Impeachment is not a Coup

A public service announcement.

In working on another post, I noted the following tweet from the 45th President of the United States from over a week ago:

This is, to put it bluntly, a ridiculous (and highly irresponsible) statement.

Impeaching (and even removing) a president is not a “coup.” A coup d’etat is an extralegal process wherein an executive is irregularly removed from office in a manner outside of any established legal or constitutional process.

For example, if military officers were to show up at the door of the president’s residence one Sunday morning and escorted him to a private plane bound for Costa Rica against his wishes with the goal of barring him from returning to the country (as happened to Mel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009) that would be a coup.

If a foreign intelligence service provided funding, equipment, and other help to foment the ouster of the president or prime minister, that would be a coup (i,e., Guatemala in 1954 and Iran in 1953).

If the military deployed tanks in the street, while the Air Force bombed the White House (as happened to Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 in Chile) that would be a coup.

I could go on.

A coup has no process. There are no rules. Coups typically end in announcement that there has been a change in power. They often include statements that the citizens should not worry, the constitutional order will resume shortly. Fret not! The constitution is safe in the desk drawer of the new interim president. He’ll keep it safe until we decide to use it again.

Impeachment is not extra-legal, but is rather part of America’s most fundamental law, the US Constitution.

I know that observation, and this post, should not be necessary, but here we are.

Further, it is irresponsible for Trump to sow doubt about our basic law in this way, and true “constitutional conservatives” ought to be outraged (checks notes…hmm, no outrage from those quarters).

I don’t expect Trump or his defenders to be quiet or not to fight back, but this mode of rhetoric underscores the way in which Trump does not defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Rather, he simply is out to protect himself.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Cult45 absolutely believes this is a coup. Definitions do not matter.

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  2. Mister Bluster says:

    …that would be a coup (i,e., Guatemala in 1954 and Iran in 1953).

    I just can’t imagine that any freedom loving, democracy practicing government would ever meddle in the affairs of another sovergin state.
    However maybe a republic would.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Dude, 90%+ of Trumpaloons don’t know what either, impeachment, or, coup mean. At all. In fact, in the case of the French word, coup, I’ll wager that 90% of culties pronounce it coop and think it has something to do with chickens. Trump could say it’s not impeachment, it’s frottage and the culties would scream their hillbilly sieg heils.

    Trump loves the uneducated, and they love him.

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  4. Kathy says:

    The problem, Steven, is that you need a logical argument and definitions to make your case. For the deplorables it’s much easier: it’s a coup because El Cheeto says it’s a coup.

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  5. Scott F. says:

    @CSK and @Michael Reynolds: I really think it is more misinformed versus uninformed with Cult45, though that may be a distinction without a difference.

    Since at least Gingrich, the Republicans and right-wing media having been selling the idea that the US is in a War for the Soul of the Nation – that the evil Left is poised to take all their guns, to burn down their churches, to force men to marry men, etc., all to destroy this great nation.

    That a coup would happen in war seems obvious to them, so it’s easy to get the base to latch onto such a premise. It’s certainly easier for Trump and his enablers to sell that premise than to put over some legal argument about how political dirt isn’t what is meant by “value” in the foreign influence statutes.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.:

    I really think it is more misinformed versus uninformed with Cult45, though that may be a distinction without a difference.

    I think they know, don’t care, and will parrot back coup anyway.

  7. CSK says:

    @Scott F.: Trump says it’s a coup, so it’s a coup. That’s all the cultists need.

  8. Teve says:

    Some of Trump’s voters aren’t terrible people, they’re just very ignorant. The rest of them, and Trump himself and his family and his sycophants, are basically just a bunch of 8chan assholes. Either they’re going to lose so much power that sensible people with decent values can make good decisions, or the constitutional government as we know it is just going to rupture and lead to a transformation.

  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    I like where you went, Steven. That he would call it a coup rather than impeachment could be another article of impeachment. It’s clearly evidence that he places no value on the constitution, nor does he have knowledge of it.

  10. Gustopher says:

    This is, to put it bluntly, a ridiculous (and highly irresponsible) statement.

    Given how many accusations thrown about by Republicans end up being a description of what they are doing, I’m a little worried.

    When the President declares that he cannot be investigated and is above the law, and is using the power of his office to pressure foreign governments to spread lies about his likely political opponents… it’s not quite dissolving congress and dismissing the Supreme Court, but we are going down that path, and we don’t know how slippery that slope is.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump had been a frotteur on occasion.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    Frotteur? I assume that’s a guy who makes frottage cheese?

