by Gordon M. Hahn
In a recent comment to a Facebook post I noted that America would be hard-pressed to survive the one-two punch of successive Barack Obama and Donald Trump presidencies. The recent spate of terrorism in America’s nascent civil war along with a recent study confirm worst fears.
Former President Obama famously characterized Republicans as the Democrats’ “enemies” and backward hicks “clinging to their Bibles and their guns,” referred to “typical white people” in his autobiography, and allowed his Justice Department to refuse prosecuting black ultra-nationalists after they were caught openly on videotape intimidating voters as they went to the polls. For all the talk of Trumpist fascism, it was President Obama who recreated the Nixonian ‘imperialist presidency’ in the modern era, by circumventing congress and usurping legislative power by issuing unconstitutional decrees. As leading liberal, pro-Democratic Party legal scholar Jonathan Turley characterized Obama’s “imperial presidency”: “Four decades ago, Nixon was halted in his determined effort to create an imperial presidency with unilateral powers and privileges. But in 2013, Obama wields those very same powers openly and without serious opposition” (Jonathan Turley, “A Question of Power: The Imperial Presidency, 21 May 2014, https://jonathanturley.org/2014/05/21/a-question-of-power-the-imperial-presidency/).
Donald Trump encouraged violence against anti-Trump demonstrators during his election campaign, has overstepped all bounds of propriety – no less presidentialism – in criticizing opponents, and repeatedly has referred to women in mysogynistic ways, etc. Whereas Obama constantly played the race card, as did Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, Trump shows a distinct rhetorical if not emotional insensitivity on the issue.
A recent spate of violence that can be characterized as terrorism and the possible beginning of an American civil war. In June a pro-Democrat attacked a Republican congressional baseball team practicing for an upcoming game seriously wounding several. If not a bad shot he could have killed tens of Republic congressmen attending the practice. The implications of such a turn of events are incalculable.
In Pennsylvania this month a Democrat attacked and killed his Trump-supporting neighbor (www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/anti-donald-trump-campaigner-clayton-carter-shoot-republican-dead-head-george-jennings-a7895966.html and http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/08/15/anti-trump-activist-accused-of-shooting-killing-trump-supporting-neighbor-with-semi-automatic/). The Blaze
At the same time, a right-wing demonstrator drove his car at a crowd of left-wing protestors during two opposing demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia organized by radical leftists and rightists: Black Lives Matter and various stripes of communists and anarchists on the ‘left’ and KKK and other white racists on the ‘right’.
These attacks can be characterized as terrorist attacks in that they fit the definition of terrorism: violence perpetrated for political reasons against civilians or others during peacetime. They also resemble the beginnings of a trend towards civil war in the US between radical leftists and minority ultra-nationalists or racists, on the one hand, and radical rightists and white ultra-nationalists or racists, on the other hand.
The rhetorical radicalism of our last two presidents has played a leading role in polarizing our politics, bringing us to this sorry state. The veracity of this statement can be seen in the conclusions of a recent scientific study. Using a content analysis tool, Ronald R. Krebs and Robert Ralston, a professor and PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, respectively, found that both of our most recent presidents have used “authoritarian” rhetoric filled with “tenacity” and “self-referential” to a degree unprecedented among our post-WW II presidents (www.businessinsider.com/what-trump-and-obama-have-in-common-rhetoric-speeches-2017-8). To be sure, Obama’s condescending and aggressive rhetoric was well-masked by his usually, though not always restrained demeanor as well as his sophistication and eloquence, which the authors note. Nevertheless, Republicans, conservatives and libertarians were not welcome or their interests and preferences to be considered in Obama’s “fundamentally transformed America.”
Although the differences between the two presidents’ rhetorical styles might seem stark, the authors emphasize, in reality they “are remarkably like each other and unlike their predecessors” according to the authors. Obama’s speech is 69 percent more self-referential than the presidential average — Trump’s 20 percent (89 percent) greater than Obama’s. Trump and Obama, with the former leading, use far more first-person pronouns than the third most self-referential president, Gerald Ford, and approximately twice as self-referential as the post-war presidents’ average.