James Fallows has a piece up on the Atlantic's website today under the headline: "5 Signs of a Radical Change in US Politics." The meat of his piece is summed up by the following points:
- First, a presidential election is decided by five people, who don't even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.Those are good points if you ask me, and Fallows makes a striking and disturbing observation about the state of our politics today. More striking and disturbing, however, was the original headline of the piece: "5 Signs the United States is Undergoing a Coup." Why the headline change?
- Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.
- Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.
- Meanwhile their party's representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation -- and appointments, especially to the courts.
- And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party's majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it -- even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party's presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.
Explanations and reflections on the flip.
As currently up on the site, the piece is introduced by a long parenthesis in which Fallows explains the headline change. He contends he had used the word coup in "a longer item" in "a particular way," and that "Using it in the headline implies things I don't mean." Let's take a look at that "longer item" and that "particular way":
Normally I shy away from apocalyptic readings of the American predicament. We're a big, messy country; we've been through a lot -- perhaps even more than we thought, what with Abraham Lincoln and the vampires. We'll probably muddle through this and be very worried about something else ten years from now. But when you look at the sequence from Bush v. Gore, through Citizens United, to what seems to be coming on the health-care front; and you combine it with ongoing efforts in Florida and elsewhere to prevent voting from presumably Democratic blocs; and add that to the simply unprecedented abuse of the filibuster in the years since the Democrats won control of the Senate and then took the White House, you have what we'd identify as a kind of long-term coup if we saw it happening anywhere else.**If you follow the double asterisks, you find the entire text of the shorter piece, the same five bullet points reprinted above introduced by the statement "You can try this at home. Pick a country and describe a sequence in which:" and followed by this conclusion: "How would you describe a democracy where power was being shifted that way?"
What's the difference between the "longer item" and the short piece? As I read it, Fallows adds one line of equivocation to his strong statement of concern about the current state of US politics, "We'll probably muddle through this and be very worried about something else ten years from now." That's in the longer piece and not in the short one. Everything else in the longer piece, however, basically stands to hold the US up in comparison to places like Paraguay, which in the last few days has ousted its president in what critics are calling a constitutional coup.
So why did Fallows back off the strong language? He's describing a slow process through which a particular political party subverts the legal structures of a country in order put itself in power and consolidate its power. That is, in fact, a coup. Call it what it is, James. Don't be shy.