Thursday, October 31, 2019

What is a Coup, Anyway?

The word "coup" is now used to mean almost everything. Donald Trump even uses it to describe an entirely constitutional investigation. Evo Morales uses it when talking about the opposition complaining about an unplanned and unexplained stoppage of vote counting. Nicolás Maduro uses it, and he's actually right. It's bandied about all the time.

Andrés Malamud amd Leiv Marsteintredet have done a study--a forthcoming academic article in Political Studies that you can see capsulized here as a blog post--about this phenomenon. Her are the three main points they make:

1. Coups are are increasingly rare, but Latin American instability is not.

2. Inertia leads us to keep expanding the old term rather than employing new ones.

3. It allows the targets to present themselves more as victims.

They go on to classify interruptions of government according to various types based on the perpetrator, the victim, and the tactic. The "classic" coup is when the perpetrator is a state agent, the victim is the executive, and it is illegal.

Actually, this sounds like Clue. It's the president, with the military, in the hall with the candlestick.

Anyway, other outcomes are revolution, autogolpe, and political judgment (e.g. impeachment). Unfortunately, I don't see much relief from the overuse and abuse of the term. Their third point is too tempting for presidents under fire: "coup" sounds bad so you use it, just as you use terrorist, fascist, socialist, leftist, genocide, and other loaded terms with specific meanings that people often ignore and don't understand.


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