Auto-Golpe, Self-Coup, and Trump

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US Constitution: National Archives

The word auto-golpe sends shivers down my spine. It means self-coup. I have written recently about how we are moving in this direction. Now we have twelve United States Senators, led by Joshua Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, who will support 140 members of the US House when they object to the electoral votes of the states that flipped from President Donald Trump to President-Elect Joe Biden. What is this political theater about? They claim that an election that was free and clear and was certified was somehow tainted and the presidency was stolen.

January 6 is mostly ceremonial. The electoral college tallies sent by the states are opened and certified by a joint session of Congress, making it, once again, official. The certification means that on January 20th, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office. If a member of congress objects and a senator supports it, both houses go debate for two hours. Then they vote to assert whether to throw the slates out, or keep them? Nobody expects any of the slates to be thrown out. In the end, this will further cement the results of the election. As I stated above, a rational mind says they will lose in this effort to overturn the election and insert an alternate slate of electoral votes. . This is just a temper tantrum on the national stage because Republicans fear President Donald Trump and his MAGA base. A more cynical view would see this as the opening salvo of the 2024 presidential race. After all, they will need the hyper-nationalist MAGA base to win the primary. Yet, this ignores darker meaning and prevents the media from looking at it from the view of history, even recent history, if not American history.

Latin America saw the rise of plenty of strong men and military coups. These led to a series of dirty wars where enemies of the state were not tried. They disappeared, never to be seen again. The fight against global communism gave the excuse to even constitutionally elected presidents, as in the case of Mexico, to do precisely this in the 1970s. During the summer we saw the specter of precisely this in the United States. Federal police forces wore no names or patches. Most worrisome, they took people off the streets in unmarked vans, in places like Portland. This is a marker of impunity we have not seen in a long time. Thankfully none went missing, but the message was sent.

Then there was Russia. For a second in historic time, the Russian Federation took on the trappings and practice of democracy. Indeed, Vladimir Putin started his career in that era. It was also a time when Russians went hungry as their economy collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union and the introduction of Neoliberal policies, together with their standing in the world. Many Russians wanted a strong leader. For them, this was what they knew, from the times of the Tsars. Putin took advantage of this and wormed his way into power. He has not only centralized national power in his hands, but enriched himself immensely. The Panama Papers revealed his fortune is in at least a billion-plus US Dollars. He has more than just one off-shore account, where his money sits. This is money that came from raw illegal deals and funneling state money away from Russia to his personal accounts.

Putin has done all he can to maintain power. This includes permanently silencing his opponents. President Trump and many in the Republican Party admire his autocratic model. Some of the Senators who have announced they will contest state certification went to Russia over July 4 a couple of years ago. They intended to meet with Putin, who refused. They include Ron Johnson and John Kennedy. Here is the full list of the contesting Senators via Politico:

The new faction of GOP lawmakers includes Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Cruz (Texas), Steve Daines (Mont.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), John Kennedy (La.) and James Lankford (Okla.), as well as Sen.-elects Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Roger Marshall (Kan.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.).

The call from the president to Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State is not just bizarre. It is borderline criminal, full of intimidation and ironically electoral fraud. He pressured Raffensperger to change the vote tally to favor him. He used data points that are beyond bizarre, including the size of his rallies. In his mind, he could not lose an election when there were thousands attending his super-spreader events, while Biden held small rallies, or stayed in the basement.

While this is unprecedented in the United States this is standard in autocratic regimes Trump admires. The claims of fraud were thrown out by the courts, including the United States Supreme Court that refused to hear any of it, because of lack of standing, and evidence. The president will continue to claim that he won until he dies I suspect, and this poisons trust in elections. This is exactly what autocrats have done around the world in order to subvert democratic norms, and his party is mostly going along.


Trump has never lived through any major consequence to his actions. When the impeachment happened, for similar strong-arming of the Ukrainian President, he was not convicted by the Senate. Partly because the Republican Party refuses, even now, to confront this president. Why? At least one faction of the party is authoritarian and believes in an autocratic system. They adopted raw populism as their new mantra, even if they favor the well connected.

