“It can’t happen here” is a phrase that, even as it was used in conjunction with darker warnings about Trump, betrayed a bedrock faith in American democracy that overlooks its savage foundations. The white supremacist project, still going strong as an overt tenet of even liberal government policy well into the 20th century – black Americans were largely cut out of the New Deal – should at least have raised as a possibility a white mob storming the government at the behest of a racist president. The fact that they looked, in their costumes and homemade gas masks, so utterly ridiculous wasn’t even out of keeping with precedent: that end of the extra-political spectrum has always gone in for fancy dress and flaming theatrics.
From a processing point of view, what was stranger, on Wednesday, was that an event with the force of a foregone conclusion still broke a fundamental rule of superstition: that by anticipating the worst, we invite the universe to pleasantly surprise us. The word “coup” has been used in relation to Trump plenty of times since November. Prior to the president’s incitement of the mob, however, it was, even in sincere contexts, used if not as hyperbole, then at least with the expectation that by naming it we lessened the likelihood it would happen. You could take Trump seriously as a threat to national security, believe wholly in his efforts to corrupt the election and still not get fully behind the notion he would encourage a power grab – not just because he is lazy, chaotic and a fool, but because, as an extremely broad principle, nothing ever tends to unfold as predicted.