Strictly Speaking, It Wasn’t a Coup… So What Was It?

The half-dome of the National Statuary Hall

By Jonathan Spira on 7 January 2021
  • Share

A good part of my Wednesday afternoon this week, in between doses of live coverage from the U.S. Capitol, bursts of work, and time spent wondering if the world was coming to an end, was spent explaining to people why what was transpiring in the nation’s capital wasn’t a coup.

My responses read something like this:

“No. It was not an attempted coup.  It might, however, in some banana republics have been a failed Putsch,” and I went on to explain that, in a coup, it would have been the military or opposing political faction that hopes to depose the current government and assume power.

The domestic terrorists that invaded the U.S. Capitol had no such goals.

The word “coup” in this case is shorthand for “coup d’état,” a stroke or blow to the state.

(In a few posts, I added that the rioters who breached the Capitol were so dumb that they were blissfully unaware that the Capitol has more CCTVs per square inch than London and that their failure to don face masks makes them easily identifiable so that they can be arrested and put in jail. Ignorance is, after all, bliss.)

Further, even combining the attempt by President Trump to bully Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, into overturning the state’s vote with the actions by Trump supporters on Wednesday doesn’t make it a coup.

Maybe it’s a Putsch, some asked me, but no, a Putsch is merely a German term that means a “blow” and in the political sense means, yes, a “coup.”

The reason it wasn’t a coup is quite simple: In what transpired on Wednesday, it was neither the military nor an opposing political faction that hoped to depose the Trump Administration but rather it was for all intents and purposes the Trump Administration itself, seeking to strike a blow to delegitimize the democratic processes of the United States.

The failed insurrection – we can indeed call it an “insurrection” – did have immediate impact, however.  In addition to calling attention to wholly inadequate security arrangements at the Capitol, it started a domino effect of change in the Republican Party.

“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride,” said Senator Mitt Romney, a former presidential candidate and long-time gadfly of the administration, in front of the reconvened chamber Wednesday evening, “and the outrage of supporters who [sic] he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States.”

Other Republican leaders followed suit.

Former House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who for weeks remained silent on the topic of election fraud, finally spoke out, saying on the Senate floor that any action aside from ratifying the Electoral College vote in favor of Joseph R. Biden would “damage our republic forever.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham denounced the efforts to challenge the Electoral College votes as “the most offensive concept in the world,” and he urged Vice President Mike Pence to certify the election.  Meanwhile, Beltway insiders said that some Cabinet members were discussing invoking the 25th Amendment and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Mike Pence to follow through on discussions about invoking the 25th.

Not all Republican senators were that magnanimous.  Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri nonetheless voted against certifying the electoral votes of several states, despite all that had transpired in the Capitol hours earlier, as did 146 other Republican lawmakers.  Hawley, however was also a participant in the insurrection, having given the mob outside the Capitol a closed-fist salute earlier in the day, presumably indicating his support of their cause.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)


Accura News

Read previous post:
Dear Agony Aunt: Your Advice and Etiquette Questions Answered

Many American and British magazines and newspapers run advice and etiquette columns ranging from Miss Manners to Dear Abby to...