Flat White

Capitol Hill: call that a coup?

9 February 2021

6:31 PM

9 February 2021

6:31 PM

To understand how far short the Capitol Hill riot falls of any serious standard for insurrection one only needs to compare it to the Myanmar coup. To stage a coup you need to have the army onside, or at least significant parts of it, and they need to be prepared to act. You then need to action them to round up your opponents as quickly and quietly as possible – you don’t want word seeping out too early or people will evade you and mass protests and opposition will be organised. Then you need to be able to run the government, which means you need enough public servants onside to keep things ticking over.

If Trump were going to plot a coup it would have to be the “greatest, the most beautiful, the world has ever seen”. He would have had the “very best” political consultants and advisors he could find, combined with a few military types working out a plan which involved more than a few hundred thousand Trumpites marching down Pennsylvania Avenue without anything more than Google to tell them where to go.

Trump’s riot fulfils none of the preconditions for a successful coup, and exhibits little planning (apart from that done by a few freelancing and incompetent QAnon types, as well as a few BLM/Antifa provocateurs).

There was no chance the army was going to back him. Plenty of the military voted for him, but the top brass seem to be more Democratic than Republican, at least judged by their dedication to affirming PC nostrums in the areas of Islam, gender and climate change.

But even if the majority of top brass lean Republican you would have to ignore the history of the United States where the military has been determinedly apolitical, and this is baked into the Constitution and the psyche.

Military force only works when it is either overwhelming or acceptable to the majority of people. If it is neither, and the citizenry has guns, then it is hazardous.

The military knew what they were doing in Myanmar. It has always been an authoritarian regime, so there is limited institutional resistance to a military takeover – the military has social licence to be involved in government.

Then there was the huge amount of warning implicit in giving a rambling speech for 90 minutes and then exhorting people to march down to the Capitol and demand their rights. As well as the shambolic way the protestors who did penetrate the Capitol carried on, they had no idea where they were in the building, or what they were going to do when they got there.

Assuming that the crowd had been successful in detaining, or worse killing, the Democratic, and perhaps Republican, leadership, what then? With no army on side, would the police just stand by?

But just for a moment assume that, despite all the evidence, I’m wrong so far — that the army was prepared to back Trump, and that there was some real chance that the Pennsylvania Avenue rabble could have somehow detained or destroyed every hostile member of congress — how would Trump run the country?

He couldn’t get some sectors of the public service to do what he wanted when he was a duly elected President. That would have suddenly gotten a lot harder. In fact, if he were staging a coup, he’d need a substantial leadership group that was in on the conspiracy and could ensure that there were enough government employees prepared to work for the country to continue to function. There is no sign of any such group –- his advisors were working in the courts, not the streets.

Then there is the Federation. Myanmar doesn’t seem to be a genuine federation, but the US does. A Trump coup would have been resisted by at least half the states, many of which have refused to enforce federal laws in normal times, let alone in the chaos that would have ensued a coup.

Each state has a National Guard, which is part of a national body, but under joint state and federal command. Whose command would they follow? This is civil war.

So what was Trump doing urging his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” by marching to the Capitol?

Trump was pursuing his rights in the court of public opinion. He was using legitimate democratic means to put maximum pressure on his Republican colleagues, and maybe some Democrats, to inquire into the election results and not to certify them.

This is something he’d honed to perfection during his election campaign and since. In a country where most pollsters and media organisations are venal and polls represent their preferred scenarios rather than reality, his best demonstration of support was to get people out on the streets.

While Biden “hid” in his basement, or talked to carparks full of COVID-safe voters sitting in their cars, Trump filled stadiums with risk-tolerant COVID-not-so-safe voters who boogied with him to the sounds of the Village People and called out “Make America Great Again”.

Street marches and protests are tactics that anti-Trump activists had been using right from the day after he was elected, starting with the “Pussy Hat” marches and culminating in the BLM/Antifa “Summer of Love” in 2020.

The Democratic leadership must know all of this — and didn’t need Myanmar to demonstrate just how coups work (as well as the sorts of countries where the conditions exist for them to work). If they really thought Trump had planned and miscued a coup, then they’d be trying him in a real court, to a standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt, in front of the judges who he’s appointed, so he really would go down in the database of history as a villain.

Instead they are conducting a show trial for the propaganda purpose of revving-up their own base, and tarnishing the mainstream reputation of any Republican who doesn’t vote with them.

That not even a script-writer for a B-Grade Marvel Comic movie would think the plot was in any way plausible doesn’t seem to trouble them, but it might trouble the American people. They know the US isn’t Myanmar, or Venezuela, or Cuba, or anywhere else where coups are a fact of life.

Graham Young is Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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