President-elect Donald Trump has already committed a grave offense against our system of government by forming a "junta," according to his critics.
The Trump junta consists of three former generals who the president-elect has tapped for top national-security positions, with others still under consideration. Like much of what Trump does, the military selections have inflamed people who pride themselves on their knowledge and discernment into flights of self-discrediting outrage.
There are only a few problems with the charge Trump is creating a junta, a term associated with Latin America and which Merriam-Webster defines as "a small group, especially of military officers, that rules a country after taking power by force."
Namely, Trump didn't seize the government by force; he himself is not a general (although he went to the New York Military Academy for high school); and the three generals he has tapped for top posts are all retired and therefore civilians. (Michael Flynn will be national-security adviser, and Trump has nominated James Mattis as defense secretary and John Kelly as homeland-security secretary.)
The Trump cabinet, in other words, bears about as much resemblance to a junta as the Supreme Court does to the College of Cardinals because it has five justices who are Catholic and wear robes. To call the connection superficial is to understate how absurdly inapposite it is.
If the presence of three retired military leaders is enough to tip an otherwise duly elected, civilian-led government into quasi-military rule, we already experienced it at the outset of the Obama administration. As the Washington Examiner pointed out, President Obama had three military leaders as part of his initial team, a retired Marine general (Jim Jones as national-security adviser), Army general (Eric Shinseki at veterans affairs) and Navy admiral (Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence). The republic survived.
Worse, the United States has repeatedly had retired generals not merely as cabinet secretaries, but as commanders-in-chief, from George Washington, to Andrew Jackson, to Ulysses S. Grant, to Dwight Eisenhower. No one seriously considered their presidencies affronts to the principle of civilian rule.
None of this will dissuade the journalists and analysts who have been throwing around the "junta" charge, though. Much of the left and the press has taken Trump's election as a license to suspend rational thought. They like the delegitimizing sound of the word "junta," and that's enough for them to use it, never mind that it renders the term meaningless.
The fact is that Trump is a civilian leader who is impressed by people who once served at the top levels of the military. This is understandable, given how the stereotype of the general as the thoughtless, buzzcut warmonger is - if it ever applied - less relevant than ever. The best generals are worldly, capable and tend to be realistic about the limits of military power.
Despite the nickname "Mad Dog," which he dislikes, Gen. James Mattis is hardly Gen. Curtis LeMay, the cigar-chomping Air Force general who notoriously talked of bombing the North Vietnamese "back into the Stone Age" during the Vietnam War. Mattis is noted for his bookishness and traveling with a 6,000-book library.
It was important after his election for Trump to reach outside his inner circle (for his part, Flynn is firmly ensconced within it) to impressive public servants, and Mattis and John Kelly both fit the bill. They're more likely to be restraining influences rather than enablers. Trump has credited Mattis with changing his view of water-boarding, which Trump casually endorsed throughout the election campaign.
There are legitimate worries about how Trump will govern, but the alleged junta is more of a commentary on his detractors than on his Cabinet choices. Don't worry though. As soon as this charge is dropped, another equally over-the-top one will take its place, in this, the season of the left losing its mind.