Trumpism, Donald Trump, the January 6 coup attempt, and a smoking gun that may never be found

See updates through January 28, 2022, at end of post.

Undoubtedly something like much of what Greg Sargent thinks happened,[1] that Donald Trump cheered the January 6 coup attempt on rather than restraining it and that people in his orbit desperately sought ways to keep him in the presidency, did indeed happen.[2] But 1) we really should be waiting for the investigating Congressional committee’s final report, that is, assuming the committee has time to produce it;[3] and 2) I’m thinking the result, while disappointing to many, will show something actually more dangerous.

Quinta Jurecic raises doubts about what truth remains to be discovered. Her argument seems to reduce the importance of the January 6 committee to 1) hemming in claims of executive privilege, 2) asserting the authority of Congress to investigate the former Executive, and 3) documenting what in fact is pretty much already known. In her words, “it’s difficult to imagine what additional facts the committee might uncover that would change the minds of those who watched it at the time.”[4] I’ve already noted that “smoking guns are rarely found;”[5] yet, as Jurecic observes, this seems to be what many folks are expecting, as if even this would, for example, persuade Republicans to disavow Donald Trump.[6]

The weirder truth is that Trump does not control Trumpism. It is not that, as his supporters so often admire, he expresses his own thoughts, unfiltered by a demonized “political correctness,” but rather that he expresses and indeed has attempted to implement their thoughts, their ideas. We too quickly forget that Trump was booed, yes, booed when he spoke in favor of the COVID-19 vaccines,[7] which were developed with federal support during his presidency. The Trumpian adoration has limits that even Trump may not transgress and those limits are not of his making.

Try, indeed, to reconcile a movement that rejects elitism[8] and that trusts misinformation and conspiracy theories on Facebook rather than mainstream journalism,[9] with all these folks suddenly worshipping at the altar of Donald Trump. Oh, it sure looks like they worship Trump: Trump flags are still to be seen all around southwestern Pennsylvania. And I’ll never forget the billboard on the north side of Millvale that posed Trump’s face on Rambo’s body. But ‘worship’ is the wrong word for what’s actually happening.

It’s more like when these people see Trump, adore him, they are in fact seeing and adoring themselves or, as Kim Messick phrased it (emphasis mine), “an idealized version of themselves”:[10]

[T]he Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.[11]

When Messick wrote that, late in 2013, we didn’t even know that Trump would be running. This is a movement that existed apart from Trump, indeed has existed for a thousand years,[12] that coalesced around him, indeed has unified three of the tendencies of conservatism[13] I had previously identified[14] around him, but is not him.

Trump certainly feeds off these people. He feels their “love,” their adoration. And he, in turn, gives them a focal point; they fly his flags right along with U.S. flags, “thin blue line” flags, and Gadsden (“Don’t Tread On Me”) flags. His bumper stickers appear right next to National Rifle Association decals. His yard signs appear right along with those protesting abortion. Before the coup attempt, his supporters also flew the Confederate flag in far greater numbers. We must not mistake their malevolence or his.

But a smoking gun proving that Donald Trump planned the coup attempt may never be found. I believe the expectation that he did gives him entirely too much credit. And I cannot express strongly enough my revulsion for the gun nuttery, the misogyny, the white supremacism, and the violence of his followers. But all of that precedes him. It is a danger that will outlive him.

And it is unlikely that a criminal prosecution for the coup attempt can occur to prevent Trump from running in 2024.

Update, December 16, 2021: The text formerly here has been moved, edited, and expanded in a new blog post entitled, “How much does Donald Trump’s profanity against Binyamin Netanyahu matter?

Update, December 19, 2021: I return to the question of Donald Trump’s unification of three tendencies of conservatism both in the blog post mentioned in the last update and more comprehensively in a new blog post entitled, “A hot U.S. civil war turned cold, now lukewarm, may turn hot again.”

Update, January 28, 2022: Donald Trump is receiving pushback from Trumpists for his endorsement in a Tennessee race, where he seems to have passed over a more loyal candidate.[15] It is further evidence—we should also count the pushback he’s received for pro-vaccination comments he’s made[16]—that Trump does not control Trumpism.[17]

