Because coups involve the threat of violence, they are difficult to carry out without the backing of the most powerful coercive institution of the state — which explains why the vast majority of coup attempts involve the regular military.

While deeply corrosive to public trust in our political institutions, the steps Trump has taken to remain in power do not yet fit that definition. He has falsely disparaged the election as beset by fraud, and mounted legal challenges to contest the integrity of ballots in some states. And he has powerful allies: Several prominent Republican officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have backed Trump’s refusal to concede. Attorney General William P. Barr authorized federal prosecutors to investigate “vote tabulation irregularities,” giving credence to Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud (and leading a top Justice Department election-law official to step down). Most recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarked there would be “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” although the context seemed to indicate it was a poor attempt at a joke rather than an announcement of plans.

What does this amount to? Because Trump is attempting to remain in power, rather than remove someone else from it his efforts come closer to what scholars call an attempt at a “self-coup” — or, using the Spanish term, an autogolpe — in which a head of state attempts to remain in power past his or term in office.