Once intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind that it was a retweet, and never mind that the original statement used “like” to make a comparison. The next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Newsweek quoted a Harvard Law professor saying that the “threat” alone made Trump impeachable. Another headline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?”
Blowing up some online nonsense into a declaration of war tracks with the meme that Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses, sending coded messages to armed minions. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone,” reads the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote The New York Times.
That’s just what the MSM is saying; it gets worse the further off the road you drive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” Jared Yates Sexton, a well-known academic, tweeted on September 28. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.”
The idea that Americans are steps away from squaring off across the field at Gettysburg is something that should only exist in satire. It would be hilarious, except that such fantasizing is influencing the actual future of our country. We have crossed a line where rationality is in the rearview mirror.
Most of us have lost track of the constitutional crises that have never actually happened since the first one was declared, over the non-issue of Trump losing the popular vote in 2016. What was it last week? Sharpiegate? Or the hotel in Scotland? Or an impeding war with Iran/North Korea/China? Or treason? Or something about security clearances? The Kurds were a thing in 2017 and again now. Paul Krugman of the New York Times first declared that Trump was going to destroy the economy in 2016, and has written the same article regularly ever since, most recently just last week. It doesn’t seem to matter that none of these things have actually proven to be true. Learned people are saying them again and again.
Those who oppose Trump have convinced themselves they must impeach for something, and if all of Russiagate (remember that? It’s like Aunt Edna’s brief failed marriage, only not mentioned at the dinner table) wasn’t enough, then Democrats will impeach over a phone call to a minor world leader.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The fantasy was to use Robert Mueller’s summer testimony about Trump being a literal Russian asset to stir up the masses—Mueller Time, Baby! Congress would go home for August recess to be bombarded by cries for impeachment, and then autumn would feature hearings and revelations amplified by the Blue Check harpies leading up to, well, something big.
Were rationality still in vogue, it would be hard to imagine that Democrats would consider the Ukraine call impeachable. But they closed out Russiagate like the OJ Simpson murder trial, certain Trump had gotten away with so much that they had to catch him at something else to make it even.
Desperation makes for poor strategy. Think back just two weeks and no one had heard of any of this. Yet Dems and the media took America from zero to 100 nearly overnight as if this was another 9/11. With the winter caucuses approaching, Dems in search of a crime groped at something half slipped under the door and half bundled up by clever lawyers to be slipped under the door. Mueller was a lousy patsy so a better one needed to be found in the shallow end of the Deep State pool. It wasn’t much but it was going to have to be made good enough.
The details will come out and they will stink. The first whistleblower had some sort of prior working relationship with a current 2020 Democrat. Given that he is a CIA analyst, that suggests a member of Vice President Biden’s White House team, Cory Booker’s Committee on Foreign Relations, or maybe Kamala Harris’s Select Committee on Intelligence.
The so-called second whistleblower appears to actually be one of the sources for the first whistleblower. That’s a feedback loop, an old CIA trick where you create the appearance of a credible source by providing your own confirming source. It was tried with the Steele Dossier where the original text given to the FBI appeared to be backed up by leaks filtered through the media and John McCain’s office.
So forget everything about this cooked-to-order crisis except the actual thing impeachment would turn on: the transcript of Trump’s call. It does not matter what one, two, or 200 whistleblowers, former Obama officials, or talking heads “think” about the call. There it is, the actual words, all pink and naked on the Internet for everyone to read. Ukraine did not investigate Biden. Trump did not withhold aid. The attorney general was not involved. DOJ ruled there was no violation of the law. It has little to do with Pompeo or Pence (though Pompeo was on the call). You and the Congress pretty much have it all in the transcript. It’s bathroom reading, five pages.
Only a few months ago, the Democrats’ drive to the White House began with the loftiest of ideals, albeit a hodgepodge from trans toilet “rights” to a 100 percent makeover of the health care system. It is now all about vengeance, clumsy and grossly partisan at that, gussied up as “saving democracy.” Our media is dominated by angry Hillary refighting 2016 and “joking” about running again, with Adam Schiff now the face of the party for 2020. The war of noble intentions has devolved into Pelosi’s March to the Sea. Any chance for a Democratic candidate to reach into the dark waters and pull America to where she can draw breath again and heal has been lost.
Okay, deep breath myself. A couple of times a week, I walk past the café where Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, often wrote. His most famous poem, Howl, begins, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” The walk is a good leveler, a reminder that madness (Trump Derangement in modern terminology) is not new in politics.
But Ginsberg wrote in a time when one could joke about coded messages—before the Internet came into being to push tailored ticklers straight into people’s brains. I’ll take my relief in knowing that almost everything Trump and others write, on Twitter and in the Times, is designed simply to get attention and getting our attention today requires ever louder and crazier stuff. What will get us to look up anymore? Is that worth playing with fire over?
It is easy to lose one’s sense of humor over all this. It is easy to end up like Ginsberg at the end of his poem, muttering to strangers at what a mess this had all become: “Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! To solitude!” But me, I don’t think it’s funny at all.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent.