Coup d'état

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A coup or coup d'état is a sudden overthrow of a government or removal of an existing government from power, usually through violent means. Typically, it is an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a political faction, the military, or a dictator.

A coup d 'état... is the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group (usually military or paramilitary). According to Oxford University, a coup differs from a revolution, in which large numbers of people work for basic social, economic and political change... ~ Kanisa George


  • Organizers fear that Trump is prepping the ground for a de facto coup. But they also hope that he can be headed off by a massive wave of aroused and empowered opposition. There is, after all, a growing public awareness of the existential threat to the country’s democracy, with a drumbeat of warnings
    • Is Trump Planning a Coup d’État? Sasha Abramsky, The Nation, (7 September 2020)
Historically, whichever side resorts to violence the most tends to lose. In a moment of uncertainty, people pick the side that promises maximum stability, respects democratic norms and appears to be the safer bet. ~ Daniel Hunter/WagingNonViolence
For mass movements to succeed against coups, they should refuse to do violence to the other side. ~ Daniel Hunter/WagingNonViolence
  • Bolivia has descended into a nightmare of political repression and racist state violence since the democratically elected government of Evo Morales was overthrown by the military on 10 November last year. That month was the second-deadliest in terms of civilian deaths caused by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly 40 years ago... Morales' government was able to reduce poverty by 42% and extreme poverty by 60%... The November coup was led by a white and mestizo elite with a history of racism, seeking to revert state power to the people who had monopolised it before Morales’ election in 2005. The racist nature of the state violence... all of the victims of the two biggest massacres committed by state forces after the coup were indigenous.
  1. Don’t expect results election night...ballots may not be counted until days or weeks after Election Day... trumped up claims of fraudulent ballots may cause a wayward attorney try halting counts...
  2. Do call it a coup. One reason to use the language of a coup is that people know it’s wrong and a violation of Democratic norms... We have to be ready to declare loudly ...This is a coup... People who do power grabs always claim they’re doing it to save democracy...
  3. Know that coups have been stopped by regular folks. Coup attempts have happened all over the world, and over half have failed...
  4. Be ready to act that defeat coups do so in days...
  5. Focus on widely shared democratic values, not on individuals. ...Coups are not a time to just watch and wait until “someone else” figures it out...
  6. Convince people not to freeze or just go along... In all the research on preventing coups, there’s one common theme: People stop doing what the coup plotters tell them to do.
  7. Commit to actions that represent rule of law, stability and nonviolence... For mass movements to succeed against coups, they should refuse to do violence to the other side. It is really a fight for legitimacy... that uncertain center has to be convinced that “we” represent stability and “the coup plotters” represent hostility to the democratic norms...Historically, whichever side resorts to violence the most tends to lose. In a moment of uncertainty, people pick the side that promises maximum stability, respects democratic norms and appears to be the safer bet. It’s a contest of who can be the most legitimate.
  8. Yes, a coup can happen in the United States. It may be hard to imagine...
  9. Center in calm, not fear. ... Let’s aim for calm and avoid hyperbole. Be a reliable source by double-checking rumors and spreading high-quality facts... Breathe deeply....
  10. Prepare to deter a coup before the election.
  • The coups, wars and slaughters to instill and maintain pro-corporate regimes have never been treated as capitalist crimes but have instead been written off as the excess of overzealous dictators, as hot fronts in the Cold War, and now of the War on Terror. If the most committed opponents of the corporatist economic model are systematically eliminated, whether in Argentina in the seventies or in Iraq today, that suppression is explained... almost never as the fight for the advancement of pure capitalism.
    • Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007)
  • The death of Ginsburg and quick replacement of another ultra conservative to SCOTUS has big implications for November’s election: it strengthens Trump’s strategy... create the public impression mail in voting is fraudulent and the basis for stopping the counting of mail ballots... he’ll raise the ‘fraudulent’ voting claim, get Attorney General Barr to file injunctions to stop the vote count of mail in ballots, and push to the Supreme Court the approval to stop the vote count. Since the Republican and Democratic Party conventions in August I have been following and commenting on the unfolding of Trump’s strategy to engineer a legal de facto coup d’etat surrounding the November 3 elections... as he has publicly declared in his campaign speeches, he’s planning not only to win in November but is considering, as he put, “four more years after that, and maybe even four more, we’ll see”. In lock-step, his Attorney General, Bill Barr, has also publicly declared that protestors (including those protesting a future coup no doubt) should be considered “treasonous” and prosecuted under the sedition acts. For Trump too, protestors are “insurrectionists”, which means terrorists and ‘enemy combatants’ under the Patriot Act... So much for the Bill of Rights in a post November USA world!
