There’s a growing sense that America is about to reach some kind of breaking point. The signs are legion: the threats from Trump himself and toadies like Lindsey Graham; the brazen far-right armed attack on an FBI office and the torrent of threats to do more and worse, the approach of an election in which it is now looking like the MAGA-tized Republicans will not make the gains they expected, further stoking their rage… You can see it in the public opinion polls, in the wording of the questions as much as the responses. In the savagery of the abortion and book bans now spreading across the country. Something Big Is Going Down.
Notice that I mentioned a breaking point, and not a turning point. The future may locate that turning point in the summer of 2016, when the Republican Party bowed down before the orange American idol, or on November 8 of that year, or on January 6, 2021, and most crucially of all, in the Party’s closing ranks around Trump even after the Capitol putsch. Pick any of these; regardless, the turning point is now firmly in the rear-view mirror, a breaking point now unavoidably before us.
What that will consist of, and what is beyond it, is not given us to know. That’s why you see sober-minded experts who say we should be very worried about the outbreak of “civil war,” and equally sober-minded experts who dismiss such talk. Either way, they at least have some inkling of what might be involved. The threateners like Trump and Graham and Alex Jones really have no idea what they might be unleashing; still less do the dark millions represented by the one-third of respondents who are telling pollsters that violence against the government might be “justified.” If there are any anarchists or others on the broadly defined Left who imagine a spurt of “cleansing” revolutionary violence is just what American society needs, well, needless to say, they are even more deluded.
Will it be “only” as bad as the assassinations and riots that convulsed American society in the 1960s and early 70s? Or will much of the country come to resemble Belfast in the 1970s and 80s, or the Gaza Strip in 1987? Is Sarajevo or Aleppo our fate, instead?
I’m haunted by the memory of how, five years ago, I blurted out in front of a therapist and my wife that if Congress didn’t do exactly what Trump wanted, “he’ll have them all shot.” Did I have some special prescience? No, but I’d read enough ancient and modern history to know exactly how infinitely power-hungry and selfish dictator wannabes behave. The precise course of events is impossible to foresee under ordinary circumstances, let alone in the chaos unleashed by such figures arising in the twilight of a decaying empire. But you don’t need to be a clairvoyant to see the storm clouds closing in, or to hear and feel the howl of the rising wind.