Call it what it is: an attempted coup


John Diaz Nov. 22, 2020 (

President Trump speaks at the White House on Friday.

President Trump speaks at the White House on Friday.Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

The republic’s salvation may come down to a power-hungry president’s delusion and incompetence. President Trump seems hell-bent on undermining Americans’ faith in the democratic process and doing his utmost to poison the policy options, foreign and domestic, for President-elect Joe Biden.

What Team Trump is failing to do is overturn an election that Biden won decisively. It’s not for lack of trying. On the morning after the election, he tweeted “STOP THE COUNT!” with millions of ballots to be processed, as if he possessed a dictator’s wand over the land.

From there, as the votes were counted and it became clear that Biden prevailed, Trump has held to his claim that he had won an election that was tainted by widespread fraud. His rhetoric, and his campaign’s lawsuits, have grown more frantic by the day. It became even more ominous late last week when Trump’s team shifted to the ultimate authoritarian tactic: suggesting state legislators in battlegrounds he lost should ignore the will of their voters and select pro-Trump electors to the Electoral College.

There is no other way to describe these schemes: This is an attempted coup, the first in American history.

That it is almost certain to fail is no cause for solace. Trump’s persistent but baseless assertion of a stolen election is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy, an essential component of self-governance. His refusal to facilitate a transition to a Biden administration undermines the nation’s interest, indeed the public safety. The 9/11 Commission, citing the 36-day delay after the Bush-Gore election in 2000, underscored the importance of an incoming president’s access to the latest intelligence: “The outgoing administration should provide the president-elect, as soon as possible after election day, with a classified, compartmented list that catalogs specific, operational threats to national security; major military or covert operations; and pending decisions on the possible use of force.”

Trump has refused to share those critical daily briefings with Biden.

The president and his sycophants — which, distressingly, include a majority of Republican senators and House members — are either parroting unfounded claims of widespread election fraud or allowing them to seep deeper into the public consciousness through cowardly silence.

Thursday may have brought a turning point. So preposterous was a 90-minute news conference by Rudy Giuliani and the few Trump lawyers who have not abandoned the sinking ship that even some of the president’s apologists had to denounce it. “What I saw with Rudy Giuliani, who I’ve known for decades, was bizarre, was unfocused,” Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News.

Bizarre was an understatement. Giuliani and his cohorts invoked the names of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013), George Soros, Hillary Clinton, China, Cuba and Big Tech as among the players in a vast conspiracy to deny Trump a second term. Most of their claims were readily debunked — including many that were tossed out of court. Some of the wildest were accompanied without a shred of evidence, such as the dark rumor circulating on the internet that software in Dominion voting machines could have been programmed “all over the country” to shift votes from Trump to Biden.

A hand count in Georgia debunked that paranoid theory. A hand count corroborated the accuracy of the Dominion machines. Biden’s Georgia victory was certified Friday by the Republican secretary of state and governor. On Thursday morning, Trump had tweeted at the governor, Brian Kemp, to intervene in the recount to help “flip” the result. “Republicans must get tough!” Trump said.

Unfortunately for Trump, Kemp did.

“It is the 1775 of our generation,” Trump strike force team member Sidney Powell said at the news conference.

She’s right in one sense. This is a serious stress test of the republic envisioned by our founding fathers. Powell, however, is on the wrong side of history. The Drama King in the White House is more akin to King George III than George Washington.

Trump summoned GOP legislative leaders from Michigan to the White House on Friday amid the push to overturn a state Biden carried by more than 150,000 votes (Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by fewer than 11,000 votes four years ago). The meeting itself was highly inappropriate. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, spoke out against the effort to pressure state and local officials to reverse the clear Biden victories in battleground states.

“It’s difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president,” Romney said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., reacted to the Giuliani news conference by tweeting: “Rudy and his buddies should not pressure electors to ignore their certification obligations under the statute. We are a nation of laws, not tweets.”

It remains outrageous, even unpatriotic, that so few other Republicans have spoken out against his attempted coup. This is no longer about partisan loyalties or policy differences. This is about an American president who lost an election trying to cling to power in a way that the U.S. State Department would condemn anywhere else in the world.

Its clumsiness and absurdity may doom it, but does not excuse it. The world is watching.

It is, indeed, a 1775 moment.

John Diaz is The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page editor. Email: Twitter: @JohnDiazChron

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Before joining the opinion pages, he directed the newspaper’s East Bay news coverage. He started at The Chronicle in 1990 as an assistant city editor.

John began his journalism career as a reporter for the Red Bluff Daily News. Two years later, he was promoted to the Washington, D.C., bureau of the newspaper’s parent company, Donrey Media Group. After that, he worked as a general assignment reporter for the Associated Press in Philadelphia and as a statehouse reporter and assistant city editor for the Denver Post.

He graduated from Humboldt State University in 1977 with a degree in journalism. He received a Distinguished Alumni Award from HSU in 2009 and was the university’s commencement speaker in 2010.

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