Or Do They Just Love Trump?
House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy referred to the impeachment of President Trump as “a calculated coup.” His colleague, Rep. Jody Hice tweeted that it was a “premeditated coup.” Joining in was Will Chamberlain, a lawyer and the Editor-in-Chief of Human Events, whose tweet called it “an aristocratic coup” because several witnesses and Rep. Adam Schiff all went to Harvard. And during the impeachment inquiry in the House, Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, addressed witnesses Fiona Hill and David Holmes by calling the inquiry a “publicly announced and proclaimed Democrat coup.”
Even Donald Trump himself described his impeachment as “an attempted coup.”
Calling impeachment a coup is a rhetorical tactic. It must be, because otherwise it lacks all sense. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a coup is “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”
Was it “sudden”? Despite the Republican complaint that this impeachment happened too quickly, Democrats followed all the legal procedures. Was it too fast? Well, it was faster than the Clinton impeachment but slower than Andrew Johnson’s.
Was it “violent”? No. Was it “illegal?” No. Impeachment is specified as a congressional power within the Constitution. Is it a “seizure of power”? This is where the focus of any claim of a coup must lie. Directly stated: Impeachment is not a seizure of power; it’s an exercise of power. To think differently is to ignore logic, meaning, and evidence.
Republicans know that impeachment is not a coup. They use the term because it is inflammatory and will rile up the base. To what end? Clearly, Republicans haven’t thought that far ahead. Nevertheless, they need to take heed that rhetorical tactics have consequences, some of them unpredictable.
Failing to meet the dictionary definition of “coup” will not persuade many that impeachment isn’t a coup. So, let me try a different approach.
Nobody voted for Donald Trump. Instead, they voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. Pence comes along with Trump as his Vice President. No matter how much a voter loves Trump, that voter cannot elect Trump without Pence. If something happens to Trump, such as removal from office via impeachment, then Pence becomes president. There is no way around this succession of power short of a coup, a real coup.
So impeachment and removal from office is the opposite of a coup. It is a Constitutional act that would then invoke the further Constitutional act of succession.
Because the Republicans refer to impeachment as a coup, they either don’t recognize the legitimacy of the Constitution or they don’t understand how to read the Constitution. Literally, since impeachment is in the document.
If they accept the legitimacy of the Constitution, then they can’t fail to accept the legitimacy of the line of succession, which is also in the Constitution (Article II, Section1, Clause 6 and Section 1 of the 25th Amendment). Failure to accept the legitimacy of the Constitution, the supreme law of the nation and the framework for organizing the federal government, is to undermine the fundamental laws and principles of the United States. This, in itself, might constitute an “attempted,” “calculated,” even an “aristocratic” coup.
So in promoting impeachment as a coup, Republicans themselves might be fomenting a coup, depending on the consequences, as I mentioned, of their rhetoric. We might imagine, following an outpouring of “coup” rhetoric, that some militias and members of the far-right might take up arms to try to prevent an impeached and removed President Trump from leaving office.
Ironically, such an act would be an actual coup against President Pence.
Why Not Have Blessed President Pence?
If Republicans understand and accept the Constitution — and some of their actions indicate that neither of those may be true — then how can they talk about a coup? Sure, they want to keep Trump in the White House. But why? How different would Pence’s policies be from Trump’s? From my perspective, not very different at all.
Although Trump takes credit for the current economy, we understand that this economy is a continuation of what we saw under Obama: the stock market soaring, unemployment falling, wages (slowly) rising. Pence won’t do anything to gum up the works and might even help the economy by ceasing the pointless tariffs and trade war with China.
Pence will surely continue to press with Republicans for additional tax cuts and for cuts to social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid under the pretext of reducing the federal deficit. This at a time when Trump’s undermining of Obamacare has removed as many as two million people from health care and when one in four children in this country is poor.
