We are entering new territory. The threats from the president on his twitter feed are getting deeper and downright bizarre. He is talking in apocalyptic terms. He is threatening members of Congress, and speaking in terms of treason. The idea that the country will go to civil war if he is impeached is there. So is the concept that this is a coup, and not the constitutional means to remove a rogue president from office. Incidentally, the threats to the whistleblower mean that he is now under federal protection. Younger broadcasters admitted on air that they are shocked and surprised. Why? It reveals how we forget our recent history, let alone the distant one. Our media personalities are part of this trend, which I hope we finally break.
The United States is a forward-looking nation, which is a weakness. This is why people are surprised, even shocked. The lessons of Watergate were forgotten already. And yes, there are parallels to both Watergate and the Andrew Johnson impeachment after the Civil War. However, we seem to have forgotten 2016. Roger Stone threatened violence if Trump did not get the nomination at Cleveland. Cleveland was not long ago. In fact, it was within the lifetime of these hosts. They were working for the same broadcaster, even. Some of us even remember the violence both inside and outside the rallies.
There are essential questions that need asking. They speak to the nature of the moment. Why is the president speaking in such dire terms? Why did Richard Nixon do the same in the tapes from the White House? Why did Andrew Johnson defy Congress? To a lesser extent so did Bill Clinton. And this is where we should go when analyzing this. Partly there are patterns common to all these men. It’s a personality thing and a belief system. They are all authoritarians who believed their power was beyond that of the Constitution. However, the behavior of the president is not outside any recent memory since many Americans were alive when Nixon was impeached.
I have written in the past that Donald Trump is an authoritarian. I have also said that he believes he is above the law. Given his life experience, he has good reasons to suppose this. All he has had to do over the decades is hire lawyers, and they will make anything bad go away. And yes, there is plenty of dreadful things that they have had to make go away. This includes bankruptcies and lawsuits. He is known to stiff contractors, for example.
Trump is a student at the Roy Cohn school. He has asked more than a few times where is his Roy Cohn, especially after Jeff Sessions recused himself during the Mueller investigation. He also believes the attorney general is his personal lawyer (and William Barr seems to agree.) this is why when he is punched, he Gives it back, harder if possible. Hence the Twitter feed and how insane it seems. Cohn was so ethically challenged that he lost his law license. Trump has no ethics, that we can tell. However, Cohn was also a favorite of Richard Nixon, and Roger Stone. In this sense, the president is in a terrible company, which surprises me in the least.
Trump’s Twitter feed is not raging; it punches back at his enemies, both real and perceived. They are also about taking over the news cycle, which they are less effective. As time goes on, he has become noisier, because the media is no longer paying as much attention. He is losing control of the news cycle as well. This is a very unfamiliar place for the president.
Consequences may finally catch up to him. This must be very disconcerting and scary. He is not used to facing any kind of ramifications for his actions, legally or otherwise. When he went bankrupt in the past his father at times helped to bail him out. Father is no longer around to rescue him from his many financial and legal blunders. He likely has no friends, because he has never been loyal to anybody but number one. Why he is accusing his ever-growing list of enemies of treason and calling for their execution. In this sense, he’s not unlike Nixon who kept a long list of enemies and raged in the secret White House tapes against his enemies. He even accused them of treason and wanted them prosecuted and sued. Both men also rail against the media and other secret forces that alight against them. One has to wonder if Trump is pacing the halls demanding answers from long-dead presidential portraits hanging on the wall.
It is very dangerous, however. We have seen why already a few times.
Some in his base will act on his appeals to violence, as we have already seen. Trump has been mentioned in white supremacy manifestos that were posted online right before attacks. He is seen as the last hope of the white man and white Christian America. Some of these people have been speaking of civil war and revolution for decades as well. . These threats of a civil war are not that crazy given this hyper-partisan divided environment. Fear of change and diversity is a powerful motivator, and they are sure that their fate is either fight back or die. Some have given in to the despair a true diverse country causes them. So they are not the ones who will pick up arms. The theme of eliminating liberals and minorities is not uncommon in the far right. Trump activates this, Why some more “lone wolves” will not be surprising.
