Are there actually protocols and contingencies for the extreme hypothetical situation of if our government tries to establish a dictator? Is it decided who the military sides with? What happens if the highest ranking generals are bought off? Are those below them on the hierarchy told to defect and side with the people?

closed as off-topic by user4012, SJuan76, bytebuster, Martin Tournoij, Drunk Cynic Mar 13 '18 at 22:48

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  • "Questions asking for the internal motivations of people, how specific individuals would behave in hypothetical situations or predictions for future events are off-topic, because answers would be based on speculation and their correctness could not be verified with sources available to the public." – user4012, SJuan76, bytebuster
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  • Establish a dictator via ordinary legislation alone, or with the aid of various criminal actions? – agc Mar 13 '18 at 19:54
  • Yes but it's written in legalese so nobody can understand what the rules are – user4012 Mar 13 '18 at 19:55
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    The question is U.S. specific and this issue hasn't really come up in the U.S. in practice, but in an international context there are many examples of this and how it plays out, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. – ohwilleke Mar 13 '18 at 21:45

The oath that everyone who joins the US Army swears states:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.

If the government does something so far outside the Constitution that it can't be resolved by the usual processes (such as the other branches of government's checks and balances), the army is sworn to defend the Constitution against it. In theory, this means that they would assist the other branches in removing the people involved from power, using whatever force was necessary.

How this plays out depends on who is trying to establish a dictatorship, what resources they have, and so on.

  • If the President, entirely on his own, simply refuses to step down at the end of his term, then the rest of government would just ignore them, and maybe have them forcibly evicted from the White House.
  • If they sign an executive order to have every member of Congress shot, Congress would impeach them (assuming no one carried it out).
  • If the President attempts a coup with the support of the army generals, it'd be the obligation of the lower officers to disobey any illegal commands and capture them.
  • If Congress passes laws (not amendments) to remove the position of President and transfer power to the Speaker of the House, it would be the Army's obligation to ignore the unconstitutional law.

You get the idea - the Army swears to the Constitution and the offices it creates, rather than to the people who happen to hold those offices at any point in time.

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    In practice, if things come to this, everybody will be defending (or at least claiming to be defending) the Constitution and freedom from the other side. – SJuan76 Mar 13 '18 at 20:34
  • The constitution line also appears in an oath the president and congress take. Your last line seems weird, civilians following the rules is the day to day (one aberration in 200 years, and there civilians still directed the army) way the constitution is upheld. – user9389 Mar 13 '18 at 20:49
  • The Uniform Code of Military Justice also specifically speaks to disregarding an unlawful order. See, e.g., cnn.com/2018/03/13/weather/northeast-winter-storm/index.html – ohwilleke Mar 13 '18 at 21:43
  • @notstoreboughtdirt - Is the last line clearer now? I think what I originally wrote didn't actually convey what I was thinking. – Bobson Mar 13 '18 at 22:33
  • @ohwilleke - Wrong link? That appears to be about the weather. – Bobson Mar 13 '18 at 22:33

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