What couldn't happen just happened

While I sat in front of the TV on Wednesday, stunned by images of a Trumpist mob laying siege and storming the U.S. Capitol, I got a call from Olguita, a cousin in Miami who came from Cuba about 20 years ago. 

She was upset, sounded almost tearful. She couldn’t believe that such lawlessness, routine in Venezuela, Haiti and most other Latin American countries once designated as “shitholes” by President Trump, could unfold in the U.S., her adopted country, a land of laws, democratic rule and free elections. 

Were we witnessing an attempted golpe de estado, instigated by President Trump, who refused to abide by the results of the election?

It certainly looked like it. Thugs rampaged through the Capitol, broke windows, occupied the speaker of the house’s office, feet on the desk, and a hooded invader mugged for the camera in the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate chamber. Other images showed armed guards had moved a piece of furniture to block one of the entrances to the House chamber, and pointed their guns at thugs attempting to break down the door. 

So far five people have died as a result of the mayhem, including a Capitol policeman hit on the head with a fire extinguisher by one of the demonstrators. 

The phrase attempted coup fluttered in the airwaves, as newscasters and commentators struggled to explain what was going on. Unprecedented became a cliché overnight. 

But coup is not the right diagnosis. Coups are typically short-lived spasms of violence, instigated by the military, at the behest of business interests, or even the United States, who go for a quick ride in tanks or armored personnel carriers to the presidential palace or legislature, to chase out the legislature, the president or both. After a convenient restoration of “order” or defeat of the perceived threat to the country, the military may surrender power, until the next coup. 

The crowd listening to Trump before the march to the Capitol (NYT)

What happened in Washington is not as obvious but far more worrisome: The disaffection of a large segment of the population who clings to a deranged leader and who have developed their own impenetrable political mythology, untethered from facts, figures or reality. 

Climate change is a hoax, and so, initially, was the Covid-19 pandemic, the latter cooked up by the Democrats, the liberal media, Antifa, China or the Deep State, or other cockamamie actors. The Clintons running a child slavery ring operating from the basement of Washington, D.C. pizzeria that doesn’t even have a basement? Sure!

The latest and most dangerous obsession among people inhabiting this political exosphere, including some Republican legislators, is that Trump lost because the election was rigged, stolen. In effect, it’s inconceivable that Trump could lose, and if it appears he did, there must be something nefarious going on. 

These claims have been investigated ad nauseam—and debunked—by federal judges, state election officials and even the former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a Trump bootlicker if there ever was one. 

Nothing there, they all concluded, except in the minds of the mobs who invaded and trashed the Capitol, and millions of other Americans who’ve gulped the Trump Kool-Aid and cling to yet another and far more dangerous conspiracy: a rigged electoral system. 

The cornerstone of the American political system is free elections, and respect of the results by both winners and losers. The mob who broke into the Capitol on Wednesday, and their millions of supporters throughout the country apparently have lost that respect, that elemental faith, in the political system. That’s a far more corrosive long-term threat to American democracy than even the occasional military coup.   

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