On Tuesday night, facing mounting pressure regarding an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats, President Trump tweeted that the inquiry was in fact a “coup.”
“As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a coup…” he wrote. “… intended to take away the Power of the People, their vote, their freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!”
What is a coup?
A coup is short for coup d’état—which, by its formal definition, is often used to refer to a sudden, illegal seizure of power from a government. There’s only ever been one coup in American history—the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, when a group of white supremacists overthrew the local government and killed dozens of black residents.
In this case, an impeachment inquiry is not illegal, nor is it sudden. (As we’ve written before, it’s a constitutional process that requires several steps, including a vote and trial by both the House and Senate.) Given the current Senate makeup, the actual removal of President Trump from office is unlikely. And as our friends at Splinter put it, an actual coup involves a lot less red tape.
Has Trump used the term before?
In February, Trump first used the term to quote Sean Hannity of Fox News; that month, Hannity had railed against former FBI Director Andrew McCabe for questioning Trump’s connection to Russia. In a tweet using Hannity’s language, Trump referred to McCabe’s actions as a “coup.”
In April, Trump used the term again during an actual interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News regarding Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. “This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government,” he told Hannity. “… I think it’s far bigger than Watergate.” (Politifact determined that since the Mueller investigation didn’t cross legal boundaries, it wasn’t a coup attempt.)
According to Newsweek, Trump has used coup in at least five other instances, either as quotes from conservative outlets or about his alleged ties to Russia (or both).
What exactly is Trump’s goal through the use of the term?
Judging by his tweets, he’s trying to argue the illegality of the impeachment inquiry (though nothing about it is illegal thus far). If he believes a coup is an attempt at taking his power, he’d be right, but he’s either misinformed or knowingly gaslighting his followers by defining an impeachment process—set by the Constitution—as an illegal act against the president.
On Wednesday, Trump continued his series of tweets with an attack on Democrats and referring to ongoing impeachment proceedings as “bullshit.” For updates on the impeachment inquiry, be sure to follow CNN for actual live updates.