Image Credits: Julio Cortez/AP.
I think the difference between a ‘government’ and a ‘regime’ comes down to the quality of elections, assuming any are allowed at all. In a representative system with fair elections, we don’t talk about changing the regime. We reserve that term for countries like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. So, when Donald Trump says we don’t need ‘regime change‘ in Russia but rather here at home, that can mean only two things. Either he’s employing hyperbole or he doesn’t think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected in a fair election.
Trump has been absolutely clear in asserting that the 2020 presidential election wasn’t on the up-and-up, that he was robbed. Whether he truly believes this or not is debatable. Perhaps he believes it some of the time but not all of the time. It’s hard to say because the man is a psychological wreck. Importantly, the clear implication of what he ostensibly believes is that the Biden administration is illegitimate. In this view, it can be characterized as a ‘regime.’ And a regime can be removed by extralegal means because it has forfeited the right to have its laws respected.
That doesn’t mean necessarily, as David Badash insists, that Trump is calling for second coup attempt to follow on the failed effort of January 6, 2021. As of now, he’s going through the motions of removing the Biden administration in the traditional way, by running for the opposition party’s presidential nomination for 2024.
Out on the campaign trail, Trump is still arguing that he was the rightful winner in 2020.
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Donald Trump on Monday sharply rebuked Mike Pence’s assertion that history would hold him accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, telling reporters that his former vice president should shoulder the blame for the violent riot that day by Trump’s supporters.
“Had he sent the votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6, so in many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6,” the former president said, referring to Pence’s refusal to reject the electoral college votes in Congress as Trump wanted him to do that day. “Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, number one, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn’t have had ‘Jan. 6’ as we call it.”
To be clear, Trump is saying that the January 6 coup attempt was supposed to go through his vice-president. Had Pence followed Trump’s instructions and refused to certify the Biden-Harris victory, and if this had miraculously led to Trump and Pence hanging onto power, they would no longer have been leading a government. In that case, they’d be leading a regime. The idea that this would have been accepted by the American people without violence is laughable, but most of Trump’s arguments are laughable.
The key is that we may not know what the disgraced ex-president meant on Monday when he said, “We should support regime change in the United States,” but we know that he wanted to transform America from a government to a regime so that he could remain in power and avoid legal trouble. We know that his own words indicate that he believes America ceased being a government after the 2020 election, and we know by his own actions that he reacted as if the American government had forfeited the right to expect that its laws be respected.
Some, like Alex Wagner of MSNBC, expressed surprise that Trump would so openly admit that he was asking Pence to carry out a coup by blaming him for the violence of January 6. But Trump has never made a secret about what he wanted. He sent a mob to the Capitol in the hope they would force Pence to follow his instructions. The supposed legitimacy of those instructions was always based on lies about fraud in the 2020 election, but if you accepted the lies as true then January 6 wasn’t a coup attempt but a desperate effort to prevent a coup by Biden and Harris.
By refusing to obey Trump, Pence avoided becoming a coconspirator, but the coup attempt began the moment the request not to certify was made to Pence. At that point, unless Trump backed down, violence was inevitable. Either we’d see exactly what we saw on January 6 after Pence refused to go along, or we’d see a more numerous segment of the American people rise up if Pence tried to steal the election.
It’s not clear why Trump was talking about regime change in Russia anyway, as that is not the policy of those countries supporting Ukraine, including the United States. But it’s fair to call the government in Russia a ‘regime’ because they no longer hold free elections. There’s no prospect of Vladimir Putin being voted out of office or leaving voluntarily even if he were. Whether you support Joe Biden’s policies or not, you know he will peacefully leave the White House if he loses his reelection bid. That’s the most important thing that distinguishes the United States and Russia, but for Trump it’s a distinction that either does not or should not exist.
I think that’s true of Trump’s strongest supporters, too. That’s why it’s fair to compare them to the fascist black and brownshirts who helped Mussolini and Hitler end representative government in their respective countries. So, no, Trump did not just call for a second coup attempt. It’s more accurate to say his entire political project is a coup attempt.