Author: Steve Prestegard

The coup attempt that wasn’t a coup attempt

Ryan McMaken:

On Wednesday, a mob apparently composed of Trump supporters forced its way past US Capitol security guards and briefly moved unrestrained through much of the Capitol building. They displayed virtually no organization and no clear goals.

The only deaths were on the side of the mob, with one woman—apparently unarmed—shot dead by panicky and trigger-happy Capitol police, with three others suffering nonspecific “medical emergencies.”

Yet, the media response has been to act as if the event constituted a coup d’etat. This was “A Very American Coup” according to a headline at the New Republic. “This Is a Coup” insists a writer at Foreign Policy. The Atlantic presented photos purported to be “Scenes from an American Coup.”

But this wasn’t a coup, and what happened on Wednesday is conceptually very different from a coup. Coups nearly always are acts committed by elites against the sitting executive power using the tools of the elites. This isn’t at all what happened on Wednesday.

What Is a Coup?

A gang of disorganized, powerless mechanics, janitors, and insurance agents running through the Capitol isn’t a coup. And if it was a coup attempt, it was so far from anything that might hope to succeed as a coup that it should not be taken seriously as such.

So how do we know a coup when we see one?

In their article “Global Instances of Coups from 1950 to 2010: A New Dataset,” authors Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne provide a definition:

A coup attempt includes illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive.

There are two key components of this definition. The first is that it is illegal. Powell and Thyne note that this “illegal” qualifier is important to include “because it differentiates coups from political pressure, which is common whenever people have freedom to organize.”

In other words, protests, or threats of protest don’t count as coups. Neither do legal efforts such as a vote of no confidence or an impeachment.

But an even more critical aspect of Powell and Thyne’s definition is that it requires the involvement of elites.

This can be seen in any stereotypical example of a coup d’etat. This generally involves a renegade military detachment, military officers, and others from within the state apparatus who can employ knowledge, skills, influence, and coercive tools gained through membership in the regime’s elite circles.

The attempted coup in Japan in 1937, for example, was carried out by more than fifteen hundred officers and men of the Japanese imperial army. They nonetheless failed, likely because they miscalculated the amount of support they enjoyed among other officers. More recently, in the 2009 Honduran coup, the bulk of the Honduran army turned on the president, Manuel Zelaya, and sent him into exile. That was a successful coup. More famously, Chile’s 1973 coup was successfully led by Agusto Pinochet, the commander-in-chief of the army, and his position enabled him to shell the Chilean executive palace with military hardware.

Contrast this with nameless MAGA hat–wearing flag wavers, and the inappropriateness of the term “coup” in this case should be blatantly obvious. With real coups, power is seized by a faction of the elite which has the ability to take control of the machinery of the state indefinitely. Although some of Trump’s critics claim he was somehow responsible for Wednesday’s mob, it is clear that Trump was not coordinating or directing any sort of military operation through Twitter posts. There was no plan for holding power. Had those who invaded the Capitol building managed to take control of the building for a time, there’s no reason to think this would have somehow translated into control of the state. How would it? The real coercive power remained well ensconced within an apparently undivided military apparatus.

Moreover, it has been clear for years that the permanent technocracy which controls the day-to-day execution of federal administrative power (i.e., the “deep state”) has long been committed to undermining the Trump administration—from high-ranking FBI agents to military diplomats, to Pentagon officials. From where would Trump draw the necessary cooperation from elites to overturn more than two hundred years of established norms in transfers of presidential power? In any case, the Biden administration is likely to be better for the state’s elites than the Trump administration. There is no reason for any group of them to contemplate a coup against Biden.

Thus, if any of Wednesday’s Capitol rioters thought they were about to bring about a coup by smashing some windows in the Capitol, they were engaging in thoroughly amateurish thinking. It’s unlikely, however, that more than a few of the rioters thought there was a coup d’etat afoot. It’s more likely most of them simply wanted to dramatically display their displeasure with the federal regime and to signal they weren’t going to placidly submit to whatever the American bureaucracy decided to dish out.

Nonetheless, we should not be surprised that the media has rushed to apply the term to the riot. This phenomenon was examined in a November 2019 article titled “Coup with Adjectives: Conceptual Stretching or Innovation in Comparative Research?,” by Leiv Marsteintredet and Andres Malamud. The authors note that as the incidence of real coups has declined, the word has become more common but with modifiers attached.

