This Is a Coup. Why Were Experts So Reluctant to See It Coming?

This Is a Coup. Why Were Experts So Reluctant to See It Coming?

A political scientist explains why some experts have clung to “It can’t happen here” for too long.

Wednesday morning, like most mornings, I woke up to the usual round of politics news sites and newsletters: Politico Playbook, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Most of the day’s news concerned Tuesday’s runoff elections in Georgia, which apparently delivered control of the Senate to Democrats; other articles concerned the ongoing pandemic and the future of commuting in the post-pandemic world.

One article caught my eye: a Washington Post article by David Nakamura about whether the protests and petitions against the counting of Electoral College votes added up to a coup attempt. The piece quoted several liberal commentators and historians as saying that it obviously was, but the thesis was that what we were seeing as of Tuesday did “not yet meet the formal academic definition of an attempted coup.”

Some of the experts quoted in the piece urged calm and even insinuated that being alarmist about the indications that protesters aimed to cause severe unrest could be self-fulfilling. I filed this, and another incident, away and set about my daily business of testing and interpreting theories about politics. I looked forward to spending the day tapping out code in the data analysis tools Stata and R and occasionally checking in to make sure that the counting of ballots was going on as automatically, if a little more dramatically, as expected.