  • Political instability is manifesting itself in Africa as a chronic symptom of the underdevelopment of political life within the imperialist context. Military coups have followed one after the other, usually meaning nothing to the mass of the people, and sometimes representing a reactionary reversal of the efforts at national liberation. This trend was well exemplified in Latin American history, so that its appearance in neo-colonial South Vietnam or in neo-colonial Africa is not at all surprising. If economic power is centered outside national African boundaries, then political and military power in any real sense is also centered outside until, and unless, the masses of peasants and workers are mobilized to offer an alternative to the system of sham political independence.
  • The United States presidential campaign is being transformed into a coup d’état by Donald Trump, who has declared that he will not accept the results of any vote that goes against him. At a White House press conference Wednesday evening, Trump was asked whether he would “commit here today for a peaceful transfer of power after the election.” He replied: “We’re going to have to see what happens. You know, I have been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster.” When his questioner persisted, Trump said, “You’ll have a very peaceful trans—there won’t be a transfer frankly. There will be a continuation.” Trump’s determination to rapidly appoint a new Supreme Court justice to fill the seat left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is a critical element of the unfolding criminal conspiracy. Trump intends to stack the Supreme Court with lackeys who will rubber stamp his repudiation of the election results. “I think this [the election] will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said at the news conference. That the preparations for an overthrow of the Constitution are well advanced is now widely acknowledged.
    • Joseph Kishore and David North, Trump’s coup d’état election, WSWS, (24 September 2020)
  • President Trump's Wednesday refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election has exacerbated all the worries raised by his trolling about serving an unconstitutional third term... I understand fears about dissolution of democratic norms and the apparently nonexistent floor in the cravenness of Republican officials in Trump's thrall. But Trump lacks two necessary things for the coup attempt some of his critics anticipate, and those deficiencies reassure me greatly... The first is competence. As my colleague Damon Linker has ably argued, the president is very good at exercising rhetorical power, but he is very bad at actually doing things, because he is deeply incompetent. He cannot plan. He certainly cannot keep a secret or keep his story straight... The second is the absolute loyalty of the military Trump would need to retain the physical seat of power. If he had strong support among active-duty service members, it would still be quite a leap to say they'd help make him a dictator. But Trump doesn't even net a positive approval rating from U.S. forces anymore.
    • Bonnie Kristian, in Don't worry: The military dislikes Trump too much to help him steal the election, The Week, (25 September 2020)
  • A coup d 'état, is the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group (usually military or paramilitary). According to Oxford University, a coup differs from a revolution, in which large numbers of people work for basic social, economic and political change... many scholars consider a coup to succeed when the usurpers seize and hold power for at least seven days... Patrick McGowan, an accomplished researcher on coups in Africa, proffers that political leaders ejection from power, through unmistakably unconstitutional means, are mainly assisted by the army either on their own or in conjunction with civilian elites such as civil servants and politicians. Researchers add that an essential element of a successful coup is the process of infiltration and subversion. This ensures that a small but critical part of the security forces is totally subverted, while much of the rest is temporarily neutralised. While a variety of mechanisms exist through which coups might pave the way for democratisation, there are still widespread views against it. For starters, coups in democratic societies aren't particularly welcomed because of the stain it places on democracy. Barbara Geddes refer to this as "democratic backsliding," indicative of a democratic breakdown.
    • Kanisa George, Coups and democracy, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (30 September 2020)
  • Here’s what we know: Congress was not prepared on January 6th. We weren’t prepared because we never imagined this could happen: an attack, by our own people, fostered and encouraged by those granted power through the very system they sought to overturn. That is a lesson, not a conspiracy theory or counter-narrative. Some have concocted a counternarrative to discredit this process on the grounds we didn’t launch a similar investigation into the urban riots and looting last summer. Mr. Chairman, I was called on to serve during the summer riots as an Air National Guardsman. I condemned those riots and the destruction of property that resulted. But not once did I ever feel that the future of self-government was threatened like I did on January 6th. There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law, between a crime—even grave crimes—and a coup.
    • Adam Kinzinger, "The Men who Helped Ensure Democracy Held," (27 July 2021), as quoted in Vital Speeches of the Day, 87(9), p. 212.

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