America Knows What a Coup is. This Wasn’t One!

Since January 6, many commentators have used the word “coup” to describe the attack on the Capitol. The word comes from the French term “coup d’etat,” which in English means a “blow by the state.”

Despite the ugly, self-serving nature of what Trump inspired, it isn’t correct to call this an attempted coup. There is no doubt that Trump is and was working overtime to stay in power, preventing Biden from becoming the 46th president. However, a coup is a replacement of one leadership of a government with another, always with the backing of the armed forces. This backing by the military is certainly something that Trump has none of, even while there are many cops and capitol police who are sympathetic to his cause.

Make no mistake about it: the U.S. government knows very well what a coup is, having engineered the overthrow of governments far and wide: From U.S. government actions in Hawaii in 1893 to recent interventions in Venezuela, Honduras and Bolivia, the U.S. has led or supported dozens of coups and similar interventions worldwide. After World War II alone, the U.S. supported successful coups against democratically elected governments in Iran (’53-’54), Guatemala (‘54), Congo/Zaire (’60-’61), Dominican Republic (’64), Indonesia (’65), and, perhaps most well-known, Chile in 1973. And that’s just a partial list! In all these cases and others, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and State Department colluded with and in some cases organized and carried out the coup with local military leaders – usually the top generals who are intimately connected to the capitalists and landowners. The goals were to make sure U.S. business interests could keep their grip on oil, bananas, cobalt, copper, or whatever wealth-producing natural resources within those nations’ borders – all at the expense of local workers and farmers.

What we saw last week was an uprising of Trump’s most loyal and angriest supporters. As ugly and hateful as it was, and as much as we should condemn its fantastical beliefs and vicious intentions, Wednesday’s uprising was the expression of massive anger toward and alienation from our political and economic institutions. Trump and reactionary political influencers egged it on, but that doesn’t make it a coup. U.S. government leaders know too well what a coup looks like.