With the attempted ouster of President Donald Trump by the Democrats, the already incendiary climate in the United States is approaching a new level of explosiveness. That the cultural war might spiral into real warring – widespread civil violence – cannot be discounted.
This week – another one that fit the “you can’t make this up” trope of this presidency – offered dire signals, not the least of which saw Mr. Trump label his opponents “human scum.”
On Tuesday, before he used that descriptor, Mr. Trump, whose authoritarian impulses seem to multiply by the day, advised Republicans “to get together and fight.”
They took it quite literally. A day later came something that Capitol Hill had never witnessed: After assembling in a basement, about two dozen Republican members of Congress barged into a closed-door committee meeting on the impeachment inquiry to disrupt the testimony of a witness.
The ensuing ruckus saw the testimony at the House Intelligence Committee delayed for five hours. Republican lawmakers were irate at the in-camera proceedings; one of them, the GOP’s House minority whip Steve Scalise, likened it to a “Soviet-style star chamber” – even though his party had undertaken a similar preliminary process with respect to the Benghazi probe.
The President’s “human scum” line was directed at fellow Republicans who oppose him. But in defending the odious terminology, press secretary Stephanie Grisham made it sound as if the phrase should apply more broadly. “No, no, he shouldn’t” regret the words, she said. "It is horrible that people are working against a president who is delivering results for this country and has been since day one. They deserve strong language like that.”
Strong language like that usually comes more from fascists than from an American president.
As relief from the stench of politics, the World Series is under way in Washington. But even baseball wasn’t untouched by the ever-escalating Ukraine scandal.
Rob Drake, a long time major-league umpire, came wrenchingly to the President’s defence. “I will be buying an AR-15 tomorrow,” he tweeted, “because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020.”
Mr. Drake, who had problems even spelling civil, subsequently apologized for the tweet. But there was little doubt it reflected not only his view, but that of millions of Americans who have been whipped into warlike anger by this occupant of the White House.
Mr. Trump has not shied away from urging violence. In September, he tweeted a quote from Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President, it will cause a civil war-like fracture in this nation.”
Robert Reich, who was labour secretary for Bill Clinton, is of the view that “the way Mr. Trump and his defenders are behaving, it’s not absurd to imagine serious social unrest. That’s how low he’s taken us.”
And as if more kerosene is needed for the fire, Mr. Trump’s former top strategist Steve Bannon has returned to the fray. This week, the unscrupulous provocateur launched a daily radio show designed to counter the Democrats’ impeachment drive.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump urged government agencies to cancel subscriptions to The New York Times and the Washington Post.
What makes the situation so ominous is that Mr. Trump appears to be of the view that the only way out of his predicament is to arouse his supporters to hit back at opponents with fury. His attacks on the legitimacy of the process are resonating with his party’s rank-and-file. They give him overwhelming support.
The Democrats will begin formal committee hearings on their impeachment inquiry in mid-November. Their case was strongly buttressed by the testimony of William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who provided chapter and verse on how Mr. Trump personally intervened to pressure Ukraine to begin investigations targeting his Democratic opponent’s son as a quid pro quo to get military aid from Washington.
That Mr. Trump will do anything to maintain his presidency was made clear by his longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who told a congressional committee in the spring that “given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
How far will he go? Declare the impeachment inquiry a fraud? Declare an election defeat a fraud? Incite violence and compel his military leadership to take bold action to restore order? Accrue every power necessary to stay in office?
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