Yesterday morning, Peter Navarro, the top voice on trade policy in Donald Trump’s White House, appeared on Fox Business and equated the impeachment process with an “attempted coup d’etat,” launched by Democrats whom he compared to Stalin’s secret police.
Traditionally, White House officials wouldn’t peddle such over-the-top rhetoric on national television, but Navarro’s extremism is part of a larger push in far-right media to use the word “coup” when describing the congressional impeachment inquiry. It was, of course, only a matter of time before the president himself started using the word.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday escalated his attacks on Democrats’ impeachment efforts, referring to the inquiry as a “coup.”
“As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP,” he said.
The Republican added that presidential impeachment would “take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!”
Trump’s been on quite a rhetorical tear lately, hasn’t he? In recent days, the sitting president has talked up the idea of prosecuting members of Congress who say things he doesn’t like, casually throwing around accusations of “treason,” and raising the prospect of a “Civil War-like fracture.” Now he’s moved on to “coup” references.
Responsible leaders, confident in their position, tend not to communicate this way. It’s more in line with the kind of rhetoric one might expect from someone overcome with panic.
Regardless, Trump’s latest tantrum struck me as notable for a few reasons, not the least of which is his unfamiliarity with the meaning of the word “coup.”
As NBC News’ report added, “A coup is generally defined as a sudden, violent overthrow of a government or a seizure of power. The impeachment process, however, is set out in the U.S. Constitution.”
It’s an obvious-but-important detail: the congressional impeachment inquiry isn’t a coup; it’s the opposite. The process Democrats are following is inherently and fundamentally proper. It’s transparent. It’s based entirely on a legal framework that members are following carefully.
Lawmakers were confronted with evidence of serious presidential wrongdoing; they deemed the information compelling and credible; and they’re following the rules established under law for congressional evaluation of such misconduct.
All of which is to say, if Trump is going to use words like “coup,” he should at least try to understand the meaning of his own rhetoric.
To be sure, impeachment is controversial, and the president’s allies and followers believe it’s unwarranted. There’s obviously room for a spirited debate. But what’s not at issue is the legitimacy of the process itself: Democrats ran last year on a platform of presidential accountability, and millions of voters exercised “their God-given rights as Citizens of The United States of America” to reward the party accordingly. The Democratic majority is now exercising its authority under the Constitution.
Trump’s authoritarian posturing is hardly subtle: the president who sees himself as above the law is not only condemning his detractors’ accusations, he’s also scrambling to delegitimize the process of accountability itself.
Postscript: During Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump had no qualms about pushing for the Democrat’s impeachment for reasons unknown. If Trump had concerns at the time about “taking away the Power of the People,” he kept those fears to himself.