    Thank you, thank you! I’ll be here all week.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I don’t expect Trump or his defenders to be quiet or not to fight back, but this mode of rhetoric underscores the way in which Trump does not defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Rather, he undermines it.

    Using language like this in speaking to his most fervent cultists, as well as most of the less fervent ones, that is exactly what he’s doing, undermining the Constitution.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    Further, it is irresponsible for Trump to sow doubt about our basic law in this way, and true “constitutional conservatives” ought to be outraged (checks notes…hmm, no outrage from those quarters).

    My paranoid side notes that these are exactly the kinds of statements one would make prior to announcing (untruthfully) an actual breach of civil norms and laws by the opposition, justifying a declaration of martial law, suspension of due process, etc. Once you have a propaganda arm that can accuse your opponents of any atrocity and be believed, this is straightforward.

    I can only hope that (A) a sufficient fraction of the military and civil government are neither dupes nor co-conspirators, or (B) these bozos are too inept at everything to pull it off.

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  15. Matt says:

    @Teve: Of all the people I know that supported Trump in 2016 only a handful are left openly supporting him. They consist of the type who never grew up beyond highschool and/or the 4/8 chan type who only care about “pwning them libruls”. If Nancy Pelosi personally found a cure for cancer these people would post memes on facebook talking about how she’s killing American jobs and vaguely stealing money from the taxpayer. If Joe Biden beat Trump up in a televised bare knuckle fight these people would crow about how manly Trump was to use his face to block Biden’s punches and how Biden cheated by using his fists. Nothing the Democratic party or liberals do will ever be good in their eyes.

  16. de stijl says:

    They know that an impeachment proceeding is not a coup.

    They are feigning ignorance and outrage as virtue signalling to their tribe. Most of these idjits were around for the Clinton kabuki.

  17. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT:

    a declaration of martial law, suspension of due process, etc

    A fellow veteran, with whom I served for several years in peace and in war, advocated for exactly this a few days ago. The President should be able to arrest his enemies in Congress and the media, and shut down media operations that put out “fake news,” he said.

    I was both horrified and deeply saddened that a man with whom I had pledged to die to defend the Constitution would be willing to throw it in the trash for Trump’s benefit. Trumpism truly is a cult.

  18. ak Ameda says:

    @Matt:

    Nothing the Democratic party or liberals do will ever be good in their eyes.

    I agree, yet I’m constantly being told by many in the the political commentariat that I – being resident of a Blue state, further, a resident of the socialist-Venezuelan metropolitan Bay Area, and by virtue of having put myself through college am part of the hated elite’ – that I just do not understand these people, that I must reach out to these people.

    The next time I will reach out to these people it will be to pull them out from under the bus Trump threw them under.

  19. Teve says:

    Trump’s not going to declare martial law, suspend Congress, etc. (President Cotton will do that in 2029 when it turns out Chinese hacking of special voting machine chips put him in office.) But what the last three years should tell us is that if he did, a large percentage of Republican dipshits would be fine with it.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    @Teve: You jest, but the odious Cotton anywhere near the executive branch is a very unpleasant prospect…

  21. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Impeachments CAN be used as coup – to install a government with an ideology that is completely different from the one that was elected. It’s not what happening here, but it can and it does happen.

  22. al Ameda says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Impeachments CAN be used as coup – to install a government with an ideology that is completely different from the one that was elected. It’s not what happening here, but it can and it does happen.

    Sure. What happened here is that, essentially, the 2016 election was a hostile takeover of our government led by a minority-elect president.

  23. @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Impeachments CAN be used as coup – to install a government with an ideology that is completely different from the one that was elected.

    I am guessing you are referencing the Lugo impeachment and removal in Paraguay? I know that it was highly controversial and that he himself (and many others) called it a coup. I do not know the details well enough to really comment. I recall the coup language at the time and finding it problematic in my own mind, but also recognizing that there were legitimate criticisms of the process (I never studied it beyond reading about it at the time in 2012).

    Strictly speaking, a coup operates outside legal structures and processes (although yes, those who engage in the activity try to find legal justifications of their actions). As such, an impeachment process in the context of a functioning constitutional system cannot be a coup definitionally.

    That is not to say that all impeachment processes are above reproach or that they can’t be corrupted. I may even agree, in a specific case, to alter my position (but it would require some kind of obvious manipulation of the law and of constitutional processes).

    I think that statements like “impeachment can be used as coups” creates unneeded and unnecessary confusion over language and actually helps situations where politicians like Trump can muddy the waters over legitimate processes.

    To me it is like saying “elections can be used as coups”–that may actually be true in some specific case (not all elections are legitimate, clearly). But as general statement in a general conversation, I am not sure it is helpful.