Yes, that was a coup d'etat (even though it failed)

Yes, that was a coup d'etat (even though it failed)
Source: Reusableart.com

There’s a lot of arguing about words in the aftermath of Jan. 6’s events at the U.S. Capitol. Was it an insurrection, a riot, an attack, or a coup d’etat?

The term “coup d’etat” is, according to my faithful desk dictionary (Webster’s New Twentieth Century), is “a sudden, forceful stroke in politics,” and Jan. 6’s event was certainly that. It didn’t qualify for the second part of the definition, “especially the sudden, forcible overthrow of the government.” But it was obviously sudden and forceful.

The word “coup” in French is literally a blow. So a coup d’etat is a blow to the state. The stunned reactions lingering for so many people show the similarity to being hit. So it’s “a failed coup” or “a coup attempt” in the sense that the government was not changed (or, depending on your point of view, was allowed to change in two weeks). But without that “especially” part of the definition, it still works to call what happened a coup.

I won’t get into the politics of it all today any further. I just want to be here as usual, to clarify the words for you.

After all, we need the words to keep talking.

Margaret Serious has a page on  Facebook.

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  • Based on this definition, the first question was whether the government could overthrow itself. Politifact seems to have the answer:
    These actions might fall into the category of self-coups, in which the leader strong-arms other branches of government to entrench power.

    "These coups involve the existing chief executive taking extreme measures to eliminate, or render powerless, other components of the government (the legislature, the judicial branch, etc.)," the 2013 Cline Center report said. "It also includes situations where the chief executive simply assumes extraordinary powers in an illegal or extra-legal manner (i.e., goes beyond extraordinary measures included in the country’s constitution, such as declaring a state of emergency)."

    I was thinking something like Venezuela or Belarus, but the incrumbent (intentional) engineered the fraudulent election.

  • In reply to jack:

    That's very intriguing, Jack. Thank you. I had been thinking more of the coup itself and less of the person behind it.

  • I have to part company with you here. Insurrections are also blows to the state, but they aren't coups. There has to be, then, more to the meaning of "coup d'etat" than the naked transcribing of the words from French to English, and there is: A coup 'detat is the attempted overthrow of the government by a faction or person already in power or in the government. An insurrection is a revolt against a government -- not necessarily seeking to overthrow it -- by those outside of government. A revolt can also be by those in government. A revolution is an insurrection with the intent of overthrowing the government. The Trumpsters invading Congress sought to interfere with government, not overthrow it. I call it an insurrection.

    Sez me, anyway.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    I agree with jnorto, but in addition, you are wrong, because this was instigated by a sitting President to keep himself in power and prevent a Constitutionally empowered other branch of government from doing its duty to open the certificates of each state's electoral votes.
    Thousands, including neo-Nazis, white supremacists, flag defacers, confederates, etc. didn't spontaneously appear on The Ellipse, which was set up with sign arches and the like, and #diaperdonald appeared before then and said he was going to walk with them to the Capitol (of course he didn't). Then instead of denouncing the violence, like Biden asked, he put out a video saying "This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace." Thus, even if he can inconceivably argue that he didn't instigate or foresee it, he ratified it, and denounced the participants about 27 hours too late.

    All I can say is:
    1. The description by Politifact I quoted above was correct.
    2. Attorney General Merrick Garland will have a lot of work to do, starting at the top of the outgoing administration.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Sez you very reasonably, Grundoon. Thank you very much for an intelligent comparison and definition that is broader than I was ready to make.

  • Grundoon may be correct in insisting that it be called an insurrection, but I think it could also be called a coup d'etat as you suggest. However, this seems to me to give it more dignity than it deserves. I prefer the more contemptuous-sounding Swiss German word, "putsch", as in Hitler's first failed attempt to take over Germany, "The Beer Hall Putsch."

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thank you, jnorto. I neglected to note where it was, but I heard a commentator (as opposed to us here as commenters) who equated the event at the Capitol with "The Beer Hall Putsch" while emphasizing that it was not only failed, but also "round one." Oh help!

