I often have this argument with some of my friends who insist that the United States is dictator proof thanks to the balance of power between three branches of the government, how the millitary would never support a dictator, and how there were too many safeguards against the country becoming a monarchy in our constitution. My argument was that all the other democracies that fell to dictators also had safeguards. And that is setting aside democracies which fell because of revolution, or because one was imposed upon them by an invading nation. There have been many a nation that has fallen to a dictatorship because an elected official has used his office to sized power. And I am sure those nations were convinced it couldn't happen there.
The results of the 2020 election seemed proof positive that our democratic is in fact dictator proof. Despite Trumps accusations that the election was rigged and he had actually won, Republicans certified that Biden had won. The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that they would not recognize Trump as the president after Biden was sworn in. Despite trying everything he could to overturnthe resultsof the election, Trump was still forced to leave office. And yet, the only reason why Trump is no longer in power and Biden sits in the oval office is because Trump was as inept at pulling off a coup as he was as being the president. He had all the tools he needed to size power, but didn't know how to use them.
Let's start by getting one thing straight. His last ditch effort to reverse the election results by sending an angry mob to the Capitol building came very close to succeeding. Whether Trump intended the crowd to murder Congress so he could replace them with his own yes men, or just thought they would intimidate Republicans into blocking the verification process, therefore sending America into a constitutional crisis with no elected president to take the oath of office on inauguration day, the end result was an angry crowd, many who were armed, breaking into the Capitol building. And had they been a bit more organized, they could have succeeded in capturing and/or killing the legislative branch of the government. If that were to happen Trump could easily install the entirety of Congress with Trump loyalists who would not only certify him as president, but would amend the constitution in his favor.
So our democracy came within a hairs breath of failing. But that would been the result of a revolution. What about capturing the country from within? The answer is that once again Trump came within a hairs breath of becoming dictator. He had all the chess pieces he needed in place to do so. But either didn't realize this, or didn't know how to move his pieces. He had two months to pull a coup, but wasted that time trying to win an election he already lost.
Let's go back to the summer of 2019. Trump knew his chances were slim at reelection. Even with a strong economy and no Coronavirus, he had a historically low approval rating. He needed an unpopular opponent, just like he did in the 2016 election. But Hillary wasn't running. Fortunately Bernie Sanders was. And if Bernie won the nomination, then Trump could easily win voters who were in fear of America becoming socialist. He would be the lesser of two evils.
The problem was that Joe Biden was in the race. So how to knock him out of contention in the primaries? By manufacturing a criminal investigation against him and his son. Trump's justice department couldn't announce they were investigating Biden, because it would look politically motivated and no one would buy it. But what if he was under investigation by another country? This was the reason for the infamous phone call to the Ukrainian president. Trump didn't ask him to investigate, but to announce he was launching a criminal investigation into the Bidens. An investigation would only help Trump if it actually uncovered a crime. Announcing the Bidens were under criminal investigation would have ended his presidential run. Would Democrats nominate a candidate under criminal investigation? Even if the Bidens were completely innocent, which appears to be the case, a candidate under criminal investigation would scare off voters, which would have eliminated Joe in the primaries and allowed an easier candidate to beat like Bernie to win the ballot.
The phone call may have been impeachable, but it was abuse of power, not a coup. It did, however, show that Trump was worried about being defeated in a general election in 2019, and was willing to do anything to win. And also explains why Trump failed to pull off a coup. Because a budding dictator shouldn't be trying to rig the next election. He should be trying to prevent a next election from happening. It also forced Trump to be on his best behavior during the entire impeachment and Senate trial process.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit American just as Trump's first Senate trial came to a close. Any competent administration could have easily used the pandemic to win a second term. All Trump needed to do was acknowledge the pandemic was real and deadly, and just as a wartime president is able to rally the nation behind him, he could have done the same with the disease. Instead he decreased his approval rating by pretending the virus was another hoax from the fake news media, then mishandling it at every step when he did acknowledge it existed, but continued to claim it had just been defeated. Had he done everything Fauci had told him to do instead of believing he knew better than scientists and having his people attack Fauci in the press, then he could have beaten Biden. Instead he went into the 2020 elections realizing he didn't have a chance.
This would be the point that anyone hoping to become a dictator would use the pandemic to their advantage. And it is here that Trump blew it. At the least claim the pandemic is the disaster everyone has been saying it is, then declare martial law to prevent the pandemic from spreading, quarantine areas that just happen to be Democratic strongholds, then postpone the elections indefinitely because they would be super spreaders. Pull this off and by January 20th you are in uncharted constitutional territory. No elected president in office, as there were no elections and Trump's term is up. But Trump as the acting president. There is no term limit on acting presidents. He could stay in office indefinitely, even after the pandemic is over, because you now need Congress to agree on a new election day. All he would need is for the Republicans to keep the new election day from happening. Then gradually build power until the president reaches a point where the Republicans wouldn't dare call for a next election.
That is dictatorship 101. Hitler used a similar method to size power. Just substitute terrorist threats for viral threats. A more deviant way of using the pandemic to become a dictator; claim to have proof COVID-19 is a man made virus. Claim to have proof China made it and deliberately spread it in order to influence the 2020 election. Declare China's actions as an act of war. Claim that there is now evidence that the Democratic Party and members of the media colluded with China, then using the Patriot Act, begin arresting anyone accused of colluding without a trial. Pretty soon all opposition will be dead or locked up, and everyone else will be too scared to protest.
So for the next month and a half Trump wasted time in the courts with the ultimate goal of bringing the election before the Supreme Court where he was convinced the conservative justices would throw away their credibility and possibly their careers by reversing the results of a national election simply to allow their party to win. Trump eventually did get a case before the Supreme Court, and it was unanimously thrown out. With conservative justices, even the ones Trump himself appointed, all ruling agains him, he had two options left. Option #1 was a coup. He still had power. Use it to declare martial law and order a new election, presumably fixed in his favor this time. Option #2, listen to Giuliani and others who believed elected Republican officials still had the ability to overturn the election results. He would need governors of states he lost to rejected the outcome of the election and send their own electors. This can actually be done, and had been done before in the 1876 election. But that was an election with legitimate mass voter fraud, so governors changing electors had a good excuse to do so. There was no evidence presented to courts or government officials of mass voter fraud in the 2020 election, so none of them had a good reason to overturn their states elections. Once again Trump assumed that just because a Republican government official could overturn an election, he or she would. No one would overturn their state's election results unless Trump or his allies could present them evidence of fraud, which it now appears never existed. In some final ditch efforts to have states overturn election results or change electors, Trump tried to pressure the Justice Department into announcing they were investigating the election for mass voter fraud, implying they had evidence such fraud happened. The Justice Department would not go along with this scheme. And then there was the phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State asking him to "find" 11,780 votes for trump, which would win him the state by one vote, as if that would not be suspicious.
By that time any state finding fraud or 11, 780 overlooked votes would be futile. The electoral college had voted, officially electing Joe Biden. What Trump was now hoping for was for the entire Republican Congress to refuse to accept Biden's win, and block the rest of Congress from certifying the electoral college. And he had a huge number of Republicans both in the House and Senate, insisting the election had been rigged and had gone on record to say they would overturn democracy to keep Trump in power. What Trump and his allies missed was a stratagem which could have changed the outcome of the election. Have the Republican controlled states that Biden won secede from the United States. While it is questionable if a state can even legally secede, or even exactly which state officials have the authority to file for secession, it could have been enough for Trump and his supporters to claim the electoral votes of the states filing for secession to be invalid, therefore giving Trump the majority of votes.
Ultimately this would end up in the Supreme Court who would most likely rule secession unconstitutional and those states electoral votes valid. But the goal is to run out the clock when the electoral votes must be certified. Once again this would be uncharted constitutional territory which would make Trump an unelected acting president who is sworn in instead of Biden. This would be a long shot. Could Trump convince enough Republicans to basically commit treason? Would the Supreme Court immediately take the case and would be capable of rendering a verdict within two weeks? Would the joint chiefs of staff recognize Trump as their legal commander and chief for the next four years? Would this split the nation between states that recognize Biden as President and states that recognize Trump as president, breaking up the union for real?
Instead of attempting a secession gambit, Trump's final strategy was one that anyone could tell you would never work. The certification of the electoral college is mostly a ceremonial event, dating back to a time before telecommunications made it possible to know election results overnight. The object was for Congress to certify that the electoral college votes were verified as legitimate, and then pass them to the vice president who would officially count them into the record. Congressmen could object in cases where a state sent conflicting electoral votes, of which the Senate and House would have a brief debate where they would decide which electoral votes were valid. Theoretically Congress could then either nullify or reassign suspect electoral votes. If a party held both two thirds of the House and two thirds of the Senate, they could theoretically ordered an elections results overturned for their candidate to win. This scenario has never happened, and I would like to say because most Congressmen would never subvert the will of the people, but mainly because there has never been a situation where a two thirds majority was in power and had an election they wanted overturned.
