The Senate and the Coup
First things first: yes, what we’re watching unfold from the Trump White House is an attempted coup. The basic definition of a coup is “an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power,” and a President who refuses to leave or participate in the basics of transition after losing an election is in fact an illegal and unconstitutional seizure of power.
It’s a coup attempt even if some of the people perpetrating it tell reporters off the record that it’s all just so much posturing.
It’s a coup attempt even if it turns out mostly to have been for the purpose of bilking yet more money from people who believe what they read on unhinged Twitter feeds and in conspiracy-friendly Facebook groups.
This coup attempt is extremely unlikely to be successful. What’s a stronger word for “extremely”?
Joe Biden will almost certainly be inaugurated on January 20, 2021.
Despite the ominous loyalty purges happening at the Pentagon, ongoing and disruptive violation of long-held norms (like the State Department refusing to facilitate communication from global leaders for the President-elect), the barrage of nuisance litigation the Trump campaign is throwing at the courts (see: complaint in Michigan centered on the use of a PA system to make announcements that was “distracting” to a Republican ballot reviewer), and the active participation of all but a handful of senior Republicans, we will have a new President in just over two months.
Even though it won’t succeed, this attempted coup by Trump and his cronies is already incredibly damaging and will have potentially catastrophic long term consequences for the health of our democracy and our national security. In a precarious moment, the Trump cabal will hand over not just the chaos of the past four years, but additional chaos of confusion rendered by not participating in a peaceful transition of information.
But you know all of that, so what should we patriotic Americans (who don’t live or vote in Georgia) do right now? Here’s what I’m up to:
GEORGIA: Where to Give and Volunteer
Joe Biden won Georgia with just under 50% of the vote — the first Democratic nominee for President to win there since 1992, when Bill Clinton won with 42.5% on an assist from Ross Perot’s 13.4%. (I don’t believe the recount will overturn that result.)
Winning the two Senate runoff elections there will be the difference between handing Mitch McConnell another blank check and at least a fighting chance for some of the President-elect’s priorities and the Democratic House’s legislative successes.
To be clear, even winning both seats won’t be enough to fully exhale — Democratic Senators from red states have already said no rebalancing the GOP-packed Supreme Court and no correcting the rules of the Senate — but it’ll be some very much needed breathing room until the 2022 elections.
Here’s where my dollars are going to help win in GA:
- FairFight + Reverend Raphael Warnock + John Osoff: one click to give to all three. If you don’t do anything else, do this. Support the campaigns and long term capacity building at the same time.
- Georgia Democratic Party: it’s not sexy but it matters a lot to have an effective Party doing the work, not just for this election cycle but for the next one, too. (Good news/bad news: no matter what there’s another Senate race in GA in 2022.) The GA Dems spent down to just about their last dollar in November.
- SpreadTheVote: In founder Kat Calvin’s own words, “we started Spread The Vote in Georgia because there is a massive need for IDs across the state. For over three years we have worked hard obtaining IDs all over Georgia and getting voters to the polls. Now that there will be a massively important runoff in January, we’re marshaling our end of year resources, calling our Georgia volunteers, and doing everything we can to make sure that we spend every day of the next two months working to get as many GA voters to the polls as possible. Again.”
- VoteAmerica: The VoteAmerica team is turning its attention and its voter registration, turnout, and protection tools to Georgia, as a resource to high potential Georgia voters and organizations doing the work on the ground there. [Full disclosure that I do paid work with VoteAmerica now.]
And here’s where my time is going to help win in GA:
- Call and text voters for both campaigns through the Georgia Democratic Party
- Send postcards to GA voters
This donate and do list will change over the coming weeks. When it does I’ll let you know. Thing you might be wondering: should we all be heading to Georgia to help? The answer is probably not right now. The pandemic is raging and campaigns on the ground don’t want to be vectors of super spreaders. But if you insist and think you have a plan to go safely and without adding a burden on the campaigns, sign up here to be on the Out of State Volunteer Team and you’ll hear from folks on the Warnock campaign about the best ways to plug in. If they ask you to stay home and volunteer from there, please listen to them.
I can’t say this enough: there is a very, very small likelihood that the attempted coup in process will succeed. But a small likelihood isn’t the same as zero likelihood, and while the President-elect should do exactly what he is doing (putting in place everything necessary to begin to get shit in order from minute one on January 20th), the rest of us should be doing a few things, based on the insight from historians and others who have studied authoritarian takeovers in other places. (Hat tip to my fierce and brilliant friend Julie Kashen for sharing this list, some of which I’ve drawn from below.)
