An attempted coup is not merely a "stunt"

Media and politicians must stop downplaying the GOP assault on democracy. And Democrats should move to impeach Trump again.

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Now that Donald Trump has been caught on tape threatening Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger this past Saturday to, in Trump’s words, “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” we may see more people in the media and among Democratic leaders calling the events of this week what they are: A coup attempt by an authoritarian, backed and enabled by accomplices in a party hellbent on tearing apart our democracy.

But I’m not holding out much hope because for the past several weeks, and still into the weekend, I kept seeing the word “stunt’” being used, which diminishes the severity of what’s happening. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, called GOP senators’ attempt to subvert the election just that: a “publicity stunt” even if a “dangerous” one. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan called it the “worst kind of stunt,” but a stunt nonetheless.

I understand why some Democrats might want to downplay the GOP’s actions: Joe Biden will be president on January 20, as Democrats have a majority in the House — enough to end all of this when rogue GOP legislators propose a floor debate and a vote during Wednesday’s Congressional certification of the Electoral College to throw out votes of battleground states. Only one chamber needs to vote it down. Nonetheless, more than enough GOP senators will also join Democrats in the Senate to vote it down there too.

But Democrats — including the Biden team — are making a mistake by calling this a “publicity stunt.” It allows Republican leaders to hide behind the idea that these members don’t really want to subvert democracy — and are supposedly only doing this because they know it will fail — and misleads the public terribly as well.

Whether or not it is successful, this is an attempted coup. At least a quarter of Republicans in the Senate and more than half of Republicans in the House plan to support it. The rest of the Republican Party appears unable or unwilling to stop it — and they let the madness go on for too long anyway. They all could have removed Trump from office when he was impeached a year ago. But they enabled him, and enabled others in their party. None of us will forget Susan Collins of Maine, in voting to acquit Trump, stating that she expected he “learned a lesson” after being impeached.

Of course, he’s only been emboldened since then and has further transformed the GOP. The Republican Party no longer believes in democracy. It is allowing, enabling and encouraging a dictator to try to overthrow a free and fair election, and in the process empowering millions of Americans who’ve been fed the lies and deceit from that dictator and from propaganda outfits like Fox News and Newsmax.

The GOP’s actions will not work this time, but what about next time? And even this time, what if the Georgia Secretary of State were as corrupt as these Congressional Republicans, and if Trump had bullied other officials in other states — which he’s probably continuing right now — and got them to bow? We can’t dismiss the direction they’re going and the precedent they’re setting.

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There should be ramifications, and some have called on Democrats not to seat the new members of Congress backing this coup attempt, who are, after all, saying their own elections can’t be trusted either. I agree with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said Trump’s threats to Raffensperger, which legal experts say are a violation of election law, amount to an “impeachable offense.” Yes, Congress can and should impeach Trump again. It’s not too late to put a motion on the floor, play the full tape of his phone call with Raffensperger, take a vote and dare Republicans to do nothing.

The damage done to our elections and our democracy is enormous, no matter the outcome, and I’ve been among those warning about this for weeks. But many in the media have refused to use the word “coup,” or even the words “attack” or “assault.” They’ve played a “both sides” game, interviewing the Republicans who are challenging the election and describing the events as “contentious” or “chaotic.” I was glad to see Brian Stelter, CNN’s media critic, write over the weekend about his interview with historian Timothy Snyder, who said this should be called a coup attempt.

Yet much of the media was far from calling it anything like that. The New York Times has discussed it as a political spat within the GOP, or mustered up phrases like “futile bid,” in discussing Mike Pence backing it. The Washington Post dubbed Wednesday’s events — which will also see thousands of armed, right-wing and white supremacist Trump supporters converge on Washington, as Trump has commanded them — as merely “high drama” and “open rebellion against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell” rather than an open rebellion and coup attempt against America itself.

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Trump may be hoping the protests turn violent enough for him to bring in the military, and surely use it against American citizens. Foreign policy expert Steve Clemons, who I have on my SiriusXM program often, implored the public in a tweet to “wake up,” noting that all 10 living former defense secretaries — including Trump’s own former secretaries, Jim Mattis and Mark Esper, as well as Republicans Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — wrote a joint op-ed speaking out against the use of the military.

This is not a stunt. The Republicans who are backing this attempt truly believe in Trumpism, in authoritarian rule and in subverting democracy if they don’t win elections. Or they are ambitious enough to promote such a fascistic action — which, in the end, is not any different than being a true believer.

They’re attempting a coup, and practice makes perfect even if it fails this time. We’re not going to beat them back unless we start calling this attempted overthrow of our government exactly what it is.