Saturday, November 19, 2016

Will America survive the 2016 Election? A Union on the brink of civil war

Sandy Levinson

Imagine two soldiers in Iraq (or anywhere else). One is killed, then other incurs traumatic brain injury.  We would say of the second that he/she "survived" the war in a way the first did not, but we would also go on to say that "he/she will never be the same again.  It is as if we're dealing with a very different person; I feel so sorry for the spouse, and I wonder whether he/she will or even should stick it out for a lifetime of de facto misery."  We would go on to speak of the living envying the dead.

So in that sense the U.S. will survive, but anyone who believes we are the same country today as two weeks ago is deluded.  Indeed, we are only beginning to get a glimpse of how truly terrible it may turn out to be to have a possible sociopath as President.  I put "possible" because one friend of mine, a distinguished psychiatrist now retired, agreed with my lay analysis that Donald Trump is indeed a "sociopath."  Another friend, an equally distinguished psychiatrist at Harvard, says no, that he is "merely" endlessly opportunistic, which in this context could be grounds for limited hope.  But his early appointments give no grounds for hope.  Even if they are not indicative of sociopathy, they are manifestations of a crazed ideology--the "war of civilizations"--that will undoubtedly make the world a more awful place and also carries the risk of endless war.  Think of 1984, which may be arriving in the U.S. 30 years late.

The United States is, I believe, in the most precarious position since 1860, when the election of another electoral-minority president precipitated secession and the consequent slaughter of 750,000 people (who may or may not have been "Americans," since it was the claim of the Confederate States of America that they were a separate country from the United States of America, so we might want to separate the deaths of "Confederates" and "Unionists").  I have just finished reading an advance copy of a quite stunning book by Harvard historian David Armitage, to be published by Knopf in February, Civil Wars:  A History in Ideas.  It traces the history of the notion of civil war from ancient Rome to literally the present day.  One necessary condition for a "civil war," instead of international wars, is precisely that the former is carried on between ostensible members of a common polity who have, however, become fundamentally estranged from one another.  The estrangement can take the form of asking for a divorce, i.e., secession, the strategy chosen by the South in 1860-61.  It was not their aim to "take over" the national government and run the U.S. in its entirety.  Rather, it wanted to exercise the ostensible right to self-government guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, which justified secession from the British Empire by hitherto loyal subjects of the Crown.  Although James Buchanan believed that secession was illegal, he also believed that the national government was without the power to prevent it.  Lincoln obviously had a different view.  Were the matter one of purely abstract constitutional theory, I would be tempted to side with the secessionists.  But, of course, the explanation of the secession was the desire to maintain a wicked system of chattel slavery, and what presumably justified sacrificing 750,000 lives was the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.  However, Reconstruction turned out to be an abject failure in terms of genuinely bringing about needed "regime change," and the South actually ended up (and remains) with a stranglehold on American politics, much to our detriment.  As Lincoln suggested in the Second Inaugural, whether by divine plan or not, we continue, every single day, to pay the cost for our original sin of chattel slavery and the racialism attached to it from the very beginning.

Although there are some, including myself on occasion, who fantasize the secessionist breakup of the U.S.--why indeed should Pacifica or New England (plus New York City) wish to remain part of a Trump-governed United States--there is an obvious problem.  Secession made sense in 1860 because the seceding states in effect simply wanted to be left alone and allowed to continue their iniquitous ways vis-a-vis slavery.  It was, after all, William Lloyd Garrison who initially broached the idea of "no Union with slaveholders" as a means of liberating the rest of the country from having to accommodate wickedness.  But secession today really doesn't make much sense, alas, because the dangers of a Trump-governed U.S. can't simply be internalized to those states who wish to remain part of a renamed Trumpland.  His policies threaten each and every one of us, not only those living in states that voted against him, but people living all over the world.  He is a clear and present danger to us all.

