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Trump’s Voters Took the Coup Literally and Seriously

Only a fool points a loaded gun at the heart of a democracy.
January 6, 2021
Trump’s Voters Took the Coup Literally and Seriously
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

They wanted to overthrow a democratic election and install a dictatorship. Those were literally—and seriously—the stated aims of the president of the United States, his legal team, the Republican leader in the House, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley—along with scores of elected Republicans—their media defenders, and the faceless hordes on Parler, The Donald Dot Win, and Spreely.

We have been told by the detached and the self-serious, by the enablers and the collaborators that this wasn’t really a coup. That only people with Trump Derangement Syndrome would even use such a word. That it was just a show, a fantasy, a live-action role play. That Republicans were “humoring” the president. That they were “just asking questions.” Only making sure their constituents’ concerns “were heard.”

This preposterous tightrope-walk came to an inevitable climax on Wednesday afternoon when a line of coup conspirators came to the well in the House and Senate chambers wanting to benefit politically from this plot without actually having to physically touch the rubes out front on the Mall. Josh Hawley raised an effete power fist to them at the beginning of the day, but didn’t want to get too close.

Bless his heart.

The following traitors—Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert, Brian Mast, Mike Johnson, and Paul Gosar—resorted to weasel words, legalese, nonsensical constitutional jargon,and preposterously unprovable claims in an attempt to avoid saying directly what they were doing. Trying to have their coup two ways.

But there is no magic language that changed the plain reality of what was happening: This was a coordinated effort by a large bloc of the Republican party to install an illegitimate Trump dictatorship. As Rand Paul tweeted, “The vote today is not a protest; the vote today is literally to overturn the election!”

And with the mob there ain’t no such thing as halfway coups.

Here’s a tip. When you tell tens of millions of people who worship you that you want to overthrow the government, some of them are going to believe you. And then the violence and vigilantism that mark Third World dictatorships will follow. The seventh House conspirator’s speech was interrupted by rioters who understood exactly what these traitors were calling for. They took them seriously and literally.

And so this riotous mob acted accordingly. They swarmed the walls of the Capitol. They bashed in doors and smashed in windows and clashed with police. As they marched through the halls of the Capitol, causing Congress to flee, they vandalized and stole. They breached the House chamber and occupied the speaker’s rostrum. They broke into the speaker’s office. Blood was spilled. One woman was shot and killed.

Thus the dozens of Republicans trying to do their insurrectionist burlesque came face to face with a group of separatist vigilantes who showed up to act as the muscle for the uprising these polished elites had fomented.

And all of a sudden, shit was very, very real.

Mitt Romney reportedly summed it up across the Senate chamber, shouting at Ted Cruz as the Capitol was under siege: “This is what you’ve gotten.”

This is what you’ve gotten indeed.

This is what you get when the president of the United States tries to overturn a free and fair election and maintain hold on power as an unelected dictator.

This is what you get when that president invites a vigilante army of separatists with anti-American regalia to march on the Capitol with him.

This is what you get when for two months the majority of the Republican party’s elected officials express support for that effort and refuse to acknowledge the actual president-elect.

This is what you get when two incumbent Republican senators run on an explicitly pro-coup platform for re-election and every single Republican backs their effort without the slightest hesitation. Without even a background quote saying that they were having qualms about Loeffler and Perdue endorsing the overthrow of the federal government.

This is what you get when you have dozens of elected Republicans object to a pro forma ceremony marking the transition of power with the stated goal of overturning the election result.

This is what you get when you, Josh Hawley, stick your fist in the air like some fucking Model U.N. freedom fighter who is fantasizing about leading the separatists in the installation of a dictator.

These gentlemen who showed up at the Capitol today don’t look like the boys you knew at Rockhurst Prep, do they? Or your chums at Yale Law? Or the wankers at LSE? Or St. Paul’s school on the River Thames?

This is what you get for pretending to be a revolutionary, Joshua.

This is what you get when you pretend that you care about the grievances of vox populi but all you actually want to do is inflame those grievances so they’ll give you another $5 donation or retweets or a future primary vote.

It’s what you get when your party’s “intellectual” movement stands up “newsorganizations designed to do nothing other than create an information ecosystem that validates lies.

This is what you get when you say nothing while the president and attorney general order jackbooted thugs to fire rubber pellet grenades and tear gas at peaceful protesters outside the White House who simply want accountability for the wrongful death of black Americans.

This is what you get when you empower someone whose own staff and leading supporters think can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes because he is “dangerous,” “unfit,” compromised by Putin,  a “pathological liar” who “doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies,” a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”

This is what you get.

This was not a game. It was not a show. It was not blowing off steam. It wasn’t a big troll for the lulz.

It was a violent insurrection whose participants believed they were going to prevent the inauguration of a duly elected president. And up until this afternoon, just about the entire Republican party supported it.

We are all sowing what they reaped.

And for the sake of our democracy, these people must be held to account.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.