The Coup in Washington


Twelve men (well, maybe, toss in a woman) will decide how about $1.4 trillion is to be slashed from Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.  Perhaps, there’ll be a bit of symbolic fat cut from the Pentagon as well.  Said recommendations to be voted up or down by the US Congress? With the possibility of zero amendments?  None.  Nada.  And even the political maneuver of a filibuster tossed out?

So that old, antiquated – and often inconvenient – legislative body, the US Congress, made of elected officials (albeit elected in a very flawed manner) is to be pushed aside.  To be nullified.

Said legislative body just voted to destroy itself.

That is a coup.  Albeit it’s not a military coup, but the word ‘coup’ does not require military tanks in the streets or troops swarming onto Capitol Hill.

Sure the US Congress had its deep failings, including plenty of Senators and Congressmen and women owned lock-stock-and-barrel by powerful corporate interests, including an excess of ill-informed, bullying and posturing members, including committee meetings routinely held behind-closed-doors.  Not to mention many extraordinarily cowardly Senators and Congressmen who would rather not have to take the political heat of their decisions.  Yet, for all its failings, the US Congress was at least a stab at democracy. Was.

Let’s get this straight right now.  This isn’t just a Committee.  This isn’t a Special Joint Commission.  This isn’t the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

In 2010 a few Democrats took alarm at President Obama’s then recently appointed Simpson-Bowles Deficit Committee.  The critics feared that the Committee’s findings would necessitate large segments of the US population being reduced to eating cat food.  Thus, the moniker, the Catfood Commission.

It was a nice twist on the old phrase of the rich princess (apocryphally Marie Antoinette) confronted by starving peasants, saying, condescendingly, “Let them eat cake.”  Yes, let them – particularly the vulnerable, the old, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled — eat the equivalent of cat food.  In fact, perhaps, actually consume cat food.  Yes, to get right down to brass tacks, let them eat bits of rendered animals, road kill and ash.

Already commentators on the Left are renaming the latest version, the Catfood Commission on Steroids.

Still in a spirit of levity one could rename the former Catfood Commission, the Mincemeat Commission.  (There was always a problem with the phrase, Catfood Commission.  Too many people in the US are ardent pet lovers and might actually think there is a commission appointed to study and regulate the ingredients of Kitty’s supper.)

The Mincement Commission on Steroids.

It’s called making mincemeat of the US Constitution, the US Congress, the legislative process, the electoral process. It’s putting accountability and transparency through a meat grinder – and what comes out the other end?  Shattered lives, a plummeting economy and a democracy in name only.

Is levity appropriate at this moment?

This is not shooting oneself in the foot.  This is not just some temporary, weird Tea Party madness.  This isn’t just President Obama trying to push his agenda through Congress.  This isn’t just a committee with a fancy name.  Or a funny name.  This isn’t as it was recently described in the New York Times a “New Budget Panel.”  This isn’t a slightly bothersome mosquito that will “erode authority” (another Times quote) in the US Congress.

This is a coup.

There’s even a name for this particular type of coup.  A “self-coup.”  A duly constituted government assumes extra-constitutional powers and votes to circumvent the power, the messiness, the insight, the silliness, the saneness, the inanity, the wisdom of an elected body that supposedly writes the laws of the land.

A coup.

One of those nasty, totally undemocratic events.  Events the US has, for decades, carefully directly engineered in country after country, sometimes with up-front, military intervention, sometimes through covert action and behind-the-scenes deployment of CIA assets, sometimes with adroit political maneuvering – and lots of money poured into the right places.  Whether it was Guatemala, Panama, Iraq, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, and dozens of other countries, the US government has plenty of experience with subverting democracy.

It was bound to come home to haunt us.  It has.

The question is, in these dog days, these “too hot to fish” days of August with the wealthy in the Hamptons, much of the country simply disgusted by the recent posturing in Congress and the unemployed looking for increasingly scarce work, who is going to protest?  Who is going to resist?

And how?

This is a question we absolutely must tackle.  We can’t afford not to.

Mina Hamilton served on the Board of Directors of Greenpeace, USA. She was a co-founder and co-director of the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign and President of the Delaware Valley Conservation Association. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones magazine, the Progressive, the Nation and is a frequent contributor to She lives in Western Massachusetts. Read other articles by Mina.