Pearl River If you are smugly enjoyed the Congressional meltdown of the Republicans and are wondering what new hellscape will be coming from their quarter, while still sleeping peacefully at night thinking, “how bad can it be, the Senate” will stop them, then walk away from what I’m about to share. Finian O’Toole, the Irish columnist and award-winning author of the definitive book on modern Ireland, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, took on the task the Americans were afraid to face. He wrote a piece called “Dress Rehearsal” in the New York Review of Books. He wasn’t talking about Broadway theatre or something at Old Vic in London, he was talking about the aborted coup by Trump and the gang on January 6th, 2020, which is scary enough, in and of itself, but was horrific when he makes the case that the coup next time, could work, if someone was taking the business seriously, which former President Trump was clearly not doing.
O’Toole argues that Jan 6th didn’t work, because the preparation was faulty:
If you were planning a future coup, what could you learn from this one? From the evidence accumulated by the House of Representatives inquiry into the attack, two aspects of this failure are obvious. Too many Republican officials in crucial states refused to subvert their own elections. And what we might call the institutional right—Donald Trump’s appointees to the judiciary and the Department of Justice—did not support the conspiracy.
He had five years to make a plan, but his narcissism tripped him up because, as always, he was freestyling and just scratching whatever itched, even as he had spent over a year claiming that if he didn’t win, the election was stolen. He assumed he could bullyboy his way in the states and then “his” Attorney General” and “his” Supreme Court would save his wagon. Another politician with their feet more firmly planted on the planet earth might actually make sure the ground was prepped and planted before they tried to harvest the plot.
Much of this report comes from details gathered by the House Jan 6th committee. In one of those, “darn, that was a close call” moments, he recounts a crazed meeting that involved former, and recently pardoned, General Michael Flynn, crazy conspiracy lawyer Sidney Powell, who is so far out, even whack Rudy Giuliani didn’t want to work with her, and Patrick Byrne, the rich guy founder of the online discounter Overstock and former lover of the Russian spy Maria Butina. The “meeting with Trump lasted for six hours, at first in the Oval Office and then in the president’s living quarters.” Flynn with a military background finally put together a real “operational plan”, where none had existed before. Luckily, this particular group of conspirators couldn’t implement. Others might do better. “Trump was still in the world of performance and spectacle: looking powerful. His army was in the world of immediate and direct action.” There’s a horror movie that’s going to be made someday about that wild and wooly meeting and how we ducked the bullet!
O’Toole makes the case that even Trump might have been more successful, and certainly another governmental usurper would be, if they changed the message, making it less about themselves, and more about protecting democracy for the American people. Here’s how:
The best way to steal a presidential election would indeed be through a staged display of democratic process backed by elaborate precooked “evidence” of foreign conspiracy and amplified by Fox News, social media campaigns, and other media. This is the upside-down shape of a successful American coup. Democracy is destroyed by the enactment of its protection. Conspirators succeed by foiling a “conspiracy.”
Are we ready for conspirators that have their act together? I’m not sure.
If it happens again, it will probably not happen like this. The pilot episode was a disaster because it had no coherent script, too many ham actors, too weak a grasp on the difference between gestures and consequences. But there is much to learn from it. Next time, if there is one, the plot will be much tighter, the action less outlandish, the logistics much better prepared, the director more competent. And the show will be called Defending Democracy.
To block the coup next time, we have some serious work to do!