On five occasions this month, Donald Trump has promoted Twitter content from others claiming there was an attempted “coup” against his administration. Last night on Fox News, the president lent his voice to the same hysterical talking point.
While discussing the origins of the Mueller probe – which he and fellow Republicans have demanded an investigation into – with his best friend and Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump called the investigation a “coup” and the “greatest political scandal” in history, even greater than Watergate.
Looking over the transcript, the president was not subtle on this point. It seemed as if Trump called into Sean Hannity’s show specifically to push this line.
“Really, it’s a coup,” Trump said. “It’s spying. It’s everything that you can imagine. It’s hard to believe in this country that we would have had that…. I really say, now we have to get down because this was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.”
He added, “This was a coup. This wasn’t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup. And it’s like a third world country – and inconceivable.”
I can appreciate the fact that we’ve all grown quite inured to Donald Trump appearing on Fox News and saying strange things. It’s an understandable reaction.
But it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how extraordinary the circumstances are. For the first time in our history, the sitting American president has told the world that there was “an attempted overthrow of the United States government” – a declaration that has been greeted with widespread shrugs, as if it were a routine Thursday night.
Because, by and large, it was. This is our life now.
In reality, I suspect most sensible observers realize there was no actual “coup” attempt. No one tried to “overthrow” anything. Donald Trump may make wild-eyed, hysterical accusations like these, targeting his political opponents, but his claims are broadly overlooked because the public realizes the president occasionally peddles nonsense that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
That, in and of itself, is unsettling. In recent generations, the world has looked at the United States as the home of the strongest and most stable political system anywhere. The idea of a “coup” or an “attempted overthrow” is the stuff of fanciful fiction.
Except, that is, in 2019, when everyone can hear the American president share his paranoid fantasies aired live on national television.
It was especially striking to hear Trump tell Hannity, “[I]t’s like a third-world country.” That’s true, though not in the way the president probably intended.
When a leader of dubious legitimacy makes up claims of attempted coups, that is, in fact, “like a third-world country.” As of last night, it also happens to be our country.