Two years ago last Friday — November 9, 2016, the day after Trump won the presidency — like millions of other Americans, I felt that my country had entered into a dark and dangerous place.
But I, for one, did not foresee the particular danger that faces the nation at this moment.
I did not foresee that there would quickly emerge a picture of criminality around the Trump campaign that would lead to an investigation at least as threatening to the Trump presidency as the Watergate investigation was to Nixon’s.
And I did not foresee that Trump would respond to such a threat so brazenly, that he would be so unrestrained in his determination to protect himself from the rule of law, regardless of the wreckage he was inflicting on the nation.
But now that danger is all too visible.
As I wrote in the initial entry into this series — “Protect the Nation: Checking the President and Preventing a Trumpian Civil War” — the signals from Trump indicate that he’s willing to inflame a kind of “civil war” in America if that serves his purpose.
(Whether that intensification of domestic conflict involves violence, or remains what Republican strategist Steve Schmidt has called a “cold Civil War,” remains to be seen.)
From all we have seen of Donald Trump over the past two years, we should know: Donald Trump may have committed crimes, as Richard Nixon did, but he’ll never submit to the workings of the legal process, as Nixon ultimately did, nor leave the scene gracefully, as Nixon did.
Nixon had some basic respect for the system and the rule of law, whereas Trump has none.
The American people have now given the Democrats a mandate to act as a check on the President, and to “protect and defend the Constitution” as required. A mandate, in other words, TO PROTECT THE NATION.
To succeed in fulfilling that mandate, the Democrats will need to develop a strategy that counter’s Trump’s deploying his powers in all the ways at his disposal.
The threat of a Trumpian “Civil War” suggests that this battle will be fought on two fronts.
One aspect of that battle will be at the level of legalities — subpoenas, protecting the Mueller investigation, possible impeachment hearings, etc. — where Trump will predictably act to use and abuse the powers of the presidency. (Like appointing a stooge like Matt Whitaker to run the Justice Department.) I imagine that people like Adam Schiff and Gerald Nadler (not to mention Robert Mueller) will wage that legal fight most ably.
But the Trump War will also doubtless be fought at another level as well, because another aspect of Trump’s power lies in the millions of Americans who support him. And it is virtually certain that Trump will weaponize them as effectively as he’s able, for we’ve seen that his whole approach to politics is to focus on his base, and to weaponize them to strike at everyone else.
So we can reasonably assume that if his self-preservation requires it, Trump will do all he can to inflame his base to strike at everything and anything that would bring him down.
That’s the “Civil War” that we can now see gathering on the horizon.
And that’s why one of the key goals of the Democrats’ effort to fulfill their mandate should be to conduct their efforts in a way designed to maximally shrink Trump’s base of support.
The smaller Trump’s following, the less powerful will be the weapon with which he strikes at the constitutional order and the rule of law– not to mention striking his foes, including the Democrats fulfilling their responsibility to act as a check upon a lawless President.
For some time, I’ve been calling on Democrats (and Liberal America generally) to give more attention to the question:
“How can that substantial portion of the American citizenry that have entered such a dark and crazy place — that could elect and continue to support a monstrous person like Donald Trump — be brought back to sanity, to a greater contact with reality, and to the better angels of their nature?”
Whenever I propose to liberals that we take on that challenge, my proposal gains little support. Indeed, it is dismissed as delusional.
The people in the Republican base, I am frequently told, are impervious to evidence and logic. They are stuck in their right-wing bubble, believing all the lies they’ve been told, and nothing anybody – least of all Democrats – does or says can move them.
A great deal of evidence supports that description of the right-wing base. It has often seemed that indeed, as Trump claimed, he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and not lose their support.
But consider this: Trump’s level of approval over the course of his presidency has ranged from the mid-30s to the mid-40s. In other words, there are roughly 10% of Americans who have fluctuated between approval and non-approval. Which shows that at least that component of Trump’s base is not irrevocably attached to Trump, and so potentially might be peeled off.
And 10% of Americans is a lot of people.
If we take seriously the idea that Trump will weaponize his following, surely it would be worthwhile to look into how to move those maybe 20 million people from supporting to opposing Trump.
What about the possibility of going beyond that lower-hanging fruit?
We know that a lot larger proportion of the “disapprove of Trump” people disapprove “strongly” than the proportion of the approvers who approve strongly. Tepid support might suggest possibilities for erosion.
(One intelligent piece argued that the “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue caucus” amounts to about 15%. You’ll get no argument from me about writing those people off. )
Fortunately, the approach I will propose for the Democrats to take will likely serve as well for moving the American people generally — not just Trump supporters — toward support for the Democrats fulfilling their check-Trump mandate. So there should be no cost to trying to peel away Trump’s support.
(It should be noted that even though a majority of Americans “disapprove” of Trump, it is a smaller number that supports impeachment. Closing that gap, too — as well as raising both numbers as the truth about Trumpian criminality gets more broadly exposed — is another important goal in this key battle to move public opinion.)
The main point is this: that winning over as much public opinion as possible to support the effort to uphold the rule of law and to hold the President accountable is one essential key to protecting the nation at this dangerous time in our nation’s history.
(It is relevant not only for minimizing the threat from a Trumpian “civil war,” but also for putting pressure on Republicans in Congress to change course from their current choice to act as Trump’s accomplices.)*
The next installment in this series will try to articulate an approach suited to fighting the Trump wars simultaneously on the legal front, and on the front of public opinion.
NOTE: Another reason it is essential to erode Trump’s base: in addition to the short-term challenge of dealing with this President in this immediate crisis, attention must be given to the dangerous long-term threats this base would pose to the nation, even after Trump will have departed the scene:
It is hard to see how this nation can possibly be politically healthy again so long as 40% of the American people are in the dark and crazy place in which we see them now.
Before there was a President Trump, there already was a Republican base that would make him the Republican nominee and then elect him President.
And after this Trump presidency, there will still be these same tens of millions of Americans. Imagine if they remain in as dark and crazy a place as they’re in now!
If their state of consciousness has already inflicted that kind of serious damage on the nation by giving us a monster as President, we should recognize that — in the years to come — they might do as bad or worse to America– unless they are somehow brought back from the darkness.
(It should be noted that, even as liberals generally reject my suggestion that we should be asking that question about can our fellow citizens on the right be brought back to sanity, no one has stepped forward to dispute my assertion that America can never be politically healthy so long as so many Americans are in such a crazy place in their political consciousness.)
No, it will not be easy. And it is not clear how — or even whether — it can be accomplished. But with so much at stake, how can we not even make the effort?