From the moment I heard that there might be trouble building in Washington over the inauguration of Joe Biden, I began to shake my head. This trouble had been brewing for months. Biden had not even received his party’s nomination yet, and already Donald Trump was framing the election that if he won, the election was done fair and square. If a Democrat won, it would be because of voter fraud. He repeated these statements over and over until they became a part of the far right’s reality. Trump wins = fair. Democrat wins = fraud. To their way of thing, it was that simple.
As it became more and more obvious that Biden was going to win the election, the shrillness of Trump’s cries grew, as did the accusations that the election would be rigged. On November 3rd, Trump’s biggest nightmare became reality — Joe Biden won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. It didn’t take long for Trump’s army of lawyers to launch a plethora of Hail Mary lawsuits in every state they thought they might have a chance. In all, Trump would launch over 60 lawsuits in an attempt to stop Joe Biden and to save his fragile ego from having to confront something he thought he was incapable of — losing.
“Looking like a mix of comic strip characters, lost dwarves from the Hobbit, and people lifted off http://www.peopleofwalmart.com, they smashed windows, broke down doors, beat and killed police officers, and smeared urine and feces on the walls of the capitol.”
The lawsuits were tossed out, one by one, and each one filed seemed sillier and more far flung than the previous. Rudy Guliani sacrificed whatever was left of his wisp of credibility in presenting outlandish, almost comical, arguments to overturn the election. It wasn’t to be.
In the weeks to come, anyone watching the news and paying attention to social media could feel it coming. Day after day the intensity mounted. Hate speech grew in frequency on social media. Threats were made by those on the far right that if the election was not overturned, there would be a price to pay. Finally, after every last avenue was exhausted, Congress met to confirm the vote of the Electoral College met on January 6th. The storm clouds had been gathering, and the far right, perceiving that it was now or never, decided it would be now.
The rest is history. At the egging on of Donald Trump and his family, a hoard of right wing zealots descended upon the capitol building to stop the proceedings. Looking like a mix of comic strip characters, lost dwarves from the Hobbit, and people lifted off http://www.peopleofwalmart.com, they smashed windows, broke down doors, beat and killed police officers, and smeared urine and feces on the walls of the capitol. They had the same look on their faces that one would find on mugshots of people arrested for domestic violence, check forgery and methamphetamine possession.
Anyone that knows anything about launching a coup would have known this endeavor was doomed from the start. Launching a coup requires that certain things be in place when the coup is launched. The leader of the coup cannot also be the incumbent leader of the existing government. Coups are launched AGAINST people who are leading countries, not in support of someone already leading. Secondly, it is paramount that the leader of the coup has the military on their side. No leader of any coup has ever been successful without the backing of the military. When push comes to shove, only the military has the firepower to dictate the outcome. This is one reason so often the leader of a coup IS the leader of the military. Finally, the leader of a coup has to have the diplomatic and financial backing of other countries. None of this was true for Donald Trump.
Let’s analyze what it takes to launch a successful coup by taking a look at some of the people who did so.
South Vietnamese Generals (Pick One) — South Vietnam, 1963
In South Vietnam, the military generals had had their fill of the autocratic rule of Ngo Diem, who had been hand picked by the United States to rule South Vietnam after the Geneva Convention. Diem, once the favored ruler of the United States for South Vietnam, had outlived his usefulness. The United States too had become weary of Diem’s inability to maintain control. With a nod and a wink from the U.S. State Department, the generals launched their coup against Diem on November 1, 1963. They killed Diem and his brother, and were immediately recognized by the United States, which guaranteed diplomatic recognition and financial backing.
Muammar al-Qaddafi was born in a tent to Bedouin parents. Growing up, he developed a strong distaste for the Libyan monarchy and its western supporters. As an adult, he pursued a career in Libya’s military as a junior officer. Then, in 1969 at the age of 27, this junior officer decided to seize power when King Idris was out of the country. On September 1st of the year, Qaddafi and 70 other co-conspirators attacked the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. They surrounded the national palace and other key government buildings, cut communications, and arrested government officials. They then announced on the radio their coup was successful. In a relatively short time, both the United Kingdom and the United States gave Qaddafi’s government diplomatic recognition. This recognition, however, was short-lived once Qaddafi made it clear that foreign military bases would not be tolerated in Libyan soil. Qaddafi then made friends with the Eastern Bloc countries and went on to rule Libya for the next 42 years until he was killed in the Arab Spring Uprising.
