In a democracy, there are things the people in power must not say, unless they are absolutely true. One of those things is that the other side is plotting a coup to remove them from power. Saying that is an invitation to bring one’s supporters into the streets and shed blood in order to prevent said coup from taking place. Saying it can also be a prelude to claiming broader, extraordinary powers in order to, once again, prevent said coup from taking place. Saying it must never be used as a talking point to win a news cycle or two. In other words, don’t fucking say it if you don’t mean it.
Conservatives, including a sitting congressman as well as, more recently, White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway, have taken part in spreading this incredibly irresponsible message, another example of Trump and his minions tearing at the fabric of our democratic system. Conway appeared on Fox just after host Jesse Watters had said: “We may now have proof the [Mueller] investigation was weaponized to destroy [Trump’s] presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters. … Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.” Although Conway herself didn’t use the word coup, she didn’t say anything about Watters’s comments, and in fact walked right up to the line in her own statement.
The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and they [the FBI] were pro-Hillary….They can’t possibly be seen as objective or transparent or even-handed or fair.
The response to these despicable statements was swift, harsh, and absolutely right on.
IÃ¢ÂÂve interviewed coup plotters, torture victims, generals, politicians they toppled & dozens whose lives were destroyed by actual coups & coup attempts
This language is so dangerous for democracyÃ¢ÂÂand itÃ¢ÂÂs precisely what you see before purges (which Fox News hosts are advocating) pic.twitter.com/CAFvAZaNUj
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) December 17, 2017
Coup?! I cover wars. Militaries. Actual coups. Where citizens violently rise up and kill each other for power over each other.
This is alarmingly irresponsible language, even for Fox. Inflammatory. Baseless. Dangerous. https://t.co/1tGrKZGfTR
— Kevin Baron (@DefenseBaron) December 17, 2017
I'm an academic studying coups. This is embarrassing and dangerous. There is no coup in America, but there is a de-facto state propaganda outlet named Fox News. pic.twitter.com/Rtg37N84ZC— Marcel Dirsus (@marceldirsus) December 17, 2017
Fox News is seemingly suggesting the Mueller investigation, which began in May (seven months ago), is a coup.
This is the definition of a coup or coups d'etat: Ã¢ÂÂa sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.Ã¢ÂÂ https://t.co/2x7kygbTZ7
— John Haltiwanger (@jchaltiwanger) December 17, 2017
The bullshit excuse for all this coup talk was some texts sent by Peter Strzok, who was the lead FBI official working with the Trump-Russia probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The texts showed that Strzok held Trump in particularly low regard. It’s worth noting that he also sent texts that slammed Bernie Sanders, Eric Holder, and Chelsea Clinton.
The Trump people (and, yes, I include Fox News and others in the right-wing media who talked this way as “Trump people”) seized on one text in particular, where Strzok wrote: "I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office—that there's no way he [Trump] gets elected—but I'm afraid we can’t take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40." Conservatives believe the name “Andy” refers to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The reality is that Strzok wasn’t talking about some kind of plot to prevent Trump from taking office, but instead, according to FBI sources who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, was expressing his conviction that the already ongoing FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia could not be brushed aside on the assumption that Trump had no chance of winning. Strzok’s text, the source explained, “was meant to convey his belief that the investigation couldn't afford to take a more measured approach because Mr. Trump could very well win the election. ... It would be better to be aggressive and gather evidence quickly, he believed, because some of Mr. Trump's associates could land administration jobs and it was important to know if they had colluded with Russia."
For what it’s worth, the coup talk has died down for now after the initial outburst on Fox by Jesse Watters and the even more-unhinged Jeanine Pirro (a long-time Trump friend whom Mr. Popular Vote Loser once characterized as “sexy as hell”), who uttered the following: “I doubt in American presidential election history that there has been as great a crime or as large a stain on our democracy than that committed by a criminal cabal in the FBI and the Department of Justice who think they know better than we who our president should be.”
I’ll also add that all this ridiculous talk of an entire investigation being hopelessly compromised by supposed partisan bias because of statements made by one official—whom Mueller removed in July as soon as he learned of the texts—reminds me of another investigation of a president. The investigation of Bill Clinton, as you may remember, also employed an official who was an open partisan.
That official had, before joining the Clinton probe, run the congressional campaign of a Republican, and even seriously considered running for the U.S. Senate himself as a Republican. That official was not a staffer on the Clinton investigation. He was its chief. His name was Ken Starr, and he was put in charge of the Clinton investigation after the previous investigator Robert Fiske was removed under circumstances that themselves reeked of partisanship. How many Republicans objected to the Ken Starr investigation because of his partisan bias? How many Fox News conservative talking heads did so? The answer is none. That’s a point I raised recently when I was a guest on a conservative cable news show fighting back against this Trump coup talk (video is below).
Donald Trump doesn’t respect the presidency, he doesn’t respect democracy, and he doesn’t respect America. He is by far the most dangerous and destructive individual to ever hold the office of president, and he has disgraced that office with his despicable words and deeds. Resisting Trump is likely to be the most important political act any American will be called to undertake in our lifetimes. Let’s get to work.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity (Potomac Books).