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Politics & Government

Sociologist Compares Trump's Claims Of Election Fraud To Coups Seen In Turkey

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump has tried in court to throw out the results of the presidential election and failed. He has lobbied state and local officials to ignore the will of the voters and failed at that, too. At this point, it looks like his entire project to reject the democratic process with false claims of fraud will fail. Zeynep Tufekci argues that, quote, "the incoherence and incompetence of the attempt do not change its nature." And she writes in The Atlantic, the U.S. president is trying to steal the election and, crucially, his party either tacitly approves or is pretending not to see it. Her article is titled "This Must Be Your First."

Zeynep Tufekci, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: Thank you for inviting me.

SHAPIRO: This must be your first what?

TUFEKCI: Some kind of coup. I realize we get stuck on the terminology part, but we shouldn't get stuck on what exactly to call it and focus on what's happening, which is that we have not only a blatant attempt to steal the election; the attempt is being either tacitly or openly supported by the Republican leadership. And that's really worrisome when it comes together like that. This is not a minor norm shattering or, you know, sort of norm bending. This is an open attempt to steal an election.

SHAPIRO: You grew up in Turkey, where coups and coup attempts are common. And you say the Turkish language has many words to describe different types of coup. And you write that part of the challenge in the U.S. is that we don't really have the language to describe what's happening right now with precision. So let's just stipulate that attempted coup is not a precise or strictly accurate way of describing the president's actions right now. But why do you think we should treat his behavior with that level of seriousness anyway?

TUFEKCI: An attempt to steal an election by frivolous lawsuits, intimidation, calling state representatives and saying, can you appoint electors that are favorable to me - those are really worrisome because the party that's already minority party at many levels is going along with this. And if we saw this in any other country, we would be alarmed. And what if it had been slightly more competent, you know? That's the kind of thing we really need to worry about because the context is not good.

SHAPIRO: And so given that President-elect Biden will almost certainly take office on January 20, are you really warning less about President Trump's attempt to overthrow the election and more about whoever comes next?

TUFEKCI: So the fact that you felt like you had to say almost certainly should have, like, alarm bells ringing at (unintelligible).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

TUFEKCI: I mean, there is nothing, nothing questionable about this election. And I feel like there's been some debate about, well, if we kind of call it out, we're amplifying it or we might, like, cause more tension. I'm like, it's the president of the United States. It's not some marginal figure. We have to sort of discuss this. And just focusing on the fact that, yes, almost certainly - but that we have to put the asterisk into an election, without a shadow of doubt, is terrible.

SHAPIRO: You write that ignoring a near catastrophe that was averted by the buffoonish, half-hearted efforts of its would-be perpetrator invites a real catastrophe brought on by someone more competent and ambitious. And I take it this is a lesson that you learned from Turkey - that a coup that fails because of incompetence might pave the way for a later one that is successful.

TUFEKCI: This is not success. Even if Joe Biden is sworn in, there are millions of people who now think he has stolen the election. And this is no way to start this presidency. And we can't even get the Republican senators and, you know, Congress people to just say, yes, he was elected. This is simple. We're not even saying they're happy. We're not even asking them to say they're happy about it. They can't even bring themselves to say, yes, Joe Biden is the president-elect.

And they can't even bring themselves to defend Republican governors and Republican election officers in places like Georgia who are begging them to step up - and I'm quoting them right now - before someone gets killed because this is incitement. This is incitement, saying your vote is being stolen, you; country is being stolen. There's nothing funny about it. Even if the tweets have grammar mistakes and too many exclamation marks, it's a very serious thing.

SHAPIRO: Zeynep Tufekci is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina. And her latest piece for The Atlantic is called "This Must Be Your First."

Thank you very much.

TUFEKCI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.