PEOPLE really seem to struggle with the word “coup.”

Jonah Goldberg

During the impeachment ordeal of Bill Clinton, Democrats and their journalistic allies routinely denounced the effort as a “coup.” Some 20 years later, Republicans and their supporters called the impeachment of Donald Trump a “coup” as well.

Neither of these events was a coup. According to the dictionary, a coup means to overthrow the government, usually by force. It’s short for “coup d’etat,” which is illegal. The impeachment power is laid out in America’s rulebook — the Constitution — in black and white.

In any endeavor — sports, law, business, chess, Dungeons and Dragons, whatever — it is axiomatically true that if you play within the rules, you cannot be breaking them.

But as silly as all the coup talk was, it at least had a certain superficial plausibility within the bounds of political hyperbole and poetic license. Impeachment was an effort to fire the head of state, after all.

You can’t say the same thing about the truly ridiculous accusation that Bernie Sanders is the victim of a coup.

CNN’s Jake Tapper referred to Joe Biden’s historic comeback on Super Tuesday as a “resurrection.” Marianne Williamson, a onetime contender in the Democratic primaries who now supports Sanders, responded with a Twitter rant.

“This was not a resurrection; it was a coup,” Williamson raged. “Russiagate was not a coup. Mueller was not a coup. Impeachment was not a coup. What happened yesterday was a coup. And we will push it back.”

Williamson’s coup blather (since deleted) was in a sense bipartisan. President Trump, whose desperation to run against Sanders instead of Biden sometimes gets the better of him, tweeted late Monday afternoon, “They are staging a coup against Bernie!” Shortly after that, he told reporters on the White House lawn, “It’s rigged against Bernie, there is no question about it.”

Now, my complaint here isn’t just that people are using words incorrectly, though that does vex me. It’s that they’re using the wrong words because they have the wrong ideas.

Trump’s use of the word “rigged” — one that Sanders loves, too — is illustrative. What happened with Biden wasn’t a “coup,” nor was it “rigged.” It was politics.

Democratic politicians and rank-and-file voters alike played by the rules and rallied to Biden. They did so partly out of ideological opposition to Sanders’ avowedly socialist agenda but mostly out of fear that Sanders would lose to Trump.

Regardless of the motivations, the important point is that no rules were broken. Heck, no norms, customs or traditions were violated. Rather, good old-fashioned politics made a comeback. Biden amassed some crucial endorsements. South Carolina’s African American voters in particular rallied to the former vice president. Biden then used the momentum of a huge win there to leverage more endorsements and more African American (and moderate) votes to run away with it on Super Tuesday.

Where’s the coup? Answer: Nowhere.

Indeed, it’s kind of amazing that many of the people who bemoan “white supremacy” are suddenly arguing that African American voters are really the establishment’s enforcers.

Part of the problem with populism is the collective sense of entitlement that fuels it. Populists don’t like the rules when the rules don’t favor them. “Screw the rules, you owe us!”

When you feel entitled to something, it’s normal to think it’s unfair or illegitimate when you don’t get it. It’s like one of those family games of Monopoly that inevitably end in tears when one of the kids goes bankrupt and cries, “No fair!” But it was fair. The game wasn’t rigged; that was the game.

Sanders and his most ardent followers believe, in almost Marxian fashion, that capital-H History is on their side and that their “revolution” is their rightful destiny. But nobody owes them victory. In democratic politics you earn success by being better at the game. Sure, sometimes luck plays a role, but luck is part of every game — except maybe chess.

Sadly, the Sanders campaign is just one example of the sense of entitlement that runs rampant through our politics and our culture. From the Oval Office to college campuses to the Sanders campaign, people assume that everything should go their way, and when it doesn’t, it must be because the system is rigged. Not content with hating the players, they hate the game, too.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.

Sunday, September 20, 2020
Friday, September 18, 2020

WASHINGTON — California, our national warning, shows how unchecked progressives inflict progress. They have placed on November ballots Proposition 16 to repeal the state constitution’s provision, enacted by referendum in 1996, forbidding racial preferences in public education, employment and…

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A CHILLY night in New York, fall in the air, geese winging along a flyway over West 91st, a lively crowd watching a playground basketball game. Unusual in these pandemic days, to hear a cheering crowd. We’ve been isolating here since March, avoiding the dread virus, leading a life more like …

Sunday, September 13, 2020

IF DONALD TRUMP loses the election, history will attribute his defeat to a pandemic that killed 200,000 Americans during his reelection campaign, and a historic depression deliberately induced to put the economy in a coma as the nation suffered through that pandemic.

Friday, September 11, 2020
Wednesday, September 09, 2020

IT’S GREAT to see an old, old magazine in headline news for something other than its obit and bravo to The Atlantic and Jeffrey Goldberg for the “losers” and “suckers” story on Trump and his contempt for military service or anything else nonprofitable. It’s been hot news for several days, it…

WHAT DO presidential candidates George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, Al Gore, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney all have in common? On the biggest night each of their political careers, when they — live and on national tel…

Sunday, September 06, 2020

AS A DEMOCRAT accused by Republicans of trying to take away people’s hamburgers, I have to speak in my own defense. I am second to none in my fondness for the beef patty in a bun, a thin slice of onion, and mustard. I do not eat hamburger in a croissant; I am not that type of person. Ketchup…