In this highly controversial time, some Democrats are suggsting that Trump might use the power the military to retain power, and that this would constitute a military coup, and that Trump's appointment of new civilian leaders of the Pentagon is a staging post on the road to this.

Some people suggest that this wouldn't be possible, because civilian leaders can't just issue any order to military generals and expect it to be complied with.

My question is, can the DoD officials simply sack the generals and replace them with other generals who would be more co-operative? Or is there a more complex process than this?

  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because while it contains the core of a good question I don't have the energy to clean up the partisan attack language.
    – Jontia
    Nov 13, 2020 at 22:30
  • 3
    @Jontia a very good point. Sorry, I was tired when I wrote it. I have re-written it to make it ideologically-neutral Nov 13, 2020 at 22:49
  • @SurpriseDog I honestly wouldn't discount the possibility at this point in time. Except that I doubt he's clever enough to pull it off. His entire Presidency has been a series of missed opportunities (from his supporters' perspective). Witness how the alt-Right has abandoned him. Nov 14, 2020 at 1:06
  • 2
    @SurpriseDog I agree that a military coup is almost certainly not going to happen - at least this time around. But to say this is no big deal is hopelessly naive. He is saying, flat out, that he’s the winner, that will remain president, and that the democratic process is illegitimate. And every Republican in office agrees with him! There’s no one giving more than the most mealy-mouthed disapproval of this rejection of the most basic principle of democracy
    – divibisan
    Nov 14, 2020 at 1:35
  • 1
    @SurpriseDog why would it be the end of it? Is Roe vs Wade over? Obergefell v Hodges? Obamacare?
    – Jontia
    Nov 14, 2020 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


The Commander in Chief can discharge anyone in the army for reasons such as "unsuitability". But the President can only appoint Generals with the advice and consent of the Senate. By law, he can only appoint suitably qualified candidates (ie serving senior military officers) except at a time of war. This makes it difficult for the President to simply fire all the Generals and put "yes-men" in their places.

Perhaps it is worth noting that the military oath is to the constitution, not to the President. Soldiers swear to obey the commands of the President "according to the regulations". So illegal or unconstitutional commands are still illegal and must not be obeyed.

  • 6
    In fact, soldiers have a duty not to obey illegal orders, which is rather different from having an option not to obey them as stated here. In other words, the last sentence should read "...must not be obeyed."
    – phoog
    Nov 13, 2020 at 20:38
  • 4
    Most US military members wouldn't know an illegal/unconstitutional order if it hit them in the face. The number of them that have actually read the constitution is probably less than 1%. The good news is, whatever that number is, its probably an order of magnitude higher than the percentage of american citizens that have read that doc.
    – john doe
    Nov 13, 2020 at 21:40
  • 2
    @JamesK In common usage, both "Could care less" and "Couldn't care less" mean the same thing, at least in the US
    – divibisan
    Nov 13, 2020 at 21:58
  • 1
    I never knew that! That makes no sense to me...but I know language isn't logical. That is not just illogical it is "head over heels" counterfactual... Oh well. I'm pretty sure that in the UK it is always "couldn't care less"
    – James K
    Nov 13, 2020 at 22:12
  • 2
    Could he simply sack generals without replacing them, until he reached someone low enough down the command chain who would obey his orders? Nov 13, 2020 at 22:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .