It’s one thing for any of the myriad conspiracy sites on the internet to claim this politician or that is planning anything from a dirty trick to fixing an election to staging an insurrection. But it’s quite another when outlandish theories that we would routinely relegate to the outer fringes of the web begin to creep into mainstream media.
Such is the case with the growing paranoia on the establishment left about Donald Trump staging a coup d’etat in 2024. First, The Guardian, hard-left but with a respectable heritage, put the proposition in the form of a title with a question: “Terrifying for American Democracy: Is Trump Planning for a 2024 coup?” Now, the once-credible journal-turned-highbrow progressive attack dog, The Atlantic, has taken it one crucial step further, removing the question mark: “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun.” In doing so, by using the expression “next coup,” author Barton Gellman cleverly establishes his view that Trump has already attempted a coup, and that another is already underway. Who knew?
Other than serving as a transparent attempt at clickbait — the industry term for tacky headlines designed strictly to lure readers — the fact that this is presented as truth in a publication with a long and proud legacy is beyond noteworthy. The Atlantic was founded in 1857 by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe as The Atlantic Monthly, a prominent literary and culture magazine. But its identity over the last few years has transformed into that of a sophisticated home to lengthy anti-Trump diatribes by writers ranging from the Upper West Side Chablis-and-brie set to disaffected neoconservatives, all driven by a burning hatred for Trump, and extended to all who support the former president.
As is typical in conspiracy theories, the author’s warning language is dark, ominous, forbidding: “People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already … Democrats’ … attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.” And then, to fully and finally drive home the point, the author unearths an obscure academic willing to go on record with a ridiculously extreme statement, perhaps to garner publicity. Thus, according to someone named Richard L. Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine: “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024.”
Ooh, scary. Apparently the time has come to go down to your basement, take shelter, and dust off those old doomsday prepper supplies left over from Y2K.
These conspiracy theories, all but stating that Trump intends to take over the government, whether he wins the election or not, are like all such wild conjectures pieced together with far-fetched associations between a series of disconnected facts, adding up to the paranoid conclusion in the title. For example, if two people happened to attend the same concert, or were even in the same city on the same day, conspiracists will unhesitatingly draw a link between them to support their hypothesis. In the end, the defining feature of such theories is that they can neither be proven nor disproven, and thus they retain an almost eternal half-life. About 60 years after the JFK assassination, for example, there remain all manner of theories that can be neither validated nor dismissed out of hand about the real perpetrator(s) of that crime of the century. In The Guardian’s fantastical rendering of a Trump coup, it will come in the form of Trump loyalists who will overwhelm traditional Republican officials and fix the outcomes in key swing states across the country. The Atlantic fantasy is similar in its belief that, unlike Jan. 6, ”it will rely on subversion more than violence.”
One wonders if Gellman and his fellow travelers on the left are even aware that after a thorough investigation, as reported by mainstream Reuters, no less an authority than the FBI “found scant evidence the U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated.” Of course, no coup d’etat can take place without prior planning, but never mind that. The author must hold to the premise that Jan. 6 was an attempted government overthrow; otherwise it would ruin his breathless rant about Trump’s second attempt at a coup d’etat. Why is this author willing to walk the plank with such a wild-eyed theory? Well, given the stench of failure growing around the Biden administration and present weakness of the case they must soon make to the voters, it may be that the same raging fear of Trump that drove the left in 2020 is the only remaining strategy available for staving off the electoral devastation that appears increasingly imminent for 2022 and perhaps beyond.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.