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Local experts find president’s Civil War tweet ‘ridiculous’

Sept. 30, 2019 Updated Mon., Sept. 30, 2019 at 5:47 p.m.

With an impeachment inquiry underway, President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that removing him from the presidency would cause a Civil-War level splintering of the United States, a reiteration of a comment made on “Fox and Friends.”

The president tweeted a comment made by the Rev. Robert Jeffress on the TV show: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

The president has also tweeted that Rep. Adam Schiff committed treason when he read a transcript of the president’s call with the Ukrainian president. Local experts say the level of discord in our country is nowhere near Civil War conditions, but this type of rhetoric from the president can be dangerous.

“It doesn’t take an expert to know that both of those statements by the president are utterly ridiculous,” said Blaine Garvin, Gonzaga University political science professor. “… (What) he’s saying is that if Congress were to remove him then there would be civil war and presumably he means his supporters would rise up in his support.”

Dale Soden, Whitworth University history professor, said the difference between the conditions now and the conditions of our country pre-Civil War were extremely different.

“The forces that led to the American Civil War in 1861 were deep and broad in the sense that there were decades of events that had to do with the expansion of the slavery, (and) the role that the federal government and that the state governments played in all of that,” Soden said.

Additionally, nothing Schiff did could be construed as treason, Garvin said.

“Nobody that I can see here has done anything remotely like that,” Garvin said. “But this is part of Trump’s general behavior. When he’s done something wrong – which he does frequently – and is caught doing it, then he projects the same misbehavior on the people who are trying to reveal what he’s done.”

The Constitution defines treason as, “levying War against (the United States), or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Cornell Clayton, director of the Washington State University Foley Institute, said this latest effort is a pattern for the president to punch back whenever he perceives a threat, and he expects the president’s rhetoric to deepen as the impeachment process proceeds. Sen. Patty Murray also expects the president’s language to continue.

“I’m sure the President will have a lot to say throughout this process, and that a lot of it will be alarming – but our responsibility is to our country and our democracy,” Murray said in a statement. “That’s what we need to stay focused on.”

On Oct. 8, WSU is bringing in Steven Levitsky, the author of New York Times bestseller “How Democracies Die.” Clayton said Levitsky’s book explores how a lack of forbearance has been the death knell for democracies within the past 40 years.

“They’ve ended by electing people to office who are then anti-Democratic or despots who end up becoming tyrants,” Clayton said. “One of the arguments they make is that democracy requires certain types of behaviors in order to survive and one of them is forbearance by political parties, that is to say that you have to be willing to treat the other side as if they are legitimate.”

Clayton said that while Trump’s tactics have worked for him in the past, it could backfire, and he risks alienating his more moderate supporters. Clayton pointed to the fact that in the case of the Civil War tweet, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, rebuked Trump’s comments.

“I have visited nations ravaged by civil war,” Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot, tweeted. “@realDonaldTrump I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President. This is beyond repugnant.”

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