Wednesday, May 17, 2017


An Omnivore reader asks if he should be worried about violence from Trump-supporters in the event of an impeachment. It's a good question. Obviously, The Omnivore doesn't know--but we do have a handle on a few things. Let's look.

The Violence Scale is 0 - normal election to 10 - real civil war.

Point A - The Left Had Some Pretty, Uh, Kinetic Demonstrations When Trump Won Fairly

There were marches. There were demonstrations. At Berkeley there were for-real riots. Now, a lot of people felt Trump's victory was illegitimate either because of the popular vote, the Russians, or slightly more nebulous reasons--but the fact is that the massive bulk of society recognized his victory. There were no headlines asking if Trump would move into the White House.

Well, okay, there were--but that was because Trump thought he might stay in Trump Tower. You know what The Omnivore means.

In the case of impeachment there will be constant questions about outcome, method, and legitimacy. So let's baseline disruption at at least what we saw for 2016.

Let's call that 2pts on the Violence Scale.

Point B - A Lot Will Depend On How It Happens

The House votes to Impeach, the Senate convicts. Between all of this there are a number of questions. Does Trump resign? Seems unlikely. Are there two large factions in the House / Senate with Democrats "breaking the tie"--or is it more unified on the Republican side? Is the Impeachment due to hard evidence (the Comey memo maybe qualifies) or due to Republicans hedging their political futures?

There's one constant that we can depend on, however: Trump will handle it badly (as he has mismanaged every other PR crisis thus far) and will tweet about it (as he has, consistently). This will raise the drama no matter what other organs of government do.

So let's aim for a middle-case scenario where Trump is impeached for obstruction of justice (the Comey memo), there is an actual memo, and the GOP is reasonably intact. In this case we get Trump throwing a tantrum--but not a real split of the conventional government.

Let's call that +2 on the Violence Scale (+4 if it goes badly in the House and Senate)

Point C - Nixon Is A Model--But a Bad One

Nixon was impeached but stepped down before the Senate could convict. He was pardoned--and that was (?) that. The Omnivore is not a student of Nixon and is basing what follows on what he has read. With that caveat:

  1. Nixon was popular in the GOP until the House Impeached. Once they congealed against him with formal charges, it appears that the public broadly accepted his guilt.
  2. Nixon left office with a 25% (Gallup) popularity rating. That was like as far as he fell before hitting 'terminal velocity.'
  3. Nixon's story was broken by the press--which enjoyed widespread respect at the time. You could think of it as akin to "investigators cracking the case."
The reasons these are all bad is that currently Congress polls way less than 25% popularity (The Omnivore doesn't know what it polled in Nixon's day--but well above Ebola, one would think). Right now Trump's aggregate popularity is around 36-40%--but that middling number is due to sky-high popularity with Republicans. This isn't a good model for predicting what will happen in the public sphere should he be Impeached.

Finally, the press is held as literal traitors by a lot of Trump's base--and as untrustworthy and hopelessly corrupt and biased by many Republicans in general. There is no "breaking of the case" here--it's going to be seen all as partisan Machiavellian maneuvering.

Rather than having an outright score on the Violence Scale, let's call this +1 due to uncertainty. Nixon's resignation was, The Omnivore thinks, pretty orderly--but that doesn't tell us much about today.

Point D - Trump's Base

It is tempting to think of Trump's base as heavily armed skin-heads with stockpiled munitions--but that isn't the case. Trump's base is older than fighting-age in general. They are also in many cases more well off than, say, desperate minorities (or whites) below the poverty line. Being old--and having something to lose--are two big predictors against violence (ask China--their totalitarian stability is built on a pretty good economy!)

On the other hand, Trump's base certainly does seem to have more AR-15's than Pussy Hats--and they have a rhetoric of violent revolution. 

Let's call this a wash: Team Trump isn't likely to organize an organized militia and march on Washington--but there are going to be some of them with the will and capability to cause trouble.

Point E - The Media Narrative

There will, necessarily, be two narratives here. The first will be "what the country as a whole hears." The second will be what Trump-Supporters hear. In the first case let's say it's pretty obvious obstruction of justice: that sounds legit. In the second, what if it's a "literal Coup by the Left-Wing Revolutionaries"? That sounds pretty Johnny-Get-Your-Gun, right?

It's pretty clear from this that Trump's base is not going to be hearing about how Trump sold them out by breaking the rules. There are some signs that  a few of his boosters in the media might turn on him (Ann Coulter has famously said that him hiring his kids was fascist--thanks heaps, Ann)--but even if you find that encouraging consider this: Trump has super-elevated a lot of really necrotic news sources. Cernovich has gotten direct scoops as leaks. The Gateway Pundit has White House press credentials. Bretitbart is on staff. 

These people have no reason--and no history--of telling a real or complete story. They have every reason to inflame their (millions) of viewers. They have shown, in every case, a willingness to tell the most partisan story possible--and in many cases to outright lie or present wild conspiracy theories as truth.

Let's call this +2 on the Violence Scale.

Final Score: 6 Out Of 10

 The Omnivore thinks that equates to trouble. There will be factions of people--in some cases desperate, betrayed feeling people, who are told, directly and clearly, that they were robbed by Washington Elites, Social Justice Warriors, and Communists. They believe--today--that Trump is delivering for them: Saving their jobs, bringing back their coal mining communities, preventing the country from being over-run by Mexican rapists, and so on.

Despite the evidence saying otherwise, they believe that if he just gets [ a year--or two--maybe a second term ] in office everyone will come around and see him as the hero he is. For them, these charges are #fakenews of the worst kind: partisan, intentional, and malevolent.

To think that (a) someone will (or can) set them straight or that (b) some of them will not take matters "into their own hands" has to be wishful thinking. Add to this the probability of Trump not going down easily--trying to do damage, illegitimatize his opponents, or even calling for violence (obliquely, as he did at his rally)--you have a clear and present danger.

The good news, however, is that these people will have difficulty pulling off large operations. The Omnivore predicts political violence of a sporadic sort without solid targeting, planning, or competency of execution--more Columbine than Al Queda. 

What Can We Do?

The obvious thing to do is to try to make any proceedings as bipartisan, fact-based, and transparent as possible. If there is a clear crime (obstruction of justice), evidence that both parties strongly attest to (the memo), and a lack of carnival atmosphere (or gloating) that will be the best. 

It might also be good to try to get InfoWars, Cernovich, et. al out of the press-room.

1 comment:

  1. There is a decent chance that we have some number of 'lone wolf' incidents *either way*. It's not inconceivable that someone takes Trump not being impeached as a sign there are no consequences.

    But if Obama could be elected twice without some level of civil war starting, Trump isn't going to get one for being impeached. None of the right wing media is willing to accept being arrested, or even sued, for genuine incitement to revolt against the government- they will always stop short or, at worst, quickly 180.