So this suggests the second kind of civil war, in which (at least) two groups fight, in the name of "popular sovereignty," for control of a single government.  Think of Russia, Spain, or Syria (for starters).  We're clearly not in that situation (yet), but I fear that we are close to achieving one of the necessary conditions of civil war:  That is the increasing tendency to view large segments of one's fellow citizens as basically Schmittian enemies, "deplorables" if you wish.  This doesn't require anything close to a 50-50 split.  All it requires is a sufficient base that is willing to engage in one or another form of direct action.  No one really believes that the Boston revolutionaries "represented" a majority of their fellow subjects of the Crown.  As Lenin recognized, all revolutionary (or civil war) movements are led by vanguards who make a bet that they will mobilize greater support after acting, perhaps because of the stupid responses of the so-called established government.  This was certainly the case with the Brits after the Tea Party.  Their over-reaction helped bring about the world's most unnecessary war; they were far more sagacious in Canada vis-a-vis the French-Canadians who had been absorbed after what we call the French and Indian War that resulted in the loss of Quebec to Great Britain.

So, as Lenin might ask, What is to be one?  The awful answer is I really don't know.  But Donald Trump is not yet even President-elect.  That will come only after the members of the electoral college give him sufficient votes.  If one shares the perception that he (and his developing "team") are a true menace, then we should take absolutely seriously the suggestion of David Pozen to work with Republican electors to bring forth a compromise third candidate who can bring the country back from the brink of calamity.  They would not in the least be "faithless electors," at least from the perspective of the Framers who devised the electoral college in the first place (stupid as it is); rather, they would rise to the occasion by trying to save the Union (and perhaps the entire world) from a true menace.  The idea that Republican electors should vote for Hillary Clinton is simply a fantasy.  Instead, there should be negotiations between serious Democrats and honorable Republicans like John Katich, Lindsay Graham, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Michael Gerson, George Will, Mike Lee, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and others to try to figure out what Republican might be able to step in and have sufficient national support to save us from the ever-more-foreseeable calamity.  (From this perspective, Trump's fatal error might be not waiting until after December 15 to begin naming his cabinet.  It is now clear what a Trump administration will look like, and no honorable person should be encouraged by what we have already seen, let alone what is likely to be coming up.)

There is no reason to give Donald Trump a chance of spending a single day as President, especially after he has begun indicating his despicable colors as president by his early appointments.  The future of the country is at stake, even if, like a brain-damaged veteran, it will "survive" under a Trump presidency  Unfortunately, the United States is "too big to fail."  Unlike the 1930s, there are no countries in the rest of the world that can provide a true haven for those seeking to escape the dangers of a Trump presidency (and his status as commander in chief).   It is up to us to save ourselves, not by force of arms or please for a military coup (yet) but by imaginative use of what the Constitution itself provides for, i.e., independent judgment by patriotic electors and then a decision by the House of Representatives as to who would best govern the country in these truly parlous times.  If it is a Republican I would never vote for, so be it.  That is almost literally the least of my worries when I contemplate a Trump presidency.

With regard to comments:  I am not in the least interested in reading anything of how Hillary Clinton would have been a better president--of course she would have--or how she blew it by engaging in some stupid political decisions--of course she did--or how the overall electoral system is truly rigged in multiple ways, including the idiotic electoral college--of course it is.  The only thing I'm interested in is whether any of you truly believe that I and others should lighten up because the early indications of what a Trump presidency will look like should not upset any truly patriotic American who wishes the best for each and every American citizen--including the non-deplorable who voted for Trump--and even non-citizens who have been welcomed to the country, not to mention people all over the world who will be worse off because of Trump's delusions about climate change and restoring the coal industry, etc., etc., etc.


I see a few positive signs, given Constitutional norms of course. Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Lindsey Graham have expressed opposition to killing the filibuster. This gives the Senate some capacity to negotiate and ameliorate the worst legislation. Professor Alan Lichtman of American University, a rare professional to have predicted Trump's victory (on the basis for an approximately national predilection to turn over the White House periodically), also predicts Trump's impeachment. Quoting his September interview in the Washington Post: "[Congressional Republicans] don't want Trump as president, because they can't control him. He's unpredictable. They'd love to have Pence — an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I'm quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook."

