As I write this column, two weeks after my last take that Trump was not the worst president in history, impeachment proceedings have concluded in the House of Representatives. In between my last column and now, rioters stormed the Capitol, and attempted to kidnap and potentially execute both Vice President Pence and House Speaker Pelosi.
Meanwhile, Trump and his children watched the riots from an enclosed tent, much like a VIP space at a football game. All of it was beyond insane.
Stating Trump was not the worst president ever was a bad call. I totally missed it. My friend, Rob Anderson, reminded me with a Jan. 5 letter in the paper. Tip of the hat, fella. Trump is the worst president in the history of our nation.
I could go on about how I was mistaken, but I won’t. An old girlfriend told me if you say “I’m sorry but … ,” that’s the same as “I’m not sorry, and … .”
We’re still here as a country, though, folks. And to my Republican friends, you’re going to have to do some soul-searching on how to reach your leadership and get them to stop, literally, tearing the country apart. The same warning I gave to my liberal friends in the last column now applies to you. You want a civil war? You want your children to die? If you don’t, then you better start preaching. Because the current circumstances are tilted toward lots of folks getting shot.
I know it’s challenging. It all seems like theater. At some level, it is. None of the attempted seditionists could have any realistic expectation of controlling a nation as large and decentralized as the U.S. Folks mostly can’t understand the level of complexity of various government organizations. The food shows up in the stores, the wine magically appears in the wine store. We buy new dishwashers, or clothes. And we watch on as televised “government overthrow theatre.”
But this stuff is real. Successful coups happen in Latin America because the army is actually organized enough to run the show, even if they do a lousy job. That is not even realistic in the context of the U.S. And there’s the fact that military leaders and Department of Defense have done a great job of dumping on those who raise the possibility of such a coup.
What we would really be facing is a period of chaos. And people die in droves during chaos. People starve. Retirements are lost. People in care homes will die. Your 20-somethings will be involved.
And we would not be better off at the end of it. Societies that do that to themselves go into irreversible decline. Look at Athens and Sparta after the end of the Peloponnesian War. Both far worse off than when it started.
The real problem with Trump’s last four years is not that he’s been an ineffective leader. By engaging in endless bickering and Cabinet musical chairs, there’s been a tremendous opportunity cost for all the nation’s business. These are four years lost. There’s been no progress on important issues like global warming, of course, but also lost time on things like rural health care, evolving our schools and fixing our roads. Lifespan has decreased, and we are far more divided now. This makes us increasingly vulnerable to foreign manipulation from countries like China and Russia. When we’re naturally at each other’s throats, it only takes a small tweak from hostile actors to get the fight going again.
And if you’ve ever been in an actual fistfight, you know that you get tired pretty quickly. That energy could be far better spent.
It’s a wild feeling to know that I have no idea what will happen between now and Inauguration. I’m hopeful my more doomsaying friends are wrong. But they may be right.
And regardless if Trump is the worst president in history, this is still our nation. The responsibility for peace and prosperity rests with us. But for the next week, I’m crossing my fingers.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical andmaterials engineering at Washington State University.