September 28, 2022

“Coup” Means Whatever the Regime Wants It to Mean

If the scenario were reversed, and if protestors invaded the Capitol to back up a leftwing candidate, we are able to be sure that the vocabulary utilized to describe the event would be very different

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 riot on the US Capitol, many pundits and politicians were desperate to describe the events of this day a s the coup d’etat in which the nation was “ this close” to having some sort of junta void the 2020 election and take power in Washington.  

The headlines at the time were unambiguous in their assertions that this riot was a coup or even attempted coup. For example , the particular riot  was “ A Very American Coup ” according to a subject at the  New Republic . “ This Is a Coup ” insists a writer at  Foreign Policy.   The Atlantic   presented photos purported to be “ Moments from an American Coup . ”  

This general tactic has not changed since then. Just this particular month, for example ,   Vanity Fair   referred to the January 6 riots as “ Trump’s attempted coup ” Last month,   Vox   called it “ Trump’s cuckoo coup . ” Moreover, anti-Trump politicians have repeatedly referred to the particular riot as a coup, plus “ attempted coup” has become the standard  term of choice for the January 6 solar panel .  

At the time, it was obvious that if the riot was a hen house at all, it failed absolutely. Thus, the debate is now over whether or not it was an  attempted  hen house. On January 8, 2021, I argued the riot was not an attempted hen house. Now, 18 months later, right after months of “ investigation” and testimony to the January 6 committee, we’ve learned new details about the events that occurred that day time. And now I can say along with even more confidence: the The month of january 6 riot was not an attempted coup.  

It was not an tried coup because it simply was not the sort of event that will historians and political scientists— the people who actually research coups— generally define being a coup. Even the Justice Department admits that virtually all from the rioters were, at most, accountable only of crimes like trespassing and disorderly perform. Among the tiny minority of these charged with actual conspiracy— 11 people — they lacked any kind of institutional backing or assistance that is necessary for a hen house attempt to take place.  

Nor is this some meaningless debate over semantics. Words matters and meanings matter. This should be abundantly clear to anyone in our current age of debates over what terms like “ recession” or “ vaccine” or “ woman” indicate. In fact , the use of term “ coup” has been thoroughly weaponized in that outside academic sectors it is employed largely like a pejorative to discredit political acts designed to register displeasure with a ruling regime in order to oppose a ruling coalition. For many, the term coup is now used increasingly to describe politics acts one doesn’t like. But if the term “ coup” ultimately means “ political thing those bad guys did” then it ceases to have any kind of precise meaning at all. But , the use of the term in this way really does explain why so many commentators and politicians routinely use the term to label their own opponents coup plotters. It’s basically name calling, and also only tells us about the customer’s political leanings.  

What Is a Coup?

In their article meant for the  Journal of Peace Research ,   “ Global Instances of Coups from 1950 in order to 2010: A New Dataset , ” authors Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton T. Thyne provide a definition:  

A coup attempt includes unlawful and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus in order to unseat the sitting executive.

Even though terms “ military” plus “ coup” are routinely employed together, Powell plus Thyne emphasize military participation at early stages is not required:

[Other definitions] more commonly allow non-military elites, civilian groups, and even mercenaries to become included as coup perpetrators. This broad definition consists of four sources, including [a definition stating that coup] perpetrators only need be ‘ organized factions’. We take a middle floor. Coups may be undertaken by any elite who is portion of the state apparatus. These can include non-civilian members of the army and security services, or even civilian members of govt.

Furthermore, it is not necessary that assault actually be used. The presence of a  threat  issued by some organized number of elites is sufficient.  

This definition is helpful because there are many types of political actions that are not coups, set up intended outcome is a modify in the ruling regime. The meaning offered by Powell and Thyne is useful because it avoids “ conflating coups with other forms of anti-regime activity, which is the primary problem with broader approaches. ”

For example , well-known uprisings that force ruling executives from power are not generally coups. Intervention by a foreign regime is not a coup. Civil wars started by non-elites or various other outsiders are not coups.  

Why the particular Jan 6 Riot Was Not a Coup

In the case of the January 6 riot, the rioters acquired no institutional backing, simply no promises of help from elites, and no reason to assume they had access to any coercive tools necessary to seize and hold control of a state’s executive apparatus. Nor was Donald Trump during a position to promise such things. As  noted simply by Elaine Kamarck   at the Brookings Institution:  

we have now know that Trump did not even have the support of his own family and friends nor his handpicked White House staff. To pursue his plans, he had to rely on a close group of advisors known as “ the clown show” led by Rudi Giuliani, a cushion manufacturer, and a dot-com millionaire— none of whom was in government and none of whom controlled the most important “ assets” (guns, tanks, planes etc . ) needed to take over a authorities. In contrast to most successful coups in history, Trump had no faction of the military, simply no faction of the National Guard, and no faction of the Area of Colombia Metropolitan Police at his disposal.

