“Coup” A Short Story by Umar Lee

General Sam Berrios stood out among his military peers. Raised in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan by a single Jewish mother Sam had been immersed in civic-engagement and politics from a young age. His mother Sarah Stern, while Jewish, was also in fact an atheist, who believed in the traditional Jewish values of “healing the world.” In college she had joined a campus socialist organization and then traveled throughout many different groups on the left after getting into it with members of a particular group or having some philosophical differences.  In the late sixties she was involved with Students for a Democratic Society and learned to speak Vietnamese and dated a Vietnamese man ( who ironically didn’t share any of her political sensibilities). In the seventies Sarah joined the Socialist Workers Party and became an activist regarding American intervention in Latin America travelling to Chile, Argentina and Nicaragua. At this time she learned to speak Spanish and began dating a Puerto Rican man from Bushwick Brooklyn by the name of Alfredo Berrios. Alfredo was Sam’s father although he hadn’t saw his son more than a handful of times since Sam was a toddler.

Sarah would go on to date a Salvadoran while active in the politics of Central America ( who would molest Sam), several African-Americans during her fight against police-brutality, another Puerto Rican as she traveled to Vieques in support of the closing of an American naval base, and married an Iraqi she met after 9-11 while protesting the Iraq War and Islamophobia. Still an atheist Sarah converted to Islam and now wore a hijab like a traditional Muslim woman while campaigning for gender-equality and gay-rights at the mosque. Just as the leftists of her youth believed getting jobs beneath their qualification level was a good way to get a foot in the door of labor-unions they could influence Sarah now believed converting to Islam now gave her the best opportunities for her activism.

Who Sam was came from his mother. Watching her engage in direct actions against foreign dictators as they traveled to the United Nations to speak, travelling with her as she protested against Lt. Colonel Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings, and her steadfast involvement in a lot of local New York City issues.

When Sam graduated from high school in 1991 he wanted to do something different. His mother had insisted he go to public school and this meant he was getting picked on for being a “fag” and a “nerd” by the African-American and Latino kids at his school. As a form of rebellion Sam would hang out on the Upper East Side with the children of snobs and Wall Street types. Most of them Republicans. His mother hated his friends.

One day while visiting a boyfriend on Brooklyn he got off the Boro Hall subway station in Brooklyn and saw two Army recruiters. The rest was history. Why should poor white kids, those in the South and Midwest, blacks and Latinos be the only ones to serve? Sam enlisted enraging his mother who had raised him on the horrors of the military-industrial complex. Sarah wept for days and even had to be hospitalized for depression. She organized a group of friends to come and try and talk some sense into Sam. He would hear none of it.

Sam attended the State University of New York in Buffalo after basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and was a young officer by the time the second Iraq War came around. Believing on modern-warfare Sam had been against a heavy footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan and favored a reliance on special-forces, drone strikes and the CIA. Growing up in the anti-war movement and being a student of history Sam knew Americans were never concerned about civilian casualties on the other side: but even a few casualties on the American side could make a war unpopular and politically unsustainable.

As Iraq was winding down people who thought like Sam became more and more popular. President Barack Obama was not like George W. Bush. Yes Obama believed in a strong military, had liberal-interventionist advisers, and wanted to sustain American global dominance. Obama just didn’t like protracted military engagements seeing himself how hard it was to wind down Iraq and Afghanistan. Now stationed at the Pentagon Sam had met Obama at a meeting early in his presidency and had gotten the president’s ear. When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed Sam was at a White House dinner celebrating the repeal. When the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional Sam married his Iranian-American partner Ali at the White House.

Despite the deep fondness Obama had for Sam he was actually a Republican deeply influenced by neo-conservative writers and thinkers such as Irving Kristol, Norm Podhoretz, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, David Frum, David Brooks, and others. Socialism, Sam knew, was a failed economic system that was incapable of creating prosperity. Everyone would be equal. Yes, equally poor like Cuba. Liberals failed to grasp the uniqueness of America and the global responsibility to lead- sometimes with force. His own Jewish mother despised Israel as a “Zionist apartheid settler-state” while Sam saw it as a “bastion of Western Civilization in an ocean of darkness”. While his mother railed against gentrification in Manhattan Sam saw market forces at work. He now felt safe in New York and a great city was now a home to great people representing the elites from across American and indeed the world. Growing up Brooklyn had been a dangerous place for Sam to visit. Now it was full of young ( or youthful) creative whites mostly from other cities and instead of dangerous Sam found Brooklyn to be a great adventure. Being a neo-con, and not an old-fashioned conservative, Sam knew it had been a combination of rising housing prices and government intervention by Republican mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg that had led to this gentrification. African-Americans complained and mourned the loss of historic black neighborhoods such as Harlem and Bed-Stuy to wealthy liberal whites, and talked of a “reverse-migration” back to the South.

