By Kirk Nielsen
(First published in Poder, September 2009)
It’s June 2020. President John McCain, who’s grown a big mustache and taken to wearing a white cowboy hat wherever he goes, is nearing the end of his second term. Suddenly, he shocks Americans with an executive order for a nationwide referendum later in the month. Apparently he wants to amend the Constitution. Why? Nobody seems to know. Confusion reigns. Even the nation’s finest newspapers can’t explain McCain’s intentions. Reporters and editors satisfy themselves with the story line proffered by his critics: He wants to stay in office forever, just like Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
The ballot for the “opinion poll,” as McCain likes to call it, has this single question: “Do you believe that in the 2020 general election the people should decide whether to convoke a national constitutional assembly?”
In other words, the mustachioed maverick is trying to hold a referendum in June on whether to hold a referendum in November. He says it all has to do with helping the poor. But what’s the darn connection between poverty and changing the Constitution? He must be mad.
U.S. Attorney General Charlie Crist and House Speaker Mike Pence, the Christian conservative from eastern Indiana, denounce their fellow Republican’s scheme as a cockamamie socialist plot. The Supreme Court says it’s illegal: The Constitution authorizes Congress, not presidents, to propose constitutional reforms.
But McCain persists. He orders the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David Petraeus, to deploy ballot boxes. (Army troops have done so since the 2012 general election, when Barack Obama’s reelection loss sparked widespread rioting.) Patraeus refuses to comply, though. McCain fires him.
Crist charges McCain with treason and other crimes. Then, for the first time in American history, U.S. military forces arrest a sitting U.S. president. Actually he is lying down when soldiers roust him from his White House bed in the early morning of referendum day. They deport him to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Congress members unanimously approve the expulsion, overlooking minor provisions in the Constitution about due process, impeachment trials, and such.
They do follow the letter of the 25th Amendment, which says the vice president succeeds a president who is unable to fulfill his duties. Sarah Palin had resigned from her v.p. job a year earlier to focus on running for president, and Congress never ratified her replacement, ex-governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. (Too liberal.) So House Speaker Pence is sworn in, rising from third-ranking Republican in 2009 to the Oval Office in just 11 years.
The United Nations condemns the coup and convinces Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias to mediate. McCain accepts a proposal to receive immunity, serve out his term, and drop his amendment scheme. The general election (Palin versus Al Gore) would occur a month earlier, to hasten America’s return to electoral democracy. The generals, justices, and Congress members who conspired to deport McCain would also receive immunity.
But President Pence declines and presents a counteroffer: McCain can return to Washington—to go to jail. Echoing the words of numerous GOP leaders and pundits, Pence declares: “Let me be clear on this point. This was not a military coup as has been widely reported by the international press. Americans saw a growing threat to their democracy and took action to defend it, in order to preserve the rule of law.”(1)
Of course, preserving the rule of law sometimes requires breaking it, as a military lawyer confirms in a shocking interview with The Miami Herald. “In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime,” the military lawyer admits, then quickly adds: “There is going to be a justification and cause for acquittal that will protect us.”(2)
(1) Pence delivered similar remarks to the Republican-led Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute on 7/20/09 in Washington, D.C. with regard to the June 28 overthrow of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. (2) See “Top Honduran military lawyer: We broke the law,” Miami Herald, 7/3/09.