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The coup’s climax

January 7, 2021

Trump’s coup attempt did not begin yesterday. It began with his lies about the election. Those set up his subsequent acts and directed his base to the cause. That linked article is from late November. Demanding that Pence reject the results of the electoral college and instigating a riot at the capitol during the confirmation process are just his latest moves. 

As I wrote three weeks past, I expect the coup to fail. The worrisome thing is that Trump has come so close. I frequently hear TV pundits say that Pence “cannot” do what Trump wants. Which is a bit silly. Someone handed an envelope can do most anything they want with it, and say anything while doing so. It’s true that the law requires Pence to act in a specific fashion, as he explains in his letter to Congress. But the law is just more words on paper, taking meaning only through the actions of those responsible for upholding it. One of the common things that happens in a coup is that its participants re-interpret those words for their own benefit. Trump is failing because he went into his coup without adequate preparation, without the right confederates where he needed them. How would things have played out differently if he had just a few more committed allies in key positions? A VP who would do his will, and some state officials who would “find” the votes he demanded? Had he been more savvy, could he have cultivated or placed such confederates in the months preceding the election?

The populist movement Trump rode to power wanted their strong man, their Franco, their Mussolini. Instead, they chose as their champion a reality TV celebrity playing at that. Someone who went to commit a coup without planning adequately. Someone who blunders into rash acts rather than preparing and then pulling the trigger. Next time, they might get someone who is a better fit, someone more vicious and with more political skill. That movement was there before Trump, and will be there after. It ultimately is responsible for this ugly turn in US politics. Those in it don’t need to run away from Trump. They need to run away from their pundits and their media and their conspiracy theories. You get no credit for saying you don’t support the rioters who stormed the Capitol today, unless you first condemn the lie on which they acted, that the election was stolen. Romney is quite right to point the finger at his fellow Republicans who went along with that lie while it was the convenient thing to do.

There have been a few resignations from White House staff. They are late. And if they try to pretend that Trump’s behavior yesterday was unexpected, they are dishonest. Trump came to power and wielded it by weaponizing lies and conspiracy theories. Those are the life blood of the movement he rode to power. What he did yesterday was just a continuation of what he has done since first running for office. There is no surprise here. When you go to serve a pathological liar, a conman, a would-be cult leader, eventually you get bit. Trying to move away at that point is much like rethinking a leopard as a pet, after it chews off your leg. Yes, Congress should have impeached and convicted Trump last night. But the Senate should have convicted when he first was impeached. Yes, Pence should assume power through the 25th amendment. Though normally not useful for removing a willful president, it works for that in the last twenty days of a president’s term.

Photo shows Robert Cobb Kennedy, who was executed for a terrorist attack on New York City during the Civil War. One of the redhats yesterday carried his flag in the Capitol.

Thank you, Georgia, and a tremendous thank you to Stacey Abrams:

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