- Call it what it is — a coup. Until the President and the leaders of the more powerful of our two political parties stop trying overturn or just override the results of the election, they are attempting a coup. When you post about it on social media, or read news about it, or talk with your neighbors about it, don’t obscure it — this is an attempted coup. An illegal and unconstitutional seizure of power. In America.
- Focus on protecting American democracy. In the fog of the war they’re waging on our democracy, Trump and his cronies (and the people who are terrified of being the target of a mean tweet — profiles in courage all around) are burning things to the ground. They’re in a “race against time” to roll back environmental protections. They’ll sprint to take over even more of the judicial branch with unqualified, anti-democratic, and fringe-right convictions. They’ll be grasping at every last penny they can grift of taxpayer dollars — expect big bills from Trump company properties. But when it comes to the coup, we need to focus. No laundry lists of demands here — just a steadfast demand to respect the bedrock of elections and peaceful transition of power . We can go back to policy fights once we’re not in the middle of an attempted coup.
- Have a plan for what you’ll do if the unlikely happens. History shows that “we the people” can stop and reverse a coup, but only if huge numbers of us act, even when it is scariest to do so. Yes, that might mean taking to the streets. But it also might mean being a presence in your electeds’ offices (on the phone, in email, and maybe in person) demanding they stand on the side of democracy. It might mean speaking up in whatever ways are available to you at your church. Maybe it means organizing virtual events for your friends, family, neighbors to learn about and get on the same page about what’s happening and actions you agree to take together. Perhaps it means leaning on business leaders to take a stand with us and doing what we can to support those who do. But big picture: what will you do? Talk to your family, your QuaranTeam, your close friends — whomever you’d act with. What’s your plan? How will it get activated.
THE BIG QUESTION: How do we change the course of the future?
Biden won with something like a 4.5%, 6 million vote margin — truly historic. And yet, the best we’ll do in the Senate is 50–50, and the 2022 Senate map doesn’t look great. We lost seats in the House (granted, generally only those that we narrowly flipped just two years ago, but still) and didn’t pick up any State Houses, so 2022 is likely to be a bitterly fought, expensive bloodbath.
I took a look back at what I thought about the path forward in the dark days of December 2016, and two things stick out.
This call to action:
Go deep, local, and cross-cutting for the long haul. The left has organizing roots that are smart and good, and when we hew to them we win. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals posits the ultimately conservative theory of change that winning is what brings people together, so to bring people together we need to meet them where they are and work with them to win on something that matters to them. In exurban and rural midwest, in the south, in cities, in the mountain west, we need to go deep, bring people together, and win together on things that cross cultures and attitudes. We need to build hope and unity from the ground up, not with messaging — only hateful messaging can work as a shortcut, hopeful messaging requires sweat equity — but with no-shit investment in building community and relationships. We need to be like Barack: community organizers FTW. And we should all memorize Alinsky’s rules.
And this contemplation on the path to victory:
If we’re going to start to win elections at the local, state, and federal levels (and it will go in that order), we need to embrace culture change over evidence, emotion over rationality, and deeply understand (but in no way excuse) how reducing inequality feels to those who aren’t at the top but also are nowhere near the bottom of the totem pole. Yes, of course we should continue to champion and fight for good policy. But we don’t get to do good policy and help people if we don’t win elections, and we won’t win elections on the basis of good policy that helps people.
I think both of those things are still right. (To be honest, I still agree with pretty much everything I wrote back then.)
And I think we made very very little progress on either of them over the past four years. In fact, I think we probably backslid on them both.
As I think about what’s next, I’m taking a hard look at what work I personally have done, what I’ve supported with my time and resources, and what I can do differently over the next four years. I don’t know. I’m still contemplating. Let me know if you want to contemplate together, and watch this space for conclusions if I come to them.
On a personal note, my mantra right now: deep breaths, keep calm, and take care of ourselves and each other. We’re on a long road, still taking the early steps in a dark and scary part of the journey, and there’s no way out but through. The silver lining is the people we’re walking beside. (And the abundance of cliche but true words for what we’re going through!)
I do a range of strategy, communications, policy, and politics things at 42Comms.com. I tweet more than is good for my mental health @sbeinla. And I publish a recommended reading list sort of monthly.