What if the coup already came and nobody noticed?

Pallbearers carry Emmett Till’s coffin out of Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago on Sept. 3, 1955. The 14-year-old was murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi after false allegations that he had accosted a white woman. Although 68 percent of Americans say that teaching about the history of race in America makes students understand what others went through, Republican lawmakers continue to push for restrictions on the teaching of Black history. Chicago Tribune/TNS

It sounds nonsensical, yes. How does a coup go unnoticed? The conventional wisdom, as we learn more about the election of 2020 and the insurrection of 2021, is that by the machinations of Ginni Thomas, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and others, America came thisclose to suffering an extralegal seizure of power, but escaped.

However, an argument can be made that another kind of coup – call it a stealth coup – has actually been underway for years. What is a stealth coup? That would be a coup that sneaks up on you, that isn’t obvious at first, because it slowly destroys not form but function. This one has overthrown not the government but, rather, one of its core tenets: the idea that government is answerable to the will of the governed.

That’s something this one often is not.

Consider the ongoing push by Republican lawmakers to restrict abortion, LGBTQ rights and the teaching of African American history, while making it harder to access the ballot and easier to access guns. And then consider this: None of that represents the will of the American people. That’s something you won’t often hear from news media, with our reflexive curtsey at the altar of both-sideism, but it happens to be true.

Abortion? A 2021 Pew Research Center poll finds that most Americans support it.

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LGBTQ rights? A 2021 Gallup poll finds that most Americans are fine with them.

African American history? A 2022 CBS News poll finds that most Americans think teaching it is useful.

The ballot? A 2020 poll by Northeastern, Northwestern, Rutgers and Harvard universities finds that most Americans believe the last election was secure.

Guns? A 2020 Gallup poll finds that most Americans want stricter laws.

Yet most Americans are repeatedly overruled.

No, the majority is not always right. Even in a democracy, there are times the will of the people ought not carry the day. Had the 1964 Civil Rights Act been subject to popular vote, for example, McDonald’s might still have Whites Only signs.

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But when the will of the majority repeatedly has so little impact on the actions of their government, it’s fair to wonder if it really is their government, if their country can still be called a democracy. Certainly it cannot be called a healthy one.

The culprits are manifold. They include gerrymandering, dark money, the lies and fear-mongering of right-wing media and the party-before-country gutlessness of Republican lawmakers. They also include the fecklessness of the political left, where voters often must be begged to vote, and it is not uncommon to hear them defend their detachment by whining how both parties are fundamentally the same.

Meantime, one party is stacking the courts with ideologues, seizing control of state election offices, vandalizing the Constitution with acts of voter suppression and otherwise doing all it can to ensure power in perpetuity – and the other party, the one that represents the majority opinion, seems helpless to stop it.

That’s a recipe for minority rule. It is also the new American norm.

So, while no shots were fired, and no tanks came rumbling down Pennsylvania Avenue, it seems clear that we are witness to a kind of coup. Abraham Lincoln famously spoke about government of the people, by the people and for the people. But a democratic government must also answer to the people.

Right now, this one does not.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be contacted at:
[email protected]


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