That certainly wasn't the case this time where the Republicans didn't have the numbers to overturn an election. Delay the certification by a day or two maybe, but not enough members to block certification or overturn the results, even if every single Republican in the party objected in unison. And then there was the really dumb theory that if Mike Pence refused to read the electoral votes or even overturned votes, that Pence could change the outcome of the election. Pence's role in the counting was purely ceremonial. All he was required to do was announced the electoral votes and the winner of the election after the votes were read. If he refused to read the votes, or announced the wrong vote total, someone else would take over and give the correct tally. Think of it as Faye Dunaway announcing La La Land had won the Oscar for Best Picture when the winner was actually Moonlight. Within a minute the correct winner was given the award. Likewise, if Pence had refused to read the correct electoral college results, it would have only momentarily stopped the ceremony.
As the day approached, Trump began to realize he would not be able to get the politicians he needed to overturn the election results. The question was, did he finally decided to stage a coup? That would all depend on if he expected the angry followers he summoned to Washington to capture Congress and either force them to certify Trump at gunpoint, or execute everyone preventing any candidate from being certified, and allowing Trump to install loyalists as interim Congressmen who would ignore the rules and certify him instead. What else could Trump have expected to achieve by sending an angry mob to the Capitol building? Even if he just wanted to send Republicans a message that his followers would turn against the party if they didn't do his bidding, he was still using an angry mob to threaten Congress into overturning an election.
At this point one could argue that Trump and his followers did their best to topple our democracy and failed, proving that America does have a system capable of preventing dictatorships. But that would be ignoring how close the mob came to succeeding. They just missed capturing many key politicians by minutes, in some cases seconds. They had others pinned down but neglected to bring the equipment needed to breach the rooms they were sheltering in. Too many inexperienced insurrectionists were having fun and celebrating once inside the Capitol Building instead of sticking to their objective of capturing Congress. Had the mob set fire to the building, Congress and Pence would have either been burned alive or had no choice but to flee the building into the waiting mob. And once Congress was decimated, Trump could replace them entirely with loyalist which would not only give him a majority who would declare mass fraud in the election and that Trump actually won every state and got every electoral vote, but if Trump asked them, would vote to throw out or suspend the constitution, or add an amendment declaring Trump president for life with unlimited powers.
That is not to say the insurrection wasn't planned. Just that those behind it were relying on the mob to follow orders. Had Trump done what he promised the mob he would do, and marched with them to the Capitol Building instead of returning to the White House and letting the mob do the dirty work and take all the blame, then he could have both motivated and organized the mob which would have made a big difference. Instead of partying and eventually wandering off, he could have had them bash down every door until all of Congress was found.
But let's set the failed insurrection aside. The real reason Trump failed to overturn ther election was the blue wave of 2016. Had Trump just behaved himself in the six months leading up to the midterm, he would not have galvanized so many independents to vote Democratic. Had Republicans gained seats instead of loosing seats, then the Republicans would have had the numbers to overturn the presidential election. There is no guarantee that McConnell and the other establishment Republicans would have done this. But take into consideration that only 7 Republicans voted to convict him of a crime they were both a witness and victims of, even though he was no longer president. Or how many government officials, including those in Congress, both claimed the election was stolen and took steps to attempt to overturn the results. While this only accounted for a third of the Republican Congress, most of the rest kept their mouths shut. When they had the opportunity to deny Obama a Supreme Court nomination despite his constitutional right to do so, they reasoned they were doing it for the conservatives who elected them. Their base was more important than the will of the people. If they did have the numbers to overturn the election, it would have been too tempting for their party not to.
Evidence is mounting that the events of January 6th were not accidentaly caused by a speech, but that Trump intended the mob to overthrow Congress, and did everything he could to increase the size of the mob, motivate them to attack and then allowed the riot to continue until it was apparent it had failed. If this is the case, then ironically Trump himself doomed the insurrection by trying to get the Republicans to overturn the election. The mob was not as massive as it could have been because many of his followers believed him when he said Mike Pence could and would overturn the election. Ultimately his undoing was relying on an army of lawyers who insisted there were loopholes in the constitution that would keep him in power. Listening to them, he went through numerous failed lawsuits and trusted in a legal theory that his VP could overturn the election.
There is little doubt Trump intended to retain power whether he won the election or not. He had enough loyalists positioned that if he staged a real coup, then he could have achieved that goal. However, his entire life experience has been getting his way via bullying politicians in his pocket, and if that fails, going to court where a barrage of lawsuits forces the opposing party to compromise, mostly in Trump's favor. In the final days he had been surrounded by those advising him to use his powers to size the country via nation wide martial law or other police state tactics. He was in a position where this could have been done, and instead of this article, I would be writing about how our country fell to a dictatorship ( if that was still allowed. ) Instead he listened to his lawyers, and they failed him. So instead of a successful coup, we have a Hail Mary mini revolution that failed. Trump may be out of office, but that is no reason for us to feel relieved. He left behind proof that any future president could strong arm his way into being an American dictator. The next to try probably won't be as incompetent.