Examples of these modifiers include “soft,” “constitutional,” “parliamentary,” and “slow-motion.” Numerous critics of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, for example, repeatedly called it a “soft coup.” The authors note this is no mere issue of splitting hairs, explaining that “The choice of how to conceptualize a coup is not to be taken lightly since it carries normative, analytical, and political implications.”

Increasingly, the term really means “this is a thing I don’t like.” But the term’s use paints the noncoup participants as criminals poised to seize power illegally. By applying this term to the acts of a disorganized group of Trump supporters with no base of support among state elites, the pundits know exactly what they’re doing.

If you think it’s over, you’re wrong

Facebook Friend Michael Smith:

The media, and even a large contingent of the Congressional Republicans and Democrats want you to believe what happened at the Capitol complex was only about President Trump.
It is not.
I have constantly been told today by preening ruling class members that “This is not who we are”.
Where the hell have they been for a year and a half, in a coma?
Because thanks to the way BLM and ANTIFA were ignored as they occupied, looted, and destroyed without consequence, this is EXACTLY who have become. They made us this way.
We have witnessed a national media express overt bias against a president they despise.
We witnessed talk of impeachment even before the president was inaugurated.
We watched as Democrats and the media cheered when the 25th Amendment was discussed.
We watched as Congressman Steve Scalise was shot on a baseball field by a Bernie Sanders supporter.
We watched a destructive, partisan investigation of “collusion” wind on for two years that ultimately ended in a whimper.
We watched as a decorated Army general was railroaded and was held hostage by a partisan judge as the liars criminals in the DOJ safely scurried away and were rewarded with jobs at CNN and MSNBC.
We watched a false impeachment concocted by House Democrats, in secret and behind closed doors.
We watched as the Democrat Speaker of the House ripped up the State of the Union speech in front of the joint session of Congress, the President, and a live TV audience.
We watched as investigations of Crossfire Hurricane turned up crime after crime and one single, low level functionary was prosecuted – the primary actors went free.
We have seen how the law does not apply to favored groups.
We watched as Democrats and the left-wing media cheered as ANTIFA and BLM tore apart cities. Violent protest was patriotic, looting was reparations, and violence was completely understandable because the cause was righteous.
We have seen how easy it is for our constitutional rights to be ignored if we are in a “public health crisis” and governors decide they can force you to shut your business, stop going to work and submit to house arrest for an indeterminate period of time.
We have seen how social media can just shut down speech with which they disagree any time they want and still enjoy protection of the government.
We watched as unexplained events occurred as we had a very suspect election rammed down our throats.
In the aftermath of the election, we watched as concerns about the election were turned aside, affidavits were ignored, statistical analysis was swept away and even the Supreme Court refusing to even hear a major complaint from an entire state.
We have watched as states clearly violate their own state constitutions and in turn, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States by ignoring their own legislatures when they modified election laws.
And then we watched as only 11 Senators could even be troubled to rise in opposition to the counting of electoral votes from states with suspect vote tallies.
Americans are exhausted.
And quite frankly, they are damn tired of being ignored. There are a significant number of Americans who are tired of being the Forgotten Man. We are tired of getting crapped on and then still getting the dinner bill.
This is not solely about Trump. I do not completely understand his actions but in truth, I do understand how he feels. I feel the same frustration. This is about something bigger; it is about the total failure of the ruling class to hear the citizens. It should be no surprise when tactics that groups use that prove to be successful are taken up by their opposition.
If the ruling class does not learn from this, they are morons. That includes Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Congressional Republicans. They can condemn the actions today as much as they want, but if they ignore how it came to this point, God help us all.

The election skeptics

Ryan McMaken:

Perhaps not since the nineteenth century have so many American voters so fervently doubted the outcome of a national election.

Slate headline from December 13 reads: “82 Percent of Trump Voters Say Biden’s Win Isn’t Legitimate.” If even half true, this poll means tens of millions of Americans believe the incoming ruling party in Washington got its political power by cheating.

The implications of this are broader than one might think. Under the current system, if many millions of Americans doubt the veracity of the official vote count, the challenge to the status quo goes beyond simply thinking that Democrats are cheaters. Rather, the Trump voters’ doubts indict much of the American political system overall and call its legitimacy into question.

For example, if Trump supporters are unwilling to accept that the vote count in Georgia was fair—in a state where Republicans control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion—this means skepticism goes well beyond mere distrust of the Democratic Party. For Trump’s vote-count skeptics, not even the GOP or the nonpartisan election officials can be trusted to count the votes properly.