Let me make this clear. This is worse than the Nixon tapes. Not because this is illegal, but the Republican Party is not just codling him, but they support him. Leader Mitch McConnel should demand the resignation of the president. He has remained silent after the tape came out. Leader Kevin McCarthy is encouraging his House Caucus to question the election. This is not one or two members of the House, but over one hundred and forty.

Trump is a symptom of what affects the party. The virus is deep within the Republican establishment. They partially lost because voter suppression was not as extensive as it usually is. They were concerned about mail-in ballots because people could not be turned away at the ballot box. Extensive suppression did not happen. Minority votes occurred, in spite of their best efforts. Many actually voted for them, yet more Americans voted for the other guy and split their votes. Many of these Republicans are part of the Council of National Policy, a veritable far-right secretive organization.

This is part of secretive, and semi-secretive organizations that intend to turn the country away from democratic norms. They are not just conservative. They are in many cases neo-fascists and neo-confederate. So it comes as no surprise that Republicans are not saying much about this call with a few notable exceptions. Democrats are now asking for the FBI to start a federal investigation on the president’s actions. We need those organizing this to face real legal and social consequences. Because they will continue to pressure until they succeed.

Let me make this clear. Republicans who are out of power, such as former Speaker Paul Ryan have reacted to this in an expected way. This is horror. But with few exceptions in the House and Senate, there is a chorus of crickets. Mitt Romney and Adam Kinzinger deserve props for their profiles in courage. So does Lisa Murkowski, and a few others. Where is the leadership?

We find ourselves at this point because Richard Nixon got a pardon. Democrats moved on after Iran-Contra and the Iraq War. They likely want to move on, for the good of the nation again. Why? If we do more than move on, it means we confront demons. We are here because Republicans have been testing the limits of what they can do and have never faced real consequences. If Trump walks away, another Republican president will continue to push the limits and we may very well face the end of the Republic.

Democracies are fragile things. This poisoning of the water did not start now. We must finally confront it or face the crossing of the rubicon.

A note on the Media

Over the course of the Trump administration, the media has had trouble covering this rise in authoritarianism even when they are directly targeted. They have kept a few classics going, such as “what about Democrats,” and “both sides do it.” Even at this late hour, we continue to hear it. But Democrats objected! In 2000 it went nowhere, and in 2004 it was about voter suppression, not the outcome of the election. Jake Tapper even confronted Stacey Abrams who spoke of the suppression, not the election. She conceded the race.

The media needs to stop these games, and have to be very specific as to how the Republican Party has become a radical, far-right, nationalist white supremacist party. We have entered the age of the big lie. In this case, Trump won and this is was stolen from him. The lie must be pointed to as what it is. Those who support it must lose access to the media, granted, they don’t want to go on mainstream media, so they mostly have cut themselves off already. The far-right outlets must be confronted for the propaganda they peddle, and we must bring back the Fairness Doctrine in some form.

The lies and misinformation on social media must be noted for what they are. We must confront that at least thirty percent of Americans hold authoritarian beliefs and will fall under the spell of another Trump-like candidate. We need to look at why this is happening. We need to cover local conditions, and realize that many Americans have been living in depressed economies for years, even decades. They rightfully resent those who have done extremely well in these conditions and believe it is mostly democratic elites who hate them.

Chiefly, what about the other party needs to stop. There are no equivalencies here. The Republican Party is no longer one of the two major parties in a functioning democracy. This is a white supremacist, authoritarian outfit. Whether the party ultimately survives will depend on members no longer tolerating these attitudes and revolting against members who do, even if they lose a seat to the Democrats. Primaries tend to result in extremist candidates, so the voters most reject them too For the moment, the New Jim Crow faction remains powerful and the QAnon caucus is growing in the halls of Congress.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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