“A House Divided”: It’s Time to Heed Lincoln’s Warning

Donald Trump’s Presidency involves a zero-sum game with enormous stakes.

There is a deep political division in this country today that is more threatening than at any time since the Civil War.

Its roots can be traced back, perhaps, to the Vietnam War era.  It’s a long, dark, and complicated story.  But Donald Trump is now the focal point, and he has exacerbated the situation by being a divisive and highly partisan president.  So, the battle has been joined by those who, on one side, have become Trump’s parishioners and follow him with uncritical faith, and, on the other side, those who see him as the Devil incarnate – or at least as a corrupt and dangerous man who represents an existential threat to our democracy, if not world peace. 

To make matters worse, Donald Trump’s presidency involves a zero-sum game.  Public policy issues can be compromised, but the fate of a deeply polarizing political leader cannot.  If Trump succeeds in shutting down the Mueller investigation, a fury will erupt among those who are alarmed and deeply opposed to him.  But if the Mueller investigation concludes that Trump is guilty of serious impeachable offenses (and the stench grows ever stronger), and if a newly elected Democratic Congress in 2019 (which seems ever more likely) moves to remove him from office, the fury on the right will be equally intense.  Either way, in a society awash in dangerous weapons, and some dangerous people, the tinder box could ignite. 

How can this tragic outcome be avoided?  One alternative might be for Donald Trump to pledge that he will let the investigation run its course and respect its findings, while encouraging his followers to do so as well.  This is a fantasy, of course.  Trump is already seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the investigation and will almost certainly mount a full-scale war against in any adverse outcome. 

The only viable alternative, I believe, is for the conservative, Republican establishment – elected political leaders, financial oligarchs, conservative think tank pundits, and especially right-wing media voices like Fox News – to stand up for the Constitution.  They must come to the defense of the rule of law and the legitimacy of the legal process.  They will have to choose sides.   Indeed, it will be in their own direct self-interest as a humbled and weakened party to purge themselves of this cancer.   If they do not throw their support behind our 230-year-old democratic experiment, the cancer will metastasize.  Our political system may be in serious jeopardy.  No one can predict the outcome, but it won’t be pretty.        


Peter Corning

Peter Corning is currently the Director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems in Seattle, Washington.  He was also a one-time science writer at Newsweek and a professor for many years in the Human Biology Program at Stanford University, along with holding a research appointment in Stanford’s Behavior Genetics Laboratory.  


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