This may be out of the fire into the frying pan but at least Pence hasn't given anyone grounds for analogies with the interwar rise of European Fascist movements -- aside, to be sure, of his participation in the upcoming regime.

Pence, like many or most Republicans, was capable of taking a compassionate position when he was personally face to face with a human need, in his case southern Indiana where he OK'd a needle exchange program there to reduce HIV infections. So I remain sort of hopeful for the short term.

For minimizing global warming, keeping big money out of politics, keeping the economy steady, reducing the disenfranchisement of Democrat-voting groups, moving to a popular vote presidency, maintaining the fragile network of global cooperation for peace, providing due process for the accused, reducing inequality in wealth and income -- I'm not optimistic.

Thanks for the comment. Let me confess to a certain ambivalence about the filibuster. In the current situation, keeping the filibuster may be the only thing between us and disaster, especially with regard to some of his more egregious appointments. But let me suggest a certain Machiavellian impulse behind keeping the filibuster. Most Senate Republicans, whom I view as models of consummate bad faith--there are some honorable exceptions--might want to retain the filibuster precisely so they can blame Democrats for hindering the passage of what they (the GOP senators) recognize to be terrible legislation, but they don't have the moral backbone to oppose it directly. This is especially relevant with Obamacare, on which they've painted themselves into a corner. It is truly idiotic to "repeal Obamacare" and keep the ban on taking pre-existing conditions into account, since that will inevitably drive the cost of insurance sky-high without either staggering subsidies or reverting to the dreaded mandate (or, of course, moving to a single payer). It is essential that the GOP be added with responsibility for governing, as would be the case in a parliamentary system. The 2018 and 2020 elections, assuming we survive that long, should be a genuine retrospective evaluation of what GOP governance looks like. They ought not be able to campaign on the basis of "gee, we wanted to repeal Obamacare, but the vicious Democrats wouldn't let us."

It may be a small consolation, but Trump is unlikely to stop the global effort to stop dangerous climate change. His language of "cancelling" the Paris Agreement shows how little he understands. This would make sense only if the deal were one between Us, represented disgracefully by Obama and superlatively by Trump, and Them, a bloc of the rest of the world. Walking away from the table, as Trump plans to do, would them kill the deal. In fact, it was a pact between 195 countries. One country can always leave, but the others are still obligated to each other. The negotiation will not be reopened. A denunciation by a superpower could lead to a progressive unravelling, but there was no sign of this in Marrakesh. Trump will be isolated in his denialist bubble.

There will be consequences to the U-turn away from sense. The poorest countries have had their hopes of generous concessionary finance much reduced, and their progress will be slowed. The ratchet of increasing ambition towards a 1.5 degree C limit has been jammed, for several years. Domestically, the CPP is dead: but it was always weak tea, and coal plant closures have already been running well ahead of the CPP timetable, on the basis of existing regulations, cheaper gas and renewables, and grassroots opposition orchestrated by the Sierra Club. CAFE standards fot vehicle efficiency will probably follow the same route - but California, China and Europe will continue to support the new electric technology, which is bound to defeat ICEVs through the very rapid technical progress in batteries.

There are many good reasons to fear the Trump presidency. Climate change is not among the greatest.


"honorable Republicans" (paragraph 6) is an oxymoron. One of those listed among the honorable--Mitt Romney--is interviewing for a job with the Trump administration. The chance of Republicans going along with Pozen's suggestion is zero.

If I can paraphrase J.B.S. Haldane, a Trump presidency will not only be worse than you imagine, it will be worse than you can imagine.

But I fear your fantasy of "honorable republicans" remains a fantasy. They will not try to control Trump, they will ride the tiger. And at the end they'll find that they can safely neither hold him nor let him go.

I have noticed that many Republicans, politicians and pundits, who decried, rebelled, etc, against Trump have been inching their way back because of Republican control of Congress and soon the Cour, taking this lemon and making and drinking orangeade (in the manner of Kool Aid in Jonestown).

By the Bybee [expletives deleted], a possible Trump appointed in his administration has indicated that gays can be cured. Query: Can a narcissist be cured?

"One country can always leave, but the others are still obligated to each other."

