Thursday, January 07, 2021

The Attempted Coup Against Democratic Elections

On Wednesday afternoon, a rally of Trump supporters — after being whipped up by Trump, repeating myths of a stolen election — stormed the Capitol building and stopped the electoral vote certification. Yes, it's an attempted coup.

Let's take a moment to acknowledge the emotional weight of this moment. This is awful and another line crossed by Trump's behavior. He called for the protest, spoke at it, and told his supporters to march to the Capitol. It is outrageous — broken windows, shots fired, explosive devices planted, 13 arrested with weapons confiscated inside the Capitol and one person shot under unclear circumstances. As members of the public, we're feeling angry and disheartened. 

We always said a coup needs legitimacy to be successful. If the goal of today's seizure of the Capitol was to gain legitimacy, the action has backfired spectacularly. 

The pillars of our democratic society are largely standing and supporting our democracy. This coup is not gaining traction or convincing the majority of lawmakers, particularly those required to certify election results. Police have successfully regained control of the Capitol (though questions will need to be answered about their taking selfies with occupiers inside the Capitol and the obvious disparate treatment of black protestors previously and the armed white protestors who just invaded the Capitol).

And it's not playing well in the public arena. In fact, the seizing of the Capitol is being decried widely by the right (some calling it domestic terrorism) — and even by politicians who supported stymying the election. This is a fluid situation.

Some other happenings of note:

You can be sure we are monitoring this situation. We are in discussion with allies around what development might call for a national mobilization. But strategically we think this is a last gasp and the risks are huge if we simply tell people to rush into the streets.

At this moment, we are not calling for mass protest. We think one of the most dangerous cocktails would be violent clashes between civilians. Tonight, we encourage people in the DC area to honor the curfew and stay home. Everyone at the Capitol should go home. 

This violent coup attempt appears to be backfiring on its perpetrators, and they seem to be losing both in the electoral process and in the sphere of public opinion. They look out of control.

Tonight, the most effective action is to let the coup plotters expose how isolated and unsupported they are. Their actions are doing that.

We think it is strategic to get on with certification and finish it. Contact your Representatives to urge them to certify the results of the election ASAP. It's time to end this. 

We are keeping a close eye to see if things change course. Some indications we're looking for are leaders of societal pillars — other than politicians or the Stop the Steal protestors — encouraging taking to the streets to support the coup OR, people successfully occupying the Capitol building and again delaying the vote certification. 

Violence could escalate overnight, so it may be helpful to mentally prepare for that possibility. We think that behavior would only further isolate and discredit their effort to overturn the election.

We don't believe this coup attempt has the support necessary to overturn the election result. We believe we will see a democratic — if not peaceful — transfer of power on the 20th. And we return to the collective feeling: this is bad. This President's lies, urges to violence, and support of a coup attempt have done damage to our democracy that will take all of us to heal.

With gratitude, 

The Choose Democracy Team 

Also see

Also see:
The Insurrection Was Predictable
Yesterday’s events were the expression of a dangerous authoritarian movement that has been long in the making. 
On Jacobin.

Do these attempts constitute a coup? New York Times

Amanda Taub, Jan.7, 2021.

Do the actions of President Trump and some of his supporters — including Mr. Trump’s effort on Saturday to bully Georgia’s secretary of state into overturning the results of the state’s vote in the presidential election, and then yesterday openly inciting a mobthat then attacked the United States Capitol — constitute a coup attempt?

If the question is whether those actions are as gravely serious as a coup, the answer is yes, said Erica de Bruin, a political scientist at Hamilton College who has researched coups for more than a decade.

But the violent, anti-democratic attack on the Capitol doesn’t fit the technical definition of a coup even though the president incited and encouraged it. That matters, experts say, because different actions are required to prevent this type of attack from harming democracy.

A coup is an illegal attempt to take power through force or the threat of force, usually involving at least a faction of the military or formal security forces, though sometimes they are backed by paramilitaries or other armed groups.

That’s not what happened in Washington yesterday.

Although some of the people that stormed the Capitol were armed, they do not appear to be part of any organized military or rebel organization. And while Mr. Trump encouraged his loyalists in his capacity as a leader of their movement, he did not try to call the military to their aid, or otherwise use the formal powers of the presidency to help them, said Naunihal Singh, a professor at the Naval War College whose research focuses on coups.



A member of the mob inside the Capitol on Wednesday.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

But that is not the end of the story.

These days, democracies tend to collapse from piecemeal backsliding that falls short of the technical definition of a coup, but is often ultimately more damaging. A clear pattern has played out in countries around the world, including Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and Venezuela, in which leaders come to office through elections but then undermine norms, gut institutions and change laws to dismantle any restraints on their power. Eventually, their countries become dictatorships in all but name.

Yesterday’s attack, and Mr. Trump’s encouragement of it, fit well within that category. And to combat that kind of anti-democratic backsliding requires different tactics than would be used against a coup.

“We know how to prevent coups,” said Dr. de Bruin, who literally wrote the book on how to do so. “We have a whole set of actions that international organizations, military officers, individuals can use. But we know far less about how to prevent anti-democratic actions.”

A coup either succeeds or fails, usually within a few hours. Stopping anti-democratic actions like Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol requires political engagement over time. Legal remedies like arrests and impeachment can help. So can political remedies, like political parties cutting off money to those who participate in anti-democratic actions, and party elites speaking out against it.

Subtler responses are also important.

“Authoritarian leaders are desperately afraid of ridicule because so much of their power comes from social connectedness,” Dr. Singh said, and treating them as if they are respectable reinforces that power.

But, he said, treating Wednesday’s attack, and Mr. Trump’s support of it, with the “ridicule and umbrage it deserves” is a way to undermine any suggestion of legitimacy or authority.

Some senior Republican officials did that yesterday. For weeks after the election, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky who is majority leader, had remained silent about Mr. Trump’s spurious claims of electoral fraud. On Wednesday, he said on the Senate floor that overruling the voters would “damage our republic forever.”

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a former presidential candidate, was even more outspoken.

“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride,” he said when the chamber reconvened after the attack, “and the outrage of supporters who 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.”


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