For Sam it was the whiter New York the better. The “hip” white neighborhoods were LGBTQ friendly and were full of the kind of fancy coffee shops, restaurants, and bars he liked to hang out in. Blacks and Latinos brought crack, danger, fried chicken joints, inauthentic Chinese restaurants, low quality pizza, and bodegas selling junk food.

Technically Sam was Latino while under Jewish law he was considered Jewish as he was born to a Jewish mother. Sam felt more white than Jewish. He definitely never felt Latino.  It was while drinking at a bar in Tampa, Florida with an old white colonel Sam began to think differently.

“Look son I grew up in Alabama. In America you can’t get away from race. Some people know the right things to say and now how to clean it up a little bit and all that sure. At the end of the day though this country is about race. It can be to your disadvantage and it can be to your advantage. Look at Obama. Shit he had never met more than a handful of African-Americans in his life until he went to college. He came from a white family. Went to expensive white schools. Lived around whites and Asians. Obama’s mind is thoroughly white. When he got to Chicago and tried to run for office a real black man, an old Black Panther, named Bobby Rush kicked Obama’s ass and his supporters called Obama a whiteboy backed by Jewish money. Obama and his wife knew he had to get blacker and that’s when he started attending that black church. It wasn’t because Obama had a great love for blacks. Sure he had an interest and he had been reading and studying race for years but that wasn’t it. Obama knew he needed blacks to get elected and they could be a base of support. He had to black it up. Well you Sam you don’t speak Spanish. You gotta freakin learn. The military is looking to promote Latinos. More and more of our recruits are Latinos. You fit the bill son. The anti-gay stuff will fade with time. That’s the direction the country is headed and a high-profile gay officer will be good for image.” The old redneck colonel sad his face reddened with the consumption of beer.

When Sam was promoted at such a young age over so many other much more qualified generals President Obama introduced him as the “first openly gay male general and our first Latino Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff”.  Obama knew he could score points for the Democratic Party by checking off the Latino and gay box: but the real reason he promoted Sam was they saw together eye to eye on military matters and had similar family backgrounds. The two men identified with one another. Leftist mothers, absent fathers, the development of mature political philosophies in college, and the bi-racial identity.

Sam had oversaw the arrest and capture of Edward Snowden in Venezuela. After the Congressional hearings on the National Security Agency monitoring program, which were just for political theater anyway,  Sam had a major hand in organizing the transfer of the program to the Pentagon and was a major supporter of it. In other matters the two men saw eye to eye as well including their shared enthusiasm for drones.

With the 2016 Presidential elections months away President Obama had consulted with Sam while the two men were both in Cairo visiting President Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei had first been installed by the Egyptian military-junta that had overthrown the democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2014 President ElBaradei had been elected with less than 20% of Egyptians in the elections because most parties and candidates were banned from running by the military ( who had written the new constitution with the help of American, British and Israeli experts in the field of law).  With unemployment at an all time high, corruption out of control, more than 200,000 political prisoners in prison, and more than 100,000 dead from political-violence, and the generals amassing billions of dollars in wealth, ElBaradei was seeking an American aid package to end the civil-strife.

“The people are in the streets. The Islamists are on the rise. They are calling for free and fair elections. We all know what happened last time. Can we agree we don’t want that again?” ElBaradei asked.

“Absolutely. We can all agree we don’t want the return of democracy.” Obama said nodding his head.

“If I may intervene.” Sam said.

“By all means.” ElBaradei responded.

“I agree with both of you. Egypt is not ready for a true democracy and a dictatorship is better than the Muslim Brotherhood. Absolutely. Our support is crucial using our technology to track Islamists phone calls and emails and drone strikes when needed. You gotta do your part though. You got what? Two or three billion in wealth? The generals another fifty or so? You gotta spread the wealth. Throw some bones to the people. Stimulate the economy. When you get economic growth and people living good they won’t be in the streets or calling for democracy. Look at China.” Sam said.

“Yes, we are working on that.” A fidgeting ElBaredei said.

“You cooperation in closing the Gaza crossings and tunnels has been most useful. Major factor in leading to the civil-war in Gaza. They are so busy fighting among themselves they have no time to fight the Israelis.” Obama said.

“Yes, anything we can do to help, as I just told the Israelis on my last visit. What about your situation in America? Are you really going to let Rand Paul become president? He is an American version of Morsi. Will bring “illiberal democracy”.” ElBardei said.

“We are trying our best to see he does not win. These elections are tough though. America isn’t Egypt. We can’t just ban parties and candidates by military edict.” Obama said with a smirk on his face.

