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Trump and the Civil War Factor

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With strong Democratic showings in this week’s off-year elections, it’s tempting to indulge in reveries of a resounding rejection of Donald Trump 

The Vigilante President

With strong Democratic showings in this week’s off-year elections, it’s tempting to indulge in reveries of a resounding rejection of Donald Trump and his vile authoritarian governing record come the first week of next November. However, it may not be as simple as all that, as New Republic writer Alexander Hurst explains in a chilling chronicle of Trump’s increasingly belligerent and violent rhetoric targeting the House impeachment inquiry. Never one to be detained by traditional norms of presidential leadership, let alone deference to constitutional checks and balances, Trump now openly courts the specter of violent rebellion among his supporters—and the more militant elements in Trump’s base are picking up on the great leader’s rhetorical cues with distressing ardor. Stuart Rhodes, head of the rightwing militia group the Oath Keepers declared in a tweet that, per a recent set of Trump insinuations at a rally that impeachment and/or electoral defeat could trigger a bloody mass uprising of the Trump faithful, “We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like 1859.”
What’s more, Hurst notes, in stoking the threat of racialized vigilante violence, Trump actually isn’t departing from established political norms. Instead, he’s indulging a long-standing set of uglier norms that we generally don’t like to talk about. Despite our cherished illusions about America’s exceptionalist standing in the annals of global strongman rule, “the United States has long been home to the same basic elements of violent tribalism that have infected politics elsewhere—and that threaten to rise again,” Hurst writes. Given Trump’s penchant for invoking the same exterminationist tropes of American racial confrontation—dubbing immigrants  “invaders,” “killers,” “predators,” “aliens,” and “rapists”—we should not be at all astonished to see him seize upon his expulsion from office as an occasion to trigger Rhodes’s fever dream of a twenty-first-century civil war. “Whether his removal comes from impeachment proceedings or from the ballot box,” Hurst writes, “there is more than a good chance that Trump will not go quietly. He has what might be called a Samson option to bring the whole temple of American democracy down with him—not only by attacking its institutions and norms, but also by inciting violent resistance to a peaceful transfer of power.”
Read Alexander Hurst's Article
With the 2017 vigilante bombing attacks perpetrated—in thankfully inept fashion—by Trump bomber Cesar Sayoc, and scores of presidential incitements to violence at Trump rallies, the prospect of a vigilante response to an electoral or congressional rejection of the Trump presidency requires no great leap of the imagination. More troubling still is the way in which Trump’s ongoing support for vigilante reaction bespeaks an advanced state of democratic decay in America: 
At its heart, vigilantism is a fringe phenomenon, something that happens when the state, or belief in it, is weak. If a significant component of a country’s citizens and roughly half of its political class reject the legitimacy of the state’s norms and institutions, well, there’s only so much the rest of the country can do. Healthy democracies are multi-party states, where the stakeholders profess the same basic principles and debate policy from within a single shared reality; the United States has become a country with one political party, one tribal faction, and multiple competing realities.
The way to jolt our senescent democracy back into a functional engagement with reality, Hurst argues, is to continue carrying out the constitutional mandate of Trump’s impeachment. A constitutionally minded reckoning with Trump’s many, and fast-multiplying, abuses of power “offers a chance for Republicans to do what their country urgently requires of them,” Hurst writes. “They must tell the kind of truths—that the president is corrupt and unfit for office—that can only gain wide currency within the Republican cult if they’re confirmed by those within the Trump information bubble. Other right-wing parties have done this in other nations.” In other words, the many craven pantomimes that conservative political leaders continue to enact before Trump’s viciously bigoted Ceasarism represent a brand of exceptionalism that the American republic can no longer afford. 

— Chris Lehmann, Editor
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