What the Coup in Myanmar Means for American Democracy



By Eric Han


Much separates the white supremacists of America from the junta of Myanmar: language, culture, and thousands of miles of ocean, but a shared fascist proclivity closes the gap. Michael Flynn, former national security advisor of the Trump administration, agreed with calls at last year’s QAnon conference for a Myanmar-style coup in the United States. Less than a month after the January 6 insurrection, QAnon theorists took to social media to praise the Burmese military’s takeover and suggest that the coup was part of a Trump-led conspiracy to punish child sex traffickers in positions of global power. To them, the deeply undemocratic politics of Trump and post-coup Myanmar are cut from the same righteous cloth.


This affinity comes from a likeness in strategy. The insurrectionist military of Myanmar spread ethno-nationalist propaganda and false claims of election fraud on public Facebook pages as pretext to their seizure of power. Sound familiar? Social media, in its distinctive ability to disinform, is the newest essential tool for political disruption. The digital age, in this sense, has brought uniformity to the many faces of fascism. From the tactics of one, you can discern those of another.


That comparability should ring warning bells for the violent potential of the American fascist variation. The military fascists of Myanmar are responsible for the Rohingya genocide, which has displaced nearly a million refugees. The US is not invulnerable to this sort of racial violence. Alt-right populists believe that the ‘great replacement’– the influx of non-white immigrants that dilute the white voter population– justifies voter suppression and otherwise racist policy-making. Given the detention of immigrants at the southern border, frequent police killings and mass incarceration of Black Americans, and blatant Islamophobia in national surveillance, an unchecked fascist movement could inspire a similar wave of persecution in the US. Just watch this 31-large group of white supremacists “dressed like a small army” attempt to riot at a pride parade in Idaho. Or, recall the Buffalo shooter, who murdered ten people in a Black neighborhood in May and whose manifesto cites the ‘great replacement’ theory. Hear the applause that this crowd at a right-wing gathering gave to the man who asked, “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”


The fascists may have it right that American democracy is a sham (e.g. the filibuster, voter registration laws, gerrymandering, corporate lobbying, mass incarceration, the electoral college, the Supreme Court). Despite fully democratic popular support for gun control legislation, abortion rights, and single-payer healthcare, the state fails to provide, time and time again. But the fascists have no interest in repairing the system. They want to kick out the establishment and still sit in their chairs. So, when the illusion of democracy dissipates and a national consensus realizes itself to be powerless in this political climate, the fascists must not lead the charge for systemic change. Else, the American people risk a genocidal takeover of the Myanmar-variety.