Later that night Obama and Sam enjoyed a glass of wine and talked about the November election. A series of campaign gaffes had led to the vanishing of Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls. Rand Paul was now in the lead and promising to end the surveillance programs started by Bush and Obama, work to repeal the Patriot Act, bring American troops home, stop the drones campaign and end aid to Israel and Egypt. On the domestic front he promised massive tax-cuts, smaller government, the repeal of Obamacare, privatizing social security, and scaling back the government’s role in civil-rights issues.

While ahead in the polls Paul was dogged by the chattering classes and media-elites. Anderson Cooper on CNN grilled him for being weak on gay-rights and when it was discovered he once used the word “fag” in college it led to several days of non-stop media coverage on the issue culminating with Paul going on 60 Minutes to apologize. A gay-rights activist poured a bucket of pink paint on Paul as he left the CBS studios. As soon as that scandal was over it was discovered his wife had a cookbook by Paula Deen in her kitchen. That led to the Rev. Al Sharpton camping out in front of the Paul home for a week leading a rally of thousands and broadcasting his MSNBC show from there. Paul had to go on a “tour of black America” with Jesse Jackson and drop about $500,000 to ease that scandal. The next scandal occurred when Paul told Bill Maher he believed in a literal Heaven and Hell and Maher twisted his words to say only Christians were going to Heaven. This led to protests by atheists, Jews, liberal Muslims, and others at Paul events. Paul visited synagogues and mosques to ease that controversy.

To make matters better Paul agreed to a prime-time interview with David Gregory on NBC. This created another scandal when Paul said he had never been to a Broadway show or an art museum. This led to a cover story in the New Yorker “Can We Live With Paul: An Egyptian Option.”. The basic argument was American democracy had evolved. When this country was in the early stages only wealthy white landowners could vote. Eventually all white men could vote. Then African-Americans could vote and then women.  The American voting franchise had expanded really until the 2013 court-ruling scaling back the voting rights provisions of the civil-rights act. The New Yorker article argued democracy should be tolerant of everything except “intolerance” and painted Paul as being similar to ex Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and an intolerant religious-fundamentalist. In an effort to preserve a liberal democracy the state had the right to prevent illiberal figures from taking office even by extra- constitutional moves. After all a consensus had developed since the Snowden leak America was living in a “post constitutional era” and the media-elites and chattering classes had formed a supportive consensus that the loss of privacy and civil-liberties and increased  use of drones at home.

In Manhattan, DC, Hollywood, or San Francisco saying you were voting for Paul could get you kicked out of a party. Chris Matthews said on his show “when I think of this guy anger just shoots up me leg”. Day after day the media railed against Paul. Still he led in the polls.

Sam and his hubby Ali had got their own reality TV show on the Bravo Network and it was a hit. The show was named “The Fab Gen and Ali”. It followed the home life of the couple and their three children. One boy imported from a Cambodian orphanage, another boy from Burundi, and another boy from Colombia.  Oprah was such a fan of Sam she started a weekly TV show with the two of them interviewing popular figures in American life and discussing current issues.

It was on the show with Oprah that Sam first discussed the Egyptian Model in public.

“Some may ask do we really want to go from President Barack Obama, the man who gave us gay-rights and a path to a Green America, our first African-American president, to a man with a troubled history on matters of race and civil-rights? A man who at the same time has stated he will make things easy on the terrorists by scaling back the Bush-Obama policies? Obama represents a New America. The America of Paul has come and gone. They had their day.” Sam said on the air.

This took the national conversation to the next level. The Egyptian Model was discussed almost daily on NPR ( who had a special hard-on for Paul after he said he would cut all funding to the Cooperation for Public Broadcasting). Many on MSNBC, CNN and in the major dailies got on board with the Egyptian Model.

The day before the election, with Paul holding a double-digit lead in the polls, Obama called Sam in for a meeting.

“Do you think it is really possible? Will the American people accept it?” Obama asked.

“They accepted drones, the NSA, and the Patriot Act, why would they start caring now? Sure a small minority will: but if we are truly following the Egyptian Model we can just lock up the troublemakers and close hostile media outlets. You are talking about 500,000 people at most. We have more than enough capacity we can easily house that many people in our prisons.” Sam said.

“If Egypt can do it surely we can do it.” Obama nodded in agreement.

That afternoon President Obama addressed the American public from the Oval Office informing them of his decision. Meanwhile Sam began a purge of the Pentagon of conservatives and a similar effort was going on at the Justice Department. A coordinated effort squashed the protests around the country and by Tuesday Paul and 20,000 of his supporters were in jail.

Outside of a few dissenting voices the American media was in agreement. Praising Obama for being visionary and Sam as a George Washington like military figure. Liberal democracy had been saved. Fundamentalism and extremism defeated. President ElBaredei called Obama to congratulate him on his actions. General Sisi of Egypt called Sam to congratulate him. Hillary Clinton was not happy though. Obama decided if he was going to suspend the Constitution he might as well just stay in office himself.

(BTW, before I get it, I am not a supporter of Rand Paul)

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