Over the last two days, American political discourse has taken a dangerous turn. Led by far-right media and now amplified by the President himself, American political debate now resounds with serious talk of coup d’etat, treason, and civil war. We must be prepared for the likelihood of even more political violence than we have seen thus far.With the President's embrace of coup rhetoric, our political discourse has taken a dangerous turn. We must be prepared for the likelihood of even more political violence than we have seen thus far. #Trump #impeachment Click To Tweet
Over the last week, President Trumpâ€™s rhetoric has become progressively more ominous. At the end of last week, Trump told a group of U.S. diplomats at a private event that â€œweâ€™re at war,â€ that the press are â€œscum,â€ and implied that the whistleblower and his or her sources are spies and should be dealt with accordingly, which many interpreted as a call for violence.
The Presidentâ€™s rhetoric took an even darker, more dangerous turn this week. So far, he has suggested that Congressman Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason. He has tweeted a quote from pastor Robert Jeffress warning that Democrats are trying to â€œoverturn the 2016 Election,â€ which will lead to â€œa Civil War like fractureâ€ in U.S. society. Finally, this morning, President Trump took his rhetoric a step further by calling the House impeachment inquiry a â€œcoup.â€
In December 2017, I noted the prominence in right-wing media of â€œcoup rhetoricâ€ implying that the Mueller investigation was akin to an armed overthrow of the government. I noted too that such rhetoric had, worryingly, begun to make its way into more mainstream conservative news outlets like Fox News. Most worrisome, I wrote, would be â€œwhen rhetoric of an ongoing â€˜coupâ€™ migrates to more â€˜seriousâ€™ conservative political figures in the United States (e.g. respected GOP Senators), members of the White House staff, or Trump himself.â€ Today, we crossed that threshold.
The reason that this migration of coup rhetoric is so dangerous is because, as Yale historian Timothy Snyder has observed, aspiring autocrats often use the manufacture of emergencies like contrived coups as a tool to consolidate power. In doing so, their actions are often what one would expect: repression and violence by the would-be autocrat and his supporters.Aspiring autocrats often use the manufacture of emergencies like contrived coups as a tool to consolidate power. In doing so, their actions are often what one would expect: repression and violence by the would-be autocrat and his supporters. #Trump… Click To Tweet
We can already see overt and implied endorsements of violence by various figures on the right leading up to and in the wake of the Presidentâ€™s comments. For example, even before the Presidentâ€™s warnings of coups and civil war, various hosts and guests on Fox News were speaking in violent terms. For example, on September 26, one guest claimed, â€œThis is a coup attemptâ€¦ Itâ€™s now a war. Itâ€™s lawlessness. And the president needs to confront it directly.â€ Two other guests called for the whistleblower to be imprisoned. News reports later revealed that the two guests had served as secret Trump emissaries to Ukraine in his effort to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Finally, Fox Newsâ€™s Geraldo Rivera told viewers, â€œIâ€™d love to whop him [the whistleblower].â€
Responding to President Trumpâ€™s tweet about a possible â€œcivil war like fracture,â€ the Oath Keepers, a prominent militia organization made up of former military and law enforcement, tweeted (archived here),
The term â€œcivil warâ€ is increasingly on peopleâ€™s tongue. And not just â€œcold civil warâ€ – full-blown â€œhotâ€ civil war. Fact is patriots consider the left to be domestic enemies of the Constitution bent on the destruction of the Republicâ€¦
In a follow-up thread (archived here) after their initial response sparked outrage, the Oath Keepers attempted to counter the claim that they were inciting violence. But in doing so, they further warned that â€œTrump supportersâ€¦will NOT accept the results of a â€˜successfulâ€™ impeachment as legitimate. They will see it as a Deep State coup. And I believe they will be right.â€
We have already seen multiple instances of political violence on the part of Trump supporters, including against minority groups, the press, and Democratic politicians. Given the normalization and embrace of coup, treason, and civil war rhetoric in conservative media, by Republican politicians, and even by the President himself, it is almost certain that we will see an escalation in political violence.Given the normalization and embrace of coup, treason, and civil war rhetoric in conservative media, by Republican politicians, and even by the President himself, it is almost certain that we will see an escalation in political violence. #Trump… Click To Tweet
This escalation could include violence that is more widespread or coordinated than what we have seen thus far. Most dangerous, of course, would be the President himself ordering some use of force against his opponents. Given what we have witnessed thus far, we discount the possibility of such a scenario at our own peril.