Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The threat of civil war didn’t end with the Trump presidency

By Damon Linker, The Week

Donald Trump’s presidency was a product of the country’s political polarization, but Trump himself pushed that polarization much further than it was before he took office. His actions during his final weeks in the White House — above all, his denial of his own loss in the 2020 election and his incitement of the insurrection against Congress’ formal certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6 — brought the country to the brink.

But the brink of what? Most liberals and progressives assume we were facing a coup that would have kept Trump in office in defiance of both the popular and Electoral College vote. That would have overturned American democracy in favor of a form of authoritarianism.

But that wouldn’t have been the end of the story. It would have been the beginning — the start of a series of events that culminated in something that looks much more like a second American civil war. That is the ominous possibility that we need to keep in mind as we advance toward turbulent elections of the future.

The chilling events of Jan. 6 were made possible by profoundly deep differences between Democrats and Republicans — not over policy or morals, but over reality itself. That was Trump’s decisive contribution to our civic breakdown. On top of the substantive partisan disagreements that have piled up over the decades, Trump built on and radicalized the polemical style of right-wing media, combining it with the lies and intentional distortions of a well-practiced conman who considers it unacceptable ever to concede a loss. Long-standing, low-grade paranoia on the right about voter fraud now became an outright conspiracy theory denying that any result other than a victory for Trump could be considered legitimate.

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