The endgame came clear this week, and let’s not kid ourselves. If they can get away with it, Donald Trump and the Republican Party are going to stage a coup to nullify the Constitution and the election. And if you’re rolling your eyes right now, you are the naïve one, and you’d better wake up.
This isn’t exactly a plan. It’s foolish to say that Trump thinks ahead about anything. The late journalist Wayne Barrett said many true things about Trump, but the truest ever was when he observed that Trump says whatever will get him through the next 10 minutes. Those press conferences he gives outside the White House are impromptu performances in which he trots out whatever lie he thinks will sound good. I’d use the word “improvisation,” but that word has positive associations with masterful jazz artists. Trump isn’t that. He’s a 3-year-old child at a piano whose response to everyone in the house yelling “Stop!” is to bang-play louder.
Even so, he stumbles into planting a seed here and there, like when he muses—sorry, “jokes”—about serving three or four terms. And the people around him of course are more strategic and are thinking ahead. And they’re all saying and doing and writing things right now that will, if the opportunity presents itself, pave the way for Trump to burn the Constitution.
Here are the three keys to the coming coup.
Key One: Declare Impeachment Unconstitutional
That letter from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and Trump’s comments in its wake, laid the groundwork for ignoring the results of the House impeachment process. The letter said the approach to impeachment is “unconstitutional” and “constitutionally invalid.”
Obviously, it’s a lie—the power to impeach is specifically vested in the House of Representatives in the Constitution. Beyond that, the letter argued that a committee process isn’t legitimate until there’s been a full House vote, and this, too, of course, is a lie. In the Nixon era, the House Judiciary Committee started holding hearings that they officially called impeachment hearings right after the Saturday Night Massacre, in October 1973. The full House voted—overwhelmingly—to proceed with impeachment in February 1974. So Nancy Pelosi has four months to hold that full House vote to match the Watergate calendar, which, of course isn’t itself constitutionally binding.
This lie will also enable Trump to ignore the Supreme Court should it rule that his administration has to honor all House subpoenas and challenge the other two branches of government: You and what army? There’s a chance that some Republicans will desert him if he does that, but most of them will parrot whatever lie Trump and Fox tell them to parrot.
But that they’re lying is old hat and no longer important. What’s important is the groundwork the letter is laying. It was written entirely so that Trump and his lawyers can later say that the articles passed by the House are illegitimate.
And when Trump says that, next month or the following, what’s Mitch McConnell going to say? The same thing. And he’ll pass—on simple majority vote, which he can do—a resolution dismissing the articles and declaring that the Senate won’t even hold a trial.
Thus will the Constitution be negated. As you will hear all these contemptibles say when the time comes, the Constitution does not command that a trial be held. It’s blazingly obvious to anyone with common sense that the Constitution intends for the Senate to have a trial. But James Madison & Co. didn’t anticipate that the United States Senate would be led by actual traitors to the Constitution who had zero desire to defend their branch of government but would hold positions of power in the United States Senate.
Key Two: Answer Every New Allegation With a Bigger Deep-State Lie
We’ve seen this play out many times. Every new revelation must be met with a counterpunch. The more shocking the revelation, the more dead-to-rights Trump is, the more Pravda-like the response.
These people can read a summary of a phone conversation in which a thing obviously happened and say it didn’t happen. I mean, this is Big Brother-land in a way we’ve never seen. Again, for the record, Trump said to Zelensky: “The other thing, There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you ·can look into it... It sounds horrible to me.”
If that’s not Don Corleone telling Tom Hagan that Tessio has to go, I don’t know what is. And yet these people can go on television and say that the readout doesn’t say what it so obviously says. It takes a particular kind of audacity to do that, or to say that Trump was joking when he asked China for Biden dirt, and a surrendering of conscience and will that those of us with small-d democratic instincts will never understand.
Key Three: Delegitimize the 2020 Election
This has started already, with the attacks on impeachment as an attempt to undo the 2016 election and as a preemptive strike because Democrats know they can’t beat him in 2020, which Trump said Thursday night in his Minnesota rally. By general election time next year, Trump’s third of the country will be well indoctrinated.
And so, if the election is in any way close or contested, if he loses but there’s the slightest excuse not to respect the results, we know what will happen. It might literally come down to the Army charging into the White House to drag him out of there.
The Ukraine noose is going to tighten and tighten. The whistleblower will testify, and perhaps the second one, and perhaps others. Some brave State Department people. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may sing.
With each tightening, we will inch closer to justice. But the twisted, painful, and terrifying reality is that with this man in office and with an authoritarian political party behind him, as we inch closer to justice, we will also inch closer to our worst nightmare. And we have no idea which will win. Doubt nothing about what these people are capable of.