Idi Amin — Uganda, 1971
Idi Amin came from humble beginnings and worked his way up through the ranks of the Ugandan military, where he became the top general and a close ally of Ugandan president Milton Obote. Distrust took root between the 2 men, compounded by the rumor that Obote was planning to have Amin arrested. In January of 1971, while Obote was in Singapore, Amin made his move. On January 25th Amin moved his troops into the capital city of Kampala, captured the airport and other important sites, and proclaimed the success of their coup over the radio. His government then received financial and military aid from the Soviet Union and East Germany. In the months and years to follow, This “Butcher of Uganda” would oversee the slaughter of over 300,000 of his countrymen, his political opponents, until he was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia in 1979.
Augusto Pinochet — Chile, 1973
Augusto Pinochet is the poster boy for the word “coup.” A Chilean general in the early 1970’s, he was the go-to boy for American interests in Chile that wanted to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende. Allende embarked on a campaign of nationalizing key industries, many of which were the recipients of American investment dollars. Richard Nixon had enough, and gave the go ahead for Augusto Pinochet to foment the coup. In September of 1973, Pinochet’s troops marched into Santiago and fired on the national palace while U.S. warships stood by off the coast as a backup. Allende never had a chance. Allende died in the ensuing fighting, and thousands of supporters of Allende found themselves in the national stadium on the wrong side of a firing squad. Pinochet’s bloody coup was successful and won the immediate diplomatic recognition and financial backing of the United States. He became “president for life.” Donald Trump, eat your heart out.
Lon Nol — Cambodia, 1972
Lon Nol may be the only leader of any country whose name is a palindrome. Serving as a military leader and prime minister of Cambodia, he was the go-to man when the United States was fed up with the neutrality of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam had been moving supplies to their allies, the Vietcong in the south, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail that went through western Cambodia. Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk did not intervene, and instead claimed neutrality. When Prince Sihanouk was out of the country, Lon Nol made his move with the approval and assistance of the United States and the military of Cambodia. Sihanouk stayed in exile, while Lon Nol took his orders from the United States. In exchange, he received financial backing and diplomatic recognition from the United States.
Why were these coups successful and the one initiated by Trump not? Each of the successful coups were orchestrated in relatively small countries with a mostly unarmed population. The leaders of these coups did not have to convince 350 million people of their legitimacy in order to maintain power they way Trump would have. Countries the size of the United States do not have coups. They have revolutions, as in the case of Russia (1917) and China (1949)as well.
These successful coups were able to take control of the media so that their message of success was the only one people heard. Trump would never have been able to control the media in a country as large as this with as many media forms that exist today. He couldn’t even manage to keep his Twitter account working for him. Controlling the message is crucial in staging a coup. People tend to believe what they hear, and if all they hear are the chants of a victorious change in government, they will fall in line. In the United States, we can’t even get the population to believe the result of a legitimate election, let alone the claim that a coup was victorious.
Successful coups need the financial backing and diplomatic recognition of other countries. Trump would never have been able to achieve that, given how he alienated most would-be allies in the past 4 years with his boorish behavior. Trump’s antics were known around the world, and even if he had been able to remain in power illegitimately for awhile yet, no other countries would have recognized his government, except for maybe North Korea. Maybe.
Successful coups have the military on their side. The exact opposite was true for Trump. Not only was the military not on his side, the National Guard was actually called out to prevent the coup from taking place. They, along with the capitol police, are the ones who cleared the capitol building of those who were there to do hard.
The leaders of every successful coup, wherever they are, have to be smiling and shaking their heads at Trump’s folly. Like Trump University and Trump Steaks, the Trump Coup is just another failed endeavor of Donald Trump tossed on the scrap heap of history.