Meena realized that something terrible had happened in America when she received a WhatsApp message from her 73-year-old father in Chennai, India.
“Hope you all are safe,” the message said.
Seconds later, Meena received another text, this one from her Nigerian friend, Yetunde, who lived just down the street.
“A coup! I can’t believe we are having a coup in America! My family left Nigeria because of all the coups.”
This must be some kind of joke, Meena thought, as she tossed her phone on the couch and turned on her TV. She had listened to NPR in the morning and knew that a pro-Trump rally was taking place in Washington, D.C. She also recalled President Trump’s mid-December tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, be wild!”
She knew that Trump supporters were upset about the election result, but how wild could they be?
Mind-blowingly wild, she realized, as she absorbed the drama unfolding on CNN and other news networks, underscored with headlines such as “Rioters Break Into U.S. Capitol,” “Congress Members Hide From Mob” and “2021 Threatens to Outdo 2020.”
Hordes of people wearing MAGA caps and shirts were knocking down barricades, climbing walls and breaking windows, showing their determination to “Make America Great Again.”
Meena was horrified. She had watched such scenes from other countries, scenes that often ended in bloodshed and tyranny. She feared for the elected officials hiding in the Capitol. What if the rioters set fire to the building? What if they detonated explosives? What if they took Congress members hostage, refusing to let them go until Joe Biden agreed to allow Donald Trump to have four more years?
Perhaps Yetunde was right and this really was a coup d’état: Trump supporters were taking over the government by force. One of them, a middle-aged bearded man, was already sitting comfortably in an office, resting his foot on a desk. Would he be the new Nancy Pelosi? And what about the heavily tattooed, bare-chested man parading around in a fur headdress with horns? Would he be the new Mitch McConnell?
Meena shuddered to think of the types of laws they might enact. No more black or brown immigrants. No more restrictions on gun sales. No more taxes on pick-up trucks.
After staring wide-eyed at the TV for a few minutes, Meena responded to her father’s message: “Why are you up so late, Appa?”
It was well past midnight in India.
“You know me. Just checking news in bed. Are you safe?”
“Of course, Appa. We are in Indiana. Washington is very far away.”
“Lock all the doors, just in case.”
“Okay, Appa, I will.”
“If they keep Trump as president, what will you do?”
Meena didn’t know what else to write. Before the presidential election, she had been worried about four more years of Trump. Now suddenly she had to contemplate the possibility that he might be president forever.
And what about Kamala? Meena and her husband, Mukund, along with scores of other Indian-Americans, had been elated that Kamala Harris was about to become the first vice-president in U.S. history who knew how to make dosa.
Heeding her father’s advice, Meena locked the front door. She didn’t really expect anyone to attack her home, but it was better to be safe. After all, she and Mook had shown their support for the Biden-Harris ticket in different ways, including selling special masks that Meena had sewn with her friend, Mary.
Thankfully, Mook put Meena at ease. He was in his office at Purdue University, preparing for the spring semester. He turned his phone sideways, so Meena could see less of him and more of the traffic on State Street.
“Stop worrying, Meena,” Mook said. “America is not a banana republic. It is more like a plantain republic. You cannot peel it and eat it very easily.”
“You have to cook it?”
“Yes, you have to cook it, but the recipe has been cut into many pieces and stored in many places.”
Meena felt relieved after speaking to Mook, but her relief lasted only two minutes — until she received another text from Yetunde.
“Oh no, the insurgents have taken over the Capitol! Shots have been fired! Well, at least Americans can be proud that their democracy lasted for 244 years.”
It took another two hours before Meena could relax once again. The pro-Trump mob had been forced out of the Capitol building and members of Congress were making cautious appearances, vowing to certify the election results and ensure that Biden becomes president.
Meena wrote a single word in a Facebook discussion group she had created: “Phew!”
She had started the “West Lafayette Gals” group in 2017, inviting all her friends to join. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, and some had visible fence marks on their pants.
“You can say that again,” wrote Donna, a Republican. “I can’t believe I voted for him in ‘16. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Sharmila, a Democrat, was blunt in her response: “You weren’t.”
“At least I voted for Biden this time,” Donna replied.
“But we almost had a coup!” wrote Yetunde. “We almost said goodbye to democracy.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘almost,’” Donna wrote. “That’s like saying Marianne Williamson ‘almost’ became president.”
“She did!” Yetunde insisted.
“Can’t take democracy for granted,” Mary wrote. “That’s why everybody needs to vote!!!”
Then, remembering her own vote in ‘16, she added: “Sensibly.”