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De-Trumpification Part 1: The path to civil war
A series on 2021 and beyond
This is Part 1 of a series I am writing on how America de-Trumpifies.
America is thoroughly addicted to Trump. It’s an addiction we need to break, from CNN headlines blaring his devilry to his supporters threatening to harm those who write against Trump in dark alleys. Nobody can argue that this behavior, online, or now in the halls of Congress, is healthy for the nation.
We are currently on a path to civil war. The danger signs have been evident for years. All that was needed is a personality to organize around, and a message to fight for. Donald Trump offers both. Therefore, he in particular, as President of the United States, and beyond that office, presents a great challenge. How do we navigate through the next year without descending into bloodshed?
The great danger
Over the past few days, things have begun to fall into place for me. Things that before were senseless are beginning to make sense. For instance, why did the crowd at Trump’s “March to Save America” rally take the president’s words literally? Why was the rally set up by fringe groups not directly related to the president or his campaign?
Why have top ex-administration officials repeatedly refrained from direct action to stop Trump, despite having no good words about him? What has restrained Gen. Kelly, John Bolton (despite his book), and so many others from attacking their former boss?
The answer lies in how Donald Trump’s psyche works. I don’t pretend to be able to get into his head, and I’m not qualified to expound on it in any case. Besides, plenty of others who are qualified have gone there. I’m talking about Trump’s public history, the one everyone knows. He’s fearless. He doesn’t care about what anyone says about him, or to him. He thrives on chaos and enjoys both attacking and being attacked.
Those who have served in the White House realize that Trump has created a large group of followers, many of whom are ready to defend him to the bitter end. The Trumpists are like a multi-level marketing scheme except instead of selling vitamins, they’re selling MAGA. The mob that gathered on the Ellipse was a self-selected group of self-style patriots, come to support their leader, in whom they invested their hopes for America. Some were willing to harm others—even kill—to serve their great hope.
Trumpists come from the working stock of America. They are largely not college-educated, and they generally have worked hard to get what they want. They see others who have achieved riches and believe they can achieve if they believe, have faith, and work hard. Many of the Trumpists are former Democrats, union members, or small business owners who have seen their own dreams steamrolled under-educated elites and liberal-controlled institutions. They were ripe for the MAGA dream. Trump called them to his aid at The Ellipse on January 6th, and they answered his call.
Others were just caught up in the moment, excited to be part of something, perhaps something momentous and historic. It was momentous and historic but in a very dangerous way. The senior ex-officials understand the danger in coming out publicly about the Trump they knew. They realized that they could only lose, and simultaneously give Trump more power to draw others into his cult.
Trump never pushed his scheme beyond the level of personal power and corruption, into outright sedition, until last Wednesday. He was clearly desperate, because all his legal challenges failed, and his typical delay tactics had run out of time. But now we have all seen the depth and commitment of people who have bought Trump’s narrative. They do not accept the results of the election, and they are prepared to do more than scream at the sky, or set up occupation zones, or give a pass to Antifa-type kids who steal televisions. Trump’s troops are prepared to sabotage America to take back the America Trump promised them.
As his supposedly-contrite video ends (I can’t even share it because @realDonaldTrump Twitter is now suspended), Trump promises he’s just getting started. He’s always teasing that there’s more to come, that the dream America is still within reach, if they only believe, and listen to Trump.
Only the America Trump is hawking—the MAGA one—doesn’t exist. It’s just another overhyped Trump product that he hasn’t bought, build, or paid for with his own money. He has sold a fake dream to millions of Americans, and tens of millions more trusted him with their vote, many holding their noses believing Trump’s worst instincts could be restrained.
What can be done with such a man? He has no fear of consequences, no moral restraint, the ability to summon millions to his aid, and enough money to wait out most legal attacks (or to raise the money to do it).
Trump, and Trumpists, represent a great danger to the Republic, precisely because many of them believe in, and are invested in, what they consider a righteous cause. Even if they’re not willing to fight or die for Trump, they’re suspicious of and rebellious against many of the institutions that have led to the great schism afflicting our country. That list includes governors, senators, state and local lawmakers, judges, and business owners who aren’t part of the Trumpist cult.
From masks, to vaccines, to voting machines, the Trumpists do not trust the guardrails of society. They connect their faith—even religious faith—to their ability to achieve the MAGA dream. To restore the guardrails, Trumpists must be “de-Trumpified.” They must be removed from the cult, or at least disconnected from the false messages and messengers.
This is not an easy task, but it’s possible. It involves living with some distasteful choices, but avoids more displays like we had Wednesday.
The left’s call to civil war
Before this current crisis, President Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) because he wanted Congress to add an amendment repealing 47 U.S. Code § 230, the famous “section 230” protections of Internet services as providers but not publishers. Only four times in American history has this bill been vetoed, and never because the president demanded Congress add something totally unrelated to defense.
Without Section 230, the government, or individuals, could step in to sue online services for the opinions of their users. This means that online publishers would either publish nobody but their own employees, or they’d vet everything on their sites. Goodbye comment sections. Goodbye Substack. This is what Trump wanted.
It turns out that Section 230 is the very protection that allows Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms to suspend Trump’s access. Remember, for the last four years, these online platforms have acted to silence conservatives, bury stories harmful to Joe Biden, deplatform conservatives, and set up fact-checkers akin to star chambers and truth filters only allowing certain opinions to thrive.
Now, many conservatives are left trusting these same organizations to defend against a rogue president’s calls to acts of insurrection. As Trump tries to get around his Twitter ban, many are cheering on the company to shut him down. Online tech publisher The Verge published a call to “deplatform Trump” and big tech is responding.
While it may appear to be to the nation’s temporary advantage to get Facebook/Apple/Twitter/Google to deplatform Trump, remove Parler from the Google Play store and the Apple app store, and ban pro-Trump groups from platforms like Discord and Reddit, without careful consideration, these moves can easily backfire.
Depriving Trump of a way to continue to organize his followers may offer a short-term respite from the daily deluge of Trump tweets, speeches and rallies, but longer-term, it creates a dangerous bubble around his closest supporters, who are already suspicious of Big Tech.
What the left-leaning companies—again, cheered by many conservatives who are horrified at Trump’s latest actions—are doing is gluing Trump’s supporters even more to their cherished leader.
Without nuance, transparency, and grace, the alienation of Trumpists will drive them to more desperate acts. It literally acts as a call to civil war.
Even with all that, I contend that Trump must be deplatformed, if only for a period of time, to ensure a peaceful handover of government functions.
What happens after January 20th is the big question. Does the Biden administration pardon Trump and engage his most ardent supporters? Or do they continue the punishment? The mainstream media needs to break its own addiction to Trump, and will certainly sell more papers and have more eyeballs by piling on the punishment. And that will certainly lead to more desperate acts and more violence.
The path of wisdom, to me, should be the path of mercy and grace. The challenge is finding that path.