By Mohammad Mazhari

Trump’s defeat in 2024 election can lead to armed civil unrest: professor

February 22, 2022 - 21:14
‘Trump views international politics and foreign policy as a set of transactional contracts’

TEHRAN – A professor of politics at the University of California predicts that if Donald Trump runs for the 2024 presidential election and loses the race it can ignite a civil war between the Coasts and Central America.

“Don't hold me to this, but if Trump runs and loses in 2024, there may well be civil unrest, with guns, and the possibility of some kind of civil war between the Coasts and what I like to call ‘Central America’ (the South, Midwest and West to the borders of Kansas or Colorado),” Professor Ronnie Lipschutz tells the Tehran Times.He adds, “I don't think it is clear how big Trump's ‘social base’ actually is-but there are 300 million guns in civilian hands across the U.S.” 
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you describe the U.S. political system? Is it a republic or a democracy? Apparently, the Republicans try their best to depict the country as a republic.

A: A country can be both a democracy and a republic at the same time.  Democracy has to do with the means and extent to which eligible citizens (or residents) can participate in the periodic selection of representatives.  A republic is a state without a royal head (whether a figurehead or not.)  In a republic, you have citizens; in a monarchy, you have subjects.

But that is not the point of your question: The U.S. is notionally a "representative democracy": voters cannot participate in a mass democratic process.  Instead, they select individuals to represent their interests and values at different levels of government (federalism), culminating in the President, who is both leader and head of state.  Democrats want to increase participation of representative democracy by increasing access to the vote to those who have not, historically, voted in great numbers (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities and other under-represented groups).  The Democrats believe that by enrolling these individuals and groups to vote, they can create a permanent national majority in the government.  But things are not that simple, as I shall explain below.

The Republicans see "too much democracy" as taking away power from their primarily white, constituency, which has run the U.S. for the past couple of centuries.  They also think that too many groups with particular interests create political disorder and make it impossible to run a government (and they may be correct on this second point).  More to the point, perhaps, a republic is a country to which its citizens profess love and loyalty and hew to a shared set of values historically established by economic and social classes and elites.  The country has functioned and succeeded on the basis of these historical verities and values (e.g., from the "Founding Fathers"-no mothers involved) so why should those be changed now?  Allowing under-represented groups to vote and contrary values to triumph means "disorder" and the end of white domination.  So, they are bent on restricting access to the ballot.

“U.S. foreign policy has been pretty unstable since the end of the Cold War.” 

The contradiction I mentioned above has to do with the federal nature of the U.S. political system.  States have a considerable number of powers, including regulation of voting, that they can use to limit access to the vote, and there are a fair number of "Red" states that are doing this.  The U.S. constitution mandates two Senators from each state, whether 500,000 people or 40 million.  If there are more Red states than blue, it is difficult for the Democrats to control the Senate, whatever the popular vote (and minorities tend to live in Democratic cities and states, and cannot vote in Red states).  The House of Representatives is somewhat less non-representative, but still subject to domination by Red states.  Each state is allotted a number of Congressional districts based on population, but no state can have less than one representative.  Some districts are much more populous than others.  State governments draw new congressional district lines every 10 years, and a state's Republican government can draw these largely as it pleases.  The lines can be manipulated to give Republicans advantages in elections for Representatives.

Q: U.S. foreign policy has not been stable over the last years. The difference between Trump and Biden is an example. Maybe you say that is the natural result of democracy. But what about governments' responsibilities? Is it reasonable that the next administration dodges America's international obligations?

A: U.S. foreign policy has been pretty unstable since the end of the Cold War.  But it has long been and continues to be a policy that seeks to keep the U.S. internationally dominant.  The difference between Trump, who was an avatar of 1930s "isolationism," and Biden, who represents the "liberal interventionism of the Democrats" (and until the 1990s, of some Republicans, as well) differ only in methods but not in goals.  Over the post-Cold War period, the U.S.-which has 700 military bases around the world-tended to think about intervention with air power and only "boots on the ground" as a last resort (as in Iraq and Afghanistan).  This has not worked too well, as a lesson from Vietnam that has largely been forgotten.

