A coup would at least make sense

Saturday, January 9th, 2021

What happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday was uniquely bizarre and unwonted, Bruno Maçães notes, but perhaps not in the way it looked at first;

It was not a coup, if by a coup one means the illegal and violent seizure of power. Illegal and violent the day most certainly was, but there was no question of seizing power by sending a cosplay gallery of motley characters to the Senate chamber. Even as a pretext for military action from Trump, the event was hardly suitable. A coup is a different kind of political act altogether. Turn to Turkey in 2016 for an example.


This was not theater, because a play is a safe and riskless activity, but it was roleplaying, which can be decidedly more dangerous for the participants — five people have died in these events. The “coup” ended, appropriately, when the main plotter was banned temporarily from social media. It was not a coup in the real world, but it was experienced as one by those taking part. More interestingly, those shocked by the events in the Senate were no less captured by the fantasy and might still believe that a real coup was attempted and defeated. In Washington, you can apparently now have the full “coup” experience in just a few hours. The action takes place in a kind of virtual reality, where terrible accidents can and do happen, but more tragic consequences to the political regime and the viewers at home are somehow prevented.

Does this mean that the Capitol extravaganza was trivial or unimportant? Not at all. In some strange way it was more significant than a real coup. A coup would at least make sense, while the almost complete replacement of serious politics by subterranean fantasy and roleplaying induces a sense of vertigo. Our traditional way of relating to the world has increasingly collapsed. Nothing seems real, and doubts persist about what to think or say in the face of this new situation. In the Senate debate that preceded the chaos, Ted Cruz was heard shouting to his colleagues: “Be bold. Astonish the viewers.” Prophetic words. We were astonished.


In this vision, the world exists to provide a stage for our fantasies. This is harem politics on the grandest scale. Unseemly and, in its current form, most likely unsustainable. What strikes is how much it relies on destruction as a force. There was only one alternative to Trump and that was to push Trumpism to the breaking point. And yet, all throughout the Trump years, the system worked. I think it worked even better than people assume, because the American system of government is not meant to be a placid Northern European social democracy. It is meant to create considerable room for the enactment of political fantasies, while preventing them from becoming too real. Every time Trump pushed things in the direction of reality—in the direction of imposing his stories on everyone else as real—the system pushed back, not so much by moving toward some more-accepted version of the world but by insisting that Trump and his followers remain mostly within the domain of fiction and playacting, that is, in the world of Dreampolitik. The system worked, but the problem is it now works to prevent only catastrophic outcomes, and it works through cycles of boom and bust.


  1. Ezra says:

    A spontaneous riot. Nothing more than that.

  2. Bruce says:

    Kitschy coup, kitschy coup. Or, just another riot, masterminded by Marinius van der Lubbe.

  3. Joseph says:

    Thanks for the Portuguese political scientist take on events in D.C. Tens of thousands of people who traveled into D.C. didn’t loot a single store, spraypaint a single building or vehicle or even enter the Captial building – which also did not get lotted, graffit ridden, or burned. But by all means “riot” is the necessary lable, along with “coup”.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    What a delusional load of crap! The stupid ‘coup’ aside, the focus on Trump and normal Americans as LARPers in fantasy land is typical liberal propaganda. Where were all the denouncements against biden voters looting, shooting, burning and murdering since 2016? The double standards and hypocrisies are nauseating. I’ve had liberals mock me for noting these things. I am seriously to the point of disassociating with anyone who espouses any liberal progressive garbage.

  5. Krasnov says:

    Things may not be as they seem. The event was announced and known for some time. The attendees were not just Trump supporters but some have noticed that there were those who were prepared to seize the moment. Capitol police seemed to allow the attendees to get up close to the Capitol where they knew there would be attempts to break in. Once that happened and the Congressionals were sheltering in place, it was a perfect time to do a little espionage. Pelosi’s laptop was stolen suppposedly by special forces, and is being examined. Apparently some interesting stuff but no details yet. I am sure that Trump was horrified at the way things played out. He wanted the debates and the evidence presented, not to be accused of this kind of chaos. But the Trumpers said, hey since we’re here, we might as well storm the Bastille. Alas, when you storm the Bastille, you plan ahead. You don’t just storm it, take selfies and leave. There was much misjudgment that day, but for some people, it was an opportunity. Things aren’t always as simple as they seem.

  6. Dave says:

    As soon as the warm weather arrives, there will again be real riots lighting up Washington and many other cities, and the media will switch back to explaining why the rioters’ rage is justified.

  7. lucklucky says:

    Trump was quite stupid since election including the campaign where he picked unnecessary fights.
    He was in power, so he need to placate things, he even had the help of the Democrat/Marxist instigated violence that made some traditional democrats abandoned it.
    Instead of showing and increasing that contrast he behaves to make precisely the contrary.

    Then he and some Trump supporters decided it was a good idea to go to a trap.
    No strategy, no thinking, just emotion.

  8. lucklucky says:

    The Democrat/Marxist party has the advantage that can act any way it want because it dominates the culture. The media supported more than 20 assassinations and sexist attacks in what they called “mostly peaceful protests”.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    If they dominated the culture, this wouldn’t have happened.

    There is no “the culture.” There are cultures, and they are at war.

    Unity? Not in the cards.

  10. lucklucky says:

    Dominating does not mean TOTAL control.

    Tell me a US TV series or a film that exposes right, conservative, libertarian values?

  11. Kirk says:

    Simple; there ain’t none.

    Even Fox News at its height wasn’t “right wing”. If anything, it was more centric than anything else.

    Reality is, most of media is and has been left-of-center since I’ve been aware and watching it. There are no real “conservative” sources or outlets. They all want the same things, have the same mores, espouse the same values.

    It’s a cultural lockstep, right off the cliffs. Same as during the early Progressive era that led to Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson, who really were the same sort of control-freak moralists, no matter what they might have believed or spoken.

    Not sure where it’s all going to end, other than in the powers-that-be overextending themselves and ginning up opposition that they’ll have no clue how to handle.

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