As former FBI head Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian shenanigans in the 2016 U.S. election heads for a grand jury, Donald Trump’s many weird self-incriminating behaviors are beginning to look like the “tells” of a guilty man. And his absent maladministration of the executive branch looks less like a dull political headache we’re all going to have to endure till at least 2020 than like signs of imminent collapse.
Conservatives who’ve bet heavy on Trump, however, don’t see it that way. To them, Trump’s problems are not his fault at all, but the result of a “coup” plotted against The Leader by liberals, ungrateful Republicans, and the “Deep State” — that is, U.S. law enforcement and other arms of the government tasked with oversight of the executive. And some of them are calling to beat back this alleged coup with violence.
The coup idea isn’t new. As far back as last summer, James Kirchick wrote at the Los Angeles Times that “if Trump wins, a coup isn’t impossible here in the U.S.” — though Kirchick’s fantasy involved the military brass refusing to obey some lunatic command by the “brazenly authoritarian” Trump.
After the election, however, conservatives were more likely to talk about the “coup” as led by traitors against Trump.
“The intention of the Obama/Clinton campaign is to explain the election loss in terms acceptable to the Democratic Party, to hamstring and delegitimize the new administration coming in, and to bring about the resignation or impeachment of Donald Trump,” wrote Philip Giraldi at the American Conservative in March. “It is in all intents and purposes a coup…” (Name checks: George Soros, John Podesta, “consigliere Valerie Jarrett.”)
“We Are Watching A Slow-Motion Coup D’etat,” cried James Downton at the Federalist in May. Downton charged “collusion between the various elements of the partisan Left, the media, and the administrative state.” Apparently the kingpin of these colluders, judging from the frequency with which Downton mentioned him in his column, is Eric Boehlert, a writer for Media Matters for America and, later, Shareblue. Congrats on the promotion, Eric!
Lately, as the web around Trump tightens, conservatives have grown more likely to resort to the cri de coup.
“‘Silent Coup’: Limbaugh Says DC Establishment Is ‘Trying to Take Out’ Trump,” reported Fox News Insider. Disgraced political operative Dick Morris told the National Enquirer about “The CIA ‘Silent Coup’ Against Donald Trump.” “The Slow-Motion Coup d’Etat picks up steam,” wrote William A. Jacobson, a professor of law at Cornell.
A little more down-market and a great deal more popular was Infowars crackpot Alex Jones, who in a series of rants growled stuff like this: “The intel is they want to demoralize [Trump], cut him off before they start drugging him, and they don’t want our intel about the coup getting to him as well — they’re desperate to cut him off from his base… There is a war against Trump by the Deep State, it is going into high gear, they are publicly on TV saying they’re getting ready to kill him.”
“Slow Coup Gains Speed,” headlined Joshua Caplan at Gateway Pundit. “GOP Elites Plot To Remove POTUS TRUMP From 2020 Ticket, As McCain Claims Party ‘Sees Weakness’… The Globalists have infiltrated the White House at the highest level.” Also plotting against Trump, in Caplan’s view: “Weekly Standard’s Never Trumper Bill Kritsol [sic].” His proof: Per the New York Times, Kristol has “begun informal conversations about creating a ‘Committee Not to Renominate the President.'” Refusing to endorse a second term — that’s pretty much what Burt Lancaster did in Seven Days in May, right?
Wayne Allyn Root, former Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate, claimed that Americans loved Trump — based on the findings of a poll that, he failed to mention, was of white working-class voters (identified by Root as “the middle class”) — and that this popularity had Democrats so “desperate to stop Trump” that they had resorted to “baiting him with something so awful…so fraudulent…so vicious…he has no choice but to take the bait.”
That “awful” “bait,” said Root, was the Russian collusion imputations, with which Mueller was “daring Trump to fire him.” Since Trump apparently thinks he’s still on The Apprentice, he is powerless to stop himself from firing Mueller, which will lead to “coast to coast protests, civil disobedience, rioting, and anarchy,” etc. And it’s all the plotters’ fault!