In other words, the rioters had no avenue to calling upon any kind of faction of the state or even group of elites to secure support. Kamarck continues:  

As we discovered in some of the most recent proceedings, it was Vice President Paul Pence who was in contact with the military and the police, and many importantly, the military as well as the police were taking orders from Pence not Trump, the commander in chief!  

Given that Trump didn’t try to actually attempt to secure any government agency to secure energy for himself, we can imagine Trump knew no department of the federal government was about in order to step in to illegally protected an extension to his period as president. We can never understand for sure what Trump was really thinking on that day time, but even if Trump wanted to encourage a group of protestors to somehow put pressure on Congress— even if by violent means— that’s not the coup. It’s a popular uprising.  

The particular Bolivian “ Coup”: The particular Anti-Morales Protestors in Bolivia 

The protests that followed the 2019 elections in Bolivia provide an interestingly similar case  towards the January 6 riot and demonstrate that it’s often very debatable as to what constitutes a coup.  

Because the Bolivian election neared its end on October 24, sitting president Evo Morales began to claim victory. Many opponents, however , claimed Morales’s supporters had engaged in electoral fraud. Both sides refused to accept the results of the political election, and protests and riots soon erupted across the nation. Morales and his supporters offender the opposition of setting up a coup. The opposition accused Morales of the same. Or, more precisely, these people accused Morales of attempting an “ autocoup” — autogolpe in Spanish— by which Morales was attempting to keep power via illegal indicates.  

Ultimately, Morales ended up resigning right after he failed to maintain control of the police and military. High ranking officials from individuals institutions “ recommended” Morales resign, and Morales did so soon after. Morales went into exile and Mexico and the opposition became the sobre facto governing coalition in Bolivia.  

There remains no agreement, however , as to whether or not the actions of either side in Brazil constituted a coup (or autocoup. ) Morales’s supporters— mostly leftists— make reference to the political crisis following the election as a coup. Those people who are convinced Morales did certainly lose the election make reference to his efforts as an autocoup. But many also refer to the events as a popular violent uprising.  

For many, the situation in Bolivia within 2019 remains ambiguous, and can see how it gives many elements in common with all the events surrounding the The month of january 6 riot at the Capitol. It began with statements of election fraud, and ended with a group of protestors attempting to pressure congress to improve the outcome. This is not fundamentally distinctive from the popular uprisings in Bolivia, except that in the US  the outcome was never really suspicious. There was never really any doubt as to whether the Pentagon would certainly he helping Trump force through an autocoup. Trump certainly not had any real reason to believe he could hold on to energy, even with 900 mostly disarmed protestors trespassing in the Capitol.  

“ Coup” Now Means “ Thing I Don’t Like”

The Bolivia situation also helps to demonstrate how the term “ coup” is used selectively for politics effect. The fact that Morales’s leftist supporters are generally those who favor the use of the term to describe Morales’s removal from office is no coincidence. Those who support one particular side say it’s a coup, while the other side will not.  

We all see the same dynamic at the office in the US, and  we should not be surprised that the media has rushed to apply the term towards the riot. This phenomenon has been examined in a November 2019 article titled “ Coup with Adjectives: Conceptual Stretching or Innovation in Comparative Research? , ” by Leiv Marsteintredet and Andres Malamud. The authors note that as the incidence  of   real   coups has dropped, the word has become more commonly used on political events that are usually not coups. But , because the authors note,   this is no mere issue associated with splitting hairs, explaining that “ The choice of how to conceptualize a coup is not really to be taken lightly since it bears normative, analytical, and political implications. ”

Increasingly, the term really means “ this is a thing We don’t like. ” It’s apparent the January 6 cell in Congress, and countless anti-Trump pundits use the expression in this way to express disapproval as well as justify regime crackdowns against pro-Trump opponents of the program. It’s easier to justify severe prison sentences for a disorganized group of vandals if their works can be framed as a almost successful coup and therefore a threat to “ our democracy. ” Moreover, if the situation were reversed, and if protestors invaded the Capitol to support a leftwing, pro-regime candidate, we can be sure that the particular vocabulary used to describe the big event in the mainstream press will be quite different.  

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