Perspective 76. Trump on January 6: An Attempted Coup d'Etat?
Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election will be remembered as one of the most serious threats to democracy in American history. But is it fair to call it an attempted coup d'etat, putting the United States in the company of unstable states with which it normally is not associated?
Yes. The continuing work of the January 6 select committee, and recent journalistic exposés, leave little doubt that the President of the United States was following a course of action intended to seize and hold power illegally.
In perspective, Donald Trump was simply being Donald Trump. Throughout his life, Trump has denounced results that he didn't like as rigged or phony -- everything from voting on the Emmys to Hillary Clinton's three million vote advantage in 2016. But in this case his claim of a stolen election jibed with his supporters' paranoia of a country being stolen from them by ethnic and racial diversity, and he also had the office of the Presidency as a resource to be exploited.
In a meeting of December 18, Trump and his advisors discussed a plan to seize voting machines and rerun elections in certain areas (this was the period in which wacky ideas of Chinese or Venezuelan control of the machines were circulating). There was also consideration of declaring martial law in some form. But even Rudy Giuliani, otherwise a stalwart warrior in the cause, backed off from these ideas.
Trump also tried to subvert the leadership of the Department of Justice after it failed to find the fraud he claimed, and turned back only when faced with the threatened mass resignation of senior officials. Trump had tried to make it easy for the department: it could "just say that the election was corrupt" and leave the rest to him.
But the main plan was to have key swing states (those that had voted for Biden) submit a second slate of electors (shades of the stolen 1876 election!). Never mind that the legally certified electors had already met and voted. Republicans in the seven relevant states did in fact organize themselves as alternative slates -- though none were ever authenticated, not even by Republican legislatures and governors.
The next step planned was to have Vice President Mike Pence delay or obstruct the counting of the electoral votes on January 6, throwing the election back to state legislatures that would then endorse the alternate Trump slates.
At the same time, Trump had since Dec. 19 already called on his supporters to show up in Washington on Jan. 6, where he told them to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell." He also maintained his pressure on Mike Pence, who knew he had no power to delay the count, until the very last minute.
So Trump then retired to the White House to watch the chaos on TV for the next three hours. During this time he told Mark Meadows that the rioters chanting "Hang Mike Pence" might have the right idea, and he complained when Pence was whisked to safety.
An attempted coup d'etat? Criminal conspiracy? All of the above.