Divided Future: “Were Trump either to quit in pique and frustration or, worse, be removed by either of the legal means available, the US would risk being plunged into civic unrest on an unknowable scale.” - NZ Listener.
“TRY TO IMPEACH HIM, just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician that votes for it would be endangering their own life.” That is the frightening prediction of the American right-wing activist, Roger Stone, one of US President Donald Trump’s most outspoken supporters.
Stone, himself, has many painful personal memories of the impeachment process. He was, after all, an official in the administration of President Richard Nixon. But, a lot has changed in 40 years. In 2017, Stone warns, impeaching a sitting Republican president might not be so easy: “Both sides are heavily armed … This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment.” Asked if he was predicting civil war, Stone replied unequivocally: “Yes, that’s what I think will happen.”
Nonsense? Not according to the editorial writers of New Zealand’s own Listener magazine:
“Were Trump either to quit in pique and frustration or, worse, be removed by either of the legal means available, the US would risk being plunged into civic unrest on an unknowable scale.”
Drawing their readers’ attention to the “considerable” support which Trump still commands among “a socially disaffected rump”, the Listener argues that his diehard supporters “might not hesitate to form militias and try to instigate civil war.”
How has it come to this? How has the greatest republic the world has ever known been led to the edge of such a profound political abyss? A more useful line of questioning might begin with another, albeit related, question: “How has the American republic avoided dissolution for so long? Because the most astonishing historical fact about the United States of America is that it is still with us.
It very nearly wasn’t. Had anyone but Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, it is highly unlikely that the United States as we know it would have survived. Either, the American South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery would have obliged its anti-slavery Northern neighbours to undertake a long and painful retreat from the “self-evident” truths of the American revolution. Or, the North American continent would have been divided between the “United”, and the “Confederate”, States of America.
Lincoln forestalled both of these outcomes – but only at enormous cost. The casualties inflicted during the American Civil War of 1861-1865 still outnumber all the casualties sustained by the USA in all subsequent conflicts – including World Wars One and Two. What’s more, the terrible political wounds opened up by the Civil War: essentially a conflict about the economic and social role of Race in American society; have never properly healed.
Lincoln’s successors brave attempt to vindicate the sacrifices of the Civil War: the so-called “Reconstruction Period”; lasted barely a decade. Equality between Southern blacks and whites could only be enforced by the bayonets of the occupying Union Army. Its withdrawal, in 1877, was followed by the brutal subjugation and virtual re-enslavement of the black population by the white. The means adopted: illegal terror by the Ku Klux Klan, reinforced by the institutional repression of “Jim Crow” segregation laws, received no early constitutional reproof from the Supreme Court. The federal government thereby signaled its willingness to see established, across the South, racist political regimes that can only be described as “proto-fascist”.
Accordingly, when critics of the Alt-Right demonstrators in Charlottesville denounce their “fascist” tactics as foreign to American democracy, they’re mistaken. The much more unpalatable truth is that many of the political motifs we associate with European fascism were actually borrowed from America. Torchlight parades, for example, date all the way back to the 1832 campaign of America’s first populist president, Andrew Jackson. Klansmen’s robes may, similarly, have inspired Mussolini’s black-shirts and Hitler’s stormtroopers. And anyone who believes that the Nazi Party invented the mass political rally should take a look at any American party convention, or the news photographs of 50,000 robed Klansmen marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925.
American Fascism: Ku Klux Klan marches down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, 1925.
Racism, and the fascistic trappings that give it political momentum, are as American as apple-pie. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the Kennedy/Johnson-led Democratic Administrations’ successful efforts to abolish Jim Crow and end Klan terror in the early-1960s have been the primary drivers of American politics ever since. Be it Nixon’s 1968 “Southern Strategy”; Reagan’s upholding of “State’s Rights” in 1980; or, Trump’s 2016 “Let’s make America GREAT again!” (i.e. “WHITE” again) campaign slogan; the Republicans have been the party of race-based politics for nearly fifty years. That President Obama was followed by President Trump is no historical accident.
Tragically, the Republican Party has made itself a willing hostage to the political terror and unconstitutional objectives that have always marched in lock-step with the advance of America’s white supremacist traditions. Defeating both may well require a second civil war.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 29 August 2017.