Moreover, unlike the general public, Trump supporters appear to have adopted a keenly suspicious view toward these administrators and the systems they control. This is all to the best, regardless of the true extent of voter fraud in 2020. After all, government administrators—including those who count the votes—are not mere disinterested, efficiency-obsessed administrators. They have their own biases and political interests. They’re not neutral.

How did Trump supporters become such skeptics? Whether accurately or not, Trump is viewed as an antiestablishment figure by most of his supporters. He is supposed to be the man who will “drain the swamp” and oppose the entrenched administrative state (i.e., the deep state).

In practice, this means opposition must go beyond mere partisan opposition. It was not enough to simply trust the GOP, because, either instinctively or intellectually, many Trump supporters know he has never really been a part of the GOP establishment. The opposition from within the Republican Party has always been substantial, and the old party guard never stopped opposing him. For Trump’s supporters, then, the two-party system isn’t enough to act as a brake on abuse by the administrative state—at least when it comes to sabotaging the Trump administration. In the minds of many supporters, Trump embodies the anti-establishment party while his opponents can be found in both parties and in the nonpartisan administrative state itself.

This view has formed over time in a reaction to real life experience. Trump supporters have been given plenty of reasons to suspect that anti-Trump sentiment is endemic within the bureaucracy. For example, from the beginning, high-ranking “nonpartisan” officials at the FBI were actively seeking to undermine the Trump presidency. Then there was Alexander Vindman, who openly opposed legal orders from the White House and lent aid to House officials hoping to impeach Trump. Then there were those Pentagon officials who apparently lied to Trump in order to avoid drawing down US troops in Syria. All this was on top of the usual bureaucrats, who already tend to be hated by conservative populists: education bureaucrats, IRS agents, environmental regulators, and others responsible for carrying out federal edicts.

And then there were the federal medical “experts” like Anthony Fauci, who insisted Americans ought not to be allowed to leave their homes until no new covid-19 cases were discovered for a period of weeks. Translation: never.

Health technocrats like Fauci came to be hated by Trump supporters, not just for seeking to shut down churches and ruin the lives of countless business owners, but for setting themselves up as political opponents of the administration through daily press releases and other means of contradicting the White House.

It only makes sense that Trump’s supporters would extend this distrust of the bureaucracy to those who count the votes. After all, who counts the votes has always been of utmost importance. It’s why renowned political cartoonist Thomas Nast had Boss Tweed utter these words in an 1871 cartoon: “As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?”

This has always been a good question.

Old party bosses like Tweed are now out of the picture, but the votes nowadays are calculated and certified instead by people who, like Tweed, have their own ideological views and their own political interests. The official vote counts are handed down by bureaucratic election officials and by party officials, most of whom are outside the circles of Trump loyalists.

Given the outright political and bureaucratic opposition Trump has faced from other corners of the administrative state, there seems to be little reason for his supporters to trust those who count the votes.

Thus, whether facing FBI agents or election officials, Trump supporters learned to take official government reports and pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism. The end result: for the first time, under Trump, the American administrative state came to be widely viewed as a political force seeking to undermine a legitimately elected president, and as a political interest group in itself.

Naturally, the media and the administrative state itself have reacted to this with outrage and disbelief that anyone could believe that the professional technocrats and bureaucrats could have anything in mind other than selfless, efficient service to the greater good. The idea that lifelong employees of the regime might be biased against a man supposedly tasked with dismantling the regime was—we were assured—absurd.

Although Trump’s supporters may get some of the details wrong, the distrustful view of the bureaucracy is the more accurate and realistic view. The view of the American administrative state as impartial, nonideological, and aloof from politics has always been the naïve view, and one pushed by the Progressive reformers who created this class of permanent government “experts.”

Before these Progressives triumphed in the early twentieth century, this permanent class of technocrats, bureaucrats and “experts” did not exist in the United States. Prior to civil service reform in the late nineteenth century, most bureaucratic jobs—at all levels of government—were given to party loyalists. When Republicans won the White House, the Republican president filled bureaucratic positions with political supporters. Other parties did the same.

This was denounced by reformers, who maligned this system as “the spoils system.” Reformers insisted that American politics would be far less corrupt, more efficient, and less politicized, if permanently appointed experts in public administration were put into these positions instead.