Could we get to a civil war out of the process of impeachment? It is possible, but impeachment would be a trigger of a long process. And the prices is still not that obvious. Those forces started to take shape well before Trump came to power, and have grown starting in the 1980s. If we get anything beyond a few lone wolves going for mass shootouts, I believe it will be more akin to a revolution. There are structural reasons for this, and I will go into them bellow. However, and this matters, most Americans do not think of revolutions as civil wars because of the mythology surrounding the American War of Independence. That war had all the markers of a civil war, as well as a revolution. It is important to understand why.
If you read the Declaration of Independence, beyond the preamble, you will see a long list of grievances. Now, fast forward to the present and start thinking deeply about what is going on at present.
Americans are frustrated and feel increasing that their government is not there to serve them. The best example of this is the gun lobby and like every mass shooting starting with Sandy Hook, at least. A vast majority of Americans believe we have to have some sort of regulation and at the very least universal background checks. These numbers are anywhere from the 80 to 90 percentiles, from polling, and it is bipartisan. However, neither Democrats nor Republicans have been able to pass legislation to deal with this. Some of this is the inability to pass this legislation through both chambers and the president. This is a marker of a government that does not serve the people. It has been captured by a special interest.
Another of these markers is a generalized less trust in law enforcement, not just among minorities, who are over-policed. But also among the majority white population. This has led to difficulties recruiting young officers, or retaining them. This has led to panic among many cities and law enforcement agencies. Getting qualified candidates is becoming increasingly harder. There are reasons for this, not just a lack of trust.
The medical system is another. We have the most expensive, most dysfunctional system in the developed world. At the most basic levels Americans want and need a functional medical system. The government is failing to make this a reality. This is a great cost to the economy (you pay a lot more for substandard care than you would with single-payer) and Americans have less spending power. We also have very real effects on our national public health, and people losing their lives savings to medical debt. This is not a thing anywhere else in the advanced economies. We do not even have the most basic of protections, such as maximum prices for medications. (Democrats are trying to get that legislation in place with HR-3, but it is going to be a dead letter in the Senate.)
Then there is Citizens United, which allows corporations to buy themselves a Congress, a Senate and the President. Indirectly, they also get the courts. It’s quite the steal when you think about it. This corporate capture started before the legislation was even dreamt off, and the efforts started in the 1970s. The Powell Memo is the roadmap followed for the last almost fifty years. However, most Americans know the system is not working. They may disagree as to the remedies, and some won't even less regulation and worst government. But there is bipartisan agreement that the government is broken and it does not serve us the people.
The impeachment will deepen the distrust by many, as well as claims of deep state, and enemies of the president. How much of a din this will be is a good question.
So to the original question, can we end up in a civil war? I doubt this will be the trigger for a hot civil war. Increasing numbers of Americans don’t like him. Like Nixon, more and more people are realizing there is a problem, and this is not just partisan. The current issue, trying to strong-arm the government of Ukraine, is actually easy to understand. Moreover, Watergate saw the same threats. This is why the question of where the military stood was asked from the Joints of Chief. The answer was hardly cryptic, “defend the constitution.”
I foresee this will be asked soon as well. Sadly, it is for the same reasons. Also, the president is not demanding utter and absolute loyalty behind closed doors, but on Twitter.
What this has potential is of further dividing the nation between Democrats and Republicans…urban versus rural, coasts v interior. Evangelicals will complain of further persecution, as well as some working-class whites. However, if this follows the pattern of Watergate, we will get to the point when most people will not admit to voting for Trump. There are posts on social media these days, so denying it will be harder.
And Mitch McConnell already signaled that yes, there will be a trial in the Senate if the House votes articles and cracks are starting to show in the bedrock of Republican support.
What we can also expect is an acceleration of the news cycle, as more news breaks. Some of this will be Republicans signaling displeasure. This will be directly proportional to the base breaking from the president.