You are reading an entry from the “Cope Essays” category. “Cope” in this instance may refer to either mentally coping with dystopia, pragmatic approaches to minimizing/managing dystopia, or both.
The breaching of the U.S. capitol on Wednesday, January 6th was not a good thing, and does indeed portend ominously for our democracy. But it was not a coup.
Your instinctual response here might be one of dismissal—just another egghead contrarian who is obsessed with semantics. You may even be extra-annoyed, because why should this be on a blog about dystopia in the first place? Isn’t doom and gloom the point of this site?
But whether or not this is interpreted as a coup does matter. Like many, I see a dystopian future lying ahead. Key to that, however, is being grounded in your observations. This is all the more the case when damn-near every event that gets a few headlines is interpreted as a calamity, even as other important developments pass with little notice. In the 24/7 internet news cycle, it helps to pause and reflect. Not just so we can keep an accurate track of what matters, but for our sanity.
It is absolutely essential that we are able to distinguish theater from structure. Theater can still be harmful, it can still signify worse later down the road. But it should not be mistaken as more important than cracks in the ceiling, loads of flammable surfaces, or a lack of emergency escapes.
So the fact of the matter is that this was “literally a coup” the same way Kamala Harris is “literally a queen.” To be specific, it’s theater that most deeply appeals to the progressive-liberal sphere. The harder questions of who actually wields power are frequently secondary to this crowd, if they’re important at all. (Side note: I am not pro-Trump, but a staunch leftist, if that helps you determine the “right” attitude you should have to this post).
A coup requires institutional force. You could argue that this was an unsuccessful coup, but even that’s a stretch: unsuccessful coups see politicians or military leaders attempt to change who wields power, fail, and retreat. We didn’t even have that much.
Let’s recap what happened Wednesday:
After dozens of lawsuits were flat out rejected by judges across the country (many of whom were appointed by Trump), Congress began officially recognizing the electoral college vote count.
The president, maintaining this to be fraudulent, demanded that his supporters protest outside the capital. He did not order them to attack, though he probably hoped for it.
Bear in mind that conservatives made similar critiques against the liberal-left sphere this summer: progressive politicians urged protest, and some of them turned violent, though this was never explicitly ordered by any of those politicians. And no, I don’t think what happened Wednesday is of equal merit to the racial justice protests from this summer. I also am of the opinion that progressive politicians who urged protests genuinely did not want to see violence, whereas Trump likely hoped for some kind of last-ditch disruption, consequences be damned. I’m just saying we should be reasonable in our criteria for plausible deniability here.
Anyway, the stop-the-steal crowd showed up as expected, turned aggressive, and breached the capital in what was likely a coordinated fashion. The police resisted somewhat, but a lot less than they probably would’ve with a, uh, different kind of protest.
Lawmakers were evacuated. The rioters paraded around in costumes and took selfies. Then they were dispersed, the place was swept for explosives, and declared safe for Congress to return.
Then Congress returned, and certified the electoral college vote for Biden. Hell, even a failed coup would’ve managed to put off the vote for more than a day. The MAGA crowd managed to delay the whole thing by just a few hours.
We should be honest with ourselves: an honest-to-god, serious attempt at a coup would have been much more violent. It would have been more organized. An attempted coup, even if it failed, would see the same thing we saw today, but with guns firing at lawmakers.
And what about the bombs? Well, you’d have to assume the person who placed them was doing this as part of the stop-the-steal effort. At the time of this writing, we know little more about this person than what a grainy image can tell us, and that they targeted both the DNC and RNC headquarters.
And even then, not all acts of political violence are part of coup attempts. The word liberals seek to apply to every single violent incident, “terrorism,” actually would fit here. And violent elements mixed in with already-extreme partisans? That’s nothing new.
This isn’t about arguing a technicality. The distinction is genuinely missing for many people, and it’s important we understand accurately what we’re dealing with. So much of what has occupied peoples’ attentions for the last four years has been political theater-making. The bad things Trump said frequently occupied more space than the bad things he actually did.
For example: how much did you hear about his Justice Department’s case against Assange, compared to his “shithole countries” comment? How much do you still hear about the 2017 tax cuts, compared to any of his other most controversial comments? Sure, what a president says matters. But more than what a president actually does with their legal authority?
You might wonder why there’s a post for this at all. Why not just chastise my friends privately for being idiots on social media?
Because this really was worrying, and people are generally right to treat it as dangerous to democracy. A more competent conservative leader in the future may actually attempt to do this “for real.” Their election lawsuits may actually work. The mob they summon may be larger, well-armed, and supported by a larger portion of the populace. They may explicitly call for violent attacks, which are followed through on. That could happen in 20 years, or for all we know, 4. And if that were to happen, you could count Wednesday’s unrest–and the context of Trump’s election denial behind it–as a stepping stone.
But the key words in that paragraph are “if,” and “may.” That hasn’t happened yet, and it’s important to recognize as much. It’s imperative we know where we are in this shit-show. If we’re genuinely concerned with democracy dying, the least we can do is figure out how that’s happening–we’d be pretty shitty saviors if we declared its murder prematurely.