But the rub was that in spite of claims by the reformers, there was never any reason to assume this new class of administrators would be politically neutral. The first sign of danger in this regard was the fact that those who wanted civil service reform seemed to come from a very specific background. Murray Rothbard writes:

The civil service Reformers were a remarkably homogeneous group. Concentrated almost exclusively in the urban Northeast, including New York City and especially Boston, the Reformers virtually constituted an older, highly educated and articulate elite. From families of old patrician wealth, mercantile and financial rather than coming from new industries, these men despised what they saw as the crass materialism of the nouveau riche, as well as their lack of good breeding or education at Harvard or Yale. Not only were the Reformers merchants, attorneys, and educators, but they virtually constituted the most influential “media elite” of the day: editors, writers, and scholars.

In practice, as Rothbard has shown, civil service reform did not eliminate corruption or bias in the administration of the regime. Rather, the advent of the civil service only shifted bureaucratic power away from working-class party loyalists, and toward middle-class and university-educated personnel. These people, of course, had their own socioeconomic backgrounds and political agendas, as suggested by one anti-reform politician at the time who recognized that civil service exams would be employed to direct jobs in a certain direction:

So, sir, it comes to this at last, that…the dunce who had been crammed up to a diploma at Yale, and comes fresh from his cramming, will be preferred in all civil service appointments to the ablest, most successful, and most upright business man of the country, who either did not enjoy the benefit of early education, or from whose mind, long engrossed in practical pursuits, the details and niceties of academic knowledge have faded away as the headlands disappear when the mariner bids his native land good night.

Gone were the old party activists who had worked their way up to a position of power from local communities in which they had skin in the game. The new technocrats were something else entirely.

Today, of course, the bureaucracy continues to be characterized by ideological leanings of its own. For example, government workers, from the federal level down, skew heavily Democrat. They have more job security. They’re better paid. They’re less rural. They have more formal education. It’s a safe bet the bureaucracy isn’t chock full of Trump supporters. Civil service reform didn’t eliminate corruption and bias. It simply created a different kind.

Trump supporters recognize that these people don’t go away when “their guy” wins. These are permanent civil “servants” whom Trump supporters suspect—with good reason—have been thoroughly opposed to the Trump administration.

So, if the FBI and the Pentagon have already demonstrated their officials are willing to break and bend rules to obstruct Trump, why believe the administrative class when they insist elections are free and fair and all above board? Many have found little reason to do so.

The problem with assuming that voter fraud, voting fraud or voter count fraud cost Trump the presidency is that it fails to admit that Trump lost votes for a legitimate reason — Trump himself. It also fails to admit that some voters voted against Trump because they preferred Biden’s positions to Trump’s.

For what it’s worth, I think the hypothesis that voter fraud cost Trump the presidency is unprovable.


Presty the DJ for Jan. 6

First: The song of the day for those who understand what the 12 days of Christmas really mean:

The number one album today in 1968 was the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”:

The number one single today in 1973 included a person rumored to be the subject of the song on backing vocals:

The number one British single today in 1979 was this group’s only number one:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 6”

Presty the DJ for Jan. 5

Today’s first song is posted in honor of the first FM signal heard by the Federal Communications Commission today in 1940:

Today in 1968, Jimi Hendrix was jailed for one day in Stockholm, Sweden, for destroying the contents of his hotel room.

The culprit? Not marijuana or some other controlled substance. Alcohol.

Today in 1973, Bruce Springsteen released his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” It sold all of 25,000 copies in its first year.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 5”

Presty the DJ for Jan. 4

The number one single today in 1959, which (1) extended Christmas beyond where non-Episcopalians (who would tell you that Christmas lasts until Epiphany) would want it, and (2) proves yet again that there is no accounting for taste:

Today in 1970, the Who’s Keith Moon was trying to escape from a gang of skinheads when he accidentally hit and killed chauffeur Neil Boland.

The problem was Moon’s attempt at escape. He had never passed his driver’s license test.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 4”

Presty the DJ for Jan. 3

The number one single on both sides of the Atlantic today in 1957:

Today in 1964, NBC-TV’s Tonight show showed the first U.S. video of the Beatles, two months after NBC News’ first report:

Today in 1967, Beach Boy Carl Wilson got his draft notice, and declared he was a conscientious objector.

Today in 1969, Jimi Hendrix appeared on BBC’s Lulu show, and demonstrated the perils of live TV:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 3”

Presty the DJ for Jan. 2

The number one album today in 1965 was the soundtrack to “Roustabout”:

Today in 1968, the complete shipment of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s new album, “Two Virgins,” was confiscated by New Jersey authorities due to the album cover. A revised cover was used in record stores:

Click here to see why the album cover was revised.

The number one album today in 1971 was fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 2”