  • " I prefer the more contemptuous-sounding Swiss German word, "putsch", as in Hitler's first failed attempt to take over Germany, 'The Beer Hall Putsch.'"
    ---------------------------------
    A putsch (a form of revolution) requires that the person trying to take power lead the action. Trump incited the mob, he didn't lead it. That is why I rejected putsch when I was writing my comment. I do agree with the need to have a word that shows contempt in such situations. I just don't think putsch fits here.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    He didn't lead the mob because he he was too chicken to follow up on his promise that he would walk with them. See my post above.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well said as ever, Jack. Thank you.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Thanks again, Grundoon. I've seen at least one broadcast commentator pointing out that at the rally, the president said that he would go with the people when they all went to the Capitol. He said it; he just didn't do it. No surprise there, he was lyiing even to himself. So if he had followed through, then putsch would have fit.

  • "Condemned to the use of words, we cannot expect mathematical certainty from our language." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 110 (1972)

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    That's why I think all three terms could be used.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thanks, jnorto. I don't necessarily mind all three terms being used -- I'm all in favor of variety in vocabulary. I just enjoy pointing out definitions and ensuring good usage. Of course, I'd rather all three words just stayed under "words worth avoiding," but if we need them, let's use them well.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Although Margaret proposed an interesting exercise, deciding what foreign words that may have been incorporated into American English vernacular is irrelevant, especially for the U.S. Atty. for the District of Columbia.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well,, I'm glad to have caught your interest, Jack. I am not deciding whether they're incorporated into the vernacular as pointing out what they should be able to do, or we should be able to do with them, while they're here.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack's point is well taken. None of the three terms is actually a crime under the U.S. Code. There is an old Insurrection Act in 10 USC, but it really only deals with presidential powers to suppress insurrections, not defining a crime, nor even defining the term. Still, defining the correct meaning of words is important even when there is no direct legal consequence.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Your legal research was insufficient.Relevant criminal provisions are 18 USC 2383-2385.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes, 2383 punishes "Rebellion or Insurrection" up to ten years, but interestingly neither term is defined, so it doesn't help us with our question here. From notes on decisions, I can't tell if anyone has every been successfully prosecuted under it. The best thing about using this code section against Trump and his enablers is that if convicted, they would be "incapable of holding any office under the United States."

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Which brings up another interesting tangent. While impeachment after Jan. 20 could result in being barred from office, even if removal is moot, others have said that a resolution barring holding office could pass the Senate with a simple majority, but you brought up a more direct method.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Yes. The prohibition of further elections was a big part of the pro-impeachment arguments I heard on Wednesday afternoon.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Yes, defining the correct meaning is how we get the materials to work with to talk about this mess.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    That's a beautiful quote, Grundoon. As usual, I'm writing more in hope than expectation. Sigh.

  • These are domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol. They are the enemies of our democracy. In inciting them to attack the very heart of our democracy, Trump was aiding and abetting their plan to overthrow the government, which is clearly treason.

    Call it what you will, what these terrorists did was definitely not simply a protest. And it was more than a riot. It was planned months ahead in a political atmosphere poisoned by Trump's crusade to delegitimize Biden's election. In my opinion, an insurrection is a perfectly good word to call it.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Well reasoned, thank you. I don't mind calling it an insurrection, especially after these comments. I mind that it happened, and I was offering the definition(s) of coup d'etat to help expand our thinking.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    jnorto will say it wasn't treason, but it appears to violate the criminal provisions I cited above.

    Some TV commentators say it is too difficult to prove those charges because of First Amendment or intent issues,but it could be like Tsarnaev, who was never charged with terrorism, but explosives offenses. Take the easy fruit first.

    This also reminds me that a trumpecke once told me that Kamala Harris said that once they get [OPD], they'll be rounding up his supporters next. Reliable sources have this as a fabrication, but it appears that the current administration already is doing so for cause.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Art. III, section 3: no war; no treason. Many people call unpatriotic acts treason, which may lead to the question, is a term that is incorrect under prevailing law correctly used by a writer or speaker?

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Personally, I don't think that the members of vast majority of the public who do not have legal trainng need to consult Black's Law Dictionary first.

    You'll note that this does not excuse such charlatans as Rudy, Lyin' Ted, Syd Powell, or that pretend Tex. AG.

  • In reply to jack:

    Agreed. A writer may be correct without expecting "mathematical certainty from our language" as Grundoon pointed out.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Since we're talking language, rape is rape even though it is now classified as sexual assault. Similarly, I remember when the NY General Assembly swept idiot, imbecile and moron from the Consolidated Laws.

  • In reply to jack:

    We're always talking language around here!

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