THE WASHINGTON POSTGETTY IMAGES
It was around nine o’clock on Sunday night when the president of the United States echoed language about a “Civil War” if he is impeached and removed from office. Now, he’ll say he wasn’t calling for a civil war—he was just announcing his belief that there would be a “Civil War like fracture” if he faced consequences for violating his oath of office and betraying the national interest for his personal gain. Never mind that impeachment is a provision of the Constitution designed for removing a lawless or otherwise dangerous chief magistrate from power in a manner that comports with the law. The intent here was clear: to tie one outcome to the other, and place the idea of violent response in millions of minds across this country. The vast majority of people would never act on that, but the tweets were incitement. The message has already been received, loud and clear, by at least one right-wing paramilitary group.
Here is the diatribe trump quoted from a Fox News appearance by Robert Jeffress, one of these devoutly Evangelical pastors who talks a lot about following Jesus and also raises the prospect of violent civil war. Don’t get it twisted: there is no Civil War-like fracture without political violence, and that is what they are threatening.
Pastor Robert Jeffress: “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can’t put down the Impeachment match. They know they couldn’t beat him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, and they’re increasingly aware of the fact that they won’t win against him in 2020, and Impeachment is the only tool they have to get……..rid of Donald J. Trump – And the Democrats don’t care if they burn down and destroy this nation in the process. I have never seen the Evangelical Christians more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this President from office, overturn the 2016……..Election, and negate the votes of millions of Evangelicals in the process. They know the only Impeachable offense that President Trump has committed was beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That’s the unpardonable sin for which the Democrats will never forgive him………If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”
Nothing like an endless paragraph full of triple ellipses to reassure you the world’s most powerful man is firing on all cylinders. And it continues to amaze that, three years on, we are still hearing about Hillary Clinton and 2016. The Ukraine issue concerns Trump’s conduct in office this year. It has nothing to do with the election he won despite getting fewer votes. (And never mind that, in the more recent 2018 election, Democrats absolutely routed Republicans in the House elections—not exactly an advertisement for the idea this president has the people’s mandate.) The Ukraine scandal has to do with 2016 only insofar as trump is trying to combine three separately debunked conspiracy theories to muddy the waters around what happened.
But none of these details are particularly important, since the president will soon enough be twisting or outright contradicting them to feed a constantly shifting narrative whose only steadfast feature is that he’s totally innocent and it’s actually his opponents who are traitors. Speaking of, the president also called for his political opponent to be arrested Monday morning.
It must be an incredible feeling when you see the President of the United States call for your arrest for a capital offense via some throwaway sentence fragment at the end of a tweet. Traditionally, this kind of dictatorial call for abuse of the justice system would feature in some long, impassioned speech from a balcony. In the Digital Age, however, it takes less than 280 characters to become an Enemy of the State. While Schiff did paraphrase the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president in language that made Trump’s conduct more explicitly incriminating—a move that was unnecessary and wrong—there is no evidence he committed treason.
Make no mistake: the stakes are ramping up now, and the president’s behavior will grow increasingly erratic and dangerous. He knows full well that once he leaves office, he no longer enjoys the protection of that justice department guideline which dictates a sitting president cannot be indicted. It might be the only reason he hasn’t been. If you thought he lied before, just wait. If you thought he smeared people before, just wait. If you thought he had spasms of vicious stupidity before, just wait. And if you thought he embraced political violence before— and he has—just wait. Right-wing domestic terrorists, some of whom cited the president’s rhetoric specifically, have already engaged in sporadic acts of violence over the last few months and years.
Of course, all of this is just further reason he should be removed, along with the manifest financial corruption at the heart of his domestic and foreign policy-making thanks to his refusal to divest from his private business holdings. He is capable of anything now, and defenders of the republic will need courage in response.