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Is There A 'Coup-In-Progress' In The White House?

Two American flags wave in the wind
eric lynch
UT Austin government professor Kenneth Greene says coups are characterized by sudden, decisive and illegal changes of government.

The electoral college will officially vote for president in December. And while Joe Biden is the presumed winner, Donald Trump has refused to concede. It's an uncommon situation in American politics.

UT Austin government professor Kenneth Greene researches authoritarian regimes, voting behavior and more. He told Texas Standard that what's happening in the United States could appear like a "coup-in-progress" to outsiders, especially those in Latin America where coups are more common.

But is that what's actually going on?

First, What Is A Coup?

It comes from the French term coup d'état, or "a blow to the state." Coups are characterized by sudden, decisive and illegal changes of government, Greene says.

"It typically involves overthrowing, removing and replacing the sitting government with a new one," he said.

There are military coups, which Greene says is an unlikely scenario in this case. There are also "self-coups" in which a sitting leader acts against political opponents in power.

What Are There Signs?

While Greene says it's unlikely that there's a coup in progress, there are troubling signs:

– A sitting president casting doubt on the legitimacy of voting.

– An attorney general investigating seemingly unfounded claims of fraud.

– Intimidation of local election authorities.

– Riling up supporters who could act aggressively or violently.

– Trump firing Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and likely more "purges" to come.

"All of those things would, I think, be so concerning for people in the U.S. were to occur in another country," Greene said. "It could be coup-planning, but I think it's more likely the result of a leader who finds himself cornered and wanting to figure out a way that he can simultaneously mobilize his base and ensure his political future."

What Can We Learn?

Greene says it's important to take real threats to democracy seriously, to not "sit idly by," he said. Citizens can pressure their legislators to make sure votes are counted and the results are acknowledged. Media companies also need to regularly remind their audiences about how the electoral system works and why it matters.

"They need to take a leading role in ensuring that they remind citizens about the electoral system, how it functions and the extreme difficulty of perpetrating outcome-changing fraud in the U.S.," he said.

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Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her:
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.