Unless you are living under a rock, you likely know that public impeachment hearings will begin on Wednesday. Most of us who follow politics closely will tune in. Many more will follow the hearings through social media and their favorite news channels. Everyone will spin the outcome to favor their beliefs.
One of the loudest Donald Trump and Republican surrogate spins is that the impeachment process is tainted because it was “secret”. That is neither here nor there because the impeachment process is now on public display. Unfortunately, Trump and most of the Republicans are entrenched in the idea that it is an “unfair” process.
The fact is that the impeachment of Donald Trump is now public and ongoing.
This brings us to the next Trump and surrogate talking point – a coup.
Donald Trump and surrogates are arguing that it is a coup.
Most readers understand a coup to be an overthrow of the government, in this case removing Donald Trump from office. Except that a coup has very specific requirements to be a coup. These requirements are something the Trump surrogates want readers to ignore.
A coup, or a coup d’état is the overthrow of an existing government by illegal means.
Each country has a document that outlines how a government is established.
In the case of the United States the ultimate governing document is the Constitution of the United States. There is some ambiguity in the U.S. constitution because rather than take the words at their exact meaning, interpretations have been used in recent history to “interpret” the meaning of the words by the courts.
For example, the section of the First Amendment where the government is admonished not abridge the freedom of speech has evolved into not interfering with the freedom of speech, except when it violates a government-imposed dictum, for example not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
The U.S. Supreme Court routinely imposes limits to the Constitution as shown in the example above.
But so far, the U.S. Constitution is clear on impeachment and the Supreme Court has not changed the fact that the House of Representatives is the sole body authorized to investigate and, if appropriate, present articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.
There is no ambiguity there. The law of the land is that the House of Representatives is authorized to investigate Donald Trump.
Therefore, calling the impeachment investigation a “coup” is not only disingenuous but it is also undemocratic in that it argues for ignoring the Constitution that empowers Donald Trump.
In other words, anyone calling the impeachment process a “coup” is arguing that the Constitution of the United States is invalid, in essence, they are arguing for the illegal overthrow of the United States government.
Arguing that it is a coup is arguing that the constitution is invalid.
Those arguing that a coup is underway, are, themselves arguing for the coup they are arguing against.
But here is an interesting thing about a coup and whether it can happen in the United States.
Most discussion about coups center on the notion that coups occur in failed states or in countries where the militaries are strong enough politically to supplant the established government.
Neither of these scenarios applies to the U.S.
However, a 2003 study titled “Toward a Structural Understanding of Coup Risk” by Aaron Belkin (University of California) and Evan Schofer (University of Minnesota) outline “factors that predispose regimes towards” a coup.
Among the 21 “triggers” outlined by the authors, they identified three factors that may indicate the propensity of a coup happening in a country. The three are: “the strength of civil society,” “the legitimacy of the regime,” and the “impact of recent coups”.
The authors argue that “weakly institutionalized societies, then, are far more likely” to suffer a coup. The authors define the “strength of civil society” as one with “strong independent trade unions, political parties, and voluntary associations” that “constitute a powerful safeguard” against a military coup.
They cite the failure of the 1979 Bolivian military uprising to the push back from the Bolivian Workers’ Central labor union which forced the troops back to their barracks.
The “legitimacy of the regime” was identified as the “second component of coup risk,” by the authors. They define the legitimacy of the government as the country’s people recognizing the right of the government to govern over them. The authors wrote; “when nonmilitary actors agree about the state’s rights to make rules,” then the citizens “pursue institutionalized procedures to redress grievances and forgo extrasystemic channels for dispute resolution.”
The impeachment process is a legitimate function of the House of Representatives as the voice of the American people. To equate the impeachment process as a coup delegitimizes the constitutional authority and forces the American voter to look elsewhere for resolving the dispute. Calling the impeachment process a coup also weakens the very institutions that empower the presidency.
The third component for the propensity of a coup that the authors identified is the “influence of recent coups”. The authors created a “coup risk score” factoring the number of coups a country has suffered to attempt to compute a “coup risk”.
The last coup in the United States was the Civil War. At most, there have been only two coups in the United States, at least events that can be defined as coups by their public actions. These are the Revolution which created the United States and Civil War. The argument can be made that the Revolution, as the foundation of the country, should not count as a coup. The second is the Civil War that settled that states do not have the right to leave the union without the authority of the central government.
Thus the “coup risk” is a nonfactor when it comes to the U.S.
However, the other two factors identified by the authors; strong non-government institutions (read media) and the legitimacy of the government as perceived by the voters demonstrates that the United States has ticked off two of the three indicators for the possibility of a coup.
These indicators can be traced back directly to Donald Trump calling the impeachment process a coup.