Comedian Bill Maher, former National Security Council member Fiona Hill and NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat have all recently used the term "slow-moving coup." In fact, that term, in various formulations, has appeared numerous times in Salon, beginning in 2017, Donald Trump's first year as president. It refers, of course, to the assertive and toxic maneuvers of Trump and his right-wing sycophants aimed at subverting democracy — and since his electoral defeat last year, at regaining power at any cost. Trump's apparent goal is to recapture the highest office in the land so that his power, grifting and corruption can run rampant again. For our country — and our democracy — this coup would have disastrous consequences. This is not hyperbole or melodrama. Trump and his enablers are coming at us like a runaway train. And democracy is tied to the track.
It is important to understand how this coup is playing out — how the runaway train is gaining steam. Several actions are occurring simultaneously. First, changes in state legislatures will allow partisans to determine election winners regardless of the actual vote and the will of the people. These changes in legislatures have already begun in Texas, Georgia and South Carolina. Second, voter suppression laws are being enacted in numerous states, with the almost overt priority of preventing people of color from voting is a top priority. Third, gerrymandering by Republicans is a growing strategy to affect election results: This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approved a pernicious new plan. Fourth, Trump's promulgation of his Big Lie and other disinformation continues. He keeps claiming that the presidential election was stolen from him and that Democrats must be defeated because they are "socialists."
Taken collectively, all of these moves by Trump and his allies represent an unmistakable and potentially life-changing assault on democracy, now under threat from a man and a party who seek to establish an authoritarian autocracy. Even more ominously, such yearnings have been unleashed in a large segment of the American public.
Millions of Americans continue to voice their support for Trump. In fact, recent polling indicates that two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to retain a major political role, and 44% of them want him to run for president again in 2024. What is both amazing and frightening is that Trump's appeal is based largely on his propaganda, his victimhood and his fake personal attributes of superiority and greatness. The fact that he was an accessory to murder of 500,000 pandemic victims during his term in office is completely overlooked. His supporters are willing to turn a blind eye to his incompetence and corruption and cruelty in order to make sure that "socialist," "immigration-loving" Democrats are defeated. These Americans are hungry for a return to power. To them, Trump is their ticket to an America that is racist, intolerant, aggrieved, divided and increasingly violent.
Losing our democracy does not seem to feature prominently in the consciousness of most Americans, who do not understand that democracy is inherently fragile and not guaranteed to us by divine destiny. Many seem to take it for granted. But the end of free and open elections would destroy our democracy. Corruption running amok would destroy our democracy. Using the Department of Justice to hide malfeasance and to prosecute political rivals would destroy our democracy. Nepotism and widespread incompetence would destroy our democracy. Undermining our trust in the free press would destroy our democracy. Substituting conspiracy theories for science and truth would destroy our democracy. And unabashed grifting and corruption at public expense would destroy our democracy. All these examples are central elements of Trumpism and the right-wing Republican agenda. It constitutes their plan for America — and democracy is not in their calculus.
This must be said again: Donald Trump is not just another typical politician. He is a malignant narcissist whose worst intentions are to destroy anything and anyone that threatens to deprive him of power, wealth and reverence. He will not stop until he is stopped by others because he has no conscience or moral compass. He is beyond political or personal salvation — he is deceitful, conniving, corrupt and dangerous, without any regard for others. He has no business being the leader of a country; to him, public service is an anarchic playground for his personal gratification. His malicious intentions cannot be overestimated.
Trump's "slow-moving coup" — his runaway train — must be stopped. To accomplish that, several steps need to be taken immediately. First, Trump must be prosecuted for his misdeeds, his incitement of the insurrection of the Capitol and his attempts to sabotage the election by trying to alter the vote count (for example, in Georgia). Second, the congressional investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack must be fully completed. Third, elected Republican officials who supported the insurrection must be held accountable. All the saboteurs must be rooted out — otherwise, they are like a cancer that is metastasizing with deadly force. We know with a high degree of certainty that Reps. Mo Brooks, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert and others had contact with the insurrectionists in the days leading up to the Capitol attack. These members should resign or be expelled.
Trump is hoping that his efforts will pay off in the election of 2024. He does not care about the safety and happiness of the American people, and he sure as hell does not care about democracy. If it is up to him, America's democratic tradition will be cast aside on the day he places his hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office again. That would mark the final triumph of his coup.
Americans are left with a dramatic choice: Save democracy by rejecting Donald Trump and his Republican comrades, or allow them to run roughshod over our hard-won democratic principles and institutions by completing their coup — which now appears to be a runaway train.