Commentary: Forecasts of a civil war are greatly exaggerated
Anybody who predicts how the Trump administration will come to an end is begging to have his soothsayer’s license revoked. “Surprisingly” is as far as I’m willing to go. NPR ran a story the other day about a 93-year-old World War II veteran whose dying words were “S*, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?”
Supposedly, the smart money in Washington predicts that the special counsel’s long-awaited findings will prove a big bust, the mother of all anti-climaxes. Partly that’s because, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo writes: “Trumpers have constructed a perfect logical defense or rather shield for President Trump. He cannot be indicted. And the Justice Department cannot share potentially damaging information about someone it has chosen not to indict. Ergo, RIP Mueller Report.”
Perfectly circular logic, of course, but that’s the plan. Nevertheless, I think it will fail, in part because it greatly overestimates how willing even a party-line Republican like Attorney General William Barr would be to go down in history as the apparatchik who covered up the biggest scandal in U.S. political history.
But also because I doubt Barr could withstand the pressure of public opinion even if he tried. Neither law nor the U.S. Constitution say a president can’t be charged with a crime. It’s a Justice Department policy, that’s all, and not a very persuasive one. A recent poll shows that upward of three-quarters of the American people think Mueller’s report should be made public.
One way or another, they’re apt to get their way. Trump may ultimately regret turning the United States government into a televised Wrestlemania spectacle, because everybody definitely wants to see how the damn thing ends.
If he’s so innocent, the Mueller report should prove it.
That said, here’s something else that’s NOT going to happen. A recent headline in The Washington Post read: “In America, talk turns to something not spoken of for 150 years: Civil war.” The newspaper cited longtime Fox News stalwart Joseph diGenova to the effect that “civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over ... It’s going to be total war.”
Dream on, friend. A former federal prosecutor under Ronald Reagan, diGenova’s too consumed with his role as a cable TV and social media warrior. He also appears to fear that Republicans are losing the argument. He shared with fellow Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham the advice he gives friends: “I vote, and I buy guns. And that’s what you should do.”
Surprisingly, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace agreed. The one-time Republican turned anti-Trumper blames the president, who she says “greenlit a war in this country around race ... the most dangerous thing he’s done.”
A veteran conspiracy theorist and partisan combatant, diGenova looks to be an avid indoorsman ill-suited for combat. Then too, like most viewers in the Fox News demographic, he’s 74 years old.
Comes the civil war against my wife’s book club of Angry Democratic Women, both sides will ride into battle on battery-powered shopping carts from the grocery store. Indeed, diGenova appears to have had second thoughts. In a follow-up interview with the Post, he spoke of “a civil war of discourse,” stressing that “he owns guns mostly to make a statement, and not because he fears political insurrection.” For her part, I suspect Wallace expects to oversee the conflict from the MSNBC green room.
But hey, this is America. Random violence is what we do. Indeed, it’s gotten to where a lone demento with an AR-15 has to kill at least a half-dozen innocent civilians to make a real statement. But organized political violence pitting Trump supporters against armed, militant Democrats? Not going to happen.
I’d argue there are two reasons: First, like diGenova, I’m old enough to remember 1968, a truly dangerous time in American life: political assassinations, riots, arson and insurrections all across the country; anti-Vietnam protests, racial conflicts, police riots and National Guardsmen occupying several major cities.
Today’s America is orderly and calm by comparison. Democrats are determined to win at the ballot box come 2020. Right-wing violence would only make that more likely.
Second, as one who gets death threats on a semi-regular basis -- many, believe it or not, resulting from a 2-year-old column about pit bulls -- I know better than to confuse social media with reality. Anonymity makes cowards bold, particularly those who can’t distinguish between “their,” “there” and “they’re.”
The more incoherent they are, the less likely they’ll show up.
Which brings us to Trump’s delusional two-hour, Fidel Castro-style, stream-of-consciousness rant at the recent CPAC convention. At one point, Trump even appeared to be humping the American flag, with a barmy cross-eyed expression like an animal I know at the dog park.
Even the King of Chaos appears to be coming apart under pressure.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.)