Merion West

The Trump Putsch

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

While I am happy to endorse some of President Trump’s policies, I am not willing to endorse his self-serving legal maneuvering simply for the sake of these policies I support.”

After a history of voting for Republican presidential candidates George Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, I never warmed to Donald Trump. To me, he has remained cold as a lobster off the coast of Maine—not only since he announced his run for president in 2015 but for many years before that when he was lauded for his wealth and success in the worlds of real estate and reality television. President Trump invariably struck me as an egomaniacal empty shell with few moral scruples other than the promotion of the Trump brand. 

In short, I never liked him, yet I also never paid him much mind until he competed for the Republican nomination in 2016, inspiring me to write fierce critiques of him for initially refusing to disavow David Duke during an interview, for his undisciplined and unhinged behavior during the 2016 campaign, for trivializing sexual assault, and for his antics in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville

All that said, he won. Distasteful as it was, he won a majority of electoral votes, catching pollsters with their pants down, while leaving his political enemies in shock and disbelief and his supposed “silent majority” of supporters in celebratory jubilation. The election process was free and fair, despite all the allegations surrounding the so-called “Russia hoax.” As a result, former President Barack Obama carried out an incumbent’s customary duty of welcoming  President-elect Trump to the White House to facilitate the transition. Four years later, President Trump has refused to do the same. Instead, he has refused to concede defeat and has barraged the courts with a number of frivolous lawsuits challenging vote counts in key swing states, despite an absence of any material evidence of election fraud. He fired now-former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and appointed loyalists to key posts. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump term” on November 10th. 

It is, of course, true that, as Senator Mitch McConnell said, President Trump was “100% within his rights” to pursue his legal options to investigate any allegations of irregularities in the vote counts of swing states. It is also likely that Senator McConnell was as concerned with placating voters who might affect the outcome of runoffs over two Georgia Senate seats in early January as he was with defending the rights of the incumbent president. (This did not work out so well for him.) It is equally true, however, that President Trump not only looks like a sore loser. He also looks like a “dear leader” who feels emboldened by 74 million votes and has decided to “take on the swamp” and undermine what Max Weber called the legal-rational bureaucratic state. Why not contest the vote? 

Trump brand at all costs. 

After President Trump told a crowd of his supporters that he “will never concede” the election, protests eventually erupted into a mob assault on the United States Capitol, and a woman died after being shot in the Capitol. Even after all that, President Trump tweeted a video in which he insisted again that the election was stolen while essentially paying weak lip service to the claim that “we need to have peace.”

Even if a majority of the protesters remained outside and did not participate in the storming of the barricades, their cause was forever tainted by a mob which did, in fact, participate in the violence.

It is undoubtedly the case that—after President Trump has employed any legal option he had within his grasp while shamelessly tweeting unsubstantiated allegations that the election was rigged to ride the wave of energy from millions of supporters—we must acknowledge that Trump has done all he could do to delegitimize what the Department of Homeland Security called the most secure election in American history. He even went so far as to incite what essentially amounted to putsch on the Capitol. Even if a majority of the protesters remained outside and did not participate in the storming of the barricades, their cause was forever tainted by a mob which did, in fact, participate in the violence. In promoting his political brand of a strong-arm leader—supporting not only nationalism, unilateralism, and protectionism but also a “stop the steal” conspiracy andpressuring [Vice President Mike Pence] to try overturning the states’ certifications of their presidential votes”—President Trump has profoundly shaken my belief that hints of fascism could never taint America.   

Living in a representative democracy, I have been inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to a politician as odious as President Trump. I believe in the integrity of our democratic institutions, so I brushed aside charges of fascism against President Trump as the incendiary rhetoric of factions like Antifa which I do not support. I am also inclined to sympathize with the President’s defenders understandably indignant about the indiscriminate use of fascism as a term of weaponry by political enemies and progressives to delegitimize not only President Trump but, also, any and every policy he advocated. 

This could be frustrating for someone like myself who did not vote for President Trump and considered him to be an incompetent, rhetorically dangerous blowhard but nevertheless supported some of his policies. For example, I supported his decision to cease federal funding for racial sensitivity trainings based on critical race theory. I supported President Trump’s decision not because I am a fascist but because I was unimpressed by the underlying intellectual rigor of the critical race theory literature. In this case, President Trump was right in the same way that a broken clock is correct twice a day.

While I am happy to endorse some of President Trump’s policies, I am not willing to endorse his self-serving legal maneuvering simply for the sake of these policies I support. I am not willing to sacrifice the integrity of democratic institutions on the altar of a man who is disingenuously working within these institutions in order to undermine them, all in the name of the Trump brand

I do recognize that neither the United States nor the Republican Party nor even President Trump himself are bona fide manifestations of fascism in the sense that they are striving for a totalitarian one-party state seeking to erase any meaningful divide between the public and private spheres of life. Yes, President Trump promotes nationalism and aggressive restrictions on immigration. Yes, he adamantly supports protectionist trade policies. Yes, his MAGA logo comes with all the trappings of unilateral sovereign decision-making at the expense of multilateral international collaboration. Yes, President Trump goes into rhetorical overdrive all the time. Yes, he is all charisma and bravado. Yet for the last four years, I have accepted that President Trump won an election and understood that he could also lose an election. 

Now, on the basis of a platform that comes with 74 million votes, he has given us the appearance of trying to mount a MAGA coup by repeating unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud while condoning presidential advisors and Cabinet leaders who assert that the Trump administration is operating as if it will extend into a second term. The events of today were never going to be any more successful than a beer hall putsch, but the sheer disgrace of going through the motions gives the appearance of a strong-arm boss of a major party stoking the flames of distrust in our institutions to advance his brand. And this became vividly and tragically evident in the United States Capitol today.

Jonathan David Church is an economist and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, and he has contributed to a variety of publications, including Quillette and Areo Magazine.

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