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The streets of France may soon be the streets of America


The French like nothing more than a good riot. Some of us remember May, 1968, when general strikes, university sit-ins and widespread civic mayhem almost brought that country to the edge. Now, they’re at it again.

 Whatare the French upset about this time? Just about everything, which makes it hard to Macron to figure out what to do. Some want France to leave the European Union; others want it to leave NATO; others want taxes lowered, or plastic bottles banned. Some, no doubt, are just pissed off at life.

Well, that’s France’s problem, right? Not ours. But there’s a lesson to be learned from France’s travails, and we might be learning it pretty soon.

 Thefirst part of the lesson is that if people are stirred up enough, they’re capable of rising up out of their everyday lethargy and behaving in boisterous ways. It’s been a long time since America had an uprising. We have to go back to that same year of the French riots, 1968, for our version. Then, it was Vietnam that, in a very general way, stirred people to something akin to rebellion. (I say “very general way” because Vietnam often provided the umbrella beneath which many other disgruntlements gathered.) In the intervening fifty years, we’ve seen nothing similar. Yes, we’ve had massive outpourings (The Women’s March, for example), but mostly they’ve been peaceful. Still, just below its surface, America bubbles with all kinds of ill-defined seething and resentment. All it might take is a spark of some kind to ignite things to conflagration.

There are many possible scenarios. Might the rioting stem from the Left or the Right? Might it be some kind of weird amalgam of the two? Might it be a clash between the two? My own hunch is that it will arise under the following circumstance:

Trump, cornered, confused, angry, with massive evidence of criminality piling up all around him, decides he’s had enough. Until now, his lawbreaking has been fairly subtle: yes, he’s broken all kinds of laws, but they’re hard to prove, and hard to understand: campaign finance violations are not as readily appreciable by the public as, say, murder. But by and large, Trump has covered his tracks fairly adroitly (adroitly enough, that is, to require a multi-million dollar investigation by dozens of the best lawyers in the country). His crimes have not screamed to high heaven. People who are inclined to give him a pass have found it easy enough to convince themselves he’s being framed.

But with the end-game impending, Trump throws caution to the winds and goes full-tilt boogie. He fires people—a lot of people. He gives orders to his law enforcement agencies to investigate his enemies (journalists, Democrats, Hollywood) and arrest them (orders which his Justice Department may or may not obey). He is capable of some very rash decisions: he might shut down the Congress by surrounding the Capitol with troops and not letting anyone in. He might order martial law throughout the land, suspending civil liberties. He might declare entire sections of the U.S. Code to be null and void. He might shut down the borders, or create a wag-the-dog situation by waging a foreign war or inciting a domestic terrorist act. He might issue an order shutting down the ACLU, or the DNC, and he might detain elected Democratic officials and hold them in “protective custody.” (For a full-scale list of the possibilities, one has only to look at what dictators, like Hitler or the Kims of North Korea, have done to protect their power.)

The difference between Hitler’s Germany and the Kims’ North Korea, on the one hand, and America, on the other, are vast and profound. We have in America a proud, glorious history of civil freedom that is not to be taken lightly by those who would muck with it. We have an aroused public, already disgusted with Trump, able to instantly communicate with each other through cell phones and social media; such a group can make fast decisions, such as where to assemble. We have, still, a good chunk of media that has not succumbed to Trumpism, and is able to blow the whistle on his lawbreaking. And we have, importantly, a military and local police departments in which the love of freedom and the hatred of dictatorship overwhelm any tendencies to obey orders at any cost. (At least, I hope we do…)

Therefore, when and if Trump decides in favor of his Gotterdammerung-esque final drama, tens of millions of Americans are prepared to rise up and tell him, “NO.” And the streets of America will look like the streets of France. Of course, Trump will still have his morally bankrupt defenders, but I don’t believe there are more than a fraction of them compared to the masses that will demand the end of Trump and Trumpism.

I don’t want to see violence, destruction and civil unrest. But that may be what it takes to finally stanch this wound and bring about healing. Remember, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

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