect.”
Given the unique voice in this statement, it is perhaps worth reading phrases like “he had no courage or skill, certainly not the type of person I would be talking ‘coup’ with. I’m not into coups!” through the lens of literary comedy or tragedy. Imagine, for instance, what other singular prose stylists might do with the bare bones of Trump’s narrative. Consider the very same statement, penned, in the form of Tom Clancy:
Sure, Mark Milley had the look of a TV general. Greying. Square jawed. Not-woke. Un-woke if anything. Tough. But also not tough. We walked together to St. John’s Church, side-by-side. Manfully. Him in uniform. Church still smoldering from a Radical Left fire the day before. Striding through the rubble, the smoking hell, a walk that was totally appropriate. You don’t say “no” to the president. But then, who knows? There’s Milley choking like a dog in front of the Fake News.
Or in the manner of Judy Blume:
Are You There God, It’s Me, Donald? I am really upset today God. Because I kind of liked Mark Milley. I mean, I mostly liked him because Jimmy Mattis, who is the most overrated boy in middle school, really could just not stand him. But also, I mean Jimmy had like no respect for Mark, but you know Barack also really didn’t like him. But you know, sometimes, God, when someone doesn’t like a guy because he isn’t cute, how that only makes you like him more? So I thought that was a good thing, and not a bad thing. I mean I am only like twelve, God. And I sometimes do the opposite of people’s advice who I don’t respect, because opposite day!
Or in the style of OJ Simpson:
If I Did It: If I did a coup, which I didn’t, it would have been by making speeches and tweeting that the election was stolen, and that people should organize Stop the Steal rallies, and that the Proud Boys should stand back and stand by, and that everyone should come to Washington DC on January 6th, and that if he was a patriot Mike Pence should certify the election for me. And then I would give a speech where I told people “we will stop the steal.” And “We fight like hell.” And “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” and I would say that “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election” and that “after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down…. To the Capitol.” But I didn’t do that. A guy named Charlie did.
Or perhaps in the form of the Second Book of Samuel:
And lo after the events at Lafayette Square, did Donald return from striking down the protestors and stayed in Washington two hours. And a general arrived and when he saw Donald, he fell to the ground to pay him honor. And Donald told him. “Walk with me to the church.” Then did Donald and Mark walk to the church. And Donald saw that it was good. And on the next day when the Fake News told the general they thought he should not have been walking with the president, which turned out to be incorrect, did Mark choke like a dog in front of the Fake News. He apologized profusely, making it a big story. And instead of saying I am proud to walk with and protect the president of the United States, Mark did not. Had he said that, it would have all been over, no big deal, and then Donald said to him thusly: “spend more time thinking about China and Russia, and less time on being politically correct.”
Or maybe in the style of Dr. Seuss:
I do not like you General Mark/
I did not like you in the park/
I did not ever do a coup/
I did not ever coup with you/
I would not could not coup with you/
Not in a park, or in a shoe/
Not wearing grey or wearing blue/
General Mark, you’re soft as goo/
I would not could not coup with you
I’ve been wracking my brain, trying—trying—to think of who Donald Trump really would have liked to do a coup with. Either way, I do not take him at his word that he’s just not that into coup.