If you want the news media to lose interest in your scandals and incompetence, offer them a war.
North Korea today poses no more threat to us or its neighbors than it has for the past fifty years. With a little saber-rattling, Trump has briefly succeeded in distracting the cable news media. It won’t be enough to save him. Soon, he’ll need more.
The most dangerous threat to peace and stability in the world is the president of the United States. That threat is about to reach a critical stage.
FBI agents raided the home of Paul Manafort in the early morning hours of July 26th. A grand jury has been empaneled to facilitate evidence collection and consider potential indictments. Despite threats and obstruction from the administration, the special prosecutor is investigating Trump family ties to money laundering operations for Russian organized crime figures.
Walls are closing in on the Trump family, with implications extending far beyond politics. Republicans continue to back Trump, but what happens when we start to see indictments? Unless the president’s stupidity blunders us into some accident, there isn’t going to be a war soon in Korea. However, the posturing we see right now from the Trump family and their retainers could be a prelude to war right here at home.
What does Donald Trump do when the indictments begin to land? How does he respond when federal marshals attempt to arrest Jared Kushner? More to the point, who exactly, has the authority and the will to carry out arrest warrants against Trump insiders or even family members? Will the marshals do it? FBI agents? Local police or sheriffs?
Trump is likely to pardon whoever gets indicted, but that won’t stop the civil suits and property seizures associated with their corrupt business deals. That won’t stop banks and quasi-legitimate businesses from fleeing their exposure to Trump assets. Federal and state indictments against Trump family members will destroy their business empire, regardless of the outcome of any imagined trial. And there will, of course, never be a trial.
Picture a law enforcement official with a court order in one hand and conflicting instructions from the president in the other. Which orders will that official follow? You might assume that an officer will “follow the law,” but what will they do when the law is vague, their individual loyalties are divided, and precedents are unavailable? What will they do when their immediate supervisor sides with Trump?
Take that same ambiguity into the barracks, and the scenarios get very dark, very quickly. What happens when an embattled, discredited, and increasingly incoherent Commander in Chief tries to hastily engineer a war to distract the public. Will generals obey him? Will all our generals obey him? What happens to the ones who won’t, and to the troops they command?
Our most hopeful endgame remains the one discussed here back in the spring. As the scope and severity of looming indictments becomes clear, perhaps Trump simply piles the family into their gold-plated flying ark and flees the country. Beyond the reach of extradition, they could retain most of their financial empire and carry on their lives as exiled royalty. That would be great, but Trump may be too mentally ill and deluded to seize that opportunity while it remains open.
Instead, when justice closes in, Trump may try to split American institutions to retain his hold on power. The unprecedented circumstances make it hard to predict how key players will behave. It will not be enough for sitting officials to merely “follow the law.” There is no settled law to govern the scenarios beginning to play out. We are left to count on human decency and patriotism to win the day. Our faith in those virtues has so far fed a spectacular political failure, as Republicans in Congress have hidden behind cowardice and collusion.
Southern Conservatives who have been pining for the destruction of the republic for generations will seize every opportunity to wreak havoc. Their allies in Russia have assembled an impressive propaganda and disinformation apparatus to aid them. They will fan the slightest ember into a flame. Outcomes probably depend on the success of the wider public in converting Trump’s supporters into pariahs. That won’t stop them from inciting violence, but it will limit their reach, particularly their influence over law enforcement and the military.
What can we do about this individually? Very little. Almost all the bolts in this machine have been assembled through years of work by far-right activists. It’s too late now to dismantle it. We’re going to find out what they can accomplish once that machine is unleashed. All we can do now is to rob the president’s supporters of any sheen of legitimacy. This threat is emerging from a bold and unpopular minority. Their future hinges on public apathy and distraction. A concentrated public effort to identify and isolate his supporters will be critical. The weak and cowardly in both parties and in our corporate establishment will follow the prevailing winds. The public mood influences that wind.
To reach a conclusion of this crisis with a minimum of harm, everyone from your neighbor to your state legislator needs to feel pressure to take a side early, before any threat of organized violence emerges. If people feel unsafe culturally and economically in supporting Donald Trump, he will be left with no help beyond a core of his most committed supporters. That core is small, and it is dominated by people who aren’t terribly clever or effective. Want to beat Donald Trump? Become as unbearable to be around as the idiots who support him have been for decades. Don’t be quiet.
Things are about to get worse. However, be aware that the worst stage of the crisis probably comes after Trump leaves office. Trump is incompetent. Forces that move into the space left open by his fall will be smarter and more capable. None of their priorities will have changed. Decisions we made decades ago placed us here. Discounting the threat from the religious right and underestimating the danger of George W. Bush laid the ground-work for our present crisis. Decisions we make now will determine the state of play in the immediate post-Trump era.
We have years of dangerous political unrest ahead of us, a challenging road to travel toward a more stable future. Brace yourselves.