Picture Cate Earnshaw Dudley

When a 4-star United States (US) general warns of a coup we should take notice. On 11 November, General McCaffrey tweeted “The crisis at the top of the Pentagon is just beginning – (DANGER. We are watching a slow moving Trump coup to defy the Biden election and refuse to leave office by diktat. Believe your eyes. This will be a test of our institutions.)”

Meanwhile an African journalist describes what is happening in the US in the way that Americans would describe elections and a coup in a poor African country, where they are not really expected to be ‘civilised’. To add to the irony, US Secretary of State Pompeo, who has just announced a second Trump term, had recently tweeted that “The United States is committed to supporting free and fair elections, including the upcoming elections across Africa. We will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those who undermine democracy.”

And what has been happening in No 10? Could the ‘Vote Leave coup’ be nearing its end with the coup within a coup that we seem to have seen?

The Trump coup

Whilst Donald Trump and his loyalist circle refuse to accept Biden’s victory and the president still in theory has his finger on the ‘nuclear button’, American citizens watch the TV or read Twitter with shock and disbelief. ‘No, it couldn’t happen here.’ ‘We have the US constitution and Biden won.’ They might even think that Donald Trump is their saviour. But remember all those Bond movies with a villain trying to take control of the world’s greatest weapons in order to rule the world? Where is James Bond when needed? Or even Batman? After all, the Joker is certainly at large.

When I taught politics, I used to say the US had far better checks and balances (via the institutions mentioned in McCaffrey’s tweet) than the UK, but Trump has seemed to be giving a masterclass on how to dismantle those checks and balances by attempting White House executive ownership of all the institutions. The Supreme Court is now two-thirds Republican. The Pentagon civilian branch has just been decapitated and replaced with Trump loyalists. Some Republican senators are refusing to recognise Biden’s win.

We are being told a coup could happen and not just by the general. Although Biden dismisses what is happening and makes plans as he should, Yale professor Timothy Snyder reminds us of how democracy is lost in a thread of tweets. Democracy is lost ‘from within’ and ‘Donald Trump has said all along that he would ignore the vote count.’ Also, ‘In an authoritarian situation, the election is only round one. You don’t win by winning round one.’

What is happening right now in the US was described one year ago in depth by lawyer and academic Edward B Foley who includes:

“The most frightening scenario is where the dispute remains unresolved on January 20, 2021, the date for the inauguration of the new presidential term, and the military is uncertain as to who is entitled to receive the nuclear codes as commander-in-chief.”

The Vote Leave coup

Democracy is about more than having a vote. Isn’t it? Seemingly only in theory as far as the ‘Vote Leave’ government is concerned. Perhaps lecturers can only teach theory and compare it with reality. Then again, maybe our more-than-just-voting democracy in the mother-of-all-parliaments no longer exists. We might now seem to be an ‘illiberal democracy’ governed by people behind the scenes with a puppet prime minister.

Of course, we always knew we had very few democratic protections in the unwritten constitution of the UK. Now the few we had are disappearing fast. A constitutional monarchy with an unelected upper chamber is not democratic, yet ironically, we might need to rely on them to protect us from an authoritarian ‘coup’ by an executive which has weakened the powers of an elected parliament and the judiciary.


More from East Midlands Bylines:


But could it be that there is now a coup within a coup largely brought on by Trump’s defeat? After all Afua Hirsch reminds us that: “The UK’s imperial delusions will not go down so well in a White House led by people with roots in Ireland, India and Jamaica.”

Leicester MP Jon Ashworth tweets they were squabbling like ‘rats in a sack’ in No 10. The protagonists included Johnson, his erstwhile comms man Lee Cain, his partner Carrie Symonds and his supposedly-now-gone chief advisor Dominic Cummings. (Where is Michael Gove when you don’t want him?)

Might this mean the end of the Vote Leave government and the return of a more sensible Conservative government that could get us a good Brexit deal? We can live in Unicorn-land.

So what are we doing (apart from wishful thinking)?

Unfortunately, in both the US and the UK many voters actively support the coups. At a time of ‘Remembrance’ we really should know better. So, for those who do know better, has Covid-19 turned us into passive beings depending on the government to set us free (I do generally support lockdown). And is ‘lockdown syndrome’ similar to ‘Stockholm syndrome’? Because we depend on our captors, we ignore their criminal activities? We just watch as our democracy and our NHS are eroded.

Apart from occasionally writing to an MP in very British fashion or signing a petition to demand an enquiry which never seems to happen, what are we doing about this corrupt government?

And what can we do? Should we be defiantly marching, socially-distanced style, in the streets along with the anti-mask brigade? Or do we need to look to eastern Europe for the answer. In Belarus, courageous citizens are peacefully standing in protest on a daily basis having had their election stolen from them (in reality, not in Trump style propaganda). They are fighting peacefully to gain democracy. 

We might need to fight to preserve our democracies on both sides of the Atlantic.

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