William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the Senate considers his nomination to be Trump’s Attorney General. The Democratic Senators asked some specific and incisive questions about his independence from Trump and about his willingness to allow the Mueller investigation and report to proceed unimpeded. The answers were often ambiguous and weasely. In any case, it does not practically matter. The hearing was pro forma, as his confirmation is assured.
It is a cliché to say that America is more divided than it has ever been in modern times. This is an inadequate understatement. However it has happened, America, including some leading figures in the legislative and judicial branches, has sorted itself into two diametric sides. Despite some feeble attempts to equivocate this as “good Americans on both sides,” the fact is that an unequally large number of Republicans have decided to abandon many of the virtues we have long assumed are basic not just to America but to good governance and American life in general.
Unlike the earlier Civil War, whole states won’t withdraw from the republic. But a minority of Americans will, or rather, they will support remaking core institutions and values until the republic—and the working world order—is more to their liking.
This Civil War won’t have a Fort Sumter, but it will have a series of moments. The current shutdown is one of those. The possible withdrawal from NATO is another. Then there will be the end of the Mueller investigation, including a report and additional indictments. There is now every reason to believe that the report will not be made public and that indictments in the works will be stopped, along with any collateral FBI investigations. Assume also that if House committees call administration officials to testify, those officials will refuse on the basis of executive privilege. Pardons, of course, will follow all this.
So it goes. What will happen next? How will it end?
In the 1850s, it looked increasingly possible that there would be some radical upshot to a deep divide on substantial moral and political questions. Yet a real civil war was still a shock, and ultimately a brutal solution. Now, rather than a divide based on momentous issues, some are merely fighting to protect the power of a corrupt and amoral American autocrat. It may be a petty platform they are standing on, but make no mistake that they will stand firm, and there will be injuries in this civil war—to people, to institutions, and to the republic itself.