Fascism creep: Laughing away coup incompetence while smarter, future fascists study and learn

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Even though the “boiling frog” analogy isn’t factually true, Trump and company’s slow-motion coup attempt provides a road map for a more competent effort down the line. The acquiescence and complicity of Trump’s GOP enablers is no accident.

Back on November 9, an anonymous Republican source told the Washington Post:

“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” said one senior Republican official.

A new piece in The Atlantic by Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina and a native of Turkey where coups occurr at sporadic intervals, lays out the consequences and future possibilities of a coup occurring in the United States, albeit in more “competent” hands than Trump and Rudy Giuliani.

Her writing is not alarmist, but, rather, a detailed breakdown of how such events could come to pass, given Republicans’ increasing reliance on an ever-shrinking minority of voters to retain power.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece. What follows are excerpts.

Tufekci highlights the importance of calling what is happening what it is: a coup. But she notes that in the U.S., our language is not precise enough to highlight what type of coup it is, and, thus, the discussion among pundits devolves into an argument over words rather than a recognition of events.

In political science, the term coup refers to the illegitimate overthrow of a sitting government—usually through violence or the threat of violence. The technical term for attempting to stay in power illegitimately—such as after losing an election—is self-coup or autocoup—sometimes autogolpe.

Part of the problem is that we haven’t developed linguistic precision to put a name to it all—not just to what’s been happening since November, but to the processes within which it’s embedded. That’s dangerous, because language is a tool of survival.

In Turkish, we do have many different words for different types of coups, because our experience similarly demands it. For example, coups that are attempted through threatening letters from the military are called memorandum coups. A 2007 attempt is commonly referred to as the “e-coup” because the threatening letter from the military was first posted on the internet. (The one before that, in 1997, is often referred to as a “postmodern” or “soft” coup.) We know the difference between military coups that start from the top and follow the military chain of command and those that do not. The term autogolpe comes from the Spanish partly because there have been so many such attempts in Latin America.

The U.S. president is trying to steal the election, and, crucially, his party either tacitly approves or is pretending not to see it. This is a particularly dangerous combination, and makes it much more than just typical Trumpian bluster or norm shattering.

Tufekci highlights the complicit silence of Republican leadership:

With just a few notable exceptions, Republican officials have met Trump’s lies with a combination of tacit approval, pretending not to notice it, or forbearance. In a recent survey, an alarming 222 Republicans in the House and the Senate—88 percent—refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the presidency. Another two insisted Trump won.

What is it that the Republican leadership is hoping will pass without too much comment, solved by the ticking down of the transition clock?

Let’s run through it—and this is not even all of it. Every day adds more.

She then lists relevant actions that have been taken by Trump and his troops since the election, including:

  • Trump’s repeated claim that the election was “stolen.”
  • Calls by Trump and allies to have state legislators overturn the will of the voters in numerous states.
  • Trump and his lawyers’ pleas for federal judges, including the Supreme Court, to disenfranchise voters, particularly minority voters in cities, noting that many of these judges were appointed by Trump and approved by the GOP-majority Senate.
  • Trump urging his followers to threaten those who stand against him, including Republican officials.
  • The president’s personal intervention in the process (Wayne County canvassers and GOP state legislative leaders).
  • Trump’s incitements to violence.
  • Calls by Michael Flynn and others to suspend the Constitution and implement martial law.
  • Trump’s firing of Chris Krebbs and others in key government positions who offered resistance to his “stolen election” narrative.
  • Direct physical threats to officials by Trump lawyer Joseph DiGenova and others.
  • Trump’s pre-election pressure on USAG Bill Barr and DOJ to investigate his political rival’s son (including the Ukraine phone call that got Trump impeached).

Tufekci links these actions directly to Republican minority rule, the gerrymandering that makes it possible, and the implications for future coup attempts in more “able” hands. There are too many excellent points for me to highlight all of them here which is I why I encourage you to read the whole piece, but I thought these points were critical.

What makes this moment deeply alarming—and makes Republicans’ overwhelming silence and tacit approval deeply dangerous, rather than merely an attempt to run out the clock on the president’s clownish behavior—is that Trump’s attempt to steal this election builds on a process that has already entrenched minority rule around the country.

