GELFAND’S WORLD - You know that second Civil War (Civil War II) that the most rabid Trump supporters were talking about right before they stormed the Capitol building on January 6? I fear that they may have been partially correct.
What we seem to be getting into is that Civil War II, but it is a Cold War.
Spurred on by Fox News and Donald Trump himself, we have a country where about one-third of the residents are buying into the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. There is no evidentiary basis for the claim. It's just Trump's ranting. But to Trump and his followers, anything they don't want to hear is proclaimed to be "Fake," and the testimony of all those people who were chosen by Trump and who worked for him directly -- why that is fake testimony and they are all conspiring against him for personal gain. That's the party line of the day.
For Trump, it's one way to deal with 3 separate indictments totaling 75 felony counts, and likely to climb. So, Trump eggs on his supporters, entangling them in a wholly imaginary scheme where tens of thousands of government employees are scheming against him.
The question is not whether we are in some sort of cold war with neo-confederates and new fascists. It is obvious that it has started. They make clear what they are trying to accomplish in the congress, in local governments, and on the streets. The reason it is a Cold War and not just politics as usual is that the opposition is trying to destroy much of what makes this country free and democratic, elections and representation being the most important.
The question is how this cold war will play out as the Trump trials proceed, and -- assuming some verdicts ensue -- how it will play out in a post-Trump country.
We may have seen the first shot in this war when the Biden administration refused to move the Space Command to Alabama. It was not only proper in the military sense, it was certainly a political act.
I suspect that the moderates and liberals -- a clear majority of the country when counted together -- are rapidly losing patience with all the nasty little games the conservatives have been playing, particularly the way Mitch McConnell started his packing of the Supreme Court by freezing the Merrick Garland nomination. In the same way that the hard right caucus in the House wants to retaliate against the Trump impeachments, the Democrats in the Senate will, ever so slowly, begin to retaliate against Republican games.
But what about here in the countryside, in the cities and towns? We just don't know at the moment, but it is looking like the right-wing rioters aren't going to get away with much. Sure, a few of them who break the law will be tried by friendly juries and get off, but by and large, it doesn't look like that will happen very often.
What we can expect is a long era of nasty rhetoric. The only difference is that the left will start to develop its own style and -- more importantly -- its own channels, in the same way that AM radio became a right wing weapon a couple of decades ago.
So as of now, we are looking at politics ratcheted to a nastier level. If the Capitol rioters had not been identified, charged, and convicted, the second Civil War might be a hot war. Some of them were promising it at the time. There is no reason to believe that there aren't lots of Trump supporters who, with teary eyes, promise to join in the new Civil War.
To repeat, why hasn't it become a hot war, like the rioters predicted? There is at least one additional reason, which doesn't get a lot of discussion. The Trumpist factions and the defenders of gun ownership tend to overlap. But I suspect that the overlap is neither absolute nor well defined, in the sense that those who are the most avid gun owners are not necessarily 100% behind the Trumpian Big Lie, nor even 100% Trump supporters. There are a lot of people who are hobbyists -- who collect guns in the same way that other people build model railroads. They are part of the one-third of American families who own most of the guns.
There are protesters and there are people who are violence prone, and they are not necessarily the same people. It's kind of analogous to the way that 1960s antiwar sentiment developed into a vast population of housewives and lawyers and students who attended protest rallies, while a microscopic group (probably a lot less than 1%) became involved in violence and bomb building.
Continued Instigation and Godwin's Law
So now, Donald Trump is getting more and more freaked out to the point that he's running out of pejorative adjectives. Let's consider an old internet "rule" that still gets quoted. Back when there were lots of discussion groups springing up, and the level of political dialog was uncontrolled, some wag came up with this statement: Whenever an internet argument goes on long enough, one of the opponents in the argument will refer to Hitler, and that person is automatically the loser. For those of you who are a little younger, this was known as Godwin's Law, and you will still see it referenced.
The underlying meaning behind Godwin's Law is that if you have to brandish the Nazi flag to lambast your intellectual opponents, you aren't much of a debater. Such behavior violates the norms of civilized discourse and is to be discouraged.
Trump and his campaign have just Godwin'd themselves by their recent statement comparing the Department of Justice to Guess Who?
It's not true that Trump has found himself treated like someone in 1934 Germany. Notice that Trump retains all the rights adhering to any and all defendants in this country, including the right to discovery (you get to know all the facts that the prosecution might use in the trial), the right to trial by jury, and the right to cross examine your accusers.
The one thing that Trump does not get to do is to remain immune from prosecution for those crimes he committed and for which there is strong evidence.
It is true that it would be an inconvenience to be tried for multiple felonies in one courthouse after the other, and all while trying to run a presidential campaign. Let's concede that there will be that level of inconvenience for Donald, but there is no inherent Constitutional right to not be inconvenienced -- either by a legitimate criminal prosecution or by having the head of the FBI remind the country that you mishandled emails.
This isn't even an October Surprise in the traditional usage. Trump had plenty of time to recognize that he was breaking laws with impunity. In fact, if you accept the writings by many of those who worked directly under Trump in the White House, there is a strong case that Trump destroyed government documents on a daily basis, in spite of the fact that this is contrary to law.
"You're too honest," and other shots to the foot
Even on the day that the latest indictments came down, I continued to wonder about one thing. Suppose Trump were to state that he was just having his say? Everything was political speech on that day of January 6, and as such it is protected. Is that a workable defense?
Remember that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that there is a connection between Trump and the rest of the attempt to obstruct the transition to a new president. Maybe the protesters showed up -- as is their right under the First Amendment -- and may have misinterpreted Trump's remarks, or might just have been following other, more radical, leaders. How do you overcome that defense?
It looks like the prosecution is holding the cards. The indictment seems to go beyond the simple fact of the riot, and connects Trump to an entire series of actions ranging from an attempt to browbeat the Vice President into violating the Constitution itself and continuing to many other conversations, actions, and inactions, all of which involved the direct intent to violate the rights of the voters to choose their next president according to Constitutional rules.
There is one line that had the anti-Trump commenters in a sort of euphoria. And it's all tied into the fact that Mike Pence took notes after his meetings with Donald Trump. The prosecution has those notes. In one meeting, after another round of attempts to browbeat Pence into throwing the election, Trump is quoted as telling Pence, "You're too honest."
That line by rights ought to be a double death blow. First to Trump's credibility, and second for any illusion that the Trump wing of the Republican Party stands for anything but raw power.
Trump knew that he lost, because the people around him, the people who worked for him, told him.
In most any other person who plays at this level, there is a time to come to grips with reality and concede gracefully. It's usually on election night, but it has also come after a few days of close counts in distant states. Let's remember that when George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, he appeared fairly early on election night and made a magnanimous speech pointing out that democracy had worked its will. You had to admire it, even if you were not supporting him. In one of the closer elections in history, Al Gore conceded to George W. Bush and made sure to carry out the duties of the Vice President in certifying the Electoral Votes in congress.
We all know what Trump did, and the new information, so definitively showing that Trump knew full well that he lost, finally defines Donald Trump. He is essentially an overgrown brat who can't stand to be publicly embarrassed, so he spins lie after lie in his own version of denial. It's his psychological problem, but we cannot allow it to define our presidential election system.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)