On Jan. 6, Donald Trump tried to disrupt a ceremonial vote tallying by pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to nullify the election results. This was an attempt by Trump to seize power by bypassing the Constitutional order. That’s a coup.
At the “Stop the Steal” rally just prior to the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, Donald Trump gave a long speech outlining a litany of false claims of voter fraud and the roles that he alleged different government officials played in that fraud. This is what we all now know as “the Big Lie,” a narrative so outlandish that a number of its propagandists are being sued for billions by election machine manufacturers. The words of the then-president were so egregious and the results so disturbing that the most bipartisan impeachment trial in US history called his speech “incitement of insurrection.”
Recently, a document has come to light that shows us how coordinated Trump’s attempt was. The “Coup Memo” was written by a lawyer named John Eastman. The memo outlines a six-point plan to overturn the election based on a radical interpretation of the Twelfth Amendment that claims the vice president can unilaterally reject states’ certified election results.
Eastman spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally. Before diving into his multiple grievances, Trump thanked the previous speakers.
In a telling moment that indicates how top-of-mind Eastman’s coup plan was, Trump said:
John [Eastman] is one of the most brilliant lawyers in the country, and he looked at this and he said, ‘What an absolute disgrace that this can be happening to our Constitution.’ And he looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing [i.e., throw out certified Electors], we win the election . . . He has the absolute right to do it.”
Except that Pence absolutely does not have that right. And Eastman recognizes as much in point six of his memo: “6. The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission – either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court. Let the other side challenge his actions in court…”
No one can argue that Pence has been anything but loyal to Trump. But being asked to invalidate the election was a bridge too far, even for someone as compliant as him. After consulting former vice president and fellow Hoosier, Dan Quayle, Pence, to his credit, rejected the Coup Memo. At that point, however, he became just another enemy of the famously fickle and disloyal Trump, and in turn became an enemy of Trump’s rabid following.
The Jan. 6 rioters, who at the time of the speech knew of Pence’s plan to certify the results, lashed out and could be heard chanting for Mike Pence inside the US Capitol. They even set up gallows on the lawn. Who knows what would have happened if Capitol Police Officers like Eugene Goodman did not maintain their wits and keep Pence and members of Congress safe from the rioters?
In the months since Trump attempted to seize power on Jan. 6, many people seem eager to move on even as the situation has gotten more extreme on the Republican side. Rather than rejecting Trump, as some GOP leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham initially did, they have since rallied around him and the Big Lie.
Perhaps most alarming, a recent CNN poll found that 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree that believing Trump won actually in 2020 “was central to being a Republican.” This brings to mind the line attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s minister of propaganda: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote that “a failed coup is practice for a successful coup.” Last Jan. 6 was a failed coup attempt. It was not, however, the end of the story.
Those who propagated the lies about the election are still out there working to make the long-term coup succeed. They probably will not undo the last presidential election, but they are working to make sure to win the next one, no matter what.
If true Americans, those who understand the dangers of power-hungry demagogues and their allies, don’t stand up, hold people accountable in the courts or the ballot box, they will win. Our democracy is still in danger. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
This article originally appeared in the Gainseville Sun and has been slightly modified.
Photo by: Bill Clark/ Zuma Press
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