The United States is premised on an agreement about how to deal with our disagreements. It’s called the Constitution.
Imagine that an impeachment resolution against Trump passes the House. Trump claims it’s the work of the “deep state.” Fox News’s Sean Hannity demands every honest patriot take to the streets. Rightwing social media call for war. As insurrection spreads, Trump commands the armed forces to side with the “patriots.”
Or it’s November 2020 and Trump has lost the election. He charges voter fraud, claiming that the “deep state” organized tens of millions of illegal immigrants to vote against him, and says he has an obligation not to step down. Demonstrations and riots ensue. Trump commands the armed forces to put them down.
If these sound far-fetched, consider Trump’s torrent of lies, his admiration for foreign dictators, his off-hand jokes about being “president for life” (Xi Xinping “was able to do that,” he told admirers in March. “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot some day.’), and his increasing invocation of a “deep state” plot against him.
The United States is premised on an agreement about how to deal with our disagreements. It’s called the Constitution. We trust our system of government enough that we abide by its outcomes even though we may disagree with them. Only once in our history – in 1861 – did enough of us distrust the system so much we succumbed to civil war.
But what happens if a president claims our system is no longer trustworthy?
Last week Trump accused the “deep state” of embedding a spy in his campaign for political purposes. “Spygate” soon unraveled after Republican House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy dismissed it, but truth has never silenced Trump for long.
Trump’s immediate goal is to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation. But his strategy appears to go beyond that. In tweets and on Fox News, Trump’s overall mission is repeatedly described as a “war on the deep state.”