COMMENTARY

The coup and the grift: Understanding Trump's evil endgame

Trump's cash grab is important, and so is his effort to hang onto power. But neither of those is the ultimate point

By Chauncey DeVega

Published December 24, 2020 7:00AM (EST)

US President Donald Trump (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump's villainy does not rest or find any respite during the holiday season.

As Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth About Trump," told Salon in a recent phone conversation, Trump will accept any help — legal or illegal, foreign or domestic, from friend or foe — in his effort to remain in power. Donald Trump is America's fascist authoritarian stalker. He will not stop.

During a video released on Tuesday evening, Donald Trump again suggested that he will not leave office as required on Inauguration Day. In that same speech, Trump also offered the American people payments of $2,000 each (instead of the paltry $600 dollars yielded by Republicans) in coronavirus relief support. In effect, Trump hopes to bribe the American people — even at this late date — into supporting his attempted coup.

How has America's mainstream news media responded to Trump's ongoing coup attempt? With some notable exceptions, the professional political observers and commentariat are focused on the political countdown clock and what they see as Joe Biden's inevitable ascension on Jan. 20. But while the media obsesses about a return to "normalcy," Trump continues to scheme and plot.

Last Friday, Trump held a meeting with his cabal in the Oval Office. Apparently, there were discussions of a military coup that would allow Trump to "re-run" the election in states he has lost. Other options explored included the confiscation of voting machines to search for "irregularities" — which would presumably be found, leading to Trump's miraculous "re-election." Trump and his agents are also conspiring with Republicans in Congress to disrupt or delay the certification of Biden's electoral victory on Jan. 6.

Last Sunday, two days after Trump's seditious meeting in the White House, his campaign sent the following email to supporters:

Biden's Campaign Manager said Republicans were "a bunch of f---ers."

Friend,

Wow.

First, Hillary called you DEPLORABLE.

Then, Joe Biden said we aren't good people.

Next, Nancy called you a DOMESTIC ENEMY.

And NOW, Biden's campaign manager says we're "a bunch of f---ers."

This is what the Left thinks of you. They HATE you and only want to BRING YOU DOWN. Unbelievable. We cannot allow these LOW-LIFE DEMOCRATS to run our Country.

We're turning to the President's strongest defenders, like YOU, to step up and FIGHT BACK against the Radical Left. We must DEFEND the Election.

Please contribute ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to support your President and to DEFEND America from the Left.

Donald Trump's emails to his followers are not separate from the coup plot. In fact, they are central to it.

TrumpWorld is an alternate reality, a political cult whose followers are tied together with the Great Leader in a knot of collective narcissism and other antisocial pathologies. Through that process Donald Trump's grievances become his followers' grievances. Trump's narrative of white victimology and "betrayal" — by Democrats, "the deep state," antifa or Black Lives Matter activists, the media, immigrants, Muslims and whatever group may be targeted in a given day or week — is shared by his followers.

The language used in Trump's emails to his fascistic flock, be it about "defending" the election or an appeal to "patriots," or as in the above example the bugaboo of "the left" and the "low-life Democrats" who "hate" you and "your President," is calculated to insult, enrage and activate a sense of grievance and anger.

The grand uniting theme of Donald Trump's emails to his followers is a narrative of "us" versus "them," the "real Americans" vs some imagined enemy. Stochastic terrorism is central here: Political violence is encouraged as a patriotic and necessary act to "defend" Trump and his "real Americans."

To understand Trump's campaign emails as purely a financial grift is to miss the larger picture. Authoritarianism is by its very nature kleptocratic. Moreover, Trump's "fundraising" emails are a way to insulate himself against criminal charges (and possible conviction) after leaving office, and then to finance his rebellious shadow presidency.

Trump's campaign emails fulfill another role as well: In conjunction with the vast right-wing disinformation machine, they psychologically condition his followers into giving aid, comfort and other support for political violence against the Biden administration, other Democrats and liberals and progressives more generally.

The Trump regime's strategy of violence and intimidation against Democrats — as well as those Republicans deemed to be insufficiently loyal — has proven at least partly effective. Michigan's State House was closed on the day the Electoral College cast its votes, for example, to protect its members from possible attack.

Several weeks ago, the Michigan secretary of state's home was surrounded by dozens of armed right-wing gunmen in an act of political intimidation inspired by Trump's blatant lies about electoral fraud. Earlier, a plot by right-wing terrorists to kidnap and execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in hopes of launching a "revolution," was stopped by law enforcement. This plot also targeted other government officials, including Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. 

Overall, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the FBI and other law enforcement and watchdog groups, hate crimes and other right-wing violence have greatly increased during Trump's presidency. White right-wing terrorists are now a greater a threat to the country's domestic security than terrorism by militant Islamists. Inspired by Trump's presidency and the global right, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have committed mass shootings and other acts of lethal violence both in the United States and abroad.

Trump is not subtle in his embrace of white supremacist and other right-wing violence. After the mayhem in Charlottesville in 2017, which killed Heather Heyer and injured many other people, Trump described the Confederate sympathizers, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who led the rioting as "very fine people". During the 2020 presidential debates Trump also delivered a nod to the Proud Boys, a right-wing street gang, inviting them to "stand back and stand by."

The Proud Boys and other extremists fully understand Trump's expectations. For example, the Proud Boys and similar groups are supposedly planning to infiltrate Biden's inauguration with the goal of disrupting it. Right-wing militia leaders have threatened to resist Biden's presidency, deeming him to be an illegal president and usurper. Two weeks ago in Washington, pro-Trump thugs ran amok, attacking innocent bystanders, engaging in street combat with antifascists and targeting Black churches for vandalism.

In Salem, Oregon, this week, dozens of right-wing thugs (some of them armed) attacked the State Capitol with the goal of forcing Gov. Kate Brown and state legislators to abandon coronavirus public health restrictions. After attacking journalists and police officers, these paramilitaries were finally dispersed by law enforcement. 

While this is obvious it must still be stated: If the Oregon State Capitol were attacked by Black or brown or Muslim people (armed or not), they would have been suppressed with lethal force. 

Barring the unthinkable, Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States. Trump's coup attempt will metastasize into a shadow presidency, and his followers will mutate into a seditious fifth column, slavishly committed to the Great Leader, his family and his amorphous "cause."

The danger here is not that 74 million Trump voters will pick up arms and begin a second American civil war. But instead that far too many of them will give aid, comfort and support, both material and symbolic, to Trump's shadow presidency and the political terrorism it will likely inspire.

The ultimate goal of Trump's coup attempt is to overthrow the norms of democratic governance and legitimacy, by any means necessary. Trump would of course like to remain in power indefinitely, but that is only the proximate goal. On Jan. 20, he will likely be deposed — but the struggle will continue. If the American neofascist movement empowered by Donald Trump is allowed to keep growing, then his coup attempt will have achieved a major strategic success.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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