What To Do If There's a Coup

Donald Trump is planning a coup, and it’s our job to stop him.

For the past four years, Trump has poisoned our democratic institutions in anticipation of this very moment. He’s installed a loyalist in the supposedly independent Department of Justice, filled dozens of stolen federal court seats with Mitch McConnell’s help and hamstrung the Federal Elections Commission. All the while, he has undermined public faith in elections, encouraged supporters to intimidate voters and brought lawsuits against election administrators to suppress the vote.

Even if his voter suppression efforts aren’t successful enough to win him this election, Trump has contingencies already set up. Besides planning to bypass the will of the people through litigation, he’s publicly called for throwing out lawful ballots and has repeatedly refused to state that he’d accept losing.

In the face of all these efforts, we can no longer trust our institutions to protect democracy. Fascism, authoritarianism and yes, coups, can happen here. Say Trump decides to stay put come January. Who will throw him out? The federal officers that tear-gassed peaceful protesters for Trump’s photoshoot in front of St. John’s Church? Or maybe the military that he deployed to kidnap people in Portland?

My goal isn’t to be alarmist. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Authoritarians rely on projecting strength because when everyone believes they’re strong, nobody challenges their rule. When Trump says that he won’t accept the results of the election, he’s trying to convince us that he can ignore the will of the people and the laws of our country. If we accept him at his word, he’s already won, regardless of what happens between now and January. But if we stay hopeful and resolve to take action when it’s needed, then we have no reason to worry.

We can choose to take the power that is rightfully ours — the democratic power to choose our leaders and protest for our rights — and when we do, Trump’s facade will slough away, exposing his powerlessness for all to see. Only if we do nothing can Trump steal this election. And there’s plenty we can do.

Since the best way to stop a coup is to preempt it, you need to vote. Once you have, make sure all your friends and family vote too. It might feel awkward to text people you haven’t seen in a while asking them to vote, but every person in our generation needs to vote this year if democracy is to prevail. Then, if you can, sign up to be a poll worker to ensure that your local elections are adequately staffed. Finally, phone bank for the Democratic Party, the only major party that still cares about democracy.

Before the polls close, our goal is to make Vice President Joe Biden’s margin of victory as large as possible. The fewer states that could swing the electoral college, and the fewer voters that could swing a state, the harder it becomes for Trump to pull off a coup. However, no matter what we do now, there’s still a good chance that this election will be close enough for Trump to continue his coup attempt.

If Trump tries a coup — through the courts, state legislatures or simply staying in office — it’s up to us to force him to leave. On Wednesday, Nov. 4, the day after voting ends, there are protests planned around the country (including in Northampton) in case Trump disputes the results. If you’re doubtful that protesting will work, just remember that authoritarians rely on our silence for their strength. By protesting, we remind the courts, elections officials and Trump himself that democracy won’t go down without a fight. In fact, nonviolent civil resistance is proven to be effective at stopping coups.

Crucially, we need to be willing to drop whatever we are doing — including our classes, our extracurriculars and our parties in the bird sanctuary — and take to the streets. If you’re on campus, hold socially-distant rallies on the quad. The election ends at the worst possible time for students, right as classes begin to sprint towards the finish line. We have to be willing to give up some or all of our studies in order to stop the “coming constitutional coup.”

Right now, before any of that is happening, it’s time to get into the right mindset for action. Remind yourself that Trump can’t steal the election unless we let him. Prepare a list of responsibilities that you can let slide during the month of November if needed. And talk about taking action with your friends to make sure they’re in the right mindset too. If you want something more concrete, four activists published a comprehensive guide to stopping the coup. Read it, understand what you need to do and get ready.

We can prevail against authoritarianism, but only if we try. There’s no time to wait for other people to make the first move, and there’s no room for bystanders. Instead, all of us need to be the guardrails of our democracy. Our bodies, on the streets of America, will reknit the fabric of our country. And our voices will remind the world that our power far surpasses that of any president. The result of this election is up to us.

Will you choose democracy, when the time comes?