A nice lit­tle democ­racy — only if you can save it

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE | A PLACE TO BE HEARD - Leonard Pitts

“If Democrats are suc­cess­ful in re­mov­ing the pres­i­dent from of­fice (which they never will be), it will cause a Civil War like frac­ture in this Na­tion from which our Coun­try will never heal.” — Don­ald Trump, roughly quot­ing Robert Jef­fress, a con­ser­va­tive Dal­las preacher

What if he’s right?

Granted, no mili­tias are mass­ing. No dec­la­ra­tions of sep­a­ra­tion have been read.

So one is tempted to dis­miss Trump’s re­cent evo­ca­tion of Amer­ica’s great 19th­cen­tury rup­ture as just more bushwa from a hu­man bushwa ma­chine. No echo of Sumter, nor ghost of Get­tys­burg. Just a pan­icked pres­i­dent star­ing down the bar­rel of impeachmen­t, try­ing to rally his troops.

But one need not be­lieve a shoot­ing war im­mi­nent to think he may have in­ad­ver­tently tweeted an im­por­tant truth.

The con­fla­gra­tion that con­sumed Amer­ica be­tween 1861 and 1865 be­gan when 11 states de­clared them­selves no longer sub­ject to fed­eral au­thor­ity. They cited as their rea­son a de­sire to pro­tect slav­ery in a na­tion grown hos­tile to the in­sti­tu­tion. In a sense, the states suf­fered “ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences.” As in a bad mar­riage, one side no longer saw the world in the same way as the other, no longer felt it­self bound by com­mon values and com­mon cause.

And isn’t that a fa­mil­iar re­frain? In 2019, we find our­selves bro­ken along lines of pol­i­tics (the eter­nal red and blue grudge match) and hu­man rights — a county clerk deny­ing a mar­riage li­cense to same-sex cou­ples in Ken­tucky, Mus­lims de­nied en­try to a land of re­li­gious free­dom be­cause of their faith, brown peo­ple with Span­ish ac­cents held in cages.

But we are also bro­ken along lines of per­cep­tion — the abil­ity to dis­tin­guish what is from what is not.

We live in a na­tion where a bar­rage of lies from gov­ern­ment and con­ser­va­tive me­dia ham­mers at re­al­ity on an hourly ba­sis. And the peo­ple do­ing the ly­ing — the Gi­u­lia­nis, the Con­ways, the Han­ni­tys — do so with the shame­less con­vic­tion of the true believer, hav­ing swal­lowed their own hog­wash. Es­pe­cially Trump.

Con­sider that the mem­o­ran­dum of a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion be­tween him and Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, the one that ig­nited an impeachmen­t in­quiry be­cause it showed Trump, that third-rate Queens mob­ster, pres­sur­ing Ze­len­skiy for dirt on a po­lit­i­cal ri­val, was re­leased by Trump be­cause he thought it would ex­on­er­ate him. It bears re­peat­ing: He handed over the smok­ing gun be­cause he had con­vinced him­self it was a bou­quet of flow­ers.

One is re­minded of a say­ing among drug deal­ers: Don’t get high on your own sup­ply.

It’s ad­vice Trump and com­pany could profit from.

As to a “Civil War type frac­ture,” it can be ar­gued that we’re al­ready there, some of us hav­ing se­ceded not sim­ply from com­mon values and com­mon cause, but also from com­mon re­al­ity. Now Trump im­plic­itly prom­ises to save us — but at the high cost of the Con­sti­tu­tion, of turn­ing a blind eye to his crimes.

It is, in ef­fect, a threat: “Nice lit­tle democ­racy you got your­self here. Be a shame if some­thing hap­pened to it.” But to bow to the threat is to di­min­ish the democ­racy.

Be­sides, we’ve been here be­fore. Near the end of the first Civil War, the one with all the shoot­ing, Abra­ham Lin­coln re­called the ul­ti­ma­tum 11 states had given him. “Both par­ties dep­re­cated war,” he said, “but one of them would make war rather than let the na­tion sur­vive, and the other would ac­cept war rather than let it per­ish.”

That time, the “frac­ture” ex­acted a ru­inous cost in prop­erty and lives. This time, it will be paid “only” in po­lit­i­cal calamity.

But Lin­coln al­ways felt the dam­age to Amer­ica was worth the prom­ise of Amer­ica. It was.

And it still is.

We’ve been here be­fore.

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