Jokes usually work best when everyone’s in on them. When they lead people to wonder if your boss is clumsily attempting a coup to stay in power, it’s possible your sarcasm didn’t quite hit.
.@SecPompeo: "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."
— CSPAN (@cspan) November 10, 2020
When asked about the presidential transition during a press conference Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there would be a “peaceful transition to a second Trump administration.” It was just tongue-in-cheek enough to seem like a joke, but pretty concerning since it’s coming from one of the most powerful members of an administration openly trying to subvert American democracy. It didn’t take long for some folks to connect the dots and openly wonder—is this a Trump coup?
Reading Pompeo’s intent here is almost impossible by design. Apart from being a soulless ghoul who would absolutely gut democracy for Trump, he’s also a blubbering dolt. It’s extremely possible Pompeo just has no feel for sarcasm. Still, if you take his words too lightly, you risk downplaying the threat; take Pompeo’s words too seriously and you’re clowned for not having a sense of humor. Regardless of whether he’s serious or joking, Pompeo is able to test how the press might react with virtually no downside. It’s exactly how Trump and his media sycophants have downplayed some of the president’s most harebrained ideas and statements for years.
The administration, meanwhile, is operating as if nothing’s happened. The Washington Post reports that the White House has told “federal agencies to proceed with Trump’s February budget.” That’s more than simply not accepting the election results—it’s clearly signaling they believe Trump should (or will) still hold power after Inauguration Day. Attorney General Bill Barr has already indicated his intent to investigate Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims, and by all accounts the president is planning on spending his lame duck period running a disinformation campaign and holding actual rallies in states where he’s challenging election results.
It’s definitely possible this is Trump’s attempt at a coup, but like Pompeo’s statement, it’s difficult to parse. Nothing that’s happened in the week since Election Day is all that surprising; no one realistically thought Trump would concede gracefully (or at all). Planning some kind of coup, even with dumb crooks like Pompeo and Barr at the center of it, seems more than plausible. Elected Republicans have shown they’re willing to stick by Trump even after it’s clear he lost. Plenty of people have spent the early afternoon assuring folks that the Trump coup isn’t happening, that the “automaticity” of the American system makes it impossible, that the president and his administration’s sheer incompetence doom it to fail. That might all be true, but does that make this any less real?