When voters try to contest gerrymanders or power grabs, many of the cases end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, where lifetime appointments are made by the president but approved by the Senate. The Senate is so lopsided right now that 26 states containing just 17 percent of the U.S. population elect a majority of senators—the smallest that proportion has ever been. That’s the people in the smallest 26 states. The Republican Party’s Senate majority in recent years has rested on its strength in these rural states.

Today, the United States has a House filled with gerrymandered districts, a Senate dramatically tilted toward rural states, some state legislatures controlled by electoral minorities or slim majorities who get to exercise power as if they were overwhelming, and a Supreme Court with three justices appointed by a president who lost the popular vote. Is it any wonder that Trump thinks he can defy the results of the election and cling to power despite losing an election? Or that his party does not stand up for the will of voters?

So what really is happening now?

But ignoring a near catastrophe that was averted by the buffoonish, half-hearted efforts of its would-be perpetrator invites a real catastrophe brought on by someone more competent and ambitious. President Trump had already established a playbook for contesting elections in 2016 by casting doubt on the election process before he won, and insisting that he only lost the popular vote due to fraud. Now he’s establishing a playbook for stealing elections by mobilizing executive, judicial, and legislative power to support the attempt. And worse, much worse, the playbook is being implicitly endorsed by the silence of some leading Republicans, and vocally endorsed by others, even as minority rule becomes increasingly entrenched in the American electoral system.

We’re being tested, and we’re failing. The next attempt to steal an election may involve a closer election and smarter lawsuits. Imagine the same playbook executed with better decorum, a president exerting pressure that is less crass and issuing tweets that are more polite. If most Republican officials are failing to police this ham-handed attempt at a power grab, how many would resist a smoother, less grossly embarrassing effort?

So let’s quit arguing semantics. As Tufekci notes:

Our focus should not be a debate about the proper terminology. Instead, we should react to the frightening substance of what we’re facing, even if we also believe that the crassness and the incompetence of this attempt may well doom it this time. If the Republican Party, itself entrenching minority rule on many levels, won’t stand up to Trump’s attempt to steal an election through lying and intimidation with the fury the situation demands; if the Democratic Party’s leadership remains solely focused on preparing for the presidency of Joe Biden rather than talking openly about what’s happening; and if ordinary citizens feel bewildered and disempowered, we may settle the terminological debate in the worst possible way: by accruing enough experience with illegitimate power grabs to evolve a more fine-grained vocabulary.

Go read this piece. We can’t be fooled by Trump and company’s inept attempt at a coup. The next attempt may be far more sophisticated — and far more dangerous.

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4 Comments on "Fascism creep: Laughing away coup incompetence while smarter, future fascists study and learn"

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Marie Tobias

Again, now is the time for preventing what will otherwise become inevitable. We must firewall the Presidency from the ability to highjack our government, and begin now demolishing the machinery which has made this kind of damage to our nation possible.

No more gerrymandering. No more denying people the right and opportunity to vote. No more tilting the system in anyone’s favor for expedience, power, or self service. Most of all, remove the corrosive impact on dark money on our elections.

William H. Murphy
William H. Murphy

I read the article referred to. This is indeed an inept coup by the President of the United States to retain power. It is dangerous and must be quelled, not acquiesced to. A coup by any other name is still a coup.

Sick of the Con
Sick of the Con

I agree. Dems are always putting blinders on coming to work trying to keep the government going while Cons, the crying babies, ruin everything and refuse to work with anyone. Dems need better parenting skills. Instead of continuing to spoil Cons and allowing tantrums to decay our democracy, nip it in the bud, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.


Stronger more aggressive democratic leadership is needed. Their endless whining about “This is unprecedented” , “Hoping the republicans do the right thing”, “Waiting for republicans do the right thing”. THEY WON’T EVER. Stop wasting time with sh*t that’s not going to happen. Send out the subpoenas, have people arrested, condemn where needed, impeach where needed. Use the tools that are available NOW! Quit being so F**king willing to be stomped on. Whining and Weak is not going to cut it in these times EVER. Or is there just way to many hidden agendas? I’m sick of it!