Some conservatives turned their Dolchstoßlegende on Traitors Within. FrontPageMag ran a cartoon of national security advisor and much-decorated combat veteran Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, whom they apparently find insufficiently hard on Muslims, wearing a turban that turns into a bomb. This is wing-nut shorthand, based on an old “Draw Mohammed” contest, for radical Islamic terror, so it would appear to mean McMaster is a jihadist. “MCMASTER’S NSC COUP AGAINST TRUMP PURGES CRITICS OF ISLAM AND OBAMA,” roared the headline over Daniel Greenfield’s skein. Yes, despite a lifetime in service to his country, McMaster’s now working for the Taliban or ISIS or whatever they’re calling themselves now — you know, just like Grover Norquist. Among those tweeting approval of this column: Republican convention cheerleader Laura Ingraham.
“This is a coup that should upset every American — Trump supporter or not,” reported radio shouter Mark Levin. Right Wing News’ Terresa Monroe-Hamilton agreed: “Think Al Capone and the IRS. It’s a trap meant to take down the Trump Presidency.” (So… he’s guilty?) “The Coup is afoot -watch the Generals,” tweeted Republican rageclown Roger Stone.
Others among the brethren were not content to catalog the imagined treasons of liberals, jihadists, Deep Staters, and other such boogeymen, and threatened to kill them.
Kurt Schlichter, best known for his “Wildman” right-wing action-adventure stories, had in recent months published “This Is A Coup Against Our Right To Govern Ourselves” and “If The Left Wins Their Soft Coup, Everyone Loses — But Mostly Them.” Last week, he unveiled his magnum opus, “The Military Coup Against Donald Trump of 2018, Part 1,” in which Hillary Clinton, some rogue officers, and various right-wing hate objects attempt the overthrow of the U.S. government. After some dramatic explosions and risible dialogue (“‘If breaking a few eggs is the price of restoring democracy by removing the president these Neanderthals elected, so be it,’ said a MSNBC hostess”), the rebellion is quashed and all the liberals executed for treason.
Schlichter followed up with another column in which he claimed liberals were trying to “nullify the results of the election,” told them that they were “neither armed nor proficient in weapons like we are,” and warned, “If you somehow depose him via your smarmy shenanigans, what comes along next is really going to upset you.”
Others put their threats in less literary form. Former Navy SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer promised on Facebook that “Anti-American subversives involved in ANY WAY in an unconstitutional coup against our President will be run down and executed immediately by the world’s most supreme warriors.” Sawman predicted a “gruesome massacre” because “one side in this conflict has 8 Trillion bullets & the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use [laughing emoji].”
“The anti-Trump folks are making clear that they hate Trump more than they love America,” wrote Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. “But if the rules don’t apply, then the rules don’t apply. They won’t like it when the rules don’t apply.” “I’m warning you. All of you leftists who think you’re going to steal our vote, you’re wrong,” said radio shouter Michael Savage. “You will see the ‘Day of the Locust’ in this country.”
Twitter trolls promoted a #CivilWarII hashtag (and, for those who can’t read Roman numerals, #CivilWar2) on the theory that, as one supporter wrote, “#CivilWarII 4a week may scare crap out of the left enough to shut this crap down! [American flag emoji].” Among their messages: a picture of Trump’s beloved electoral counties map with the legend, “The people in blue want a revolution… The PEOPLE IN RED own 97% of the GUNS!”
We shouldn’t be surprised. Trump’s election pretty much proved that conservatism has morphed into straight-up authoritarianism. He won by promising to override norms, and that’s exactly what he’s done. Now the only question is, how many of these internet tough guys would actually take an indictment or bill of impeachment as a call to go Wolverine, and how many will just jack up their daily internet rage quotient and maybe vote for Honey Boo Boo. I think it’ll mostly go like this video, but it’s still depressing that we even have to consider the question in the first place.