Bob Schwartz

Tag: Civil War

Trump Predicts Revolt If He Is Removed. Are His Words Illegal?

King Louis XV: “Après nous, le deluge.”

Barely noted yesterday, or mostly ignored because we discount just about everything that Trump says, is this from his interview with Reuters, talking about the possibility of impeachment:

“I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

A President of the United States just suggested—implicitly endorsed—the possibility of revolution in the event of his ouster. Had this happened at any other time in the past two centuries, bells would be going off as if the Republic was on fire.

In the first place, it is arguably illegal:

18 U.S. Code § 2385 – Advocating Overthrow of Government

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government…

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

Does his interview constitute advocating or advising the desirability of overthrowing government? As a matter of crime, it might be a stretch. As a matter of civic responsibility from America’s highest public office, it is farther over the line than almost anything else Trump has said—and that is saying something.

Second—and this is the real bell ringer—he is in some sense right. The form of revolt is uncertain, but it would likely be more than angry and vicious posts on social media. Even his vacating the office through resignation or by electoral defeat in 2020 might have a similar effect.

In America’s darkest historic hour before the Civil War, in an overheated political climate, some of the greatest statesmen in our history tried to keep the lid on a boiling pot. They failed.

We are nowhere near that. But among the roster of politicians, we don’t seem to have as many genuine statesmen as we had back then—or as we had just a few decades ago. And we’ve never had a president predicting—encouraging—revolt as the consequence of his absence.

Lincoln Proclaims Thanksgiving: “Penitence for our national perverseness”

“Thanksgiving-Day,” by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, December 5, 1863.

“Thanksgiving-Day,” by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, December 5, 1863.

The modern Thanksgiving holiday begins with Abraham Lincoln issuing a Thanksgiving Day proclamation on October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War.

At that point, America was a country of two cultures; in fact, of two nations at war. Even history was the subject of dispute. The North traced our national origin to the Puritans of New England, thus Thanksgiving was their American holiday. The South believed America began with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.

In his proclamation, Lincoln calls for healing and for “peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.” In terms of union, however, it isn’t clear who Lincoln refers to when he asks for “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Exactly who has been perverse and disobedient?

One thing is clear. Even with all his divine pleas, Lincoln calls this conflict of principles and cultures inevitable—“the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

Lincoln held a famously and understandably dark view of his American times, shaded by realities and by his own depressive personality. We can and should take a brighter view this Thanksgiving, having come so far from the America of 1863, and having much to be thankful for. But just as we repeat his call for “peace, harmony, tranquillity” we are remiss to ignore the realities of 2016. Like Lincoln, we should be big, open and wise enough to see things as they are, and to change them as needed, always being painfully aware of the cost.

From his proclamation:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Suit and Tie: The Sad and Silly Syrian Election

Syrian President Assad Votes

It is reported that President Bashar al-Assad wore a dark suit and light blue tie for voting in today’s Syrian election. Good reporting. He looked good. So did his wife Asma.

Assad actually had opponents, the first time Syria has had a contested presidential election in fifty years. No one could think that this opposition meant anything. The other candidates could not think so. And yet there were supporters and voters at the polls, maybe out of fear, maybe out of hope, maybe just wanting to pretend things are normal. Some new normal, so that with one more term, a few more years added to his enlightened regime, there would be no more deaths after the 160,000, no more displaced and refugees after the millions.

Journalists and other nations are sworn by a sense of fairness and professionalism and diplomacy and sovereignty to pretend that this is an election, even if they have some quibbles. They might, if they had a better sense of irony or humor, treat it like Halloween or Mardi Gras. An occasion on which one dresses up to play the part of something you are not, say, a democratically elected leader in dark suit and light blue tie.

The U.S. also had an election during a civil war. Lincoln did have opposition and he did win. Whatever he wore when he voted, he certainly didn’t look as slick as Assad, nor was Mary Todd as socialite beautiful as Asma. By that point Lincoln was deeply tired and sick of the horrible conflict and would do anything he could to finally end it. The good news is that there would be only a few more months of war. The not so good news is that even with the good that came, it would take decades for the wounds to begin healing. The worst news, for Lincoln and the country, is that he would soon be assassinated.

Lincoln and the civil war were sad but never silly. Assad, in his dark suit and light blue tie, within this hollow semblance of an election, is sad and morbidly silly. Unlike Lincoln, he may be around for years, continuing to rack up votes and deaths. But looking real good.

Un-Americans in Congress

Capitol Flag
The first appearance of un-Americanism came during the American Revolution. Conservative colonists who remained loyal to the British crown were reviled by those who pledged their fortunes to a new and forward-looking vision. To the Patriots, the Loyalists were backward-looking un-Americans—even though “America” was not quite yet a reality.

The next appearance came during the Civil War. This time, a powerful portion of American citizens and leaders made philosophical and economic arguments that being a “real American” meant having the freedom to own people as property and, if that was taken away, the freedom to split the nation. Many other Americans disagreed, and in a war that took 620,000 lives, having a united nation and government was established as the bedrock of Americanism. Disagree and fight vigorously to change policy and direction, but when your initiatives threaten the integrity of that union, your Americanism is in question or even forfeited.

Right now, Republican members of Congress are on track to bring parts of the American government to a standstill, and probably damage a still-unstable American economy. This is un-American. Pointing fingers and trying to avoid accountability is childish; at least take credit or blame if the principles are so important. We need adult Americans. What we seem to be getting in some quarters are childish un-Americans. Nothing could be more sad or dangerous.

The Next Civil War: Religion

Lincoln Penny
A few years ago, I proposed that the American divide over abortion might one day reach the dangerous depths of a much earlier conflict over slavery. Not since slavery—not even with still-festering questions about racial and other inequalities—has an issue had such a basic and visceral impact.

The poll numbers on abortion have shifted, the judicial context may be stable (for the moment), but the legislative activity is still a battlefield: among the initiatives, just today Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a law prohibiting insurers that offer abortion coverage from participating in the state’s exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Yet even with that, abortion will not be the biggest issue that cleaves America in the next few years. It will be, much more than it is now, religion.

Not one religion against another, or one religion-based position against another. We are approaching the point where half of America has an explicit or implicit affinity with some organized religious denomination or belief, and half does not. The not includes a wide range from atheists, agnostics, areligionists or anti-religionists to those who are “spiritual but not religious.”

America is not a theocracy or, officially, a theocratic democracy. But “theocratic democracy” (see Israel) is the way a number of Americans see it approvingly. Our conventions, traditions and even our money support this, and when they didn’t support it sufficiently, it was enhanced—as when during the Cold War against godless Communism, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

The dynamic between religious and secular has long played out in America in just about every official sphere. But in the past, those who fought for the secular and even succeeded (prayer in schools) were considered an aberrant and weird fringe. The fringe is now a minority, but still in some eyes, aberrant and weird. What happens when that fringe turned minority becomes an equal partner in American civics, citizens who are guided by bright moral lights, just not those that emanate from lamps they don’t believe in and refuse to support—or allow to rule their lives? What then?

Abraham Lincoln said we could not survive half-slave and half-free. The nineteenth century would not have hinted at it. but the American twenty-first may be half-God, half-not. What might Lincoln say then?