  1. [1]Greg Sargent, “Mark Meadows’s coverup of Trump’s coup attempt is falling apart,” Washington Post, December 13, 2021,
  2. [2]Laura E. Adkins and Emily Burack, “Neo-Nazis, QAnon and Camp Auschwitz: A guide to the hate symbols and signs on display at the Capitol riots,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 7, 2021,; Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, “FBI report warned of ‘war’ at Capitol, contradicting claims there was no indication of looming violence,” Washington Post, January 12, 2021,; Ted Barrett, Manu Raju, and Peter Nickeas, “US Capitol secured, woman dead after rioters stormed the halls of Congress to block Biden’s win,” CNN, January 6, 2021,; Jacques Billeaud, “Rioters accused of erasing content from social media, phones,” Associated Press, July 3, 2021,; Emma Brown et al., “Election denier who circulated Jan. 6 PowerPoint says he met with Meadows at White House,” Washington Post, December 11, 2021,; Philip Bump, “‘The coup didn’t work’ is not a reassuring argument,” Washington Post, October 4, 2021,; Jonathan Chait, “Trump Sycophants Pleading for Less Coup Talk at Saturday Rally,” New York, June 4, 2021,; Kyle Cheney et al., “Steve Bannon indicted for defying Jan. 6 committee investigation,” Politico, November 12, 2021,; Alexa Corse, “Capitol Police Officer Describes Fighting ‘Hand to Hand, Inch by Inch’ in Jan. 6 Testimony,” Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2021,; Emily Davies et al., “‘Justice for J6’ rally starts and ends with small crowds and tight security,” Washington Post, September 18, 2021,; Alistair Dawber, “This is how I’m going to die: Officer feared Capitol mob would kill him,” Times, July 28, 2021,; Meaghan Ellis, “DOJ sounds alarm over Trump’s insinuations that he’ll be ‘reinstalled’ in August,” Salon, July 10, 2021,; Matt Ford, “The Dark Side of Steve Bannon’s Contempt Case,” New Republic, November 17, 2021,; Jamie Gangel et al., “‘They’re not going to f**king succeed’: Top generals feared Trump would attempt a coup after election, according to new book,” CNN, July 14, 2021,; Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, “DOJ probing sedition in connection with Capitol riot,” Politico, January 12, 2021,; Tom Hamburger and Jacqueline Alemany, “Biden White House leans toward releasing information about Trump and Jan. 6 attack, setting off legal and political showdown,” Washington Post, September 23, 2021,; Brad Heath and Sarah N. Lynch, “U.S. says Capitol rioters meant to ‘capture and assassinate’ officials – filing,” Reuters, January 15, 2021,; Jeremy Herb et al., “Congress completes electoral count, finalizing Biden’s win after violent delay from pro-Trump mob,” CNN, January 7, 2021,; Peter Hermann, “‘Some are still suffering’: Months after Capitol riot, police who fought the mob contend with physical, psychological pain,” Washington Post, July 24, 2021,; Fiona Hill, “Yes, It Was a Coup. Here’s Why,” Politico, January 11, 2021,; Spencer S. Hsu, “500 arrested in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, including first charged with assault on media member, Garland announces,” Washington Post, June 24, 2021,; Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman, and Devlin Barrett, “Self-styled militia members planned on storming the U.S. Capitol days in advance of Jan. 6 attack, court documents say,” Washington Post, January 19, 2021,; Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner, and Tom Jackman, “Self-styled militia members in three states began planning in November for recruits, weapons ahead of Capitol breach, U.S. alleges,” Washington Post, January 27, 2021,; Cameron Joseph, “‘So, So Angry’: Reporters Who Survived the Capitol Riot Are Still Struggling,” Vice, July 6, 2021,; Quinta Jurecic, “Why the January 6 Investigation Is Weirdly Static,” Atlantic, December 11, 2021,; Ron Kampeas, “Biden: Capitol marauders are ‘thugs, insurrectionists and anti-Semites’ who should be prosecuted,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 8, 2021,; Fred Kaplan, “How the Military Should Deal With Its Michael Flynn Problem,” Slate, June 1, 2021,; Danielle Kurtzleben, “Macho Politics Defined Trump’s Presidency, Culminating With Capitol Riot,” National Public Radio, January 18, 2021,; Talia Lavin, “The Violent Crescendo of the MAGA Conspiracies,” New Republic, January 6, 2021,; Carol D. Leonnig, “Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted,” Washington Post, January 15, 2021,; Bess Levin, “Trump Has Reportedly Been Telling People He’s Going to Be President Again by August, Which Would Suggest He’s Planning a Coup (Or Has Fully Descended Into Madness),” Vanity Fair, June 1, 2021,; Andrew G. McCabe and David C. Williams, “Trump’s New Criminal Problem,” Politico, January 11, 2021,; Seren Morris, “What Does Insurrection or Sedition Mean? Definition of Words Used To Describe Capitol Riot,” Newsweek, January 7, 2021,; Robert A. Pape, “What an analysis of 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Capitol insurrection tells us,” Washington Post, April 6, 2021,; Robert A. Pape and Keven Ruby, “The Capitol Rioters Aren’t Like Other Extremists,” Atlantic, February 2, 2021,; Ed Pilkington, “Seditionaries: FBI net closes on Maga mob that stormed the Capitol,” Guardian, February 6, 2021,; William Rivers Pitt, “The Rally for the Capitol Mob Fizzled, But This May Be the Calm Before the Storm,” Truthout, September 21, 2021,; Katelyn Polantz, “US takes back its assertion that Capitol rioters wanted to ‘capture and assassinate’ officials,” CNN, January 15, 2021,; Katelyn Polantz, “Prosecutors allege Oath Keepers leader and Proud Boys coordinated before Capitol attack,” CNN, March 24, 2021,; Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand, “Al Gore ‘was a man’ about his election loss, unlike Trump, federal judge says,” CNN, November 22, 2021,; Nicolás Rivero, “Is America experiencing a coup?” Quartz, January 6, 2021,; Kaleigh Rogers, “Jan. 6 Has Given The Right Hundreds Of New Martyrs,” FiveThirtyEight, September 22, 2021,; Geneva Sands, “DHS warns of potential for violence surrounding the ‘Justice for J6’ rally in intelligence brief,” CNN, September 16, 2021,; Alisha Rahaman Sarkar, “Trump predicts America will cease to exist in three years in rambling Newsmax interview,” Independent, September 15, 2021,; Charlie Savage, “Judge Rejects Trump’s Bid to Keep Papers Secret in Jan. 6 Inquiry,” New York Times, November 9, 2021,; Alex Shephard, “Trump’s Republicans Want a Coup,” New Republic, June 1, 2021,; Paul Sonne, “Pentagon restricted commander of D.C. Guard ahead of Capitol riot,” Washington Post, January 26, 2021,; Jonathan Stevenson, “Trump’s Lingering Menace,” New York Review of Books, January 9, 2021,; Matt Stieb, “Capitol Police Suspends Cops for Allegedly Siding With Pro-Trump Mob,” New York, January 11, 2021,; Rebecca Tan et al., “Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol, with one woman killed and tear gas fired,” Washington Post, January 7, 2021,; Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, and Marissa J. Lang, “Capitol siege was planned online. Trump supporters now planning the next one,” Washington Post, January 9, 2021,; Aruna Viswanatha, “Conspiracy Charges Filed Over Capitol Riot,” Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2021,; Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu, “Capitol riot defendants facing jail have regrets. Judges aren’t buying it,” Washington Post, February 26, 2021,; Whitney Wild and Chandelis Duster, “Seven US Capitol Police officers sue former President Trump, Stop the Steal organizers over January 6 riot,” CNN, August 26, 2021,; Jason Wilson, “Police records show threats to kill lawmakers in wake of Capitol attack,” Guardian, May 23, 2021,
  3. [3]Barton Gellman, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” Atlantic, December 6, 2021,; Jackie Calmes, “Trump latest warning sign: Stacking election posts with Big Lie supporters,” Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2021,; Quinta Jurecic, “Why the January 6 Investigation Is Weirdly Static,” Atlantic, December 11, 2021,; Daniel Strauss, “It’s Officially Time to Start Worrying About the January 6 Committee,” New Republic, December 9, 2021,
  4. [4]Quinta Jurecic, “Why the January 6 Investigation Is Weirdly Static,” Atlantic, December 11, 2021,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The danger that still remains,” Not Housebroken, December 11, 2021,
  6. [6]Quinta Jurecic, “Why the January 6 Investigation Is Weirdly Static,” Atlantic, December 11, 2021,
  7. [7]Guardian, “Trump booed after telling supporters to get Covid vaccine,” August 22, 2021,
  8. [8]Thomas Frank, What’s The Matter With Kansas? (New York: Metropolitan, 2005).
  9. [9]Jason Togyer, “Year of Fear, Chapter 19: How Facebook has undermined communal conversation in McKeesport,” Columbia Journalism Review, June 18, 2021,
  10. [10]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013,
  11. [11]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013,
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Barack Obama asks, ‘Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?’ Not Housebroken, November 4, 2018,
  13. [13]These are authoritarian populism, which I had understood to be the bulk of Donald Trump’s base, social conservatism, and paleoconservatism: David Benfell, “The seven tendencies of conservatism,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d.,
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  15. [15]Alex Isenstadt, “Trump faces MAGA revolt over endorsement,” Politico, January 27, 2022,
  16. [16]Jill Colvin, “Trump reveals he got COVID-19 booster shot; crowd boos him,” Associated Press, December 20, 2021,; Guardian, “Trump booed after telling supporters to get Covid vaccine,” August 22, 2021,; Olafimihan Oshin, “Trump pushes back on Candace Owens: ‘People aren’t dying when they take the vaccine,’” Hill, December 23, 2021,; Aila Slisco, “75 Percent of Unvaxxed Trump Voters Vow to Never Get Jab After Ex-President’s Urging: Poll,” Newsweek, December 24, 2021,; Peter Weber, “Candace Owens claims Trump supports COVID vaccines because he’s ‘old’ and ‘came from a time before TV,’” Week, December 27, 2022,
  17. [17]David Benfell, “Trumpism, Donald Trump, the January 6 coup attempt, and a smoking gun that may never be found,” Not Housebroken, December 19, 2021,