The Trumpists want the U.S. to be dominant but do not want to expend the resources required to support this, militarily, diplomatically, economically (and there are many on the political left who support this position, like Bernie Sanders).  They think, oddly enough, that the U.S. can lead by example and reputation and behaves as others should behave (which is too nonsensical for words).  Trump, moreover, views international politics and foreign policy as a set of transactional contracts that can be broken, willy-nilly, just as he ran his various businesses.  If others won't pay, the U.S. will not play.

Finally, at least until this point, Ukraine illustrates just what the Biden Administration is willing to do.  It will not go to war for Ukraine-but does it have any obligations to Ukraine?  It will not move a serious number of troops and military equipment to the eastern border of NATO, since that will upset everyone but Poland and make war that much more possible.  It will talk and talk and issue dire warnings to Russia, but little more.  Diplomacy is the art of negotiating reasonable compromises (keep Ukraine out of NATO forever and ever).  What the U.S. is doing is brinksmanship and, as the Cuban Missile Crisis illustrated, that is not always a good idea.

Q: Given that Trump enjoys a big social base, how do you see the future of U.S. democracy? Do you expect the division to get deeper?

A: I don't think it is clear how big Trump's "social base" actually is-but there are 300 million guns in civilian hands across the U.S. (I don't have any).  Don't hold me to this, but if Trump runs and loses in 2024, there may well be civil unrest, with guns, and the possibility of some kind of civil war between the Coasts and what I like to call "Central America" (the South, Midwest and West to the borders of Kansas or Colorado).  In that case, all bets are off about the "future" of U.S. democracy.
But then, again, Trump's base, the white population, is declining in numbers, so maybe his populism will die out first.  No one knows.

“Trump and Biden differ only in methods but not in goals.” 

Q: How do you see the relations between ideology, interests and values in U.S. policymaking? To what extent can ideologies like evangelical Christianity or values like democracy affect U.S. interests domestically and internationally?

A: I used to believe that foreign policy reflected some version of U.S. national interests, but was deeply inflected by ideology (see my Ph.D. dissertation).  Ideologies provide the value structures for policymaking-what is the ideal society (and the world) in which people want to live.  But ideologies are like slogans-they are not well-developed systems of thought and action.  Most Americans don't want much more than slogans. 

I've come to the view that most foreign policy is shaped by domestic politics.  Leaders of countries used to think that war was a good way to cover over political divisions, at least until the war ends, but that is no longer the case in most of the West.  We either have volunteer armies that depend on certain social segments with little power or money, or short periods of military service, in armies that are not very competent.  So, most parents have little stake in supporting a shooting war, since their children will not be drafted and killed, and those who do have children in the military see it as a way to get trained or go to college. 

In other words, what foreign policy will generate the greatest political support for the next election?  Joe Biden wants to appear supportive of NATO and Ukraine, but a shooting war will lose him Democratic support, especially on the left.  At the same time, doing nothing will lead the Republicans to accuse him of betraying "freedom-loving Ukrainians" (not those allied with the Russians, of course).  It is difficult, these days, to identify any foreign policy that is not shaped by American domestic politics.

Q: What are the implications of electing (or possibly re-electing) characters like Trump in the U.S.? Does it mean a crisis in American society? 

A: As my comments above suggest, the crisis is already here.  The problems you raise are fundamental and not easily dealt with.  What will Trumpism be after Trump?  Is he unique or will his politics carry on (much like Franklin Roosevelt after World War II)?  Obviously, any kind of civil war in the U.S. will have serious ramifications for the world.  Military forces abroad will either be stranded or forced to declare loyalties.  International travel and communication will be badly disrupted.  The dollar will collapse and lose its status as a reserve currency, leading to worldwide depression until a stable monetary order is restored (there is not enough gold in the world to support international trade, except at very low levels; oil could be bartered, especially because global warming will decrease as emissions decline due to lower economic activity).  I do not believe that China will be either able or ready to step into the economic role and the EU cannot even implement a stable currency for all its members.  Not a pretty picture.

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