I'm not at all clear why we should particularly care. Let them be, they're the ones who are parties to that treaty. We never were, all Trump is doing is acknowledging that fact, which anybody who didn't flunk civics in high school would be aware of. There are plenty of international treaties we aren't party to, it doesn't really cause us trouble.

I expect this fantasizing about civil war will pass. You're still working your way through those stages of grief.

You want a reason why civil war is infeasible for you? This map should make it clear.

The red area is fairly contiguous, and would form a largely self-sufficient country which would do very well on energy, mineral, and food exports. The blue areas are scattered islands. Can you really put them together into a country? If you did, it would be a country remarkably dependent on its worst enemy for all necessities.

No, I'm afraid secession really isn't a feasible option here. We're stuck with each other. If only there were some governmental principle that would make that livable. Subsidarity, local rule, federalism, something.

But that would require the blue spots to admit they weren't entitled to rule the red expanses. I'm getting the impression that's not a very welcome concept in bluetopia.

Brett: Nicolas Sarkozy has already proposed carbon tariffs on climate freeloaders. He's another unscrupulous populist (though with brains), trying for a second go at the office of President of France. The idea has serious academic support from Thomas Piketty. We will hear much more of this idea. Trump is spoiling for trade wars, but at 1 against 195 you tend to lose. Will it really be a good plan to leave the Paris seat vacant while others hatch schemes to your detriment?

The blue spots on the map of the USA are called cities, where the majority live.

The only thing I'm interested in is whether any of you truly believe that I and others should lighten up because the early indications of what a Trump presidency will look like should not upset any truly patriotic American who wishes the best for each and every American citizen--including the non-deplorable who voted for Trump--and even non-citizens who have been welcomed to the country, not to mention people all over the world who will be worse off because of Trump's delusions about climate change and restoring the coal industry, etc., etc., etc.

Hello. I hoped you were doing okay after your nightmare came true and all.

Anyway, won't tell you to "lighten up" in part since such worse case scenarios lets us feel a bit relieved when things are only pretty bad. Bannon, Sessions etc. doesn't make me feel much better. It was nice that Pence went to see "Hamilton" though Trump of course had to whine on Twitter because of some boo-ing of someone at a Broadway musical who said AIDS funding should go to conversion therapy etc.

Red States will suffer the most from climate change. California and New England can go independent as well as Scotland or Ireland. Texas will dry up and Florida drown. So it goes....

Like Joe, I am glad that the shock of the election didn't send you into a coma or something.

I imagine that there would be some Republican electors who would be open to the argument that Trump lacks the character to be president of the United States. Whether there would be enough to keep him from reaching 270 votes, I don't know. But clearly the Republican electors will not be moved by the arguments that (1) they should vote for Hillary because she won the popular vote or (2) Trump shouldn't be president because he might support Republican policies or appoint Republicans to office.

Assuming, however, that Trump will in fact take office (a very strong assumption), here are some thoughts on Congress's ability to provide a constitutional check on his presidency.

Sandy: But secession today really doesn't make much sense, alas, because the dangers of a Trump-governed U.S. can't simply be internalized to those states who wish to remain part of a renamed Trumpland. His policies threaten each and every one of us, not only those living in states that voted against him, but people living all over the world. He is a clear and present danger to us all.

What policies do you believe threaten us all and why?

Apart from the border wall, nothing Trump has suggested is new and has not been done before in the U.S. - many by Democrats like FDR.

Back up your apocalyptic hyperbole.


Once again SPAM I AM! is pleading to be taken off Trump's enemies list for calling him a fascist over and over again while pushing the Cruz Canadacy - and even after the Cruz Canadacy failed! As consolation, SPAM has a pot to ....

If we want to talk thought experiments, with the narrow victories, Clinton winning Pennsylvania and Michigan was quite possible. If that occurred, looking at an electoral vote map, the final count would be 270-268, the differential a single Maine elector going to Trump. The faithless elector gambit might be a bit different in that scenario, the chance of finding two (if the Sanders elector didn't stick to his guns) electors to be "faithless" a lot easier than over 30.

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