Now that it seems like a foregone conclusion that Trump is toast–well, it’s my conclusion, anyway–we have to wonder: What will his fans do when he leaves the White House in disgrace?
We already know quite a lot about them. They’re white men, mostly. They’re heterosexual. They’re rural, generally didn’t go to college, and of lower income. They’re angry. They consider themselves Christian. They have guns. They don’t care what Trump did or does, no matter how bad it looks; all they care about is that he freaks liberals out, and that’s fine with them, since they hate liberals. At their most extreme, they’re potentially violent; we’ve seen them in places like Berkeley, where they showed up to “protect” Ann Coulter, wearing their black masks and camouflage outfits. They certainly seem very determined. Will they simply accept Trump’s departure when it happens, or will they refuse?
For that matter, what of Trump? Does he go gently into that good night?
There are all kinds of scenarios. Trump could call in the National Guard, federalizing them and instructing them to surround the White House, and barricading himself inside, where he would still have his finger on the nuclear codes. This would pose a unique problem for Secretary of Defense Mattis, often described as a grownup and a moderating influence on Trump. Would Mattis stand up for the Constitution, or for his boss? What could he do anyway? The president is commander-in-chief. Troops are pledged to obey him. If he were to be impeached, or indicted, and senior Republicans urged him to resign, Trump might simply settle into the obstinacy he often demonstrates when he’s proved wrong, as for example when he refuses to back away from his claim that Obama wiretapped him, or that his inaugural crowd wasn’t a record. He might just make the White House his last stand.
It would make for great television. The revolution, as it turned out, would be televised. Can you imagine the T.V. cameras up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, broadcasting 24/7? The breaking news stories, the talking heads, the floor of the Congress? Pandemonium, which may be exactly what Trump—a show boater and television celebrity—wants.
And his supporters? They would rally. There would be huge pro-Trump crowds in right wing places like Oklahoma City, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs and Jacksonville, among the most conservative cities in the U.S. They’d be wearing their little MAGA hats and waving their Trump banners, and the more aggressive of their spokesmen would be calling for civil disobedience and an absolute resistance to removing Trump. Meanwhile, in liberal cities, like New York, San Francisco, Portland OR and Los Angeles, the anti-Trump demonstrations would be gigantic. When and where the two opposing groups met in physical proximity, there are bound to be clashes that police could not control.
And Trump, from his safe haven, might easily whip them on. The T.V. networks would give him unfettered access, amplified by his tweets. He’d issue all kinds of inflammatory statements: Protect our democracy. Don’t let the liberals destroy America. Stand with me against the evil-doers. And, in an ironic twist, #resist–the slogan of his opponent. Frantic, behind-the-scenes negotiations would be happening at the highest levels: Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Don McGhan for the administration, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi for Democrats, Defense Department personnel, Federal judges, F.B.I. officials, D.C. police. At issue would be: How do we end this while avoiding bloodshed? But it may not be possible.
It’s easy to see it spinning out of control. The American Civil War ended only 157 years ago, a mere blink of the eye of history. The tensions of 1860—state’s rights versus federal rights, conservative values versus liberal ones, white privilege—remain today; instead of the Confederacy we have Trump’s supporters, loosely allied, not really Republicans so much as white nationalists, like the South was. With the Internet connecting them (as it connects ISIS sympathizers), Trump’s tribe could communicate plans, share resources and encourage each other. So too would the anti-Trumpists. The business of the nation would continue, at first, but if this unsteadiness continued for long, the trains would stop running on time, or come off the track—choose your disaster metaphor. Were armies of gun-toting Trump supporters to march on, say, liberal enclaves in red states (Austin TX, for instance), how would the anti-Trumpists respond? Could the police handle it—or would they take sides?
On the other hand, it could all end peacefully. Trump supporters could rest easy in the knowledge that Pence—one of their kind–had taken over. Anti-Trumpists could celebrate the fact that they had accomplished their most fervent goal: driving him from office. Then the nation could get back to good, old-fashioned partisan politics. It would be a relief after these first four months of chaos.