White House Scott Archer

Exploring “Trial Balloon for a Coup?” Yonatan Zunger’s piece broken down for the layperson, Part 1

Trial Balloon for a coup? Analyzing the news of the past 24 hours by Yonatan Zunger is an interesting article than can help clarify many issues that are concerning in the Trump administration. But I'm confused. And if I'm confused, then I know many others are confused as well.

I keep checking the news trying to get some clarity on our current political situation. And I keep not finding the clarity I’m looking for.

One article that has the potential to effectively communicate this clarity is titled Trial Balloon for a coup? Analyzing the news of the past 24 hours by Yonatan Zunger.

Trial balloon for a coup

First, I want to say that I think it’s a great article, but it requires careful reading and some specialized knowledge. My undergraduate degree is in political science, but I’m already confused by the title. And if I’m confused, then I know many others are confused as well.

We need to make sure that we’re communicating effectively, because we are not only communicating among academics for the purpose of a philosophical argument. No, this is the real world and the only way Trump and his team are going to be stopped is through en masse grassroots organizing with a clear intent based on a clear understanding of what is happening in our government.

So, I will be breaking down Zunger’s piece in two separate posts. (See part 2 here.)

Defining Terms

As a former political science instructor, I want to start as I would in my class–by defining our terms.

Here we go:

  • What is a trial balloon? According to Merriam-Webster, a trial balloon is “a project or scheme tentatively announced in order to test public opinion.”
  • What is a coup? I went to the Oxford Dictionary for this because this dictionary seems to have a better grasp of the word coup as it is used in political science parlance. The first definition is: “A sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”*
    • A coup, or a coup d’etat, is undertaken by a small group of people, utilizing the power of military officers (the fact that Trump has chosen a few generals for his cabinet might be relevant). Importantly, violent coups have historically not been as successful as non-violent coups, as “passive acceptance” by the masses is desirable.** The generals are just there to command the troops in the event of a counter coup.

The News

Ok, so we start our reading of this article with the question of whether or not the Trump administration is testing the waters for a possible”illegal seizure of power.”

Mr. Zunger states, at the beginning of his article, that the article will be about 1) news reports and 2) analysis. And that those news reports are mainly just a clarification of what has been happening. (It seems I’m not the only one that’s seeking clarification.)

We are given six recent news reports.

  1. Reince Priebus (Trump’s Chief of Staff) made two statements:
    1. That Trump’s executive order (EO) banning citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries*** from entering the U.S. for 90 days and denying entry for refugees for 120 days will not “effect green card holders moving forward.“(The original order did effect green card holders, much to the chagrin of the Department of Homeland Security – see 3 below.)
    2. That the Trump administration, to borrow a phrase that’s been going around Twitter, “all lives mattered” the holocaust. That is to say, the administration deliberately did not reference the plight of the Jews during Hitler’s regime. And they did so on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less.All lives mattered the holocaust ****
  2. Rudy Giuliani publicly stated that Trump asked him how to legally do a Muslim ban. (Watch this video starting at 2:58)
  3. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to Trump’s EO, but was overruled by Steve Bannon (anti-semite and white supremacist, and Trump’s Chief Strategist, who is now on the National Security Council) and Trump Aide Stephen Miller. The administration clearly circumvented the DHS.
  4. The State Department (the department in charge of foreign affairs) is now unstaffed at its highest levels. According to the Washington Post: “The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday.” Whether they resigned willingly or were part of a purge by the new administration is being reported on here. Either way, it is clear that the administration is also circumventing this department.
  5. Donald Trump filed for candidacy in the 2020 election cycle on the day he was inaugurated. This is highly unusual. According to Zunger “this opens up the ability for him to start accepting ‘campaign contributions’ right away.” Further, non-profit organizations are prohibited from campaigning against Trump because now he is considered a candidate for public office.Federal Election Commission Trump candidacy
  6. Last but not least, Russia has recently sold off the greatest share of state-owned property since the 1990s (shortly after the dissolution of the USSR). So what? First, it’s a huge oil company called Rosneft. Second, and this is the important part, Zunger draws attention to a Jan. 25 Reuters story that questions who now owns these shares of the oil company. Perhaps Trump and his cronies own some shares? See Zunger’s article and this one from Business Insider for more.

    A dossier with unverified claims about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia contained allegations that Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered former Trump ally Carter Page and his associates the brokerage of a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia. — Business Insider

Stay tuned for part 2 of this breakdown.


*According to Merriam-Webster, on the hand, the first definition of coup is 1) “overturn, upset.” Scrolling down a bit, we find a second definition of the word: 2) 1. “a brilliant, sudden, and usually highly successful stroke or act,” or 2) 2. “coup d’etat.”

Click coup d’etat and that takes you to another page, where you find the definition: ” a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics; especially  :  the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.”

**Luttwak, Edward N., Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook

***The 7 countries are: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria. Although the EO was enacted under the guise of protecting Americans from terrorists, none of the people involved in the terror attacks in the U.S. by those identifying with the Muslim religion were from any of those 7 countries. Here is a useful article about the 7 countries: What it’s like in the 7 countries on Trump’s travel ban list.

****Because of a technical glitch, I couldn’t include the link to the twitter feed above. Here it is:


Did I miss something? Do you have something to add? PLEASE comment below.

Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and Medium.com. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

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