Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away. (1742)
Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in Great Britain every November 5 with bonfires and fireworks displays. Fawkes and his friends were trying to seize power from King James I to restore a Catholic monarchy in England after decades of intolerance. The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the opening of parliament on November 5, 1605 but an anonymous letter gave away the plan. Fawkes and his co-conspirators were arrested and paid a very high price for their actions. They were hanged, then drawn and quartered. In the past monarchies defended themselves vigorously against plotters and conspirators.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called 2021 “an epidemic of coups d’état”. There were four military takeovers in Africa – Guinea, Sudan, Mali and Chad. On September 5, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and his soldiers stormed the presidential palace in Conakry, Guinea seizing President Alpha Condé in a coup d’état. Conde had been the first democratically-elected president after decades of authoritarian rule. The same happened in Sudan, Mali and Chad.
But by far, the most surprising attempt at a coup d’état was the one in Washington, DC: the failed January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. It was organized by Trump’s inner circle of Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro supported by a hundred Republican congressmen. “The Green Bay Sweep” as it was called by Navarro in a recent memoir, was a farcical attempt to seize power. The plotters sought to keep Trump in office by blocking the certification of the Electoral College votes in pivotal states.
In a coup d’état the first rule is that you have to seize power using military force, not by selling MAGA hats, speech-making or drawing out the certification procedure on National television. The Trump insurrection failed because it was run by a bunch of power-hungry blowhards and a complete moron of a president. On January 6 Trump was still president of the United States and wielded immense power. After the attack on the Capitol, all he had to do was to declare a national emergency, call out the troops and round up the members of Congress, throwing them in jail for their own protection. This would have immediately put an end to the certification vote that gave Biden authority as the new president. Meanwhile, Trump’s people could have alerted the Republican-controlled state legislatures of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and requested an immediate vote by their legislators in favour of Trump. These new votes would have replaced the first set of electoral college votes sent to Congress. Trumps allies in Congress would then have organized a new certification vote and declared Donald J. a winner.
This is how the 1876 election was stolen from the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden after he won the popular vote against the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. In the first count of votes, Tilden had won 184 electoral votes to Hayes’ 165 with some twenty votes unresolved from three contested states: Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. Hayes’ Republicans went into each state and bribed their way to victory with money from the railroad lobby who had gotten immensely rich under President Grant’s administration. They sent a new set of electoral votes to Washington and Rutherford Hayes became president.
This would certainly have happened on January 6 if Trump and his co-conspirators had understood the meaning of the term ‘seize power’. Seizing power means arresting opposition figures, taking control of television, radio, and newspapers, controlling the message on social media, and installing a lockdown across the country all under the guise of a national emergency. Instead, the hopeless plotters put their faith in an old college football cliché and the hope that the Vice-President Mike Pence would arrange everything and refuse the certification of the electoral college votes. The Green Bay Sweep refers to a football play named after coach Vince Lombardi when a Green Bay running back would pound into the end zone behind a “phalanx of blockers”.
There have been lots of failed coups around the world and the plotters often pay a very high price for their actions. Remember the 2016 attempted coup against President Recep Erdogan and the Turkish state. It was the bloodiest coup attempt in Turkish history and 241 people were killed after the soldiers and tanks took to the streets and fighter jets dropped bombs on the parliament buildings. Ergogan blamed it on his arch enemy Fethullah Gullen and a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces. He quickly declared a state of emergency and arrested thousands of military officials, pilots, police officers, civil servants, academics and even teachers who were sacked from their jobs for alleged links to the “terrorist” plot.
This is what happens when a coup fails. You lock up the conspirators and throw away the key. Recep Erdogan did what any reasonable president would do in the circumstances. He locked up the ringleaders and their supporters, but he went way beyond that. He used the government to crush any opposition to his rule. He destroyed a once great nation by transforming the decades-old parliamentary system into a heavily centralized presidential one. He suppressed core liberties such as the freedom of expression in the media.
No state, not even a democracy, can permit their sworn enemies to return to power. This is why democracy in America is under threat. No one is willing to defend the Constitution and the right to vote. It is very frustrating to see Trump’s acolytes who ransacked the Capitol on January 6, 2020 serve prison sentences and pay huge fines, while Trump and his political cronies walk away without any charges. Without the arrest and prosecution of the Trump conspirators, US democracy will probably not last another ten years.