Pence will also nominate more conservative judges; will work to protect the Second Amendment against calls for controls and regulations, will continue to fight to privatize schools through charters and vouchers, and will continue to use tax dollars in support of religious schools. He’ll increase the number of private prisons; will work to end regulations against such industries as coal, oil, and gas; will continue with unabated financial support for the military; will push anti-abortion programs and legislation; and will militate against gay rights while pushing conversion therapy.
It must be especially galling for pro-life evangelicals that their Christian agenda is in the hands of arguably the least Christian president ever, while a consistently pro-life zealot waits in the wings. With Pence the religious right can get the zealotry, plus all the central Republican programs, while simultaneously removing a character of faux Christianity and unblemished immorality.
By every measure, Trump is a “bad hombre,” to use one of Trump’s own insults. In three and a half years in office, as the Washington Post documents, Trump has told over 15,000 lies.
He is a serial adulterer and has been accused by 25 women of sexual assault/harassment.
His language is coarse and streaked with expletives. He insults his political opponents, whether Republican or Democrat; excoriates the press as “enemies of the people”; and describes countries and cities he doesn’t like as “shithole countries,” a “disgusting, rodent and rat infested mess” (Baltimore), and full of “liberal commies” (New York City). He has defrauded contributors to the Trump Foundation (now dissolved) and defrauded students at Trump University (now defunct after multiple lawsuits). He has stiffed contractors, swindled people and businesses, and hired undocumented workers as he simultaneously denigrates, warehouses, and deports them.
Then there are his violations of the Constitution. He is currently being impeached for his abuse of office by placing his election interests above the interests and security of the American people. His withholding of funds approved by Congress for Ukraine was a violation of law.
He has failed to remove himself from his private business, the Trump Organization, in violation of the Emoluments Clause. He attempted to host the G-7 Summit at the Trump-owned Trump National Doral Golf Club. He has used the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, as a billeting center for guests and dignitaries coming to the White House. These, too, are violations of the Emoluments Clause.
Let’s Make America the Holy Land!
Enough is enough says Mark Galli, former editor of the magazine Christianity Today, a significant outlet for evangelical Christian opinion. For Galli, Trump must be removed from office. His lying, his “grossly immoral character,” and his unsavory dealings demand, states Galli, that Trump must go. Failing to do so “will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.”
All the more surprising, then, in light of all of Trump’s venality and malfeasance, is the vibrant and ongoing evangelical support for Trump. Why would members of the faith put up with this blatant immorality when waiting in the wings — almost literally — is one of the most devout Christians in Washington: Mike Pence?
If I am right about the scope and direction of Pence’s policies, and I have seen no reporting that contradicts what Pence might do once in office, then why not face the mountain of evidence already presented in the impeachment trial and, as evangelicals, push their senators to vote to remove Trump?
In return they will receive one of their own and a genuine theocrat. The 10 Commandments will help him rule. He’ll defund Planned Parenthood and move with force to stop abortion however he can. He’ll forcefully move to install and defend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act nationwide to permit business owners to cite religious reasons for refusing to serve members of the LGBTQ community.
So what’s to lose but a miserable sinner to be replaced by a Christian zealot? What’s to lose is the next election. Evangelicals and rightwing Republicans may well suspect that Pence, who was unpopular as governor of Indiana, cannot win if he runs for president.
Sixty-three million Americans voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. So, of course, there are legions of voters who don’t hate Pence. They love Trump. They love the Trump show — the circus rallies; the insult jokes; the mean nicknames given to political opponents in either party; the calling-out of the press; the attacks on the left, the poor, immigrants, women, and minorities. Yes, they’ll miss all of that, because pious Pence might make them hide their cruelty, racism, sexism, and xenophobia and wear their religion in public. If they lose the Trump show and only gain sanctimony in its place, then the non-evangelical legions might not turn out for Pence.
So, better to play it safe with the Immoralist-in-Chief than tempt fate with the Rapture-obsessed VP. Besides, as a political trope, pretending that Trump is God’s “chosen one” still plays well with Evangelicals. Political expediency and Trump’s reality show, then, “trump” religiosity. Pence will have to be satisfied awaiting the Rapture from the Naval Observatory.